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]

Telling people they are not welcome, then being surprised that they leave

“Private rents in Glasgow rocket as landlords exit market” What brought this on? The report from the Glasgow Evening Times quotes Colin Macmillan of Glasgow Property Letting as saying,

Whilst the reality of the Scottish Government’s sanctions and actions are filtering through the private rented sector, many traditional landlords have had enough and are exiting the market.

“With an oversubscription of university places, we find ourselves in a perfect storm.

“Fewer properties available with unprecedented demand equals hyper-inflated rents.

“We also find ourselves in a cost of living crisis at probably the worst time of the year, with energy costs rising as the temperature is falling, and subsequent worries that rent arrears may increase also.”

The situation the Scottish Government created got so bad that even the Scottish Government noticed. The Negotiator, a site for residential agents, reported yesterday that the Scottish Government had U-turned, replacing a rent freeze with a cap on rent increases.

The Scottish Government has dropped its planned rent freeze from April in a major U-turn.

Ministers are now proposing a 3% rent cap for six months, with higher increases up to 6% allowed in exceptional cases.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, led on the announced rent freeze in September, but left housing minister Patrick Harvie to reveal the climbdown.

Harvie said the Government now accepted a rent freeze would hit landlords too hard: “While the primary purpose of the legislation is to support tenants, I recognise that costs have been rising for landlords too.

Well, “disastrous” to “bad” is an improvement. But unless and until the Scottish government realises that both rent freezes and rent caps are very nice for tenants already in place but very bad for anyone trying to rent a house or flat from the day they are announced onwards, times will be hard for those seeking to rent in Scotland.

Samizdata quote of the day

“A reasoned case can be put that the NHS, the education system, welfare state, housing stock and even our transport infrastructure cannot cope with a rapid and relentless growth in the number of people living here. However, these are all areas run or heavily controlled by the state. It’s rare to hear Tesco complain that there are too many customers wanting to buy groceries or cinemas that too many wish to watch movies.”

Mark Littlewood.

Greenpeace Aotearoa lives in hope

I am not being sarcastic when I say that I admire the way that Nick Young, writing for Greenpeace Aotearoa (the country formerly known as New Zealand), at least has the guts to admit that Sri Lanka’s ban on chemical fertiliser was a disaster. In a piece called “Sri Lanka’s fertiliser ban and why New Zealand can phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser”, he gives his reasons for supposing that despite Sri Lanka’s experience, it will work next time. He is enthusiastic, for instance, about the prospects for the Indian state of Sikkim which has also prohibited chemical fertilisers. He writes,

The key thing to note is that it wasn’t something that happened overnight. And it didn’t happen because Sikkim’s shoppers suddenly decided to buy organic food or because its farmers woke up one day and decided to switch to organic with no support. It happened because the Sikkim Government used policies, public investment and a transition plan to make it happen.

It is strange to me to see someone delight in the fact that the choices of shoppers or farmers, the ordinary people whose lives would be affected most, played no part in this change.

This Guardian article is five years old now, but I would bet that the problems it describes have not gone away: “Sikkim’s organic revolution at risk as local consumers fail to buy into project.” More recently, Pawan Chamling, who as the then Chief Minister of Sikkim did much to put the policy in place, said that the current Sikkim government “has put Sikkim’s organic mission on the back burner”. He writes,

The organic mission has been totally wiped out of the government’s vocabulary and State budget. Not a single penny has been allocated towards organic farming. Even more alarming is that chemical fertilisers are being brought into the state and are freely sold in the market.

Freely sold and freely bought. Farmers making their own decisions. How awful.

Despite everything, I have nothing against organic farming. But the way that Sikkim being “100% organic”, a source of pride and a key part of Sikkim’s identity according to Mr Chamling, withered as soon the government subsidies dried up suggests that the change was never, if you will forgive the metaphor, organic in the first place. It was imposed from the top down. It had no roots.

Eppur there has been record spending on the NHS

Paul Waugh, the Chief Political Commentator for the Independent‘s spinoff the i Newspaper, tweets, “On @BBCr4today, Unison’s @cmcanea did an excellent job of explaining why Govt claims of “record” funding for the NHS are misleading. (ie health inflation higher than normal inflation + demographic pressure)

Here’s a key graph to remember whenever you hear ‘record’ spending”

His tweet then shows a graph of the average annual increase in government spending on health in 2019/20 prices for various governments plotted against time. Note that inflation is already accounted for by having all the spending figures at 2019/2020 prices. If spending on the NHS had merely kept pace with inflation, the bars would all have a height of zero. As it is, all of the bars are positive. Therefore not only has there been record funding for the NHS under this government, there has been record funding for the NHS under every government.

