We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day – do empires make economic sense?

One can see why this idea has taken off again: it sits at the intersection of two of the most voguish ideologies of our time, namely, woke progressivism and anti-capitalism. It is a story about white people – white men, mostly – oppressing non-white people, which also doubles up as an “original sin” story of capitalism.

But is it actually true that imperialism makes countries richer? Does imperialism make economic sense?

This question was already hotly debated at the heyday of imperialism. Adam Smith believed that the British Empire would not pass a cost-benefit test.

Kristian Niemietz

Samizdata quote of the day – the Digital Pound

The advantages [of the Digital Pound] over cash are, then, as clear as day. The pesky thing about cash is that it isn’t regulated. If you want to buy something in cash, you just hand it over to the person who is selling the thing, and that is that. This covers the transaction in a layer of kryptonite as far as government is concerned: it can’t control who ends up owning the money, and it can’t control whether the transaction takes place. The digital pound, and the way it is being set up, offers no clear advantage to the ‘user’, but, again, that isn’t the point. The advantages are obvious to those doing the governing, and that is ultimately what motivates the entire project for reasons which by now will be well understood.

David McGrogan.

Highly recommended that you read the whole thing.

Samizdata quote of the day – the Scorpion State

While the desire on the part of modern conservatives to divorce themselves from ‘neoliberalism’ is understandable enough, the simple truth is that there is a very good and obvious reason why parties on the economic left tend towards being left on culture, too.

And it is simply this: a State which minutely governs the economy is one which minutely governs society as a whole, because economy and society are not in fact separate phenomena, but an integrated whole. This means that if the State is big vis-a-vis the economy, it is going to be big in all areas – and it is going to want to squash or co-opt competing sources of loyalty and authority (like the family, religious and community groups, businesses, etc.) which the right holds dear accordingly.

The truth of the matter, then, is that conservatives and libertarians both fundamentally need the same thing (a small state) and that the ‘left on the economy and right on culture’ meme is just that: a slogan without a genuine cause.

David McGrogan

Samizdata quote of the day – NHS exodus edition

“If the NHS is so wonderful, why do its staff keep threatening to emigrate?”

Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph (£).

As an aside, while a lot of media and political commentary these days is about immigration, the emigration of talented people from the UK is likely to be a problem that becomes more significant, with potentially political effects. I am just about old enough to remember the “Brain Drain” that was a Thing in the 70s.

There are some forms of privatisation of public property that socialists like just fine

“Alex Salmond given part of the Stone of Scone by son of student who stole it”, reports the Telegraph:

Alex Salmond was given part of the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, by the son of one of the students who stole it from Westminster Abbey, newly released Scottish Cabinet papers have disclosed.

Prof Sir Neil MacCormick presented the then First Minister with part of the stone, on which kings and queens of Scotland were traditionally crowned, in 2008.

Sir Neil’s father, John MacCormick, advised and bankrolled the Glasgow University students who took the 150kg stone from the Abbey on Christmas Day 1950.

So Professor Sir (note the Sir!) Neil MacCormick felt free to give away this historic artefact because he inherited it from his father, who stole it while it was on display to the public. And Mr Alex Salmond, presumably on the strength of then being First Minister of Scotland, felt free to take an object of significance in Scottish history into his personal possession as if it were a mere curio. Nice to see the right of conquest and the hereditary principle being reaffirmed in this day and age.

‘¡Afuera!’ – Presidente-elegido Milei on the Pope, the murderous Castros and architecture

Probably the most important man of the 21st Century, if only for his potential to do good, Argentine President-elect (as I write) Javier Milei sat down with Tucker Carlson for an interview, (excerpt provided) at which he discussed the Pope, the murderous Castros and architecture amongst other points (that socialists are evil and think they are ‘God’). The interview was done with Mr Carlson asking questions in English and Señor Milei’s replies in Spanish are sub-titled (accurately I would add) and presumably interpreted in real time.

This segment is just over 9 minutes long, and it is well worth watching. We have all the indications that he is the real deal, he says that he is prepared to die for his beliefs, let us wish him a long and productive life and Presidency.

Yes, Leave voters probably were on average less intelligent than Remain voters

If the philosopher A. C. Grayling ever had ambitions to stand for elected office, this tweet will have killed them stone dead:

As usual, here is the text of that tweet in case it disappears:

A C Grayling #FBPE #Reform #Rejoin #FBPR
@acgrayling
U of Bath study: “only 40% of people with the lowest cognitive ability voted Remain, while 73% of those with the highest cognitive ability voted Remain…people with lower cognitive ability and analytical thinking skills are more susceptible to misinformation and disinformation”.
10:23 PM · Nov 23, 2023

The replies, unsurprisingly in this egalitarian age, are overwhelmingly hostile. But since I, like Professor Grayling, have no political ambitions, I can admit that he is probably right. It would be a strange chance if the average IQs of Leave and Remain were perfectly equal. If they were not equal, one group had to be cleverer on average. Because I assume that people usually vote in their class interests, I assume that the cognitive elite, whose intelligence usually translates well into wealth and prestige, voted to perpetuate the status quo. Alas for them, the lesser folk also had a vote and had a pretty good inkling that it was not a good idea to remain under the increasingly immovable rule of a class of people who despised them.

