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]

How long will the doctors be in loco parentis?

Thirty years? Women of childbearing age should not drink – WHO

How about forever? Face masks should continue ‘forever’ to fight other diseases, says Sage scientist

What our canine friends are owed, and what they’re not

“Your dog is alert, plucky and a fearsome guardian of your property. For all we know, without his services, you would have been burgled over and over again. Your belongings would be depleted and the utility you derived from your home would be much reduced. The difference between the actual value of your home and its unguarded value is the contribution of your dog, and so is the difference between the respective utilities or satisfactions you derive from it. We do not know the exact figure, but the main thing is that there is one.”

Anthony de Jasay, the late French political philosopher.

His essay addresses a form of argument one sometimes hears from communitarians of the Left and Right, as in the case of former President Barack Obama, who infamously told US entrepreneurs and other such movers and shakers that “you didn’t build that”. (Some people claim that Obama was quoted out of context, so in fairness here is a link to a discussion on that.) It is an argument – if we can dignify it with that word – used to undermine defences against tax and other State predations of private property.

On a related note, one of my least-favourite expressions is “giving back to society”. The term carries the implication that one took something, or rented it, from some sort of collective entity, and must return it to the rightful pool. Of course there can be genuine gratitude of living in a free, prosperous place and wanting to leave something even nicer for others. That’s totally fine. But the “giving back” expression, unless qualified and understood in context, carries a sort of embedded reproach. It’s a way of saying “nice piece of property you have there but don’t get too comfy and it would be a shame if anyone wanted to take it”. (Here is a related discussion about such attitudes.)

The point about people benefiting from what others have done is rarely considered the other way around when the costs are involved. We also inherit, or deal with, lots of bad things that others intentionally or unintentionally impose upon us, such as hostile attitudes towards those who are successful and so on. There are liabilities and costs imposed on us that we have no control over, and which are a burden to handle. So the “you didn’t build that” works in the other direction too.

Back to De Jasay’s point, he’s noting how the protection we are afforded by a guard (“woof!”) can and has been used to command political fidelity and support for all manner of State institutions. He brilliantly dissects this way of thinking. It is one of those essays that ought to be better known.

A dastardly personal attack

I thought it was a photoshop prank when I first read Matt Walsh’s tweet, but this does appear to be a genuine Independent headline: “Rightwing blogger launches gofundme for AOC’s Puerto Rico grandmother in latest personal attack”

In an attempt to shame Ms Ocasio-Cortez, Mr Walsh then started a gofundme to raise money for the congresswoman’s grandmother’s home repairs, paying just under $500 into the fundraiser himself.

Ben Shaprio, another conservative commenter who regularly attacks the congresswoman, also donated $499 and called on other conservative media personalities to do the same.

The fundraiser’s goal of just under $50,000 was met and exceeded by Friday afternoon, currently sitting at just under $60,000.

“Hi @AOC, we are raising money to help your abuela. It’s been inspiring to see the response so far. Can you send me a DM so that I can get the necessary information to ensure that this money makes it to your grandmother? Thank you!” he wrote on Twitter.

So long as the money is transferred as promised, and is transferred without strings attached so that Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s grandmother can turn right round and give it to her granddaughter’s re-election campaign if she wants to, I felt that the Independent‘s description of this as an “attack” was… incomplete.

Just as a discussion point for the libertarian argufiers out there: in what circumstances would giving someone money, or giving their relatives money, actually violate the non-aggression principle?

The European Digital Identity is born

The Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age loves the idea:

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

However Laurie Clarke of TechMonitor is not so keen:

“The EU digital ID scheme could be a boon for SMEs but a security nightmare”,

Today, the EU announced plans for a bloc-wide digital identity scheme that will allow citizens to use public and private services online. The digital wallet would store payment details, passwords and digital ID cards, and be interoperable across the 27 EU member countries. But the scheme is yet to settle on technical standards, and could be besieged by privacy and security concerns before it gets off the ground.

The EU will reportedly force a structural separation preventing companies that use the system from repurposing customer data for other commercial activities, such as marketing. It also stressed that users of the digital identity solution will be in control of their data. But the melding of public and private services could pose privacy concerns in future. Privacy advocates have repeatedly warned about the potential for digital ID cards to erode civil liberties – particularly when data collected by the scheme ends up being used for immigration control or policing purposes.

On the security side, “This puts an awful lot of sensitive data in one place,” says Marcus. Cybersecurity threats have been growing over the years both from commercial and government-sponsored hackers, which could threaten the digital ID scheme. “This is a high-value target, both for criminal gangs and for governments. If this data gets out in the wild, it would be bad.”

Some of the responses to Ursula Von der Leyen’s tweet are less enthusiastic still. Someone called “Tom” says,

This would sound like an impending Orwellian nightmare if not for the inevitable certainty that the Commission will find a way to f*** it up.

Inclusion and diversity is so 2020

“Chicago mayor’s decision to only speak to journalists of color is commendable, not racist”, writes someone in the Independent. The apparent erasure of the author’s identity was the Independent‘s doing, not mine, but they – the author – describe themselves as a Black and Native American writer who finds Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s demand to only speak with journalists of colour commendable.

