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]

The revolting revolting rich

Ed West provided the quote about younger sons of Norman lords which became the SQotD for June 4th. He has now written a follow up piece, “Why the rich are revolting”

Today’s unrest involves two sections of US society, African-Americans and upper-middle-class whites, who together form the axis of the Democratic Party, but it is the latter who are far more engaged in racial activism. The “Great Awokening”, the mass movement focused on eradicating racism in America and with a quasi-religious, almost hysterical feel to it, is dominated by the upper middle class.

I knew that, but I did not know this:

That noble tradition of haute bourgeoisie revolution continues today, especially in the US. The Occupy movement, for example, is deeply opposed to the 1% but largely because they come from the 2-5%; Amy Chua cited figures suggesting that in New York, more than half it members earned $75,000 or more while only 8% were on low incomes, compared to 30% of the city. They also have hugely disproportionate numbers of graduates and post-grads among their members.

The wider Great Awokening, of which the 2020 disturbances are a part, is a very elite phenomenon, with progressive activists nearly twice as likely as the average American to make more than $100,000 a year, nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree, and only one-quarter as likely to be black.

If Corbyn had won we’d have had free broadband by 2030

As in we would have had it.

15 November 2019:

General election 2019: Labour pledges free broadband for all

Labour has promised to give every home and business in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins the general election.

The party would nationalise part of BT to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC the “visionary” £20bn plan would “ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country”.

28 May 2020:

No more free petrol, Maduro tells Venezuelans

Venezuela’s socialist government says it is ending its policy of allowing motorists to fill up with free petrol as the country confronted an economic meltdown.

“Petrol must be paid for,” said President Maduro in a state TV address. He described the change, euphemistically, as a “normalisation and regularisation plan.”

Solving the problem of dogs stuck to the ceiling

A concerned citizen writes,

Little know fact: sometimes dogs float to the ceiling and get stuck there. It’s a serious problem and we should really start to talk about it more to find a solution.

I urge you to look at the pictures the blogger provides of dogs in this position. Few will remain unmoved. Except the dogs, they do remain unmoved, because they are stuck.

Although the writer did not try to make any political capital from this issue, it did lead me to wonder what other problems in modern society are conceptually similar to the plight of these dogs. I did think of one: as you no doubt recall from your perusal of page 61 of the 2019 Labour manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to tackle the insecurity of casual work by:

Ending bogus self-employment and creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can not evade workers’ rights; and banning overseas-only recruitment practices.
• Introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
• Banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours.

I think the gig economy might be a dogs-stuck-to-the-ceiling type of problem. Can you think of any others?

That this post is classified as “Hippos” is not an error. It was done firstly because that was the category that most closely matched the content, and secondly because we all need to be alert for hippos stuck to the ceiling.

Now, that’s what I call optimism!

“Council borrowed £1bn from taxpayers to bet on British sunshine”, report Gareth Davies and Charles Boutaud of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Among Thurrock’s rundown council estates and neglected public parks, typical of many towns after a decade of austerity, there is nothing to suggest that over the past three years the local council has borrowed and then invested hundreds of millions of pounds of other councils’ money.

Under the direction of a senior council officer Thurrock borrowed from about 150 local authorities across the UK with little public scrutiny. These loans were not for direct funding of council services, or investing in infrastructure – instead they financed solar farms more than a hundred miles away.

Now, let us not reflexively roll our eyes upon hearing the words “solar farms”. While there has been some reason for the widespread perception that investment in sunbeams has about the same record of success as investment in moonbeams, the technology of solar power genuinely has improved in recent years.

Sean Clark, Thurrock’s director of finance, oversaw the investment of £604m in the solar industry, investments he says were prompted entirely by intermediaries approaching him with money-making opportunities. In an extraordinary interview with The Bureau, Clark wondered whether he had gone too far. At last count Thurrock owed other councils an unprecedented £1bn.

OK, now you can roll your eyes.

John Kent, the former Labour leader of Thurrock council, called on the current administration to come clean. He said: “People absolutely need to be aware that the council has borrowed £1bn – that’s billion with a b.” He claimed that the council had declined to give elected members or the public adequate details of precisely how it invested the money.

As you might have deduced from that, Thurrock Council is currently controlled by the Conservatives.

Come to sunny Thurrock, where the Tories splurge on borrowed money and it is left to Labour to be the voice of prudence! Or come to sunny Britain, which is the same except for the bit about Labour.