While Professor Grayling’s first sentence is probably true, the three little dots that he put between the claim that the stupider-on-average (can I stop adding the “on average” now?) people voted Leave and the conclusion that they did so because they were particularly susceptible to disinformation are doing so much work that they ought to bring a claim under the EU Working Time Directive.

I was about to quote Orwell’s line about “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them” when a fortunate burst of insecurity led me to check the quote and find out that Orwell never said it; it was Bertrand Russell. Clever bloke, Russell. Also frequently a twit, though capable of being embarrassed by his own previous excesses. Whoever said it, it’s true. It is proverbial among those who study scams that the easiest people to scam are those who think they are too clever to be scammed.

Edit 27/11/2023: In the comments, Rich Rostrom has supplied the phrase with a very similar meaning that George Orwell actually did say, namely “One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” It occurs in Orwell’s 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism”. Change a few words and the whole paragraph could be re-used today:

“It is, I think, true to say that the intelligentsia have been more wrong about the progress of the war than the common people, and that they were more swayed by partisan feelings. The average intellectual of the Left believed, for instance, that the war was lost in 1940, that the Germans were bound to overrun Egypt in 1942, that the Japanese would never be driven out of the lands they had conquered, and that the Anglo-American bombing offensive was making no impression on Germany. He could believe these things because his hatred for the British ruling class forbade him to admit that British plans could succeed. There is no limit to the follies that can be swallowed if one is under the influence of feelings of this kind. I have heard it confidently stated, for instance, that the American troops had been brought to Europe not to fight the Germans but to crush an English revolution. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

A related point was made by Dominic Cummings in his famous “Frogs before the storm” blog post:

“Generally the better educated are more prone to irrational political opinions and political hysteria than the worse educated far from power. Why? In the field of political opinion they are more driven by fashion, a gang mentality, and the desire to pose about moral and political questions all of which exacerbate cognitive biases, encourage groupthink, and reduce accuracy. Those on average incomes are less likely to express political views to send signals; political views are much less important for signalling to one’s immediate in-group when you are on 20k a year.”

Daily Telegraph columnist has tantrum about North Sea oilfield

Say what you like about the Daily Telegraph, which generally tilts centre-right in its politics and economics (particularly with incisive writers such as Allister Heath and Matthew Lynn), it does not seem to enforce orthodoxy. While the leader column and Heath have both applauded the UK government’s decision to permit oil drilling in the large Rosebank field in the North Sea – and mocked the fulminations of the critics, there were fulminations in the DT’s business section. An example comes from Ben Marlow, a columnist whose portrait glares out, Medusa-like, at a foolish and fallen world.

Marlow describes the timing of the announcement as “comically bad” and immediately shows his climate alarmism colours by noting that the announcement came a day after the International Energy Agency had warned that any new oil and gas infrastructure was incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreements of limiting global warming to 1.5 C. The new oil field is expected to produce as much as 500 million barrels of oil over its lifetime. Marlow goes on to state that bringing this oil field into production will do “none of the things that ministers and its cheerleaders claim”, and went on to berate the Conservatives for their alleged failure to cover the UK in solar panels and windfarms. And he went on to attack the government for sowing “confusion” among carmakers by putting back the ban on new internal combustion cars by 5 years to 2035. Further, he mocked the idea that producing more oil has any real benefits to the UK, saying that the oil goes into the world market. He does, rightly, criticise UK governments past and present for being weak on nuclear energy, but overall, Marlow’s column is a noisy example of green tantrum-throwing in an otherwise relatively sane newspaper. I wonder what his employers make of him?

So let’s examine Marlow’s central point, that the opening of this oilfield is a blow to the environment and won’t fix anything for the UK. Well, he ignores that some oil/gas fields will and have come out of production as the oil and gas gets too expensive to extract, reducing the commercial case for it, so if this is replaced by newer fields, that doesn’t necessarily increase the total amount of oil and gas in production. And even if it does, he’s assuming a straight-line link between increased C02 emissions, and increases in the average temperature of the planet. From my reading, there is a law of diminishing returns in nature, as in economics. Every extra ton of C02 produces less of a warming impact than the preceding one. Further, there is global “greening” to consider – although there’s a law of diminishing returns on that when it comes to the link with carbon emissions, I suspect, too.

And considering that he’s a business correspondent and editor, Marlow seems curiously uninterested in how, for example, developing this big oil field will generate export earnings for the UK, and a lot of tax revenue for the government. (On the latter point, this isn’t an argument that I know classical liberals would want to make much of.) The UK has to import a lot of stuff, such as natural gas from the Middle East and so on. Exports are what we need for imports. If the UK’s balance of payments improves, it benefits us in the ability to import more of what we want. As for the government, more revenues give it more ability to encourage R&D and the like in areas such as modular nuclear power plants, etc. Even for those who aren’t carbon fuel catastrophists, we can acknowledge that if we want to shift towards nuclear fission and fusion, and potentially as yet undiscovered sources, that requires a ton of wealth.

