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]

The bleeding obvious

Frances Ryan’s Guardian article, “Period poverty is leaving women such as Kerry isolated and ashamed” started off with a call for sympathy which I can answer. It described how a woman called Kerry, bringing up three children (two of them autistic) alone and unwaged, sometimes found herself without even £2 for a box of tampons, and could not bring herself to ask the people at the food bank for them. That is sad. Let us be aware that women can find themselves in this position, and help them in a sensitive way.

Then it got stupid.

It isn’t hard to see why sanitary products are often out of reach. Research shows pads and tampons cost women around £13 every month. Add another £8 for new underwear, and then almost a fiver for pain relief. That means women need to find more than £300 each year for periods – or the equivalent of a fortnight’s rent.

The “pads and tampons” link takes you to that well known scientific journal, the Huffington Post. It claimed that respondents to a survey (I saw no mention of who carried it out or how the sample was selected) on average spent the following “on different areas relating to their period”:

· Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

· New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

· Pain relief – £4.50

· Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

· Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Honestly, I could have filled up the remainder of this post without moving my finger from the ? key. “Research shows”?? Chocolates?????? Yeah, I do kinda see that a new DVD, a glossy magazine and a box of choccies can be a comfort when suffering from period pain, but really, we are not talking about desperately needed sanitary essentials here. I also fail to see exactly why one needs new underwear every time there is a spillage. Every time and every month? I mean, sorry to be icky, but things can be washed. Even if there is a substantial group of women who find it unbearable to do anything other than bin bloodstained underwear (heaven knows how they toilet train their kids) they don’t have to spend £8. Tesco sells four pairs of knickers for £4.50. That’s just over a quid a pair.

While we are at Tesco’s, let us look at some of those other prices.

Pain relief £4? Pain relief thirty pence, actually.

Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups £13? A “Feminesse” menstrual cup was fairly pricy at £17.10, but the whole point is that it is reusable and lasts for years. When it came to the tampons and pads or towels most women use, and for which Tesco sell their own-brand products, the prices were as follows: Tesco regular tampons 20-pack: 95p. (A pack of twenty is usually enough for one period.) Tesco super tampons 20-pack: also 95p. Maxi regular sanitary towels 10-pack: 23p. Twenty-three pence. Cheap as chips, as the saying goes. Cheaper.

Tesco is not uniquely benevolent. The other major supermarkets and chains like Superdrug are much the same, or even cheaper.

Frances Ryan is supposed to be the Guardian‘s expert on the deprived, the disabled, those failed by the system. I am not one to demand that politicians or journalists know the price of everything in a shopping basket, but you would think she of all people would have looked at that claim of £13 per month as an average for sanitary products and £4.50 for pain relief, and thought, that’s obviously wrong.

Never mind. The average prices claimed for period products in some silly survey and silly Guardian writers believing them are not my point; the actual prices in the most widely used supermarkets are. Period poverty is not worth bothering about. Capitalism has already solved it. When forty sanitary pads can already be purchased for a pound the money the government would have to spend to make them widely available for free is wasted. Worse than wasted; the salaries of umpteen Period Poverty Support Workers will come out of budgets that could – conceivably – have been used to help the poor. Let me put it another way: someone who cannot afford to pay for sanitary towels also cannot afford food. They do need help, urgently. However passing laws and setting up programmes to supply only that small fraction of the help they need that relates to a couple of packs of tampons is incredibly inefficient. If women in crisis need to be given sanitary products, don’t campaign for the government to launch an initiative, take the initiative yourself. There are charities who specialise in exactly that form of aid and will accept donations in kind or in cash.

As a matter of fact although most of the stories I have read on this subject, including the BBC link from Ryan’s article, have headlines that talk as if the problem is period poverty, when I read the stories below the headlines, the real problem far more often seems to be period ignorance or period embarrassment. But the steps needed to help women and girls with these issues do not generate column inches for journalists, photo opportunities for politicians, or outrage for activists.

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Samizdata quote of the day

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Thucydides

This quote appears in an article pointing out that present UK Conservative Party seems to have more or less given up on making the case for liberty.

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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?

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Not quite an ‘homage to Catalonia’: making sense of the recent upheaval

Editor’s note: this was posted by commenter ‘Onkayaks’ under the article: “Only in Spain is a man’s mistress uglier than his wife”. As this has the virtue of being written by someone who has local knowledge, it seemed worth promoting to an article.

For the sake of disclosing my personal predilections, I ought to state that I am a Spaniard who was mostly schooled in Catalonia, and that I do not favour secession. Most of my friends do, though.

