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

Uber drivers often explain why they choose to drive for the company in terms of more flexible working arrangements. Last month, an independent poll revealed that 80% of Uber drivers in the UK would prefer to remain as contractors, but the unions campaigning to give these drivers worker status don’t seem to care about the views of the people they’re claiming to help.

[…]

Although the study’s conclusions are more directly relevant to U.S. lawmakers, they are also a reminder to UK regulators that Uber’s more flexible working arrangements are highly valued by its drivers. They care about having greater freedom to choose their own hours: so much so that they are willing to trade off potentially higher earnings in order to preserve that freedom. The same is also true of Uber’s customers, who benefit from the influx of supply during predictable peak hours that Uber’s flexible surge-pricing model makes possible. If Uber loses its appeal against last year’s ruling that its UK drivers are workers rather than contractors, many of the benefits of flexibility will be lost.

Daniel Pryor

The mask slips

The Guardian‘s Owen Jones asked the following question on Twitter:

How quickly should anti-LGBTQ rail tycoon and SNP donor Brian Souter’s assets be nationalised by a Labour Government?

Samizdata quote of the day

The satire writes itself these days. For the past 16 months, ever since voters said No to the EU, the supposed liberal set has been signalling its virtue over migrant workers. These Remainer types have filled newspaper columns and dinner-party chatter with sad talk about foreigners losing the right to travel to and work in Britain. Yet now these same people have chortled as London mayor Sadiq Khan and his pen-pushers at Transport for London (TfL) have refused to renew Uber’s licence in the capital. Which means 30,000 people will lose work. Many of them migrants. They cry over migrant workers one day, and laugh as they lose their livelihoods the next.

Brendan O’Neill

Uber petition breaks 600,000

The #SaveYourUber petition has, as of 10:45 pm in London, attracted 600,000+ names, and one of them is mine.

Of course the best way to save Uber is to get rid of Sadiq Khan and make the issue politically radioactive.

More thoughts on the Uber ban in London

Patrick Crozier has written his own thoughts on this just now, but I have some thoughts of my own. I cannot remember being so angry about a decision out of London for some time.

Brian Micklethwait and others on this blog have written in the past about why Uber is such a big deal in how the case for capitalism and the free market can be made. And I have already seen evidence from people who are on the Left side of the spectrum that they are angry about this ban, in ways that are not always intellectually consistent, but also useful in showing how this could be a teachable moment about free enterprise. Consider that tens of thousands of Uber drivers will no longer be able to earn a living in this way; sure, some of them will work for other taxi firms as they try to fill the gap that is left, but that will take a certain amount of time. Established taxi firms such as Addison Lee are no doubt delighted. Car leasing firms will see drivers sell up, causing goodness-knows what troubles. Besides the drivers, there are also all those software and support service people who will be made redundant. Many of them are young and may not be all that political; some may even be quite leftist. What will they think of Labour now, I wonder?  All those bearded hipsters dreaming of creating clever businesses have been told, in essence, to fuck off unless you do something that doesn’t challenge anyone too much. Great.

For all that Mr Khan likes to strike poses as being more supposedly electable than Jeremy Corbyn, he shows that under all the different images, he is an advocate of rent-seeking socialism, happy to play to whatever unionised groups are around. He talks endlessly about the need for “more resources”, and has been remarkably useless as far as I can see in terms of making London safer overall. In fact, one safety casualty of banning Uber and similar entities is that it will once again be quite difficult at times for people to get a taxi, such as late at night and in bad weather, increasing the risks to people in certain situations. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Another effect of this ban is the message it broadcasts to the wider world and those of business: make sure you pay politicians lots of money and creep up to them, otherwise we could find fault and ban you. If you disrupt unionised, regulated business models you are unwelcome, and will be punished. And the kicker is that the current mayor is a Remainer, a man who has, fatuously, claimed that our exit from the Single Market is a disaster because of the loss of trading opportunities. Well, it appears that his enthusiasm for such things is limited when practical, actual cases of competition arise.

Anyway, here is a press statement from the Institute of Economic Affairs, which neatly summarises the issues. It comes from Mark Littlewood, Director General at the IEA:

“Transport for London’s decision to not renew Uber’s license strikes a huge blow to competition and innovation within London’s transport market. If this ruling is upheld, it will ruin flexible working opportunities for the 40,000 city drivers who use the app – many for their livelihood, and many to top-up low wages.

“The ruling also inconveniences the 3.5 million Londoners who regularly use the service, and reasserts the dominance of the city’s taxi cartel, which only the wealthiest residents can afford to use with any sense of frequency.

“Apps like Uber have a large role to play in our increasingly dynamic economy, and it is a mistake to cling onto out-dated views of working arrangements. Uber is not an ’employer’ – it is simply a platform that allows drivers and customers to meet and trade under a specific set of rules.