A new book by Anton Howes about the Royal Society of Arts is coming out soon

Yes, I learn from a tweet by Anton Howes, a young academic whom I greatly admire, that his first book, entitled Arts & Minds: How The Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation will be out on May 12th. It is already available on Kindle.

I will start reading this book with the prejudice in my head that the Industrial Revolution was not only “industrial”; it also resembled what we more usually mean by a “revolution”, in the sense that it was also an ideological event. People didn’t just do this, for their own private and selfish reasons. They believed in doing it. They told each other, and anyone else who would listen, that what they were doing would do good, on a huge scale.

But unlike with almost all other “revolutions”, the ideologists of the Industrial Revolution were completely and triumphantly right. This triumphant rightness has been such an elephantine presence in the room of history, and is so very counter-intuitive (“Ideologists are all nutters!”), that the ideological nature of this revolution has now become nearly invisible.

The concluding paragraph of the Amazon blurb …:

Informative and entertaining, Arts and Minds reveals how a society of public-spirited individuals tried to make their country a better place, and draws vital lessons from their triumphs and failures for all would-be reformers today.

… together with the title of the book, arts and minds, suggest to me that the above prejudices will be confirmed and strengthened.

Samizdata half-forgotten sorta-quote of the day

If there is a disaster, would you like people for hundreds of miles around to drop everything and make herculean efforts to get those worst affected exactly the sort of help they need most – even when the helpers have no personal connection with the victims? Would you like factories worldwide to rush to switch production to making whatever they are short of in the disaster zone?

You would? Then let people make money by doing it. You can either rely on the small subset of people who will seriously disrupt their lives to help strangers out of pure charity, or you can also get help from the much larger pool of people who who are pushed from vague thoughts of benevolence into action by the prospect of profit. Let them sell goods of which there is a shortage at a higher price and soon there won’t be a shortage any more.

– something sorta like this was said by someone, whom I would gladly credit if I could remember who they were.

My post was prompted by this story by Edward Thicknesse in City A.M.: Coronavirus: Calls for price controls dismissed as ‘economically illiterate’.

What are the best arguments for libertarianism?

Coronavirus is dominating all our lives just now, but I have little to say about it other than that I, like almost everyone else, wish it all to stop, both the virus itself and the measures now believed necessary to combat it. Whether these measures have been and are insufficient or wise or excessive, I look forward to reading about in the months and years ahead, but do not now have much of an opinion about.

Instead, I would like to ask some questions about the political beliefs that most of us here share. What are the best arguments you know of in favour of libertarianism? I define “libertarianism” loosely, as a general inclination towards liberty, towards property as the way to solve the problems of contending liberties, general lifestyle freedom, and (very) little in the way of governmental power, either financial or regulatory.

Insofar as I can remember how I first thought about such things (during the 1960s and early 1970s), what made me a libertarian was that the world’s most free countries seemed also to be the nicest countries, while the least free countries were definitely the nastiest ones. This contrast was especially clear when you looked at single countries which had been divided into two countries, unfree and much freer, such as Korea and Germany.

What pushed me away from the majority “centrist” notion of how things should be (quite a lot of liberty but also a lot of government), was the thought that if extreme liberty worked amazingly well (Hong Kong seemed to me to illustrate that) and extreme lack of liberty definitely worked extremely badly, why would you want to have a “balanced” mixture of these two contending processes, one very good but the other extremely bad? There was a widespread view, then as now, that “business” needed to be quite free, but that things like healthcare, education, and (a particular interest of mine) architecture, could not or should not be treated only as businesses, as the mere outcomes of free and individual decisions, like the washing machine business or the hi-fi business. I thought: Why not? Surely this notion should be given a serious go, in at least some countries. I further thought that if it was given a serious go it would work out very well, and that it consequently would, or at least should, spread very widely and preferably to nearly everywhere.

I further believed that “lifestyle” freedom and commercial freedom went well together, each reinforcing the other, despite the loudly expressed opinion from many of my contemporaries, who also favoured lifestyle freedom but who believed that only government power applied to the advantage of hitherto disadvantaged minorities could set them free.

So, those were my answers to my above questions, and such thinking continues to make me call myself a libertarian. But are mine the sort of arguments that will best persuade others to arrive at similar conclusions?

What I’m hoping for from commenters is not so much minute dissection of only a very few arguments, but rather quantity of arguments, each quickly and perhaps rather roughly described, together with expressed preferences for this sort argument over that, in terms of persuasiveness. Thanks in advance for as many answers to these questions as commenters are kind enough to supply.

