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]

Convinced governments have massive cash reserves they’re keeping from you just to be evil?

Then you will LOVE this ABSOLUTELY FREE (and gloriously 70’s K-Tel) video brought to you by “Mercurius”, “SNP Economics Explained”. It isn’t just for Scotland. It works for YOUR government, too, GUARANTEED.

Because everything is easily solved by pledging more money.
No tax rises required.
No cuts to other services.
No need to set the conditions for a growing economy to take in more tax.
A fairer society means pledging to pay for everything, absolutely FREE
It’s that easy!
Have a £5,000 cash injection every day.
Hell, why not have £10,000?
Now that’s compassionate!

A formula for failure

There is a shortage of baby milk in the US. Few fears are more primal than that of not being able to feed your baby. Parents across America are stressed and angry. (Some people, however, find the situation amusing.) One of the many reasons to like unbridled capitalism is that by reducing scarcity it reduces conflict. Whenever there is a shortage people become angry when they see others getting what they cannot get.

“Texas governor criticises Biden administration for giving baby formula to migrant children”, writes the Independent. There are several things worth discussing there. It would be unconscionable not to give formula to children who need it, but the knowledge that “Uncle Sam will provide” probably is a factor attracting illegal immigrants to the US, including children both accompanied and unaccompanied. The consequences of that can be horrible.

However the thing that struck me most about this story was tucked away as background information:

A recall of formula produced at a Michigan manufacturing facility – along with a Covid-19-fuelled supply chain issues – has made formula difficult for families to find, or subject to purchase limits in stores, after manufacturers shut down and warehouse stocks were recalled but not replaced. US formula is largely monopolised, with stringent regulations on imports; shortages from the recall are compounded by demand among a handful of companies relying on the same fragile supply chain.

President Biden has called on federal agencies to help address the shortages, including easing rules that manufacturers must follow for their products to be eligible under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which supports low-income families.

Few dare argue when “stringent regulations on imports” and “rules that manufacturers must follow” are introduced under the cry of “We must protect the children!” Yet now that the children are being protected half to death, these measures seem astonishingly hard to remove.

Update: Eric Boehm of Reason magazine has more detail: America’s Trade and Regulatory Policies Have Contributed to the Baby Formula Shortage

Thanks to strict FDA regulations and oppressive tariffs, America is already largely dependent on only domestic suppliers for infant formula: America exports far more than it imports every year.

That’s exactly the situation the economic nationalist want in all industries—and we’re now seeing exactly how that can go wrong. Cutting off foreign trade and protecting domestic suppliers can make a country more vulnerable to unexpected supply problems, not more resilient.

The rot goes deep

I was going to say the rot goes deep in Scottish politics, but it ain’t just Scotland.

It started with a minor story about a senior member of the Scottish National Party getting into hot water. Until this story broke Dr Tim Rideout was the SNP’s currency guy. Quoting the Times:

“Nicola Sturgeon ‘will root out racism’ in SNP after adviser Tim Rideout suspended”

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to “root out and condemn toxic racist political discourse” in the SNP after a senior party member said that Priti Patel should be “sent back to Uganda”.

Tim Rideout, a member of the nationalists’ policy development committee, was suspended from the party after the controversial social media posts about the home secretary came to light.

Pam Gosal, the Conservative MSP and the first Indian Sikh member at Holyrood, urged the first minister to condemn the “appalling racist comment”.

Pam Gosal was right. It was a nasty bit of snide directed at the Home Secretary solely because of her ancestry. I already knew Rideout was a twit on financial matters – here he is speaking at some sort of Modern Monetary Theory conference – but I had thought better of him than that.

A Conservative MSP angrily saying that a Scottish National Party official has said something appalling, when he has, is normal politics. What shook me, because not that long ago it was not normal politics, was the remark from the (Labour) Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Ian Murray:

Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, has called for police to take action against Rideout. He added: “These are truly horrendous and outright racist remarks from a key advisor to Nicola Sturgeon.