“Banning Uber, and clamping down on the Gig Economy more generally, is a restriction upon freedom of choice, both for Uber’s drivers and passengers. In doing so, Transport for London has privileged the views of a powerful minority who wish to restrict consumer choice over the will of millions of ordinary Londoners.”

“Today’s decision is an assault on drivers and customers alike, and a victory for protectionism.”

Government to ban Uber in London

In 8 days time.

Fuckers.

Lots of people – including some Uber supporters – saying stupid things.

Talking of which, I see Sargon of Akkad – he of This Week in Stupid – has been “unpublished” on Facebook.

What a shit day.

I wish I were reading a happier version of this story

Has anyone else been guiltily transfixed by the mystery of Danish inventor Peter Madsen, his now-sunken submarine, and the missing Swedish journalist Kim Wall? I truly do not wish to make light of the fact that a woman is missing, presumed dead, but I was undeniably fascinated by the whole idea of a crowd-sourced, privately built submarine. In any other circumstances I would have been delighted to learn that such a thing existed.

Here are some news reports on the story:

Danish submarine owner arrested over missing journalist

Submarine in missing journalist case sunk on purpose, Danish police say

Kim Wall and Danish submarine: What we know and what we don’t

Police in Two Countries Searching for Woman Missing Since Sub Sank

When commenting, please bear in mind that a criminal investigation is ongoing – and that all should be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

‘Self-driving car’ actually controlled by man dressed up as a car seat

The Guardian has the story, here.

Uber drivers collude

Uber drivers are supposedly colluding to cause the Uber algorithm to increase fares by logging off en masse.

Dr Mareike Mohlmann, of Warwick Business School, said: “Drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system. It shows that the algorithmic management that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable but may also hurt the company itself.”

It sounds like a fair game to me. Any driver who does not participate will have the advantage of being able to snap up passengers first. And higher prices will simply reduce demand. Only people willing to pay more will use the service.

The system works as designed, except that the interface is clunky. A better way might be to allow drivers to set their own prices.

A thought experiment on how private road owners would deal with the threat of terrorism

When dealing with complex political issues I often find it useful to ask myself what would happen in the absence of the state. This is not because I think that the glorious libertarian revolution is just around the corner but because such an exercise can at least give us some clues as to what the state should be doing in the here and now.

So, what do I mean by private roads?
Roads where the owners may decide who uses them, under what circumstances and have the means to enforce their decisions. The type of ownership could include purely commercial enterprises – out for a profit, individually-owned roads and – what I think will be the most common form – club-owned roads.

A lot would depend on people’s propensity to tolerate acts of terrorism. My guess is that this would be pretty low but I could be wrong. But that’s the great thing about the free market: it is a wonderful way of finding out what people really want. If the propensity is high then I would guess the outcome would be very similar to what we have now. Terrorism would simply be something that people would have to get used to. But let’s assume that the propensity is low. A commercial road owner would therefore have a very strong incentive to prevent terrorism.

Why?
Because, if a competitor was better at preventing terrorism then more people will want to use his roads.

But what of a road owned by a club?
This is an important example if I am right that most private roads would be in this form. The governance rules might be in the form of one frontage one vote. But it may be that the number of votes is proportional to the fees charged.

Now a road club will not have the same incentives as a commercial road – they would not exist to make money. But they would have incentives enough. The principal one would be that their members would want to preserve the value of their properties and one factor in that would be how likely it was that their properties became subject to terrorism.

Individual road owners, we can assume, would be in much the same position as clubs.

So, assuming there are strong incentives to prevent terrorism how would road owners go about it?
Obviously they would want to stop the terrorists. But they would also want to make it as easy as possible for non-terrorists to go about their business. And they would want to keep the costs down.

A key moment is what happens when someone enters the road – or road network – from one of the inevitably large number of frontages. You could have a guard on every frontage searching every person entering the road. However, this would be expensive. Not only that but it would be unlikely to be effective. Guards would get bored and become inattentive and would themselves become likely targets.

Another approach might be to deny access to anyone suspected of being an active terrorist. But this is fraught with difficulty. How would you know who is who?

Far simpler and more effective would be to ban anyone harbouring any terrorist sympathies whatsoever. Effective terrorist campaigns can always rely on a sea of sympathisers who are not themselves terrorists to aid and abet those who are. These sympathisers are usually easy to identify. Exceptions might be granted for children and members of the older generation. Or maybe there would be a system of vouching for people, guarantees of good behaviour or even the taking of hostages. The chances are that if private roads came about tomorrow terrorist sympathisers would wake up to find their properties surrounded by barbed wire.

