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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Telegraph columnist has tantrum about North Sea oilfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samizdata quote of the day – problems can be profitable

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

As Dr Rideout says himself,

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

Samizdata quote of the day – universal basic income disaster version

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

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

A film explaining the monetary system, from The Cobden Centre

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

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

Dropped to a ten-rupee jezail

A scrimmage in a Border Station —
A canter down some dark defile —
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail —
The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

I thought of Kipling’s poem Arithmetic on the Frontier when I saw this picture:

“Russian navy ship appears to be heavily damaged in Ukrainian sea drone attack”Sky News.

Here and now, I am glad to see an expensive defeat inflicted upon one of Putin’s warships at little cost to the Ukrainians. But the new arithmetic of war will not always give results that I like.

A British bank helped repress dissent in Hong Kong, and British banks help repress dissent in the UK

As reported in the Telegraph,

HSBC accused of persecuting dissident Hong Kongers who flee territory

The bank allegedly prohibited residents of the city state from making pension withdrawals

Before it decided it would be trendier to be known only by its initials, HSBC was the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, reflecting its historical origins. Despite its name and its subservience to a foreign government, it is a British bank. (British banks are meant to be subservient to the British government, dammit.)

HSBC has been accused by UK and US politicians of persecuting dissident Hong Kongers who leave the country over pension rights.

Alicia Kearns, a Conservative MP and chairman of the foreign affairs committee, and Mike Gallagher, the US Republican representative, wrote to bosses at the FTSE 100 lender expressing “deep concern” about HSBC prohibiting some Hong Kong residents from making pension withdrawals.

In the letter to chief executive Noel Quinn, which was first reported by the Financial Times, Ms Kearns and Mr Gallagher wrote: “We are concerned that HSBC – in support of the Hong Kong National Security Law – is withholding pension funds from BNO [British National Overseas] passport holders and thus contributing to the oppression of people in Hong Kong.”

The rebuke comes as HSBC faces growing scrutiny of its activities in China and Hong Kong, where it has been accused by British MPs of complicity in human rights abuses.

HSBC supported a Beijing-backed law introduced in 2020 that banned anti-government activity in the former British colony. At the time, the bank said it “respects and supports all laws that stabilise Hong Kong’s social order”.

Since the law was introduced, HSBC has frozen the bank accounts of a raft of activists, including pro-democracy politician Ted Hui, on orders from Hong Kong police.

As Patrick Crozier posted about yesterday, several UK banks and building societies have looked upon what their HSBC colleagues did in Hong Kong and found it worthy of imitation in their home country. And not just to famous people like Farage: the Daily Mail reports that when the Yorkshire Building Society sent an Anglican vicar an email asking for feedback and he responded criticising the presence of material on their website that talked about LGBT and gender issues, the YBS closed his account. The fact that the Rev. Richard Fothergill did not initiate the correspondence but merely gave his opinion having been asked for it is somehow particularly galling.

Tim Worstall sarcastically commented on the Hong Kong story:

Of course, such a thing would never happen here.

And in a way it never would. It would be insinuation, something that is never directly said, therefore not obvious nor arguable against.

Mr Worstall is undoubtedly right about the insidiousness of the banks’ strategy, but I have some hope that he will be proved wrong about it staying undetected. The Yorkshire Building Society sounds thoroughly defensive in this tweet, which has been viewed three quarters of a million times:

The real test is tiddlywinks

When you lose the big match, try to get the result declared void and run the match again. If you can’t get a rematch, try another game entirely and say that’s the one that matters.

“Citizens’ juries can help fix democracy”, writes Martin Wolf in the Financial Times.

Elections are necessary. But unbridled majoritarianism is a disaster. A successful liberal democracy requires constraining institutions: independent oversight over elections, an independent judiciary and an independent bureaucracy. But are they enough? No.

Thus far, I agree with him. For a moment I thought he was going to defend the rights of individuals against the tyranny of the majority. At one point in his life he would have done.

In my book, The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, I follow the Australian economist Nicholas Gruen in arguing for the addition of citizens’ assemblies or citizens’ juries. These would insert an important element of ancient Greek democracy into the parliamentary tradition.

There are two arguments for introducing sortition (lottery) into the political process. First, these assemblies would be more representative than professional politicians can ever be.

If your aim is to bypass professional politicians and improve representation, there is a better way than that to do it. With this method you don’t have to worry about how well or badly your representatives represent the population in terms of age, class, sex, race and so on. You can have perfect representation by cutting out the middleman and asking the voters themselves. It’s called a referendum. We have had several. The only slight caveat is that people expect the government to abide by them.

Second, it would temper the impact of political campaigning, nowadays made more distorting by the arts of advertising and the algorithms of social media.

A modest way to do this is to introduce citizens’ juries to advise on contentious issues. These juries would be time-limited, compensated for their time and be advised by experts.

Experts chosen by you.

One of the best examples was on the vexed topic of abortion in Ireland. A deliberative assembly of 100 people, made up of one appointed chair and 99 ordinary people chosen by lot, was established in 2016. It advised the Irish parliament on abortion (coming out in favour of “repeal and replace” of the ban then in force), and on the question to be put to the people in a referendum.