To Berenguer Alpicat: Catalans do have their own Romanic language, a wealth of cultural traditions, while a sizeable and vocal percentage but not yet and absolute majority, of the population supports independence. However, Catalonia has never been independent, neither as a nation state nor as feudal counties. The idea that “Catalans are different people” is true in the same sense that Geordies are known for drinking everyone under the table and for their amazing accent.

Regarding the police action against the poll stations, I must add that though I am not much a police person myself, the standards of Spain’s police forces for civility may be below the British one, but certainly they are Pollyanna if compared to France, Germany or Switzerland, and certainly Catalonia’s, whose local police has a dubious record of dead and injured detainees while under custody. Truth is the police action on the polling stations was hoped for, and scrupulously provoked by the Nationalists who relied -wisely- on their impact on foreign media. As for the number of people injured, one day after the events, just four are still in hospitals, while the rest have needed ambulatory medical assistance. Adding to that, a good number of the most blatant photos of injuries have proven false or doctored. I know however, first hand of a case of a friend of mine whose wife and son were harassed by police officers, and one of the car’s windows broken after they took a photo of a police patrol in the outskirts of Girona. My friend though, did not press charges as no one was injured, and the police officers excused themselves after the incident.

The reason of deploying anti-riot police yesterday —I believe they were grossly misused by the Home Office— was because for more than three years the Catalan Regional Government had announced its intention to secede from Spain after holding a vote in the region. It is true that they have asked repeatedly for an agreed plan for a referendum; it is also true however, that their offers amounted very much to: “We’ll hold a secession referendum, or we’ll hold a secession referendum”.

As for the real deal: taxes. Nationalist claim that Catalonia is overtaxed, and that it receives in return less than it pays to the Treasury. This is true. Basques on the contrary are not overtaxed as a territory as they keep a tax convention that is very favourable, and that the Catalan Nationalist rejected in the draft of the Constitution, or so I’ve read. However the point is that the Spanish tax system does not take into account the territory, but just wealth that is taxed progressively. This does not bode well for individuals making money in Catalonia, nor it does for wealthy chaps elsewhere in Spain. There have been endless op-eds about tax balances between Catalonia v. Spain, but most papers agree that if the odious effect of taxes is examined on territories, Madrid comes out far worse in Catalonia, and I have the feeling that the Balearic Islands are if we believe that places share our pangs and worries, experiencing the same problem.

Again on taxes: the Catalan Regional Government —the right term is Autonomous Community, but I’ll refer to it as Regional for the sake of clarity though I know how much the term regional offends Nationalist— leans on heavier taxes than the Government of Spain does, and that is saying a lot. Taking into consideration that the same enthusiastic approach to taxes is shared by the parties that endorse independence, and that Spain is so de-centralized a country that most of public spending is done by the regional governments, it is safe to say that the meme of a prosperous Catalonia deprived of their tax revenue by undeveloped Spaniards, is nothing but a sophism. In short it is individuals who are unfairly taxed at disproportionate rates, not territories, and if so, rural Catalonia is the one milking wealthy Barcelonans, and not Spain.

Yet, would the Nationalists had made the case for an independent country outside the EU with rule of law, reasonable taxes, a sensible degree of bank secrecy, I would have started polishing my Catalan, and considering a move since day one. Sadly, the project is wildly different.

To resume it my opinion, the case for independence in Catalonia rests not in History, nor in actual grievances, nor in a oppressed culture by Franco (which begs the questions of how then was possible that literary awards were hosted in Catalan right after the Civil War, and why it is not possible for schoolboys to study their curricula in Spanish language anywhere in Catalonia but in a few private schools), but in the perceived wrongs instilled by Nationalism, a longeur of what could have been in an imaginary country would they have been left alone, a desire that transcends patriotism as the abiding purpose of every Nationalist is to force their wishes on other people living in their territory, the passion to fulfil the duty to spread their own language to the detriment of rival languages, the urgent obsession to doctor History school books removing facts, and placing the focus of Geography in Catalonia.

In short, as much as I like Catalonia, I abhor Nationalism as backward. As a ending note, I leave this quotes from Orwell who knew and liked Catalonia well, and from a favourite Czech of mine, Ernest Gellner:

“Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should.”
—George Orwell

“(Nationalism believes that) just as every girl should have a husband, preferably her own, so every culture must have its state, preferably its own.”
—Ernest Gellner

“Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness; it invents nations where they do not exist…”
—Ernest Gellner

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Samizdata quote of the day

From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectuals have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

Robert Nozick. This essay is several years’ old and it remains in my view one of the very best explanations of why universities and other such places are full of persons so hostile to the open market economy. Given current angst over why so many young graduates, especially in fields such as the arts, are all keen on the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, its certainly worth thinking through.

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“Only in Spain is a man’s mistress uglier than his wife.”