Concerning quantity of arguments in particular, different people respond to different arguments, depending on how they already think, and therefore maybe quantity is the key to successful libertarian persuasion. We need lots of arguments, including many that we have either not yet thought of, or made much use of, or which we ourselves do not now consider very persuasive. Perhaps the title of this posting should be: What are all the arguments for libertarianism?

By the way, you don’t have to be a libertarian to contribute to this discussion. Quite the contrary. Every argument against libertarianism calls for a response, which it may get, or may not get but should.

Links have been lacking in this so far, so here is one to end with, although not a proper one because it is to a video recording of a talk that I myself gave in 2012, to the now alas dormant Libertarian Home. This talk was entitled Libertarianism Is Simple To Describe But Not Simple To Argue For. Partly because of what it said, this talk started well but became less coherent as it went on. But I’m still quite proud of it, because despite its meandering nature, it does refer to many different sorts of arguments for and against libertarianism, of the sort I seek to learn more about now.

Yes, we have no Eurobonds, we have no Eurobonds today

There’s a fruit store on our street
It’s run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.”

Those are some of the words to the 1923 hit song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn. The song is mostly associated with World War II, but according to Wikipedia it had found its way into the history books before that:

The song was the theme of the outdoor relief protests in Belfast in 1932. These were a unique example of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland protesting together, and the song was used because it was one of the few non-sectarian songs that both communities knew. The song lent its title to a book about the depression in Belfast.

For nine decades “the depression” meant the one that started in 1929. But the coronavirus looks likely to bring in its wake an economic depression that may well take the definite article for itself. Naomi O’Leary of the Irish Times reports,

Euro finance ministers reach compromise to fund pandemic recovery

Deal dashes hopes of Italy, Ireland and seven others for the roll out of so-called corona bonds

The 19 members of the euro zone agreed a compromise on Thursday to aid states in need of funding to address the profound economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But it dashed the hopes of Italy, Ireland, Spain and six other member states that had called for eurobonds to bring down borrowing costs and send a signal of unity as the continent confronts a health crisis that is threatens to become an economic disaster.

Under the deal, states can borrow from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to finance spending needed to overcome the crisis.

I do not seek to play down their achievement in reaching a compromise at all. Every finance minister on Earth must be passing sleepless nights wondering how best to deal with our current predicament. But the dilemma faced by the Eurozone countries is particularly acute. Italy and Spain will never forgive the EU if they receive no help in their hour of need. But the northern countries were repeatedly assured that EU membership and the adoption of the Euro would never mean they had to write a blank cheque to what they see as the spendthrifts to the south (and a few other directions besides). The Dutch, the Germans, the Finns and the Austrians must hope that when they say, “yes, we have no Eurobonds” the upbeat momentum of the first three words will carry them over the next two.

More thoughts on what the virus might bring about

Dr Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs likes to make various political/economic predictions, such as on Facebook, and he claims much of our political landscape has changed in ways that shred traditional markers on the map, saying that much of the argument now is no longer between those who want a Big State or a Small One, but about culture and identity. I like and agree with a lot of what he says, but I also think that the recent crisis, and the shock of what it says about the powers of the State, might – I hope – jolt people into realising that we libertarians, banging on about autonomy, property rights and so on, aren’t as irrelevant as is fashionable to claim. The Big State/Small State difference still counts for a lot. This argument should be made. Free societies, as we can point out, are often better at stepping up to change and emergencies than states often are. Not everyone worships at the altar of socialised medicine. And boy, have we learned the value of free press and scrutiny, if only by seeing what happens in China, when those things don’t exist.

Consider, even Formula 1 motor racing, that symbol of toxic masculine love of going very fast in noisy cars, is using its technical skills to meet the pandemic challenge. Libertarians should point out how entrepreneurial gusto, not the clunky hand of Whitehall, is what needs to be celebrated. And we certainly need to challenge the narrative of how marvellous China has been in locking things down. Turns out that it has been a shitshow.

Dr Davies has given a list of trends and forces he thinks will accelerate and turn as a result, and some of his predictions make me alarmed, others less so. Here are some of my own predictions. Dear readers: do add your own.

Here goes:

A big push to divert supply chains from China; more diversification around this. Maybe some pullback from just-in-time inventory but I don’t expect a total shift – the losses in efficiency and living standards are too big.

Less business travel and some tourism via air; more requirements that passengers carry medical data with them. Airport security to increasingly entail “medical security” and there will be demands that airports are more hygienic with cleaner air systems.