Marlow’s mockery of the UK’s supposed tardiness over wind and solar is again a reminder that the battery storage issue just doesn’t register. Without storage, the intermittency problem with wind/sun energy is a killer. (The writer Alex Epstein and others have made this point.) Marlow, and others who share his views, really have no excuses to not directly address this point and explain how they’d handle it.

A final point: The huge budget overruns and delays on the HS2 rail project from London to the North are surely another reminder to journalists who talk a big game about “infrastructure” that the UK’s record of delivering things on time, and on budget, is appalling. Rishi Sunak, whatever else he is, is not an idiot. He knows that the 2030 mark for banning sales of new ICE vehicles was and is insane. All he needs to do to win that cigar from this blog is to reverse the policy completely. Then stand back and watch Mr Marlow’s head explode.

Samizdata quote of the day – problems can be profitable

“At least a few people seem finally to be catching on that the basic idea behind “homelessness” advocacy is to exploit an issue that brings forth great human empathy to generate vast taxpayer funds and then to not solve the problem. The spending continues and increases without limit. There is way too much money — for advocates — in `homelessness’ for the problem ever to get solved, or even to decrease materially.”

Francis Menton. The same could be said of a number of other problems, either real or imagined.

assist/require

“It is likely that the central bank will assist/require the banks to provide the same interest rates and terms on replacement Scottish pound mortgages and loans as you had on your old sterling ones.”

– Dr Tim Rideout, from an article in the National with the title “How a Scottish currency will impact mortgages and other loans”.

Dr Rideout, who was let back into the Scottish National Party after agreeing to undergo anti-racism training, is a member of the SNP’s Policy Development Committee and Convener of that party’s Scottish Currency Group. He is fully entitled to refer to himself as “Dr Rideout”, since he has a doctorate. He is also entitled to call himself an economist, as he has a BA in economics. He is “Dr Rideout, Economist” just like he says, and if you got the impression from that that his doctorate was in economics, that’s your fault for not checking. Same as it is your own silly fault if you got the impression that the website featuring his writings with the URL https://www.reservebank.scot/, bearing the title “SCOTTISH RESERVE BANK/ Banca Cùl-stòr na h’Alba”, and including on its front page the words “Welcome to Scotland’s Central Bank” was the website of an official body called “the Scottish Reserve Bank”. If you thought that the splendid neoclassical building in the first picture, which features in many photographs and paintings of Edinburgh, was the bank because of all those pillars, more fool you. A simple reverse image search would have told you that it was the disused Edinburgh Royal High School. Dr Rideout (Economist) cannot be held responsible for your inability to use Google. In any case, the website does say, “Please note, the Scottish Reserve Bank is not legally a bank.” Where? Right there, in the paragraph at the bottom of the “About” page, just before the bit where it says, “Website by Great-Value-Websites.Com”. It was your job to read every word of every page in full.

After all that, readers might think I planned to cast doubt upon Dr Rideout’s prediction that “It is likely that the central bank will assist/require the banks to provide the same interest rates and terms on replacement Scottish pound mortgages and loans as you had on your old sterling ones”, or his prediction that “Your bank will contact you near the time and ask if you would like to change your mortgage into the Scottish pound or take out new Scottish pound credit cards and loans.”

Perish the thought. Several of the replies to Dr Rideout’s tweet (or “X-cretion” as I believe they are meant to be called now) in which he flags up his piece in the National do point out that the banks would be insane to do any of these things, but a little thing like that does not invalidate his prediction.

If Scottish independence comes to pass while the Scottish National Party is in power then you can bet that the Scottish government will indeed assist/require the banks to pretend the new currency is equal in value to the old. History is full of governments making insane declarations about the value of their currency and requiring, sorry, assisting, their citizens to impoverish themselves by acting as if the fantasies were truth.

As Dr Rideout says himself,

When the Central Bank tells the commercial banks to jump, the only answer is ‘how high Sir?’.

Samizdata quote of the day – universal basic income disaster version

“some stories stand out. The one that confuses me is the call for Britain to trial some form of ‘universal basic income.’ What exactly do people think we’ve been doing for the past two years?”

Sam Ashworth Hayes, in the Daily Telegraph (£).

A film explaining the monetary system, from The Cobden Centre

The good folk at The Cobden Centre have put together a very good documentary to explain how the fiat money system works, and has some suggestions as to what to do about it. At the instigation of the Sage of Kettering, (full disclosure, his cousin made it), here it is.

I have watched it and it is very good. Ex Nihilo: The Truth about Money. My only quibble is that it repeatedly refers to banks creating money out of thin air, but there is some substance to ‘thin air’, which, after all, can sustain respiration and hold up aircraft.