There are other difficult issues that might be (or might have been) handled in such a way: carbon taxation; nuclear power; and immigration. In these cases, a citizens’ jury would be empanelled to listen to witnesses and discuss the issues in depth. There is evidence that such a citizens’ jury would have come to a different decision on Brexit

Who could have seen that coming?

than in the referendum, since Leavers will change their minds in response to the evidence.

Evidence supplied by you.

This fad for citizen’s juries started six years, eleven months and ten days ago and will last as long as they can avoid convening one to give its verdict on what to do with illegal immigrants. With astute management, that might be years. We might be able to celebrate the triumph of the shiny new Citizen’s Juries and the abolition of the nasty, bigoted old sort of jury simultaneously.

Will this also apply to public sector pensions?

“Labour willing to force pension plans to invest in £50bn ‘growth fund’”, reports the Financial Times.

Labour is prepared to force pension funds to invest in a proposed £50bn “future growth fund”, as the party aims to boost the amount of capital available for fast-growing UK companies.

Rachel Reeves, shadow chancellor, said she did not believe Labour would need to mandate retirement schemes to invest in the new fund because of the goodwill in the sector, but added: “Nothing is off the table.”

Speaking to the Financial Times on a three-day visit to the US, she said she also wanted to accelerate the merger of smaller UK pension funds so as to consolidate a fragmented market.

Reeves, who visited the New York Stock Exchange on Monday, said she wanted to change the culture of Britain’s savings industry, unleashing homegrown funds that could persuade UK companies to list in London.

She also wants pension funds to work alongside the state-owned British Business Bank to improve the UK’s “start up, scale up” landscape, with Labour warning that the country is trying to do “capitalism without capital”.

Reeves said: “A lack of confidence in Britain’s economy has led to too many businesses leaving our shores.”

Confidence in the British economy is not likely to be improved by the woman who will probably be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer announcing that she has so little confidence that pension funds will invest in it voluntarily that she thinking about making them do it by force. It would be unfair to call this the Walter Ulbricht strategy. Unlike Comrade Ulbricht, who said “No one has the intention of erecting a wall!”, Ms Reeves has sportingly given pension funds warning of her intentions so they can get out before the wall goes up.

Investments can go down as well as up. The record of the state in “picking winners” is particularly poor. British workers are not going to be happy bunnies if their pensions lose value because a Labour government forced them to put some of their pot into risky start-ups that venture capitalists wouldn’t touch.

Samizdata quote of the day – office vs working from home edition

“Flexible working is not a new phenomenon. It has been around for decades, with varying degrees of success depending on the companies and industries that have implemented it. You do not need to be a working-from-home (WFH) evangelist to realise that working patterns have changed in recent years. Certain jobs, such as lawyers or journalists, can tolerate a level of WFH without a noticeable impact on performance. However, it is important to note that prior to Covid, its uptake amongst businesses has been very limited. The only reason it is plaguing our economy now, is not because businesses and start-ups across the nation have realised the phenomenal improvement in productivity. Far from it. It is simply because government-directed WFH orders, subsidies, and now policies have created a false sense of normality as well as a false labour market. And it is doomed to fail, like many so many state interventions, created far away from business reality.”

Andrew Barclay, businessman.

I was at a banking conference in Monaco (tough job, and someone has to do it) and this seemed to be the view of a lot of the folk present. Mind you, for a lot of my working life, my “office” is a table in a hotel business reception, airport lounge, cafe or my home. But I have done this for decades, and in my younger years (20-40) had the benefit of the cameraderie, mentorship and “culture” that comes with being in an office as part of a team. I follow a more “hybrid” approach these days, and it seems to work. (I actually think I work longer hours than when I was in an office.) I don’t see any reason for the State to intrude into this, either by penalising one form or working or encouraging it. A neutral approach is best. And what definitely should not happen is enshrining this or that way of working as a “right” beyond obvious constraints to protect life and health, both physical and mental. As ever (here comes the libertarian drum-roll sound), it is competition and vigorous enterprise that provides the best ways of people figuring out working patterns that suit them best, be they youngsters, middle-aged farts like me with or without children and dependents, etc etc.

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”

Those were reportedly the last words of General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in the American Civil War. (Wikipedia boringly says that he did complete the sentence. Just.)

General Sedgwick was a brave man to stride along the front like that. He sought to encourage his men, some of whom had been seen to flinch as the Confederate bullets landed all around.

I hope our Scottish readers will forgive me if I say that, though all the hearts that beat under Scottish skies are brave, not all of them are quite as brave as General Sedgwick. But some are:

“Deficits are nothing to be afraid of”, writes Jim Byrne for Bylines Scotland. You see, taxes don’t fund spending and a sovereign government can create new money to pay off its debts whenever it likes and so all Scotland needs to do make its deficit disappear is declare independence. This is called “Modern Monetary Theory”. Mr Byrne posts a link to a 14-page Bank of England document that, he says, shows that the Bank agrees with him. Which does make one wonder why the Bank doesn’t just declare “the deficit is nothing to be afraid of, let the rejoicing commence”. Unless it’s a case of “Gary, no”?