Whether one thinks this a good thing or a bad thing, it is a fact.

Let’s make all crimes legal over Christmas

Remember this movie?

The Purge. Survive the Night.

One night a year, all crime is legal.
Survive the night.

According to Wikipedia, The Purge posits that ‘In 2014, a political party called the “New Founding Fathers of America” are voted into office following an economic collapse, and pass a law sanctioning the “Purge”, an annual event wherein all crime is legal and emergency services are temporarily suspended. By 2022, the United States is said to have become virtually crime-free, with legal unemployment rates having dropped to 1%.’

Virtually crime-free and unemployment at 1%? That compares favourably with our timeline’s 2022, but nonetheless, this is not the the sort of policy proposal I usually associate with the Liberal Democrats – but it seems Ed Davey is ready to rock: “No one should lose their home this Christmas”, says the Lib Dem website. It continues:

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, has called for an emergency ban on repossessions and evictions this Winter. This comes after the Conservative Government’s mismanagement of the economy caused spiralling mortgage and rental prices.

These measures would stop banks from repossessing people’s homes who have been hit the hardest by soaring mortgage prices as well as bringing forward the promised ban on no-fault evictions, alongside a ban on evictions for arrears over the winter.

We are deeply concerned that both renters and homeowners could face homelessness during one of the most difficult Winters in living memory.

We are making these urgent calls on the Conservative Government as only days of Parliament remain before Christmas for the Prime Minister to take responsibility for the mess his Government has caused.

The Conservatives have failed time and time again to bring forward the ban on no-fault evictions they promised and have made no attempt to stop repossessions caused by their disastrous mini-Budget. They must act now before it is too late.

No-one should face losing their home this Christmas because the Conservative Government crashed the economy.

Why so tame, Ed? If it is a good thing that one group of people should be allowed to take what they have not paid for without punishment over the Christmas period, why not others? Discriminatory, I call it. Let us throw away the shackles of enforcement of property rights for everyone this Christmas!

It’s Christmas time
There’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time
We let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world
At Christmas time

Say the bad spell backwards, that’ll work!

“Shoplifting isn’t the real crime, poverty is”, tweets Owen Jones.

The tweet links to this video excerpt from the Jeremy Vine Show, in which the host tries several times to get Mr Jones and the other panellists to give straight answers on whether it is wrong for shops to put anti-theft tags on commonly stolen goods. He doesn’t get any. The responses he does get are variations on two themes, firstly, the non-sequitur “Yes, it is wrong for shops to try and stop their goods being stolen because poverty is the bigger crime”, and secondly, “I don’t condone shoplifting, but here’s why I condone shoplifting.”

At 2:25 Mr Jones says, “The way to abolish shoplifting is to abolish the underlying cause, which is poverty and the cost of living crisis”.

So the answer was in front of our silly noses the whole time!

In future videos Mr Jones will tackle the shocking prevalence of “food deserts” and “health care deserts” in poor areas because so many supermarkets, corner shops and pharmacies have closed down.

Samizdata quote of the day

“….it is more useful to see Liz Truss’s rise and fall as symptomatic of an identity crisis among free-market policy-makers across the West, as they wake up to a world in which can exist neither as competent technocratic administrators nor as a radical liberalising movement. This new world is one in which both Thatcherism and the Blairite Third Way are dead. What those commentators suffering from Brexit Derangement Syndrome appear to have missed is that the country is reeling from what many hoped was a transitory crisis, but now seems to be a permanent paradigm shift: one in which high inflation is endemic and the welfare capitalist model that has been propped up by cheap credit for the past 20 years is vanquished.”

Sherelle Jacobs. Daily Telegraph (£)

I wonder if people will talk of these times in the way they once discussed the tumultuous Corn Law/free trade debates that led, eventually, to the formation of the Liberal Party (Whigs and Robert Peel supporters joining) and the Tories, led by Lord Derby and later Disraeli, languishing in opposition for 20-plus years. Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs (and a Manchester man who relishes the traditions of classical liberalism and economics in that city), argues that big realignments are going on. I think, contrary to his view, that economics is as important as “culture wars” stuff to what is causing politics to shift. The public has just had a big lesson in why economics matters. It matters a lot.