Once laws against “hate” unaccompanied by any clear crime are passed, as the SNP has done in Scotland, it does not take long for the policing of political speech to become literal.

Turkey – circling the drain with a gold grab

Little noticed in the UK media, reports from a financial vlogger Joe Blogs (that is his handle) on Turkey tells us that the government is ‘asking’ citizens to hand over their gold and foreign currency, at a time of 50% inflation, but citizens will get Lira in return.  There are 30,000 gold shops in Turkey and five major refineries. Do not worry that Erdogan is a (not so) covert Islamist, he is first and foremost a Keynesian.

The Turkish government is not simply standing by and watching as the Lira inflates away, the government has cut tax on food from 8% to 1%, and this in the context of a currency crisis, the lira falling 44% in 2021 against foreign currencies. So they know that cutting taxes eases burdens on people. Unfortunately, Atatürk’s doctrine of ‘statism‘ lingers, with lots of Turks employed by the State.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Finance Minister has been in the UK and reported had a ‘fantastic‘ meeting with potential investors. And the goverment is determined to keep on down this path, telling the private banks to step up their efforts to help by handing over foreign currency deposits. (Doubtless this is all voluntary).

Here is a graph of recent Turkish inflation rates. Are we going to be seeing a ‘crack-up boom’ in real time any week now? Turkey is reportedly informally dollarising, with over 50% of transactions in Turkey in dollars (Why not the Euro?).

I can’t help thinking that in the UK, the government is looking at Turkey with envious eyes, dreaming of taking steps to inflate away what remains of our prosperity and to seize our assets.

And it is not all bad from the Turkish government, they have changed the name of the country in a re-branding exercise, changing it from ‘Turkey’ to ‘Türkiye’, apparently to avoid confusion with the bird of the same name.

Joe Blogs also has some interesting coverage on the Chinese property conglomerate Evergrande, and the efforts of a US Hedge Fund to take ownership of collateral in Hong Kong.

Does aid to evil regimes cement them in power? Should we do it anyway?

When I was young I read many earnest articles saying that international aid should be directed towards eradicating the long term causes of famine and poverty rather than short term fixes for specific disasters. Back then I was convinced by such arguments, but later I reversed my opinion. Give generously in emergencies, yes, but most government-to-government foreign aid was well described by development economist Peter Bauer: “Aid is a phenomenon whereby poor people in rich countries are taxed to support the lifestyles of rich people in poor countries”. The money from the sky is not merely wasted but counterproductive:

Governments embarked on fanciful schemes. Private investors, lacking confidence in public policies or in the steadfastness of leaders, held back. Powerful rulers acted arbitrarily. Corruption became endemic. Development faltered, and poverty endured.

Yet it remains true that when catastrophe strikes it is often only governments who have the power – the credit, the personnel, the ships and aircraft – to render aid quickly. In most such cases I unhesitatingly say, do it. Yeah, it might be nicer if we were not forced to pay taxes for any cause at all but when people are dying by the thousands don’t wait for Libertopia to evolve before helping them.

However it is at least arguable that one situation where even emergency aid can end up doing net harm is when the regime in charge of the country stricken by famine or disaster is so bad that perpetuating it (as the aid will undoubtedly do) is an even worse catastrophe.

Is Afghanistan such a case? This Guardian article does a fair job of presenting both sides of the dilemma, albeit from a starting point far more in favour of international aid than mine.

How long before we see “Deinsulate Britain” protestors?

“Insulation was supposed to save us money… but it ruined our homes: Millions crippling repair costs after botched green upgrades”,writes Chris Brooke in the Daily Mail:

Getting Britain’s homes insulated is the cornerstone of the Government’s green energy policy and an obsession for road-blocking eco-protesters.

But the scale of damp-related problems linked to cavity wall insulation is so serious that an MP is calling for an independent inquiry to improve protection for householders.