So goes an old Portuguese saying, I was told. With the violence of the Spanish State towards the organisation of a referendum on independence for Catalonia, declared to be against the Spanish Constitution, which refers to the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, as well as adding in lots of social justice evil, the ugliness of the Spanish State is quite clear.

My first reaction to the Spanish State’s conduct was that this was the best way of going about winning a battle and losing a war. The Spanish Prime Minister, Rajoy, is of the Popular Party, often described as heirs to Franco, but they are more simply the ‘not-socialist, not-communist’ Spanish party. Rajoy seems to have the attitude and beard of a Communist in power. Quite why the powers-that-be did not simply say that the Referendum was void, not properly conducted, biased in favour of independence and having the sampling error that any unofficial poll would have, with mostly only those dedicated to taking part doing do, and hacked by the Russians, is a mystery. It could have ignored it and got along with surcharging the officials involved for wasting public money, but bear in mind that after Franco’s death, the officials responsible for scrutinising increases in public spending were sacked.

The only part of Spain that has, so I understand, actually ever voted, on a limited franchise, to be in Spain is Ceuta. Ceuta was Portuguese from 1415 and after King Sebastian‘s insane expedition into Morocco left the Portuguese throne vacant and Spain annexed Portugal until 1640, when the Portuguese rose for their independence. At this point Catalonia also rose, but was defeated. Ceuta opted to join Spain. So here we are 377 years later, with a dodgy referendum against a dodgy central government. Given yesterday’s events, I wonder how many minds have changed thinking that the mistress of independence is more attractive than the bullying bride Spain?

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Samizdata quote of the day

Then last week we got news that “Russians” had placed adverts on Facebook during the presidential election, paying in the region of $50k-$100k for them. As Streetwise Professor points out, Hillary spent $400 million on adverts. And she still lost. Whatever the causes of her loss, a hundred grand on Facebook adverts wasn’t it.

Tim Newman

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“Perhaps the advent of Bolshevik Government is a necessary evil.”

This quotation comes from an article entitled “Russia To-day”; not words one normally associates with accuracy:

Perhaps the advent of Bolshevik Government is a necessary evil. It may be an indipensable ordeal through which Russia must pass before the bulk of the people realize the fact that the Bolsheviks are the real counter-revolutionaries, who are doing their best utterly to ruin the country, and are working hand-in-glove with the enemies of Russia and the secret agents of the old regime. But we know enough about the Bolsheviks to realise that methods of peaceful suasion will never rid the country of ther evil sway. There is only one remedy against them. M. Kerensky indicated it when he asked General Korniloff to send a cavalry division to Petrograd “to subdue the Maximalists.” The proverbial “whiff of grape-shot” is the only medicine, and until it is administered in the proper dose the present situation will continue.

But of course it wasn’t.

There is a lot to get ones teeth into here. I mean there’s the obvious point that the Bolsheviks really did “ruin the country”. So, there’s at least one person out there in 1917 who could see the dangers of communism.

And then there’s Korniloff. At school I was taught that he was attempting a coup and that he had the “brains of a sheep”. I am beginning to think that in reality he was one of the good guys – or at least one of the less bad guys.

The Korniloff affair remains murky – see the Wikipedia page – but the consequence was clear enough: the army was no longer willing – and probably not able – to support the Provisional government. The correspondent here gets this.

I am not an expert on the ins and outs of the Russian Revolution. So whether the Bolsheviks and Okhrana were working hand-in-hand I have no idea.

I wonder what the “M” in “M. Kerensky” stands for?

The Times 28 September 1917

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Samizdata quote of the day

The best way to make people bad and poor is the illiberality of communism and fascism, and even the slow if sweet socialism of over-regulation. Women among the theocratic despots of Saudi Arabia are quartered at home, unable to flourish so much as driving an automobile. The economic nationalism of the new Alt-Right is impoverishing, and anyway closes us to ideas from the wide world. If betterment is slowing in the United States — a widely held if doubtful claim — we need the betterment coming from newly enriching countries such as China or India, not cutting ourselves off to “protect jobs” at home. Protectionist logic would have us make everything in Illinois or Chicago or our local street. Breakfast cereal. Accordions. Computers. It is childishly silly as economics, though stirring as nationalism.

Deirdre N. McCloskey

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So what should we do about North Korea?

By “we” I mean the American government of course.

Let’s try some Q and A:

Does North Korea currently possess the means to destroy cities in South Korea, Japan and even the United States?
I’m guessing that’s a “no”. My understanding is that building a missile is one thing, building an atomic bomb another thing and combining the two really difficult.

If not, are they likely to acquire those means any time soon?
Well, they seem to have spent a hell of a long time just getting to this stage. So, it could be a while yet.