Great work, 3-D gun printers, but don’t rest on your laurels

Right, who laughed? I don’t know if it was the nameless Associated Press reporter who wrote this story, or the Guardian editor who decided to run it, but someone connected with the publication of this piece in the Graun of all places was enjoying themselves: “New York changes gun buyback after seller gets $21,000 for 3D-printed parts”

The seller, who identified himself by a pseudonym, said he traveled from West Virginia to a gun buyback on 27 August in Utica, New York, to take advantage of a loophole in the program – and to demonstrate that buybacks are futile in an era of printable weapons.

At the buyback, the seller turned in 60 printed auto sears, small devices that can convert firearms into fully automatic weapons. Under the rules of the buyback, hosted by the office of the attorney general, Letitia James, and city police, that entitled him to $350 for each of the printed parts, including a $100 premium, since they were deemed “ghost guns” lacking serial numbers.

The seller, who declined to provide his real name, said in an email on Monday the prospect of making money was enticing, but that the big reason he took part in the buyback was to send a message.

He called the idea of buybacks “ridiculously stupid”, adding that “the people running this event are horribly uneducated about guns, gun crime and the laws surrounding the regulation of guns”.

James’ office said it responded to the loophole by giving buyback personnel more discretion to determine the value of weapons being handed in, and setting a standard that all 3D-printed guns accepted by the program must be capable of being fired more than once.

Now there’s a government-funded Technology Innovation Strategy I could get behind. I am sure the 3-D gun printing community will rise to the challenge set by this new standard.

Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, Liz

“Labour surges to 33-point lead over Tories”, reports the Times.

Labour has surged to a 33-point poll lead over the Conservatives after a week of market turmoil triggered by Liz Truss’s tax-cutting budget.

The YouGov poll for The Times finds Tory support has fallen by seven points in the past four days amid fears the government’s plans will lead to spiralling interest rate rises.

It is thought to be the largest poll lead enjoyed by any party with any pollster since the late 1990s.

Labour’s lead is fuelled by voters switching directly from the Conservatives, with 17 per cent of those who backed Boris Johnson in 2019 saying they would vote Labour.

Just 37 per cent of 2019 Conservative voters said they were planning to stick with the party, suggesting a Tory wipeout.

Liz Truss now faces a choice. She can pull back. This might regain her a percentage point or two. She would then be 31 points behind instead of 33. Her place in history would be secure: as an answer to a difficult pub quiz question about who was Prime Minister between Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer. Or she can push onwards. She might still fail, but more gloriously. And if she succeeds, she gets to sit alongside Margaret Thatcher in the Told You So Hall of Fame. Even if, as seems likely, she loses the next election but hands Sir Keir an economy in significantly better shape, she will be remembered as someone who put country before party.

I read it as “digital collar”

From the White House website:

President Biden often summarizes his vision for America in one word: Possibilities. A “digital dollar” may seem far-fetched, but modern technology could make it a real possibility.

A United States central bank digital currency (CBDC) would be a digital form of the U.S. dollar. While the U.S. has not yet decided whether it will pursue a CBDC, the U.S. has been closely examining the implications of, and options for, issuing a CBDC. If the U.S. pursued a CBDC, there could be many possible benefits, such as facilitating efficient and low-cost transactions, fostering greater access to the financial system, boosting economic growth, and supporting the continued centrality of the U.S. within the international financial system. However, a U.S. CBDC could also introduce a variety of risks, as it might affect everything ranging from the stability of the financial system to the protection of sensitive data.

To be fair, these remarks by Dr. Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Alexander Macgillivray, Principal Deputy United States Chief Technology Officer, and Nik Marda, Policy Advisor do acknowledge the existence of risks:

For example, these objectives state that a U.S. CBDC system should expand equitable access to the financial system, preserve the role of physical cash, and only collect data that is strictly necessary.

Given the record of the FBI, the CIA and the NSA, I would put very little faith in their definition of “strictly necessary” as a shield against the US government spying on its citizens.

“Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted”

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge writes in the Times that the decisions of the government during a crisis were wise and good and that if, perchance, any slight errors were made, fear not, lessons will be learned.

Bzzt. Click. System error. Commence program reset.

A retired and now ennobled supreme court judge – Lord Sumption – writes in the Times that “Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted: it was a disaster”.

