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]

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.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When Boris Yeltsin visited a Houston supermarket in 1989, the sheer choice of goods and services on offer compared to stores in Soviet Russia shocked him. `Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,’ he said. Faced with this new, striking reality of American living standards, he began to recognise the massive costs of the communist economic system on the Russian people. Before seeing it with his own eyes, though, Yeltsin was none the wiser. To echo the movie The Matrix again, his supermarket visit was a ‘red pill’ moment – it allowed him to escape the constructed reality of Soviet communism and experience a real, alternative world.”

Ryan Bourne.

“They’re not coming. You’re on your own.”

Even people who habitually decry the uselessness of the State often have a soft spot for the emergency services. When catastrophe strikes, they say, enlightened self interest will not make men run forward into danger. For that you need an ethos of service. For that you need a flag, a uniform, a loyalty, a government.

“Manchester Arena bombing: New rules delay paramedics at terror attacks”, the Times reports.

The only paramedic to reach the scene of the Manchester Arena bombing in the first 40 minutes after the attack would not have been allowed to attend under new rules.

The inquiry into the attack at an Ariane Grande concert was told that paramedics are unlikely to be at the scene of a terrorist attack for at least half an hour as a result of rules that require detailed risk assessments to be made first.

Patrick Ennis “self-deployed” to the arena within ten minutes when he heard there had been an explosion.

You can judge how that turned out by the fact that the original Times headline was “Manchester bomb paramedics ‘banned from helping’ for 40 minutes”.

However, neither he nor two colleagues who eventually joined him in the City Room foyer treated patients immediately. Ennis has previously said to do so “would have been to the detriment of the overall management of the greater number of casualties”.

Sir John Saunders, the chairman of the inquiry, which began in September last year at Manchester magistrates’ court, said: “I have been told for the first half an hour after an incident, you can’t expect the staff to be there, paramedics are unlikely to be there.”

Here’s a vote winner for Boris: we start a specialised public service staffed by people specially trained and ready to be there – even without a risk assessment. You know, like the Ambulance service used to be.

Although most of the responses to the Times story were hostile to the North West Ambulance Service, some did point out that terrorists have been known to set a second bomb timed to kill early responders to the first. The IRA were particularly fond of that trick. It is a fair point. But that risk must be balanced against the certainty that at the Manchester Arena people were dying for lack of help. And, I have to ask, if the Ambulance Service only goes in when it is safe, why have a service at all? Privatise it.

The following particularly riled the Times commenters:

Gerard Blezard, director of operations at NWAS, became the most senior officer to give evidence to the inquiry.

Sophie Cartwright QC, for the inquiry, asked Blezard why there should not be any “self-deployment”.

“Several reasons, you need to have business continuity. Who does the day-to-day business the next day, how do we know who is at the scene?” he said.

A new system called Cascade means that paramedics can contact a central number and their details are then passed to the tactical commander. It has been tested several times, but “not in a live environment”, Blezard said.

Guy Gozem QC, for the victims’ families, asked: “A lot of those who self-deployed actually performed a valuable service, didn’t they? Had it not been for their self-deployment, there would have been an even greater wait for assistance?” Blezard agreed but said the new system meant paramedics were deployed in a “controlled way”.

Emphasis added. Business continuity? Private sector organisations sometimes are saved from the osteomalacia that is characteristic of our time by the prospect of bankruptcy. Government bodies are not so fortunate. But never let it be said that the North West Ambulance Service learned nothing from the private sector. They were bang up to date with their buzzwords.

On the Times website, one of the most highly recommended comments was by William Croom-Johnson who said,

Death certificate: “Cause of death: business continuity”

But the most recommended comment of all came from “Mr N D”. It said,

Prior to London Bridge and Manchester Arena some people in this country may have lived under the entirely false impression that the emergency services would come to help them if they were ever caught up in any kind of serious incident.

Now we know with absolute certainty: they won’t. Forget it. They’re not coming. You’re on your own. Whether you live or die is far down their list of priorities.

Related old posts: Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Loss of nerve: the Strathclyde Fire Brigade preferred not to rescue Alison Hume and Loss of nerve: the Sheriff’s judgement on the death of Alison Hume

“We have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety”

And the post back in 2007 that started the series, called simply Loss of nerve.

Sorry mate, I can’t afford to risk giving you a job

The BBC reports that the Labour Party now says, “Give workers full rights from day one.”

Workers should be given “full” employment rights from day one, Labour has said as it announces plans to “fundamentally change the economy”.

Currently some rights – such as being able to request flexible working – only kick in at a later stage.

This would fundamentally change the economy all right. No more probationary periods. No more casual employment of the sort which survey after survey shows most casual employees value for the freedom it gives them. In Labour’s brave new world if you employ someone for one day, you will be stuck with them. In that case, you had better be very sure before you take anyone on. An end, then, to giving someone outside the usual pool of recruits a chance to prove themselves. The safe course for employers will be to avoid hiring women (who might clock in on day one and clock off for paid maternity leave on day two), to avoid hiring young people (who have not had a chance to establish a record of steadiness), to avoid hiring anyone with the slightest blemish on their record, or whose class or race might make them statistically risky, and to stick with employing people who they can size up on little evidence, which again usually means their own ethnic group. There is no need to assume actual racism or class hatred, just the universal human tendency to behave defensively when the cost of making a mistake is very high.

Will Labour also get rid of cooling off periods for people who make major purchases?

