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]

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.

A broadside from an actual conservative

How can you continue to treat every British citizen as though they face a very high risk of being hospitalised or even dying as a result of exposure to Covid, when this patently is not true? And why pretend the NHS is overwhelmed when the Nightingale hospitals lie empty? And how, this weekend, could you have bought into and sold the public such a dodgy Covid deaths dossier, your so-called ‘realistic worst case’ scenarios that lack any credibility an excuse for lockdown?

How can you justify failing to subject lockdown to a detailed cost benefits exercise? And yet you are going down the same un-costed route again.

How can you justify outsourcing the entire educational, economic, mental and social wellbeing of the nation to ever more secretive and unaccountable NHS quangos with their own political and vested interests all supposedly under the control of Matt Hancock at the Department of Health?

Lastly, how can you, an economic liberal, be part of a government which has needlessly wrecked Britain’s economy? You and colleagues may be shielded from the onslaught that the nation is about to experience thanks to your publicly-funded salary and pension, but most others – particularly the self-employed, the sole traders and those who run small businesses – face a very different future, one that is genuinely frightening. Irresponsible doesn’t begin to describe the national economic and political catastrophe your latest lockdown decision is leading us to.

Kathy Gyngell

Question…

I do not know a single family who have adjusted or in anyways changed their Christmas plans in the last week or two due to changes in the state’s latest whims regarding Covid-19. Question: I am a lockdown sceptic but outside my bubble, are there people willingly rearraigning their lives when the state issues new edicts?

The interim director of Liberty comes near to defending liberty

While Gracie Mae Bradley does not go all the way, her opinion piece in the Guardian, “How the British government is trying to crush our right to protest”, does get close to an actual defence of liberty.

In 2020 each of us has faced criminalisation for leaving the house without a “reasonable excuse”. Police have used surveillance drones to shame people walking in national parks. And countless people have been wrongly criminalised under the rushed and draconian Coronavirus Act, which also contains powers to force people to quarantine, close our borders, and even postpone some elections. And in all of this, parliament has been sidelined, with some lockdown laws, which have regulated aspects of our daily lives to a minute degree, coming into force at the stroke of a minister’s pen, with parliament given an opportunity to vote only weeks later.

Here is the moment when she defends the right to protest of those with whom she disagrees:

Across the board, the response from the government and police has raised cause for serious concern. Scores of people have been arrested for taking to the streets to protest against lockdown restrictions.

It was never going to last. The brief encounter with libertarian principle over, she marks her return to respectability by reciting the names of the holy things.

We could be disheartened, but instead we should look to the many powerful protest movements that have persisted nonetheless – from school climate strikers, to opponents of the exam “mutant algorithm”, to people fighting for racial equality. It’s up to all of us to protect our hard-won freedoms: 2021 is going to be hard enough for the government – it should drop this protest bill before it sees the light of day.

Indeed it should. But one does not have to agree with the climate strikers or BLM to think so.

Judicial quotes of the year – Justice Neil Gorsuch

“…we may not shelter in place when the Constitution is under attack. Things never go well when we do.”

Justice Gorsuch in ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BROOKLYN, NEW YORK v. ANDREW M. CUOMO, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK. The Supreme Court has injuncted pending trial Cuomo’s executive order restricting religious observance in New York, noting that although the original order had been changed since the proceedings started (a device to make the litigation moot), that actually made it more important, as a defence against arbitrary state power.

Now, just as this Court was preparing to act on their applications, the Governor loosened his restrictions, all while continuing to assert the power to tighten them again anytime as conditions warrant. So if we dismissed this case, nothing would prevent the Governor from reinstating the challenged restrictions tomorrow. And by the time a new challenge might work its way to us, he could just change them again. The Governor has fought this case at every step of the way. To turn away religious leaders bringing meritorious claims just because the Governor decided to hit the “off ” switch in the shadow of our review would be, in my view, just another sacrifice of fundamental rights in the name of judicial modesty.

The judgment of Gorsuch is full of robust language, such as:

It is time—past time—to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.

Bear in mind that here, the Keep Britain Free judicial review was thrown out at the English High Court partly on the basis that by the time the court heard it, the restrictions had changed (whilst the power to impose them remained). This is now under (leisurely) appeal in the English Court of Appeal. How nice it would be to have an appellate court in the country that could produce such robust defences of liberty and the rule of law, e.g.

Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical.

And a splendid dig:

Even if judges may impose emergency restrictions on rights that some of them have found hiding in the Constitution’s penumbras, it does not follow that the same fate should befall the textually explicit right to religious exercise.

And this:

Nothing in Jacobson purported to address, let alone approve, such serious and long-lasting intrusions into settled constitutional rights. In fact, Jacobson explained that the challenged law survived only because it did not “contravene the Constitution of the United States” or “infringe any right granted or secured by that instrument.” Id., at 25.
Tellingly no Justice now disputes any of these points. Nor does any Justice seek to explain why anything other than our usual constitutional standards should apply during the current pandemic.

