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]

Brexit: The argument from confusion and the argument from punitiveness

The EU is very complicated and confusing, which is a big reason for Brexit. But also very complicated and confusing, say the Remainers, is the process of Britain getting out of the EU. For that reason, they say, best to stay in. But I say that the more complicated and confusing it is to get Britain out, the more reason there is for Britain to get out. The more complicated getting out is, that means the more complicated the damn thing itself must be. The question becomes: Which is better? Complication for a year or three, while we extricate ourselves from this ghastly morass? Or: Complication for ever as we sink ever deeper into it? I say we should, you know, go with the result of the Referendum, and get out. Happily, that is now happening.

Lee Rotherham at CapX agrees:

In a sense, the Maastricht debate is still with us. But the coin has been flipped. Those now droning on about the complexities of a given aspect of the EU are the same people who accused Sir William Cash of being a “bore”. They are using the very same arguments about the extent and complexity of EU integration as its earlier critics. What they miss, of course, is their ironic vindication of the case against the EU.

Quite so.

Another Remainer argument which has a similar logical structure is that the EU, in addition to being diabolically complicated and confusing to get out of, on account of itself being diabolically complicated and confusing, is also determined to stop us Brits getting out easily. The only exit terms we will ever be able to extract from it will be crushingly punitive. Ergo, we should stay.

Britain’s exit deal may indeed prove costly to us. If EUrope lets us out easy, other rebellious bits of EUrope may also then try to leave.

But if such punitiveness happens, it will happen at the expense of EUropeans, who will find trading with Britain more costly, as well as at the expense of us Brits. And I say that the exact degree to which the rulers of the EU put the perpetuation of their own power ahead of the welfare of the people whom they will still rule, and ahead of the welfare of people generally, then to that exact degree they are a pack of megalomaniacs, of whom we Brits are well rid. The more punitively they are now behaving, the stronger is the case for us Brits to escape from their megalomaniac clutches, no matter what the short-term cost may be.

Getting the excuses in first

(This is a reworking of comments I sent to a couple of friends of mine in an email. A few points have been cut out because they would not make sense to outsiders, and others have been added.)

I see that Owen Jones, the Corbynite journalist, is in the Guardian pushing the idea that if Jeremy Corbyn and his fellow socialists are elected into government, that elements of the “deep state” and all those dastardly neo-liberal establishment types will try and frustrate him.

In a country that has, or should have, checks and balances in a constitutional liberal order, no government, even if elected with a large majority in the House of Commons, should have unfettered power to re-order a country, to trample on property rights and other liberties.

It could be argued that naively or less so, the operatives of the “deep state” or even less “deep” state – such as civil servants, lawyers, etc might assume they perform some sort of function along these lines, although in a healthy political order that should be unnecessary. Of course it is outrageous if security services, which operate in the shadows, might try and frustrate a democratically elected government; perhaps, however, this is likely to happen if other, more credible curbs on unfettered power have been eroded, as they have been in the UK, over many years. (The proper solution is to rebuild those restraints. In the US, a great advocate of precisely that is Prof. Randy Barnett.)

In arguing that a government duly elected should be able to go all in and do what it wants, and take democracy “to the streets” and workplaces, and who stirs up fears about being frustrated by dark forces, Jones is pushing a sort of “mobocracy”. He is a sort of intellectual descendant of that mad and bad man, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered that no boundaries should exist in the face of any “General Will” of a public to be interpreted by the likes of himself. (I can recommend J Talmon’s book on this episode, The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy.)

There is more than just a whiff of the French barricades about Jones, although he would not last long in a fight, I suspect. He imagines that secret agents and other “conspirators” will try and frustrate a government he favours, but frustrating, or delaying, what a government can do is actually not a bug, but a feature, of a liberal order. In short, Jones’ rejection of any kind of restraint demonstrates an authortarian mindset at work.

There is a measure of truth in his claim about attempts by the security services in the 1970s to curb the Harold Wilson government of the time; the security services probably really thought that some in the Labour Party were in hock to the Soviets. I am sure that there were genuine instances of this. And for that matter, consider what is being said and done to Trump today and the claims and counter-claims about the “deep state”. Consider this item by leftist/civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald.  What is ironic is that the sort of claims about what could happen under Labour are being made by those fearful that Trump is suffering or could suffer the same alleged fate.