Continued “re-shoring” of some manufacturing. It is happening already because making stuff locally is getting easier with modern tech.

There will be pressure to monetise the enormous amounts of public debt. We could have a Japan-style stagnation lasting for two decades. Not sure if we get hyperinflation. Expect more commentary about gold, the need for hard money, etc.

Far more telecommuting and remote working. Some central business districts will have to adjust; some skyscrapers will struggle to fill up.

Suburbs and cars are back: who wants to live in a cramped city and rely on unhealthy, crammed public transport if you can live in a nice house, work from home and have a garden? The anti-car lobby has lost – people are glad they have cars. Issue: will the planning system free up to allow lots more homes with gardens etc to be built? I hope so.

The “woke” agenda is losing a lot of steam. It was happening already. Even remote learning will dent traditional educational attendance and power structures. That is a good thing.

The European Union and other transnational organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have been useless, and it turns out in the WHO’s case, all too cozy to China over Taiwan.
Some red tape will be rolled back; if people are going to have to put up with more nannying and state control in some areas they will want liberalisation elsewhere. Look at how some regulations have been canned to deal with the crisis. That could become permanent.

The actions of UK and other police in this pandemic have caused very bad publicity for the cops. It was bad already. It is getting worse.

Scientists who claim to have all the answers and claim the science is “settled” will encounter even more resistance. In a funny way this virus is bad news for the dark Greens. Extinction Rebellion’s vision of life has been rammed down people’s throats these past few weeks.

Attacks on Big Tech and demands for anti-trust will wane. The internet has had a good crisis. It kept us going.

The value of people with vocational skills, earned without vast sums of student debt, will appreciate; the education “bubble” of arts grads with high debt/lower salary will burst. This will also hurt the “woke” culture and the nonsense of what’s been happening on our campuses. Identity politics is not going away without a fight, however.

Classical liberals/libertarians haven’t really woken up fully to how much the victories of the 80s, 90s and even some of the Noughties have been compromised, sometimes by sheer complacency. We need to wake up, to do more of the intellectual heavy lifting. I hope the present situation galvanises more thought, activism and writing.

Celebrity culture looks to be on the back foot. It may return, but the Hollyweird culture is in really serious trouble. Crappy remakes of films, Weinstein, etc, etc.

People might actually be healthier: all that focusing on taking a daily walk, eating at home, thinking about “underlying health conditions”, might have a positive effect. It is a wake-up call.

Mainstream religions might get a revival. I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

Public sports events, though, will attract sell-out crowds. Imagine if you are a rugby, cricket or football fan and denied the ability to see your teams and in the case of Liverpool, for example, robbed of the ability to be the unchallenged winner of its season. Those fans will be desperate to go back.

Why Jack Powell and 1828 are not wasting their time trying to influence the Conservative Party – despite what Steve Davies says

Tomorrow evening, I am hosting a talk at my home which will be given by Jack Powell. Here’s the short biographical note that Powell sent me, to send out to my email list of potential attenders:

Jack Powell founded 1828, which is a new neoliberal news and opinion website, to champion freedom, especially within British Conservative politics. He is the editor of the website as well as being in his final year at King’s College London, studying Spanish and Portuguese.

Interesting guy. Here is the link to the 1828 website.

In the spiel about his talk that followed, Powell goes on to say that 1828 is especially trying to champion freedom in British universities. What this actually means is that he’ll be operating in the territory where politicians and students come together, to think about the bigger picture. An important spot in the political landscape, I think.

In general, Powell’s blurb for his talk abounds with ambition, energy, enthusiasm, attention to detail, and also with the names of Conservative Party politicians (Liz Truss, Priti Patel) and Media organisations (CapX, Guido, Quillette, New Statesman) with whom 1828 has had dealings and who have said good things about the efforts that Powell and the rest of the 1828 team have been making.

I have spent my libertarian life so far trying to spread libertarianism way beyond the merely party political arena, an approach which paid off big time when the internet arrived, in the form of such wonders as, well, Samizdata. But part of the reason I did that was that when I started out being a libertarian activist, it seemed to me that too many people were doing only party politics, and not enough people were trumpetting broader and undiluted libertarian principles to the wider world. There was not nearly enough proclaiming of the libertarian “metacontext”, as we here like to put it. But ever since that earlier time, the last two decades of the previous century basically, the Conservative Party, and in particular its youth membership, has moved away from those freedom-oriented principles and towards the as-much-government-as-we-can-afford-and-then-some position. I am very glad that people like Jack Powell are now trying to reverse that trend.