Whilst the United States Supreme Court is so constituted, there is hope for the Republic, even though this was a 5-4 victory. Meanwhile in the UK, any hope of help from the courts is a deranged fantasy. But the courts may serve a purpose in demonstrating that point.

History repeats itself: alcohol prohibition in Bihar

The Indian news channel News 18 reports:

On April 1, 2016, Bihar was declared a dry state. The JD(U)-led government enforced a five-year jail term for first-time offenders. In 2018, the law was amended to introduce a fine for first-time offenders. The sweeping victory in 2015 was attributed to the support of women who felt addressed by Nitish’s push for prohibition in Bihar.

In America a century ago women hoped that prohibition would stop so many wives being beaten by their drunken husbands. But National Geographic tells the story of how

Women campaigned for Prohibition—then many changed their minds

As then in the US, so now in Bihar:

However, the factor may have worked against him this time.

A female voter in Muzaffarpur said, “Liquor is still being sold illegally in the state. Those selling it are getting prosperous by the day and those consuming it are getting ruined. Alcohol is being sold under wraps and consumed in every other house. Families are being devastated. The police are party to this as well. They allow alcohol to infiltrate borders. My son earns and wastes all the money in drinking. There has been no alcohol ban.”

And

In a letter to the state government last year, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies quoted data from Bihar police, National Crime Records Bureau and ministry of transport and highway to press home the point that the liquor ban in Bihar has not reduced crime. The letter states that the ban has also boosted the sale of bootlegged alcohol, fetching profit margins of 400 per cent, while the lucrative opportunity has led to the rise of a powerful liquor mafia.

Half of rural women in Bihar are illiterate. I cannot blame them for not knowing the story of how prohibition turned out in a faraway country a hundred years earlier:

How Prohibition Put the ‘Organized’ in Organized Crime

Kingpins like Al Capone were able to rake in up to $100 million each year thanks to the overwhelming business opportunity of illegal booze.

Modern-day prohibitionists in the rich world have no such excuse. Nor do Indian politicians such as the aforementioned Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar. They can read. They have the internet. They can easily find out how this story always ends.

The bonfire of the vanities comes to Wales

I know Wales sometimes has been partial to a medicinal drop of puritanism – some areas prohibited the sale of alcohol on the Sabbath as late as 1996 – but I struggle to see what conceivable benefit this brings to anyone other than Jeff Bezos:

Wales lockdown: Supermarkets told to sell only essential items

Supermarkets will be unable to sell items like clothes during the 17-day Covid firebreak lockdown in Wales.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said it would be “made clear” to them they are only able to open parts of their business that sell “essential goods”.

Many retailers will be forced to shut but food shops, off-licences and pharmacies can stay open when lockdown begins on Friday at 18:00 BST.

Retailers said they had not been given a definition of what was essential.

The Association of Convenience Stores and the Welsh Retail Consortium have written urgently to the first minister, expressing alarm over the new regulations.

Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said: “Compelling retailers to stop selling certain items, without them being told clearly what is and what isn’t permitted to be sold, is ill-conceived and short-sighted.”

Welsh Conservative Andrew RT Davies tweeted: “The power is going to their heads.”

Discussion point: can children consent to puberty blockers? What about other drastic treatments?

Before you weigh in, please read both the Guardian articles.

“UK court hears children cannot consent to puberty blockers”, reports the Guardian today.

In a statement in the submission, Bell said she had been left with “no breasts, a deep voice, body hair, a beard, affected sexual function and who knows what else that has not been discovered”. She had to live with the fact that if she had children in the future, she would not be able to breastfeed. “I made a brash decision as a teenager (as a lot of teenagers do) trying to find confidence and happiness, except now the rest of my life will be negatively affected,” she said.

On the other hand, the abstract of this medical study published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics records that the study found that

There is a significant inverse association between treatment with pubertal suppression during adolescence and lifetime suicidal ideation among transgender adults who ever wanted this treatment. These results align with past literature, suggesting that pubertal suppression for transgender adolescents who want this treatment is associated with favorable mental health outcomes.

Another Guardian article published on 28 September raised similar issues of principle regarding a treatment that must be given to children if it is to work at all:

‘There is a fear that this will eradicate dwarfism’: the controversy over a new growth drug.

Two extracts:

Samuel Gray is very brave about his daily injections. At six-and-a-half, confident and happy, he was a boy who knew his own mind and made a big decision about his future. His parents had asked him if he wanted to take part in a clinical trial for a drug that could improve some of the conditions associated with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, with which Samuel was born.

[…]

In 2015, BioMarin Pharmaceutical, the company that developed vosoritide, released the results of phase two of its study. At the time, Leah Smith, a spokeswoman for Little People of America (LPA), the largest organisation in the US for people with dwarfism, said: “People like me are endangered and now they want to make me extinct.” Recently, the actor Mark Povinelli, who is president of the LPA, told the New York Times that the drug “is one of the most divisive things that we’ve come across in our 63-year existence”.