But beyond such conspiracy theories, there is a broader problem with the Jones article. So much of what is at fault with Jones’ take on the world is his total lack of perspective. For example, he goes on and on about “neoliberalism”. (A term for a sort of hybrid of genuine classical liberalism plus an acceptance of certain state institutions and functions, such as central banking. It is often associated with the influence of the Chicago school of economics and governments of Thatcher, Reagan and other.) But just how “liberal” is our current position? Given that more than 40 per cent of the economy is under state control and a good deal of the rest is regulated, it is laughable to argue that we are in a liberal position although these are matters of degree, of course.

The tragedy of it is that Owen Jones is not completely wrong to damn our current situation. If only, if only he could break free of his collectivism. It would be good to see him direct some of his fire towards asking who really gains from, say, central bank money printing and bank bailouts. (Clue: Not poor people.) He should consider the pockets of privilege created by land-use planning/zoning, or restrictions on entry into certain occupations. Or bash the corruption of quangos, NGOs and the whole structure of regulatory bodies endlessly calling for the control of this or that. Or nanny statist interference in the hobbies and pleasures of working people, such as smoking, drinking or whatever.

There is a lot of traction in the old Gladstonian class analysis of the “masses and the classes”; this is a tradition of thought that has been overshadowed in how class is often thought of as a concern that mainly comes from Marx.

The trouble is that Jones is a socialist and believer in Big Government, and hence hostile to the decentralised market order and thus ignorant of the the information contained in prices; he appears ignorant of the public choice insights of economists such as the late US figure James Buchanan and others. This means Jones lacks the intellectual equipment to understand what is actually going on. At  most, he glimpses a problem here and a partial solution there, but never quite breaks through. It is like watching a man try and measure the depth of the ocean by standing over the water with a telescope. It is genuinely frustrating.

Jones is maddening because you like to think there is a genuinely intelligent person there, is not beyond redemption (sorry if that sounds patronising), but a central part of how he thinks is fouled up. It is very hard to break this down, no matter how much evidence or logic is deployed. Too much of his thinking involves “boo” words (neo-liberalism, etc). And I suspect it would be too humiliating for  him to change course now, although you never can tell.

I would conclude by saying that almost without fail, use of “neo-liberal” in an article of any kind suggests the reader is an aggressive statist.

(As an aside, here is a sharp review of Jones’ book, The Establishment.)

Blasts from the past

Last weekend I had a nice little surprise. Guido, in his Seen Elsewhere section, linked to a piece by Carl Packman entitled Of course I Remember When Ian Hislop was Eurosceptic. I clicked on Packman’s piece, because I too remembered when Ian Hislop was very EUrosceptic indeed. In particular, I remembered an amazing diatribe which erupted from him on BBC TV’s Have I Got News For You, way back in early 2003. I recalled this Hislop eruption because I wrote a piece for Samizdata about it at the time. Hislop is now a Remoaner, but he certainly wasn’t then, as I then noted, and as Packman recalls and records. What I did not anticipate, when I began reading Packman’s piece, was that Packman would include in his piece a quote from that same Samizdata posting of mine. Very pleasing. What goes on the internet stays on the internet, provided only that someone is curating it capably, and even if it was posted way back in May 2003.

It is no big criticism of Carl Packman to say that he seems to have read that one Samizdata posting, but not any other EUro-postings here, and maybe not any other postings here at all, apart from that one. (Fair enough. I have only read this one piece of his.) And Packman seems to have got the idea that we Samizdatistas were not then at all happy about the fierceness of Hislop’s EUro-scepticism. But I for one was delighted by it, and most of our commenters on that posting, and most Samizdata writers and commenters from that time until now, have been very critical of EUrope. It was just that in that particular posting I was concentrating on what Ian Hislop had said and on why it mattered, rather than including a lot of other stuff about why I personally agreed with him, which I did, and was delighted that he had said it, which I was. Indeed, having done some digging back into my other EUro postings here from around that time, I have been surprised by how early and how vehement my personal hatred of the EU and all its works was. Trust me, there’s plenty more EUro-detestation from me in the Samizdata archives. Not everyone who has written for Samizdata hates the EU, but it seems that I have hated it from way back. What is more, this hatred, from me and from others here, might actually have had consequences.

The other thing that occurs to me about Ian Hislop’s apparent volte face over EUrope is that there is one way in which he was and is being entirely consistent. Hislop, I believe, really does believe in speaking, if not always truth exactly then at least insults, to power, unlike a lot of the people who merely say that they do. Well, now, thanks to the Brexit vote in the EUro-referendum, Brexit is a dominant political orthodoxy. And Hislop is now determined to keep the argumentative pot good and stirred about the wisdom or lack of it of that attitude.