Recently, and I’m not changing the subject, I attended a talk given by Steve Davies, in which he talked, as he frequently does these days, about political realignment. In particular, Davies has long been noticing a definite shift by the Conservative Party away from free market policies and towards economic dirigisme. This shift, he says, is no mere whim of the people who happen to have been leading the party. He sees a deeper trend in action. So, does that mean that Jack Powell and his fellow 1828-ers are wasting their time talking to and listening to Conservative politicians?

My short answer is: No, they are not.

I say this not because I assume that Davies is wrong about where he sees the Conservatives going. I now suspect that he exaggerates this shift somewhat, but the policy direction he sees is the direction I also see, as, now, do many others. But that doesn’t mean that 1828-ers communing with Truss, Patel and also with the likes of the recently resigned Chancellor Sajid Javid and with the likes of Steve Baker won’t count for anything. When politics goes through upheavals of the sort that Davies now observes, this doesn’t mean that all the politicians who lose internal battles within their parties just vanish. Some do, but others often hang around and find new party settings to operate in, new allies to collaborate with. Davies himself said this in his talk, and offered historical examples of just such behaviour, by William Gladstone for example. Therefore, any time and effort that the 1828-ers spend talking to, listening to and generally cheering on freedom-sympathetic politicians could end up being very significant, no matter what happens to the broader political landscape.

You can never be entirely sure, but neither Sajid Javid nor Steve Baker seem to me like they are about to just fade away without any more fight.

Baker in particular, fresh from his Brexit agonies and ecstasies, is now making all sorts of promising noises. Scroll down, for instance, to the bottom of this piece, where it says:

The outgoing ERG chair has said he wanted to focus more on constituents and that it was time for him to “return to certain economic issues which I consider as least as important to the future of the country as exiting the EU”.

The writer of the piece, David Scullion, adds:

The Wycombe MP is known to be critical of the current system of global finance and what he sees as the problems of Keynesian ‘easy money’.

If you doubt Baker’s continuing commitment to such ideas, just listen to what he starts saying about two thirds of the way through this very recent interview with Scullion. That’s the same link twice, but that’s not the half of what it deserves. Really, seriously. As I believe they say on American battleships: Now hear this! Now hear this! Not many politicians have major impact on two huge issues in one career and in one lifetime, but if I had to pick someone who might be about to score two out of two, I’d now bet on Baker.

So, whatever Jack Powell and his 1828 mates manage to accomplish in the years to come, it is likely to do some good. Listening to him talk about that tomorrow evening will be very interesting.

Could you live in this socialist country?

Is the challenge from YT Vlogger ‘bald and bankrupt‘, in this video, filmed recently in Cuba. ‘bald’ as he is referred to, appears to be a chap from Brighton (if you watch his oeuvre) who walks around various parts of our Earth and makes short documentaries about what he sees. He speaks fluent Russian (it seems to me, and his former wife we have been told is Belarusian) but not such good Spanish, and his sidekick is a Belarusian woman who does speak enough Spanish to get by and who interprets for him.

He presents Cuba by the simple device of walking around and going into several retail outlets to show what is on offer, and it looks pretty grim. He also talks to locals, most of whom seem well-drilled in what to say about the Revolution and to profess their loyalty to Fidel. He notes that everyone seems to want to escape. There is an unresolved side-issue of an abandoned kitten in the video.

And yet 10,000,000 people in the UK voted last December for a party just itching to get us to this economic state, without the sunshine. And in the USA, there seems to be far too much enthusiasm for socialism.

Bald’s ‘back catalogue’ contains a great travelogue for much of the former USSR. Whilst he admires all things ‘Soviet’ in terms of architecture (there is a running ‘gag’ about his excitement at finding himself in a Soviet-era bus station, he does acknowledge the grim reality of Soviet rule.

You keep using that word “economy”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

“UK green economy has shrunk since 2014”, laments the Guardian.

The number of people employed in the “low carbon and renewable energy economy” declined by more than 11,000 to 235,900 between 2014 and 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Green businesses fared little better, seeing their numbers drop from an estimated 93,500 to 88,500 over the same four-year period.

[…]

Critics of the Conservative government’s record of support for the low carbon and renewables sector blamed the Treasury’s dramatic cut in subsidies to the solar power industry for the sudden loss of employment.

Solar panel installers were among the many businesses connected to the industry that went bust after the Treasury cut subsidy payments by 65% in 2015 before abolishing them altogether last year.

Obligatory “Princess Bride” clip for those benighted souls who haven’t seen it.