In a remarkably candid interview with The Spectator, Rishi Sunak has blown the gaff on the sheer superficiality of the decision-making process of which he was himself part. The fundamental rule of good government is not to make radical decisions without understanding the likely consequences. It seems obvious. Yet it is at that most basic level that the Johnson government failed. The tragedy is that this is only now being acknowledged.

Sunak makes three main points. First, the scientific advice was more equivocal and inconsistent than the government let on. Some of it was based on questionable premises that were never properly scrutinised. Some of it fell apart as soon it was challenged from outside the groupthink of the Sage advisory body. Second, to build support, the government stoked fear, embarking on a manipulative advertising campaign and endorsing extravagant graphics pointing to an uncontrolled rise in mortality if we were not locked down. Third, the government not only ignored the catastrophic collateral damage done by the lockdown but actively discouraged discussion of it, both in government and in its public messaging.

Lockdown was a policy conceived in the early days by China and the World Health Organisation as a way of suppressing the virus altogether (so-called zero Covid). The WHO quickly abandoned this unrealistic ambition. But European countries, except Sweden, eagerly embraced lockdown, ripping up a decade of pandemic planning that had been based on concentrating help on vulnerable groups and avoiding coercion.

At first Britain stood up against the stampede. Then Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London published its notorious “Report 9”. Sunak confirms that this was what panicked ministers into a measure that the scientists had previously rejected. If No 10 had studied the assumptions underlying it, it might have been less impressed. Report 9 assumed that in the absence of a lockdown people would do nothing whatever to protect themselves. This was contrary to all experience of human behaviour as well as to data available at the time, which showed that people were voluntarily reducing contacts well before the lockdown was announced.

I find myself in the odd position of being slightly more in sympathy with the government than is a former supreme court judge. Frightened men make mistakes. I also find myself slightly more in sympathy with Rishi Sunak than I was yesterday. However, I have to ask why he did not voice his doubts at the time.

Working from home – who’s the exploited proletariat, exactly?

CEOs at prominent firms such as Apple, Tesla and Goldman Sachs have required employees to return to the office, curbing the working from home trend that got going at the start of the pandemic.

One point that jumps out at me is how this shows that skilled employees have a lot of market muscle today – firms need to persuade them to do certain things and don’t have all the power.

Consider: Labour is not homogenous and takes time to replace. We have seen a dramatic example of this in the airline sector, where thousands of staff, such as those working in security and baggage handling, were let go, creating a bottleneck problem when restrictions ended. Airlines are now scrambling to get people re-hired, but that is not easy as employees and contractors must go through security vetting. Hence the thousands of cancelled and rescheduled flights that have been a feature of the holiday travelling season.

What all this shows is how flawed Karl Marx was in his claim that capitalists have the superior bargaining power over “workers” and that business owners hope to create a “reserve army” of the unemployed who will put downward pressure on wages, hence creating the “surplus” that becomes profit.

Among the many things wrong with Marx’s idea is that claim that the majority of the risks and uncertainties are on the employees’ side. Hiring and retaining labour, including skilled labour, is not straightforward. There are search costs to consider in hiring, and employers know that it is often better to retain a worker, even if they could get someone a bit cheaper, than have the cost and time of hiring another. Also, a worker is paid a wage/salary, at least initially, whether a firm has made a profit or not, and that is a risk the employer has to bear (otherwise why else do firms have revolving credit facilities to manage cashflow?) Further, all workers are to some extent also “capitalists” – they have built skills and character (punctuality, agreeableness, ability to follow rules, get on with others and serve clients, etc) that take time and effort to acquire. A plumber, software programmer or security manager have capital sitting in their heads, and when a firm hires such a person, it is renting that capital.

There are of course of lots of reasons why Marx’s description of labour/capital relations is wrong and simplistic (example: his insertion of the idea of “socially necessary labour” begs the question of how one knows what that is, and it turns out that SNL is revealed by the interplay of prices in a market, rendering his idea circular). But the current working from home/office argument seems to bring home a particular point, which is that those supposedly evil capitalists don’t have all the power, and in many cases, have far less than even they might have hoped for.

Addendum: Thomas Sowell’s critique of Marxism remains one of the most succinct and effective that I have read. Also, there is a segment in Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia where he demolishes the “exploitation” theory very effectively. Another good treatment of the issue is by Kevin McFarlane, an engineer and libertarian.