In 2003, on the other hand, when Prime Minister Tony Blair was riding high, very few people indeed would have then have foreseen that Brexit would eventually happen. (I certainly didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect that we would be allowed a vote about it, and until the Brexit vote actually happened, I didn’t think that it would happen.) Which means that, then and now, Hislop was and is aligning himself against the dominant orthodoxy of the time. It’s just that this orthodoxy changed. Yes, on the mere EUrope issue, Hislop is now revealed as a turncoat. But he turned his coat for a very respectable reason.

Packman, in his piece, ruminates upon what Hislop really thinks. I think that what Hislop really things is that raspberries and rotting vegetables and brickbats and mockery should always be thrown at whoever and whatever, politically, happens to be in charge at any given time. If only to keep alive the principle that this can be done. Compared to that principle, Hislop’s supposed principles about the mere details of this or that political argument are, to him, relatively unimportant.

(See also this posting by me here, also from way back, ahout John Gray, another man who has often been accused of being inconsistent. Gray is presumably even now ruminating about how the hopes now being placed by the likes of me in the benefits of Brexit will be dashed. Because: doom, doom, doom. I couldn’t find any Gray stuff yet along these lines. He seems so far to have confined his EUro-pessimism to the future of EUrope rather than the future of the UK. But once Brexit is sorted and the optimism over here really starts to kick in, trust me, Gray will be heard saying that it will all end in ruin and despair. In Gray world, everything that people think might be really good always ends in ruin and despair, regardless of whether it actually turns out like that for real. And the good news is that he is usually wrong.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Kicking Livingstone out of London felt cathartic, but I hadn’t realised we were lucky not be shot in our beds as a result.

Graeme Archer

Samizdata quote of the day

More recently, Herman has disgraced himself even further by being the most prominent of a tiny band of polemicists who deny the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995 – though the remains of the victims have been located, excavated and identified.

I need hardly add, but will anyway, that Corbyn too has disputed that the documented Serb atrocities in the Balkan wars of the 1990s ever happened. He put his name to an early day motion in the House of Commons in 2004 that explicitly denied the war crimes of the Milosevic regime in Belgrade, referring to the “the fraudulent justifications for [Nato] intervening in a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo”.

Oliver Kamm

The vindication of Jack Cade

Henry VI Part II, Act 4, Scene 2:

ALL:
God save your majesty!

JACK CADE:
I thank you, good people:— there shall be no money; all shall eat
and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery,
that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK:
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

CADE:
Nay, that I mean to do.

The Guardian, today:

Ken Livingstone: Venezuela crisis due to Chávez’s failure to kill oligarchs

Hammond’s Britain

I do not like British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.

I often hear it said that the UK is considering participating in unfair competition in regulation and tax. That is neither our plan nor our vision for the future.

Whose side is this man on? He considers it unfair on French people if British people are not sufficiently mugged when transporting goods across the border. At least we have an adversarial system and he can be opposed.

“The truth is that the British people will not believe the fake U-turn of a Tory chancellor in a French newspaper, while he is still going ahead with billions of pounds in corporation tax giveaways in this parliament, and refuses to rule out further cuts,” said shadow minister Peter Dowd.

Oh dear. I had rather hoped that Britain might end up more like Singapore or Hong Kong.

“Women take things more emotionally”: I bet she was happy when she took them for £360k

The Times today:

‘Clumsy’ sexist remark by BAE Systems manager costs £360,000

A manager’s “clumsy” comment to a secretary that “women take things more emotionally than men” will cost Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer more than £360,000.

BAE Systems argued that the law had gone mad and attacked the payout to Marion Konczak for “a single sexist comment” as “an affront to justice”.

Three appeal court judges ruled yesterday, however, that Mrs Konczak, 62, was due every penny after the manager’s comment led to her having a mental breakdown.

BAE was working on a project for the Royal Saudi Air Force when Mrs Konczak complained that she had been bullied and harassed, including sexually. Her line manager later told her that “women take things more emotionally than men, whilst men tend to forget things and move on”.

The judge opined,

“The basic rule is that a wrongdoer must take his victim as he finds him, eggshell personality and all. That is not inherently unjust.”

Emphasis added. And Lord Justice Underhill might like to reconsider his use of “he” as a generic third person singular pronoun. I expect someone from Diversity will be calling him in for a quiet word in due course. On the other hand, perhaps it becomes acceptable if the alternative suggests that a “victim” with an eggshell personality might conceivably be female?