Or how about applying the same rules to sex? We know that a set of laws that forbid the very existence of casual sexual relationships can be stable: that was the system enforced for centuries in the West and still is in many parts of the world now. Hence the the saying “marry in haste, repent at leisure”. The aim of those rules is to force all sexual relationships to be permanent, or at the very least difficult to dissolve. They generally succeed in that aim, although there are unintended consequences. While I am all for voluntary fidelity in marriage, legal enforcement of a “marriage or nothing” system results in many more incels, old maids, and people stuck in destructive marriages. I see no reason why rules to discourage casual employment should not work in a similar manner to rules which discourage casual sex. Is that what the Labour party wants?

Hey, Scottish council workers, how about we use your pension to build social housing?

To its credit the Times publishes several columnists who go against the opinions of its readers. Sometimes, however, I suspect that the Times ignobly picks writers who are not the best ambassadors for their causes. The readership of the paper’s Scotland section is devoutly Unionist. Every week Fiona Rintoul reminds them why. In an article called “Scotland can prosper once we take the wheel”, she writes:

Fresh ideas have also come from Jim Osborne, of the Scottish Banking and Finance Group. He has proposed reforming the pension system to benefit pensioners and the wider community. Scotland’s council pension funds, which control £45.5 billion of assets, could, he feels, help to support the expansion of Scotland’s social housing stock. This chimes with global developments in pension funds’ asset allocation. With bond yields at historic lows, pension funds are turning to infrastructure investments for yield.

Osborne has also suggested that Scottish local authorities be allowed to issue municipal bonds to power spending. Again, this chimes with global developments as bond markets diversify. Scottish local authority “munis” could form suitable investments for pension funds too.

In Lebanon, the leaves are falling off the magic money tree

This excellent article in the US Spectator by Paul Wood is two weeks old. That probably means all the prices he quotes should by now have an extra zero at the end. The vividness of his portrayal of Lebanon as the magic stops working is unaffected, so read it anyway: “What happens when your currency collapses?”

An extract:

The government continues to insist that for imports of some vital goods — food, fuel and medicines — the lira is worth the fictional rate of 1,500 to the dollar. What this means is vast government subsidies to import these goods.

This has had some perverse effects. For a long time, you could fill up your car for about five bucks. The gas station would charge you, say, 60,000 lira, which was $40 at the official exchange rate, except your lira would have come from the black market at a fraction of that. As any economist will tell you, if you don’t ration by price, you ration by queuing, as in the Soviet Union. So there have been long lines at gas stations and now actual rationing, a quarter of a tank per customer — and that’s if you can find a gas station open at all. A side effect of the fuel shortage is that the internet is slowing to a crawl, sometimes breaking down altogether. The commonly accepted explanation is that there’s not enough diesel to run the power plant belonging to the national phone and internet company.

It’s the same with medicines. We’ve just bought a year’s course of treatment for our daughter’s nanny, who has breast cancer. We went to the hospital with 225 million lira in cash. It filled a small backpack. Those lira cost some $15,000 on the black market but they paid for $150,000 worth of medicines at the official exchange rate.

Lebanon is temporarily the cheapest place in the world to have cancer. People are coming here for treatment; subsidized medicines of all kinds are being smuggled abroad. A hypertension drug named Atacand has turned up for sale in Kinshasa, at $20 a box. It was bought in Lebanon for $2 a box. Atacand is therefore unobtainable here now. One report about this absurd situation quoted a Lebanese expat in Kinshasa who was buying the drug there to send back to his village at home.

The human will to self-deception is strong. There are some who will read this article and only take in one line: “Lebanon is temporarily the cheapest place in the world to have cancer.” There are some in Lebanon living through these events who will only take in one thought: “Isn’t it great how fuel, food and medicine are so cheap now!” They will not ask themselves why they are so hard to get, or why, as Mr Wood mentions elsewhere in the article, half of Lebanon’s doctors have left to work abroad.

Be not afraid… on second thoughts, be afraid. It pays better.

The Metro reports,

NHS receptionist handed £56,000 after being sacked for being afraid of patients

A receptionist at an NHS clinic who was petrified of patients was wrongfully dismissed, a tribunal found.

Sacramenta D’Silva received £56,684 in compensation from Croydon Health Service NHS Trust.

She suffered from public phobia and told managers at the trust’s chest clinic, which she joined in 2003, that she only wanted to work in a back office booking appointments.

But her bosses said her role was public-facing.

Related: “Everyone’s a winner”, a post from last year about another public sector worker who won big at an employment tribunal.

Readers’ poll: what on earth did Boris mean?

Sky News on Twitter: “Boris Johnson has suggested the world’s leading nations should support a more ‘gender-neutral and feminine’ way of post-COVID economic recovery.”

“Gender neutral and feminine”? Click on the words below* that in your opinion best match what was going through Boris’s tousled head as he said these words.

(a) Pay up, Matt, I did it.

(b) Hey, if Joe can get away with “Those RFA pilots”, I can get away with this.

(c) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Carrie.

(d) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Ursula.

*Nothing will happen when you click. But you will feel better for having expressed yourself.

Some fallacies will never die

“SNP MSP claims border with England would ‘create jobs'”, writes Tom Gordon in the Herald.

AN SNP candidate has claimed that a new a trade border between Scotland and England resulting from independence could “create jobs”, despite the impact on business.

South Scotland MSP Emma Harper, who is challenging a Tory incumbent in Galloway & West Dumfries, was accused of spouting “half-witted nonsense” after the comment.

Speaking to ITV Border, Ms Harper criticised Boris Johnson for creating a Brexit hard border down the Irish Sea despite previous assurances it wouldn’t happen.

Asked “so why add another one here?”, she replied: “If a border will work, we can show that a border will work, there are issues that have been brought to my attention that show that jobs can be created if a border is created.

Job creation for guards: sounds just the Scottish National Party’s style. Perhaps that is why they are so keen on the Hate Crime (Scotland) Bill. Think of the career opportunities for snoopers and informers!