The next issue would be those seeking entry from another road i.e. a road owned by another entity. What you would probably see is a system of guarantees. One road owner would guarantee the non-terrorist nature of their road users to other road owners. Obviously, there would be some fairly hefty compensation should one road owner’s users engage in acts of terrorism on another road owner’s territory. That would mean that road owners would be very careful who they let out.

There is a precedent for this – sort of. Those familiar with the movie The Day of the Jackal will recall that the idea that they might be letting a terrorist loose on foreign soil scared the living daylights out of the British government.

So, what would happen to the terrorist sympathisers?
It is difficult to see how terrorist sympathisers would be allowed to use non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. They would therefore only be allowed to use terrorist-sympathiser roads. As terrorist sympathisers tend to be poor and geographically concentrated, they would have an immediate problem over what to do for an income especially in the absence of a welfare state. Faced with poverty some would choose to leave for terrorist-sympathiser majority countries while others would choose to change their beliefs. Of course, there is the issue as to whether such conversions would be genuine. I have no answer to this.

But what if the terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism from their own roads?
They could for instance mortar bomb non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. My guess is that they would get mortar-bombed back. Just to greater effect.

Bike rental chaos

Competition between companies is all well and good, but it is important that you seek Permission from the Relevant Authorities before doing anything at all. Anything else would just not be Sustainable. It would be Chaos. Neoliberalism Gone Mad!

For example, if there is more than one company renting out bikes, pretty soon careless customers of the new upstart Chinese Infiltrating Globalist Menace company will be Dumping bikes all over the place and interfering with the nice customers of the Official company with the Council Contract who are carefully placing their bikes next to the State Approved Bike Racks.

This is the sort of Irresponsible Behaviour that can tarnish the carefully cultivated reputation of Right Thinking bicycle renters and confuse Consumers who might not understand that there are two different companies renting out bicycles with bewilderingly different tarrifs and branding. And it is simply Reckless and Greedy business practice to enter a market without consulting Stakeholders about the Need for two competing businesses.

I approve of competition but not Unfettered, Unregulated, Inefficient competition of the sort that can leave a Bad Taste and clutter up the town. It is just not civilised and Something Must Be Done.

Equality denied boarding at Aeroflot?

News reaches us from Russia, that, despite 70 years of Leninism and now an assault by the Cultural Marxists, notions of equality do not appear to be taking off at Aeroflot, reportedly with a fleet of newish aircraft, now Russia most powerful ‘brand’ (surely ‘Kalashnikov’, but I digress).

Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot is fighting a legal battle with several of its female flight attendants who say it favours slim and attractive cabin crew.

One case has been thrown out of court. The concept of someone actually needing to be up to the job appears to have survived in Russia.

The company argues that every extra kilogram of weight forces Aeroflot to spend more on fuel.
Its application form for would-be flight attendants requires details of height, weight and clothing size.
Staff have to meet a minimum height requirement because they need to store hand luggage in the overhead lockers, Aeroflot says.

The fuel penalty was quoted as every extra kilogram of weight costing an extra 800 roubles (£11; $14) annually on fuel, but Aeroflot has other points.

‘…a survey carried out for Aeroflot showed that passengers preferred attractive flight attendants and agreed that an airline had a right to stipulate weight limits and clothes sizes for its staff.

Perish the thought that the fat and the short are not wanted, it’s all down to job-need.

In one case, the complaint is stark.

Ms Ierusalimskaya, aged 45, wants Aeroflot to pay her 1m roubles (£14,000; $17,750) in compensation, Russia’s Kommersant news reports. Her clothes size is 52 (XL, under the international system).
She said the airline had transferred her to domestic flights, cutting her income. She complained that Aeroflot’s rules required stewardesses to be at least 160cm (5ft 3ins) tall and have a clothes size no larger than 48 (L; 16 in UK; 42 in Germany; 14 in US).

Aeroflot’s point of view:

“A heavy physical build makes it harder for a flight attendant to move around the cabin and provide a smooth service for the passenger,” an Aeroflot official told the court.

Quite, you can’t have stewardesses so wide that they would need to be punted down the aisle with a trolley, that’s just not safe.

But a Russian Trade Unionist, helpfully called Boris, is on the warpath.

Boris Kravchenko called Ms Ierusalimskaya’s case “an unprecedented case of sex discrimination”. He is a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Council for Human Rights, and chairs the Russian Labour Confederation.
“The trade unions in this sector have teeth,” he said, warning of possible strike action “if such discriminatory behaviour persists”. He was speaking to Russia’s RBC news website.

Boris is keeping rather quiet about what happened to women with Beria it seems.

Now does this resistance to PC blandishments augur well for Russia, in that it might have a cultural meta-context where, if other silly and evil notions of statism and/or banditry can be got rid of, it might lay the basis of a free and prosperous commonwealth? And are we in the West closer to that goal?