As a commenter called Geraldine said,

Will this encourage companies to employ more women? The cause of feminism is set back years [e]very time something like this happens. I say this as a woman and old-school feminist.

Somewhere Thomas Sowell wrote that manufacturers in the US avoid building factories in black areas, not because they care what skin colour their workers have, but because the more diverse the workforce the greater the risk of being sued for discrimination.

Added later: In the comments below Umbriel explained why the judge might have used those particular words:

…“eggshell personality” is a legal term, not technically an insult (though, it the shoe fits…). The theory was an extension of earlier doctrine that if, for example, someone smacks another person in the head during an altercation, and the victim happens to have some sort of congenital defect or calcium deficiency, such that their skull shatters and they die, the assailant remains responsible for the damages resulting from their assault even if they couldn’t have anticipated the magnitude of the result. This was dubbed the “Thin Skull Doctrine”. When tort law evolved to apply that principle to the infliction of emotional distress, the corollary was dubbed the “Eggshell Personality Doctrine”.

The problem with said doctrine, of course, is that a thin skull is a thin skull, regardless of the law. “Eggshell Personalities” in contrast, can be expected to proliferate and become ever more brittle the more lucrative they become.

Depressingly true.

Samizdata quote of the day

This kind of clotted nonsense could only be generally circulated and generally believed in England, where newspapers claiming to be conservative and reliable are the most utterly untrustworthy of any on earth. In apology for these newspapers it may be said that their untrustworthiness is not always due to intention, but more frequently to ignorance and prejudice.

– W. R. Hearst in a telegram to The Times printed on 2 November 1907. In it he denies ever using the words: “You provide the pictures and I will provide the war,”. Hat-tip W. Joseph Campbell Getting it wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American journalism.

Samizdata quote of the day

Yesterday I said the British police had hit rock bottom and started to drill. Last night they shipped in some dynamite:

Tim Newman

Samizdata quote of the day

The British police have hit rock bottom and started to drill

Tim Newman

“…I find it rather regrettable that Lady Hale’s judgment makes so many references to defecation.”

said Lord Walker, a UK Supreme Court Justice in one, rather unfortunate case. However, we had better get used to Lady Hale’s judgments as she has now been nominated as the next President of the Supreme Court, a promotion from her position as Deputy President, and her influence on UK law will grow.

Why anyone should be concerned that a former academic lawyer with her track record should be in charge of a court that does not sit en banc is that she may well control the lists and influence which judges sit on particular cases, thereby having scope to shape the law.

She has long been a supporter of greater diversity in the judiciary.

“It may be a genuine occupational qualification to choose a black Othello or a female Desdemona, but could it be thought a genuine occupational qualification to bring a minority perspective to the business of judging in the higher courts?

“So do we need to revive the argument for some special provision, akin to that in Northern Ireland, to enable the appointing commissions to take racial or gender balance into account when making their appointments? Would that really be such a bad thing? I think not.”

But some might prefer to have judges who judge the case before them on the basis of applying the law, rather than their own perspective, if one hoped for the rule of law to be seen to be maintained.

Lady Hale has however, speaking privately, cast doubt on her own judgment in one case, a meagre consolation for the losing party.

The trouble with the UK’s Supreme Court is that it is really the result of a Lefty wet dream about judicial activism, finally in 2005 (wef 2009) destroying a long tradition (before then vandalised in the 1870s) of the UK’s final court* being a committee of the House of Lords. (* Not for Scots Criminal Law, which remains under the Scottish Court of Session).

The UK’s Supreme Court has been described by one of its justices as a political court, being politicised by its inevitable involvement in devolution issues and interpretation of Human Rights and EU law (as was, to be fair, the House of Lords before it).

I have a modest proposal, that the Supreme Court be abolished, saving taxpayers money and removing an avenue for more legal fees to be charged in pursuit of a result, thereby removing work and money from the legal profession and reducing litigation risk. There is a simple alternative, that should a party find that litigation results in an injustice, or a nonsense whereby different UK courts have different precedents to follow, that party could petition Parliament to change the law, even in respect of that particular case, as happened in the Burmah Oil case. This approach would have the advantage of getting our Parliamentarians to see the consequences of the laws that they pass (or do not pass) and also take up time that could be spent passing more unhelpful legislation.

To those who say that our politicians should not be our judges, I say ‘Better than our judges being our politicians.