On libertarian principle, I support the right of Ms Lightfoot or anyone else to refuse to associate with people of a different race, but unlike this author I disapprove of racism.

CMV: the threat to liberty from mandatory voter ID is insignificant

“CMV” stands for “Change my view”. It is the name of a subreddit where people go to argue, expecting disagreement, as I expect it now.

In the most recent Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty told the Lords and the Commons that “My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs”, but there were serious proposals as well. She also said, “Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections”. This was a reference to the proposed Electoral Integrity Bill. You can read the Hansard account of the debate in Parliament here. Chloe Smith MP, who it appears is the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, there’s posh now, said,

Asking voters to prove their identities will safeguard against the potential in our current system for someone to cast another person’s vote at the polling station. Showing identification is something people of all backgrounds do every day.

Northern Ireland has used voter identification in its elections since 1985, and expanded this in 2003 during the last Labour Government. In the first general election after photographic identification was introduced in Northern Ireland by the then Labour Government (2005), turnout in Northern Ireland was higher than in each of England, Scotland and Wales. Since then, the experience in Northern Ireland has shown that once voter identification is established as part of the voting system the vast majority of electors complete the voting process after arriving at the polling station. A wide range of countries, such as Canada and most European nations, require some form of identification to vote.

New research published yesterday on www.gov.uk clearly indicates that the vast majority of the electorate of Great Britain, 98% of electors, already own an eligible form of identification, which includes a broad range of documents and expired photographic identification.

And, um, that sounds fair to me. Note that the Northern Irish Electoral Identity Card is not required to be shown before one can vote. It is but one of several acceptable forms of ID, and is issued free of charge to those people who don’t have any of the other forms so that nobody will be unable to vote due to poverty. It is not the abominable high-tech integrated without-this-you-starve Identity Nexus proposed by the Right Honourable Tony Blair. My opinions on that have not changed since 2003. To look at, the Northern Irish Electoral Identity card is a poxy little photocard that looks like it was issued by your local library. This lack of sophistication, the fact that you only need the effing thing once every five years or so, and the fact that voters have been obliged to show ID before voting in Northern Ireland for years without any obvious bad consequences, lead me to not to fear the rollout of a similar scheme in the rest of the UK as the first step on the slippery slope towards a national ID card.

As to whether a legal requirement to show photographic ID before one votes is a thing good, bad or indifferent in itself, that is a separate debate. Dawn Butler MP, writing in the Times, says, “This, to me, is nothing more than a cynical attempt at voter suppression by our government — and it must be stopped. It mirrors some of the subversive tactics deployed in some states in America.” Jess Garland of the Electoral Reform Society writes in the Guardian that it would undermine democracy. Over in the US, where the state of Georgia has recently passed its own Election Integrity Act, President Biden said a thing about eagles.

How pausing the world leads to catastrophe

Well worth your time:

Samizdata quote of the day

For centuries, women have fought for the right to bodily autonomy. Having an abortion is a medical intervention, and women are just as entitled to it as any other treatment. But by adopting a philosophy which surrenders our medical autonomy to the state, we are hypothetically giving governments the power to ban abortions. Moreover, we are giving them the power to enforce them, if they so choose.

The rights of the individual to assess risk and prioritise the quality of their own life has been forgotten

In the past 12 months, dramatic shifts in mainstream attitudes to public health have moved us closer to this reality. The rights of the individual to assess risk and prioritise the quality of their own life has not only been forgotten — it has been scoffed at and derided, as though it never existed in the first place. The precedent set by the smallest step towards this broken philosophy is incredibly dangerous. Over the next few weeks, we must all ask ourselves what kind of world we want our children to grow up in. Do we grant them ownership of their bodies — indeed, their self, their soul, their identities? Or do we bequeath that ownership to the state? Some may argue that vaccine passports are the first step towards eradicating a disease. Rather, they are the first step towards the eradication of basic human rights.

Tom Moran

“Adam Smith was on the side of the angels …”

The following is the text of an email that I and all the many others on the Adam Smith Institute email list received today, from the ASI’s Eamonn Butler:

Today marks 245 years since the publication of The Wealth of Nations, one of the most important books ever written.

Smith revolutionised our understanding of commerce. He explained how trade enriches our lives and his works laid the foundations of a whole new field of study: economics.

Today though, Adam Smith’s legacy is under threat from those that would rewrite history.

Smith’s grave and statue have been linked to “slavery and colonialism,” according to Edinburgh City Council.

The grave and statue are being reviewed by the SNP-Labour Coalition Council’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. Their claim rests upon a quote by Adam Smith that said “slavery was ubiquitous and inevitable but that it was not as profitable as free labour“.

This is an extraordinary mischaracterisation.

Smith not only argued that slavery was morally reprehensible, but also provided intellectual ammunition to the abolitionist movement. The link Adam Smith has to slavery was as one of the authors of that vile practice’s destruction.

Smith, writing in the 18th century, thought slavery would continue. He could not have foreseen humanity’s subsequent liberal turn.