One expert has estimated that up to two million homes may have problems as a result of insulation being pumped into the cavity between outside and inside walls.

In some extreme cases, the resulting problems of damp and mould inside the house have rendered properties worthless and unsellable.

If the Lockdown Frolics of Downing Street had never been revealed to the public (I must admit to a twinge of admiration for the fact that they kept the secret for well over a year), I believe this issue would have brought Boris down eventually. The insulation issue is just one bomblet within the incoming political clusterbomb that also contains the energy price crisis, and the fact that forcing millions of people to pay thousands of pounds to replace gas boilers with heat pumps is about as welcome as Dominic Cummings popping up between Carrie’s designer sheets.

Net Zero will become so unpopular that the next election will be won by whichever political party promises to stop it. (Edit: Or gives the impression of being most likely to break their promise to keep it.) There is scope here for the Tory post-Johnson redemption arc, if they change course in time. I can see it. You can see it. Why can’t they?

Free market squirrel

Buitengebieden tweets, “This squirrel always brings dried seed to trade for some nuts..”

I have put this under the category of “Twitter nonsense” because we have no category for “Twitter video that is so adorable that gratitude for it almost makes me hope that Jack Dorsey succeeds in his attempt to escape the righteous vengeance of the populace.”

Samizdata quote of the day

“Capitalism isn’t perfect, but there is no perfect system, and fantasies of a world in which there are no conflicts, no borders, no pollutants, no waste, and no crime are simply that: fantasies. Capitalism has been the best means ever devised of mitigating these problems – betting everything on an unfounded pipe dream is dangerous, illogical and should not be entertained in the 21st century. It may not sound exciting but the change we need will not come from revolution, but controlled, steady and logical improvements to our existing society.”

Joshua Taggart, writing in response to the latest pollutant to come out of the brain of George Monbiot. (I hadn’t heard from Mr Monbiot lately, but he’s still there, calling for some sort of totalitarian order where growth and material advancement are strictly regulated, by people such as him. He really is quite something.)

Berlin dreams big

“Berlin’s vote to take properties from big landlords could be a watershed moment”, writes Alexander Vasudevan in the Guardian.

Judging by the history of such schemes it could be. But not in the way he thinks.

The vote in Berlin is not legally binding, but it does show the popularity of such a measure (the popular appeal of taking their stuff and giving it to us is eternal), and as the Guardian says it will “serve as a template and inspiration for activists in Europe and elsewhere”.

Professor Vasudevan (he is an associate professor in human geography at Oxford) continues,

Smaller landlords and state-owned social housing have been aggressively targeted by large institutional players for whom housing has become a vehicle for the management of global capital funds.

I have little doubt that the large scale institutional landlords such as the property company Deutsche Wohnen that the initiative targets have transformed the Berlin housing market, and not for the better. But it is worth asking why it paid them to to go on a speculative property buying spree in the last few years when it did not pay them to do this earlier? I would guess it is because they have taken advantage of artificially low interest rates created by government.

What about compensation? For obvious historical reasons, German law frowns on confiscation without compensation. The article says,

Efforts to enact the socialisation process will undoubtedly face legal challenges, not to mention the problem of compensation of the property corporations. Campaigners are adamant that their model would balance a commitment to fair compensation with “budget-neutral” socialisation.

When fair compensation is “balanced” with something else, it means unfair compensation.

When the normal operation of law is suspended we are always told that it will apply only to people or groups that few would leap to defend. It never stops there.

Legal immunity – the vaccine twist on an old debate

In the rarified circles of classical liberal/libertarian debate, I come across debates about whether companies could or should enjoy statutory limited liability (protecting beneficial owners of said from being sued for their wealth if there is an issue.) Like intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc) this is a fraught area creating fierce debate among people who normally agree on a great deal.

LL laws protect people who have beneficial ownership from losing everything short of the clothes they stand in. Another, perhaps related limitation of exposure, however, stems from emergency situations, such as the pandemic. I think this is an issue that eventually is going to bite.

