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 – Panopticon edition

In late 2021, Wired, the formerly libertarian magazine that now champions surveillance and censorship, called for spying on private messaging in the name of preventing harm. Encrypted messaging apps “are intentionally built for convenience and speed, for person-to-person communication as well as large group connections,” wrote Wired. “Yet it is these same conditions that have fueled abusive and illegal behavior, disinformation and hate speech, and hoaxes and scams; all to the detriment of the vast majority of their users. As early as 2018, investigative reports have explored the role that these very features played in dozens of deaths in India and Indonesia as well as elections in Nigeria and Brazil.”

The Omidyar report explicitly argued against the right to privacy in text messaging. “Privacy is essential to building trust, but it is not a singular standard for safety,” wrote Omidyar Foundation authors. “We believe online safety is the result of trustworthy technology and enlightened regulation. While the shift toward adopting end-to-end encryption has reinforced trust between users, the technological architecture that encourages scale, virality, and monetization has ultimately facilitated the rapid and large-scale spread of dangerous, distorted, and deceitful content.”

It is a shocking statement to read, especially when you realize that Omidyar, with a net worth of $9 billion, has long claimed to be a champion of free speech and privacy. He even bankrolled the online magazine, The Intercept in response to revelations by Edward Snowden that the U.S. government was illegally spying on American citizens. What is going on here? Why is the censorship industry now trying to spy on and censor our private messages?

Michael Shellenberger

Samizdata quote of the day – Orwellian edition

Months after Zweig published his report on the Twitter Files, journalist Matt Taibbi published a separate deep dive exploring the Virality Project, an initiative launched by Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center.

The project, which Taibbi described as “a sweeping, cross-platform effort to monitor billions of social media posts by Stanford University, federal agencies, and a slew of (often state-funded) NGOs,” is noteworthy because officials made it clear that a goal was not just to flag false information, but information that was true but inconvenient to the government’s goals. Reports of “vaccinated individuals contracting Covid-19 anyway,” “worrisome jokes,” and “natural immunity” were all characterized as “potential violations,” as were conversations “interpreted to suggest that coronavirus might have leaked from a lab.”

In what Taibbi describes as “a pan-industry monitoring plan for Covid-related content,” the Virality Project began analyzing millions of posts each day from platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Medium, TikTok, and other social media sites, which were submitted through the JIRA ticketing system. On February 22, 2021, in a video no longer public, Stanford welcomed social media leaders to the group and offered instruction on how to join the JIRA system.

In contrast to Twitter’s previous internal guidance, which required narratives on Covid-19 to be “demonstrably false” before any censorship actions were taken, the Virality Project made it clear that information that was true was also fair game if it undermined the larger aims of the government and the Virality Project.

Jon Miltimore

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.

Samizdata quote of the day – Radioactive logic edition

Saturday, the German government closed its last four nuclear power plants, finally fulfilling Angela Merkel’s Fukushima-era promise to destroy her nation’s most abundant source of safe, clean, cheap power — in the middle of an energy crisis. To fill the giant hole in the nation’s energy portfolio, the famously “environmentally conscious” Germans will be burning more coal, a degree of stupidity almost impossible to fathom. In America, this specific genre of Clown World policy was last observed at the Diablo Canyon power plant, which the state attempted to shut down in the middle of its own series of energy-related crises. At the last possible moment, following a tremendous groundswell of counter activism, that decision was reversed. But today, with the activist group “Friends of Earth” trying to override this rare California flirtation with logic, and with activists around the world celebrating the end of German nuclear power, rational policy is once again on the wrong side of political momentum. So let’s just break it down: poverty and global warming are both real, and they exist because of “environmentalism.” If you stand opposed to nuclear, you are either 1) too dumb to comprehend the risks inherent of the technology, 2) dedicated to some nefarious ulterior motive, or 3) pseudo-religiously obsessed with the belief mass murder is not only inevitable, but necessary to keep the human population “in check.” There is no steelman for these positions. The debate is over. Nuclear is the way.