But it is abundantly clear that Smith thought slavery was grotesque. Smith wrote, in no uncertain terms, that slave owners’ “brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.”

Smith also argued that slaves are inefficient workers, because they cannot keep the fruits of their labour. His arguments against slavery were used by abolitionists.

Smith was on the side of the angels, holding humanist views well ahead of his time.

The links, all in the original email, are well worth clicking on.

As Eamonn Butler says, it was liberals, which then meant people who prized liberty, who put slavery on the defensive. It never completely went away, and socialists, national and otherwise, gave it a whole new lease of life in the twentieth century, although lease of death might be a better phrase. And in doing this socialists provided several more mountains of evidence that Adam Smith was right about slavery’s inefficiency, as well as about its brutality and baseness.

Samizdata quote of the day

Governments don’t oppose gig economy jobs because of a concern for working conditions, they do it because “real employees” are the most heavily taxed people in the economy, and the more of them there are the more the government can milk them for their outrageous vote buying schemes. Employees are much easier to manage and control both by employers and bureaucracies than freelancers. Consequently, bureaucracies prefer them.

Fraser Orr

How dare they not want to be rescued

Two days ago the BBC reported that the Supreme Court had ruled that Uber drivers are workers rather than being self-employed.

With what glad hosannas did the drivers greet the news of their liberation!

Er, no. As Sam Dumitriu writes in CapX,

Putting questions of legality to one side, it’s clear Uber’s business model works for drivers. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. Countless surveys have found that the majority of Uber drivers are happy with the status quo and would not sacrifice flexibility for greater security.

A survey carried out by Oxford University academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Thor Berger, in partnership with Uber, found that drivers reported higher levels of life satisfaction compared to other London workers, despite on average earning less. And, counter to the conventional wisdom, drivers typically worked full-time in other jobs before choosing to shift to Uber. Furthermore, more than four-fifths of drivers agreed with the statement: ‘Being able to choose my own hours is more important than having holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage’. They found that drivers would accept a move to fixed hours – but only if it came with a 25% pay rise.

Perhaps they had looked across the Atlantic and seen the results of California’s attempt to save gig economy workers from working in the gig economy:

In Uber’s home state of California, 70% of drivers backed Proposition 22, a ballot measure that created a carve-out for ridesharing services from the state’s tough laws on freelance work. The measure passed with 59% of the vote in November.

AB 5, the freelancer law which Prop 22 was responding to highlights how interventions designed to solve a problem in one market can have unintended consequences in others.

When it passed, Vox published an article: “Gig workers’ win in California is a victory for workers everywhere”. A month later they published another article: “Freelance journalists are mad about a new California law. Here’s what’s missing from the debate. The alternative to AB5 would be worse”. Two months later, Vox Media itself cut hundreds of freelance writing jobs in California.

No place outwith the State

“MSPs back criminalising hate speech at the dinner table”, reports the (Glasgow) Herald

HATE speech in the home is set to be criminalised after a Tory attempt to stop it failed at Holyrood.

Critics fear it could lead to over-heated dinner table conversations being investigated by the police under the Scottish Government’s new Hate Crimes Bill.

However MSPs on the justice committee agreed with Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf that there should be no exemption for hateful speech and conduct just because it was in a private dwelling.

He said the law often dealt with events in the home, and an exemption could mean, for example, that someone who urged people in their house to attack a synagogue, but then did not take part, could not be punished for inciting the crime.

Humza Yousaf’s choice of example is disingenuous. There has never been a “dwelling exemption” when it came to inciting a crime, and no one has suggested there should be one. The amendment allowing a dwelling exemption that was unsuccessfully tabled by the Tory MSP Liam Kerr related only to the “stirring up of hatred”.

It is disturbing enough that such an amorphous charge should ever be made a matter of law at all, but whatever he might think of the Hate Crime Bill as a whole, Kerr’s proposed amendment in this instance was limited to suggesting that the rule whereby it becomes a crime to stir up hatred would be suspended if “words or behaviour are used by a person inside a private dwelling and are not heard or seen except by other persons in that or another dwelling”. In other words Kerr did not think it should be a crime to stir up a particular emotion in another person if done in private. By seven votes to two, the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament disagreed. Assuming the Bill passes, it will thus be a crime in Scotland to say words deemed to be hateful, even if done in your own home.

This new crime having been created, will failure to report this crime itself be a crime? According to the website “Ask the Police”, “Whilst there is no legal requirement to report a crime, there is a moral duty on everyone of us to report to the police any crime or anything we suspect may be a crime.” Since asking the same question in “Ask the Scottish Police” redirected me to the same answer, I assume this answer also applies to the separate Scottish legal system. That is only slightly reassuring. Once reported, a potential crime must be investigated. The suspect must be questioned. Witnesses must be called. By the nature of this new crime the suspects and witnesses are likely to be the family members of the accuser. To many that will be a feature not a bug.

I call it a “new” crime, but that is a misnomer. The Scottish Government – soon to be the Scottish State if the ruling party of the current Scottish Government has its way – is set to return to methods of maintaining order that are very old.