Consider the way that the drug manufacturers who developed and sold COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca, were last year granted exemption from liabilities by the governments of various countries, such as the UK.

The companies, perhaps understandably given the relative speed with which they were approved to distribute the vaccines, and the urgency of the situation, wanted an assurance they wouldn’t be sued. So they got those protections. The attitude at the time seemed to be that we were in a sort of war. Consider this WW2 example: Rolls Royce did not want to be sued by people if its Merlin engines in the Spitfire, Mosquito and other aircraft went wrong. Makers of radar equipment and all the rest of it did not want to be sued. So possibly the thinking last year was the same about vaccines. The threats of class-action lawsuits would kill innovation stone dead.

As the months, and now years, go by, the balance I think is going to shift, particularly if the severity of the virus in terms of its lethality is shown to have declined not just because of vaccines but down to development of immunity in populations, and other factors. In that case, is it really credible that makers of vaccines, and distributors of said, can escape the constraints of normal commercial/criminal liability?

After all, we have seen how, in the US, the Sackler family – owners of the Purdue Pharma business – have been hit by mass lawsuits over opioids. Although it won immunity to further lawsuits, as reported here.

Forgive me, gentle readers, if these comments appear disjointed. I was chatting to an investment banker about all this, and he agreed that the immunity these manufacturers have carved out should not be open-ended. At the very least, lawmakers, if they are doing their job, and want to build trust in vaccines and so on, ought to consider how to address this issue. For some people, the immunity of these firms might be a reason why they refuse to take the vaccine. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

On a perhaps more positive tack, the fact that vaccines were rolled out and approved with such speed does suggest that when the heat is on, bureaucracy can be removed as much as possible. And this begs the question about how much regulatory protection and how much bureaucracy to oversee it is really necessary.

Steal Labour’s clothes, look like Labour

Britain’s electricity supply is in peril. On Monday (20 Sep) the Financial Times reported,

Peter McGirr wanted to modernise the British consumer energy market when he founded Green three years ago, building a customer base of more than 250,000 households. Now, with the sector in meltdown, he says it is “incredibly unlikely” the Newcastle-based supplier will survive until Christmas without government intervention.

Five smaller suppliers have collapsed in the past six weeks, with four or five more expected to join them in the next 10 days as the industry is battered by unprecedented surges in wholesale electricity and gas prices.

Observers are predicting as few as 10 suppliers will make it through the winter, implying 40 could go bust. Some executives have privately suggested the sector could go back to a big four, five or six companies.

How did this happen to us? I know who to blame for setting the UK on this disastrous course. On Tuesday 24 September 2013, eight years ago tomorrow, the then Leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, gave his big speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton. One item was particularly popular:

“If we win the election 2015 the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will not rise. It will benefit millions of families and millions of businesses. That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you. That’s what I mean when I say Britain can do better than this.”

The response from the Tories was immediate and scathing:

As the Guardian reported,

Energy minister Greg Barker attacks Labour’s plan to cap energy prices

In response to Ed Miliband’s announcement, the energy minister says capping energy prices would have catastrophic consequences for investment in the UK

Figures from the gas industry chipped in:

The lights could go out if Labour introduces its 20-month freeze on energy prices, Ian Peters of British Gas said. “If we have no ability to control what we do in the retail prices” and wholesale prices suddenly go up within a single year “that will threaten energy security,” he said. Asked if that meant the lights would go out, he replied: “I think that is a risk.”

But Mr Miliband’s policy had equally vigorous defenders. On 25 September 2013, the day after Mr Miliband’s speech, Alex Andreou of the New Statesman thundered:

Ed Miliband’s critics think his energy pledge will make the lights go out. They are wrong

The critics were wrong. Ed Miliband is innocent OK! It was not his pledge that a Labour government would limit energy prices that has brought us so near to having the lights go out.