Mike Solana

Samizdata quote of the day – Beyond Grievance

The race lobby would have us believe that Britain’s minority population is oppressed and victimised. An entire industry now exists to sustain and perpetuate this claim. Many in that lobby seem to believe they will be rendered irrelevant if they ever acknowledge the undeniable progress made by Britain on matters of race and integration. This is one reason why this survey’s data has been given such an overwhelmingly negative spin. A mature anti-racism movement would acknowledge the good news, while working to tackle discrimination where it still exists.

What a shame that these academics felt the need to trash Britain’s record on race relations – especially when their own research tells us that there is so much to be proud of.

Rakib Ehsan

Defence, Ireland and the “free rider” issue

“When was the last time an American president included Ireland in their vocal – and justified – criticism of Europe for slacking on its commitments? The fact is, with so many American voters claiming Irish heritage, Ireland gets a free pass, something it shamelessly exploits.”

Richard Kemp, Daily Telegraph (£).

I wonder if Ireland’s fairly low-key approach is a hangover from when, during WW2, it was neutral, presumably out of a reflexive hatred for the UK rather than some deep love of the other side. In the case of another country that gets praise here occasionally – Switzerland – it was also neutral, although the Swiss probably, for military reasons, feared with some justification that if it sided with the UK, it would have been rapidly invaded by its German neighbour. These days, the Swiss have imposed sanctions on Russia, along with the UK, EU and the US, so its own neutrality is fading. And Ireland, as an EU member state, has of course imposed the same sanctions, for what that’s worth. It is not a NATO member – something that might come as a surprise to some people.

There’s a wider issue for those of a free market and economics point of view here. Ireland could be accused, perhaps rightly, of being a “free rider” on other countries that are able and willing to spend serious money on defence. This “free rider problem” is a subject that comes up in economics and public policy, and used to justify, for example, compulsory public spending on things such as highways, education and defence because it is uneconomic and inefficient to charge individuals for the benefits of said, and yet there will always be those who benefit but have no incentive for pay up. Is this behaviour by Ireland a “free rider” issue, and if so, what if anything can be done about it?

Separately, Ireland has for a long time had one of the lowest rates of corporate taxation in the world. President Joe Biden, who likes to flaunt his Irish roots (as many US presidents, in their rather tiresome way, do) has been an advocate of a global pact through which major countries adhere to a minimum tax rate of 15 per cent, and who knows, that might go higher. This counts as a tax cartel, and a country such as Ireland (an EU member state, remember) loses out from that, as do other small EU states such as Malta and Luxembourg. Ireland boomed in the late 80s, and through the 90s, in part because of its low-tax charms. These angered the policymakers of Brussels, who perhaps rightly saw this as a challenge to their desire to create a more high-tax/high-spend regime across the EU. So Ireland can at times be annoying for the right reasons.

What this all comes down to is that Ireland has, in different ways, chosen to stand apart. For all that it might be annoying that Ireland doesn’t supposedly do more on defence (it has a big coastline and requires safe shipping lanes), there’s been a sort of independence of mindset about Ireland that I quite like. (And as a coda to all this, lots of Irishmen, during WW2, defied their country and fought during WW2 against the Nazis, to their everlasting honour.)

Samizdata quote of the day – BBC gets Cathy Newman’ed by Elon Musk

Here we had a journalist so accustomed to pushing The Narrative that he apparently has no grasp of the facts. More importantly, it showed that despite launching a years-long crusade for social-media censorship, particularly against so-called hate speech, the corporate media are apparently incapable of defining what hate speech is. This of course is because no one can – not objectively, at least. One man’s hate speech is another man’s deeply held conviction. Which is why empowering the state or huge corporations to define and censor hate speech is so incredibly dangerous. These points have apparently never occurred to Clayton, as he bristles at all that ‘slightly’ hateful stuff on his timeline.

Tom Slater

Pushing back against state overreach

Together was formed in response to the catastrophic overreach of government and authorities during the pandemic. The consequences of that episode need no repetition here, but the government’s smearing, censure and censorship of criticism, and the attempts to use psychology (fearmongering – as you have observed well) to assert its agenda was a grotesque departure from the norms of democratic society. Together launched a very successful campaign to reassert democratic control and freedoms, demanding the reinstatement of care workers sacked for their non-compliance with vaccine mandates. And they have since started a campaign to challenge some of the aggressively anti-car policies that local authorities have installed under cover of lockdowns, which will have a detrimental effect on freedoms, incomes, and health, despite seemingly being formulated in the interests of public safety. Climate Debate UK was launched at the end of last year, with the intention of informing debates relating to the Net Zero agenda. And so there was considerable overlap, and a joint project seemed like a good idea. I hope to be working with Together much more in the future.

Ben Pile in discussion with Laura Dodsworth.

Pushing back against state overreach is a perpetual battle of attrition that must be fought on many fronts.

Samizdata quote of the day – anti-“picking winners” edition

“Over the next few years, all those heavily subsidised plants in the US, Germany and France are going to come on stream, selling chips into a global market where there are too many of them and prices are tumbling. The losses could be vast. Taxpayer money will have been put to terrible use and, in the UK, Treasury officials will perhaps be quietly breathing a sigh of relief that we were too hopelessly disorganised. There is a lesson to be taken, not least at a time when when `industrial strategies’ are more popular than ever. Just because a product is important it does not mean any particular country has to produce it. And if demand is growing, it is safe to assume private companies will be capable of meeting that need without help from the state. Too often, governments end up subsidising the wrong industries at the wrong time. They have a poor record of picking winners, and should instead set low and fair taxes, lower tariffs, keep competition open, and break up any cartels. Once they have done all that, the market can decide which are the industries of the future.”

Matthew Lynn, Daily Telegraph (£).

My only quibble with the quote from this excellent article is that his support for trust-busting activity needs to be qualified with the point that a lot of anti-monopoly activities by governments are often based on a misunderstanding of competition as a static game, not a dynamic process through time. We see this regularly in the recent wailing about Big Tech. (See an article here.)

Samizdata quote of the day – Deep Fake edition

Specially trained and reliable witnesses would certainly be a help. But, of course, they’re humans and thus fallible and corruptible. (Heinlein, a creature of his times, was a pretty big believer in institutions and professionalism. The past decade has largely served as a refutation of both. And even in his day, the institutions and professions were less trustworthy than we thought; it was just harder to find out when they were lying, sort of a meta-case of what I’m writing about here.)

Technology might help some, as it will probably soon be able to tell if people are lying via brain scans with high reliability. (I doubt it will be able to tell if they’re just wrong, though). And that technology offers its own set of – very troubling — problems that go way beyond this essay.

Glenn Reynolds

Samizdata quote of the day – decadence vs. depravity

Russia can’t even offer any hope to Russians, let alone to anybody else. Russia today combines an authoritarian political system with aggressive ethno-nationalism and disastrous levels of corruption. The state suppresses or co-opts every expression of civil society, and the all-pervasive corruption relentlessly corrodes the natural moral sense of the individual. Lying, cheating and stealing becomes the norm, and anybody who tries to fight it gets crushed. Eventually, people forget how to live in any other way. The West is decadent but Russia is depraved.

– Commenter Andrew Z

Samizdata quote of the day – Vittu Putin edition

Can Putin take any comfort from the advance of the populist Finns Party, which achieved its best-ever result to take second place? After all, Moscow has often looked to Europe’s hard-Right parties for sympathy. Only last week, more than 20 MPs from Austria’s Freedom Party staged a walk-out when Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the national parliament.

However, there’s a big difference between the Nordic populists and their counterparts in the Danube region. To put it mildly, Finnish nationalism is not known for its pro-Russian tendencies.

Peter Franklin