The Conservative manifesto of 2017 included energy price controls, duly introduced by Prime Minister Theresa May on 1st January 2019.

And here we are.

I wrote to my MP, and she wrote back

A few days ago I did something I am not used to doing, which is I wrote to my MP, who is Nickie Aiken (she is MP for Cities of London and Westminster). I have met her several times; personally, I like her and she has been helpful on several local issues. I wrote about the rise in National Insurance Contributions, taking the UK total tax burden to levels not seen in 70 years.

My letter suggested that there was no point putting new money into the NHS, a state monopoly, without reforms, and that NI ought to be blended with income tax, given that “insurance” is a misnomer and that this would give people a clearer idea of how much the State takes. I commended efforts by former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley to her on how to use private insurance and other methods to increase availability of residential care and doing so in a way that was fair. My letter avoided the usual libertarian fire-eating exercises we can get into. I was polite and constructive. I think others who want to contact MPs should adopt the same approach, if only to make them aware of how we think. These things do add up. MPs can count, particularly those in marginal seats.

She replied. I don’t know if her reply – which was quite lengthy – was one that she has sent to other constituents and some sort of pro forma thing. If she wrote it to me personally then that speaks most well of her to take the time to do so. I think it is okay for me to republish it here because this letter was sent by a supporter of a government and defending what is now official, public policy. Remember, this is a “moderate”, fairly middle-of-the-road MP, and I think pretty typical of most of her party.

Here goes:

During the summer recess, I spent a week looking after my father who is living with advanced Alzheimer’s while my mother had a respite holiday. I experienced what millions of people up and down the country live with day in day out, month after month caring for their loved ones in similar circumstances and I pay tribute to every single one of them. Equally I am in awe of our care professionals working in care homes and those who provide care services in people’s homes. I believe the covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the outstanding service they all provide for which I am grateful.

It is this recent experience as well as having been a Council Leader where 40% of the local authority’s budget was spent on adult social services, has led me to accept that if we are to reform social care and ensure that all those in need receive the dignified care they all deserve then extra funding is required. I believe that such a levy as proposed would have been necessary even before the pandemic. However, now with the nation’s finances in the position they currently are, with the Government having spent over £400bn keeping the economy and businesses afloat, raising further revenue is now a must.

I therefore accepted the arguments both the Prime Minister and the Health & Social Care Secretary have made in their reasons why they are proposing the new levy. During the Prime Minister’s statement in the Commons this week I sought assurances that, through the health and social care levy, money raised will go to fund local authorities who are on the front line of providing social care. I am firmly of the view that not all the money raised should go to the NHS but to councils too. As I understand the situation, in total £36 billion will be invested in the health and care system over the next three years to ensure it has the long term resource it needs.

Having looked at the proposals I note that the 1.25% proposed levy means someone working full time on National Living Wage earning £16,216 would pay around £1.50 per week. With such investments patients will benefit from the biggest catch-up programme in the NHS’s history, so people no longer face excessive waits for treatment. This will provide an extra 9 million checks, scans, and operations; and increase NHS capacity to 110 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels by 2023-24.

I appreciate that some people highlighted that the young will be burdened more than the older generations when it comes to the levy and that this is a tax on low paid workers. I note that the highest-earning 14 per cent in the country will pay over half the levy, and the Government has also announced an equivalent increase in dividend tax rates and the suspension of the pension triple lock which would have seen an 8.8% increase in the state pension next year which I agree would be unfair at this time. Instead it will rise by 2.5% or inflation

As a Conservative I believe in a low tax economy. I also believe in financial responsibility and following the pandemic I do feel that we are not in the same position as a country that we were pre-pandemic thus it is right to raise funds in order to support the NHS deal with the immense backlog of waiting lists and also take the necessary and fair steps necessary to give our health and care services the backing and funding they need in order to recover from the effects of the pandemic and ensure the health and wellbeing of residents here in the Two Cities.

Draw your own conclusions on where politics is headed in this country.