Were they to acquire them how likely would they be to use them?
I suppose the question here is whether or not the threat of instant nuclear annihilation would deter them. The point is that the Norks are atheists. They do not have a heaven to go to. They want to receive their rewards in this world. There is no upside to being nuked. So, they can be deterred.

Of course, I say they are atheists but their system of government is clearly a hereditary monarchy. Monarchies tend to have gods attached. But as yet (to the best of my knowledge) the Norks haven’t come up with a heaven. But when they do… watch out.

So, the best approach is probably to do nothing and let deterrence do its thing?
Probably. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the US doing the deterring. Japan and South Korea could do much the same, after they had developed nuclear weapons of course.

Getting back to this god stuff, the Iranians aren’t atheists are they?
No they’re not. And they believe in heaven. And they believe they would go to heaven if they nuked Israel. And rumour has it that the Norks are helping them with the tech. But my guess is that the Israelis have the means to deal with this threat before it becomes serious.

So, what you’re saying is that the US’s best approach is to do nothing?
Yes, I guess I am.

I would just add that it is remarkable how difficult smaller tyrannies find it to replicate 60-year old technology.

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On how hard-earned skills become redundant and why that’s not a reason for intervention

As a side-issue to the recent decision by London’s TFL [Transport for London] to stiff Uber for alleged safety concerns (please try not to laugh at the back), it occurs to me that there are various reasons why people across the spectrum, including Tories, seem quite fine with the ban (it may be that Uber will do some sort of deal and get back into business in London, mind). One seems to be a sort of fogeyish dislike of Uber (it’s American, which is vulgar, and relies on newfangled tech that some people don’t understand, such as apps, and satellites, etc); another seems to be “fuck-the-consumer-why-can’t-they-use-the-night bus?” level of grumpy nastiness, and another is a sort of feigned, or maybe real, worry about the loss of a set of skills (learning the streets of London by heart). I regard the first two reasons as so fatuous as to not be worth responding to. The latter, however, does interest me.

Consider, a standard Marxist argument, and indeed one not just associated with Marx but even early classical economics (the Labour Theory of Value) It holds that the value which a provider of a service/product should receive is linked to his labour, his effort and skill (learned via effort), not simply the interplay of demand and supply. There are, of course, all manner of problems with it: you cannot simply work out whether a skilled worker is worth X or Y times more than an unskilled one – there is no formula to do this. Second, resource allocation is impossible if the amount paid for Y or X is based not on the relative differences in wants and scarcities of something, but labour, instead. The marginalist revolution in economics, which broke in the 19th Century and which seems to have passed Marxists by, points out that the subtle differences in the subjective preferences of people for this or that are what drive economic exchange. Prices are signals; a labour theory of value leaves out the vital signalling function of prices, which is why an economy driven by such a theory breaks down, with shortages of much-wanted goods over here, and a glut of not-wanted stuff over there (evidence: socialist countries throughout history).

It may be a bummer for the taxi drivers of black cabs who have spent ages learning the streets of London by heart – getting “the knowledge” – to find that satnav and apps have driven a stake into their business model and potential sources of earnings, and be forced to get all those newfangled gizmos and compete with a chap from Hounslow who is second-generation Indian and who cannot name the first-11 team sheet of your favourite soccer team. But in a free market, technology and innovation means the customer isn’t paying for the effort to acquire a skill, but the outcome of it. And that seems a tough argument to sell, but it is nevertheless correct.

On a related note, this essay by Jeff Tucker of FEE about marginal utility and human happiness is brilliant. I shared it on social media and people who might not normally give a crap about such ideas said how much they liked it. Economic wisdom can spread in mysterious ways!

 

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Well-rounded education

The Foundation for Economic Education website is really rather good. Following links from Perry’s SQOTD about Venezuela, I hit upon an article questioning the idea that an education should be well-rounded. I have been skeptical of this idea since being forced to study things in secondary school that seemed like a waste of time.

…we need to get rid of the idea that all kids need to learn the same stuff in schools. I think a corollary is getting rid of the idea that kids need to be well-rounded, which is one of the reasons why we have so much standardized curriculum.

This is an attractive idea. Specialising is more productive. People who are not good at mathematics get can get by, especially now that there are tools and information online. The same goes for other areas of knowledge.

This concept of “agility” seems to be a good description of how people function in the real world:

Well-roundedness means being prepared for anything by knowing a diverse array of stuff; whatever the situation, there is a chance the person will know something about it. Agility is the ability to adapt to change, not because one knows diverse stuff, but because one knows how to learn what one needs in any situation. The well-rounded person isn’t stymied by math because they know a little math. The agile person isn’t stymied by math because when they confront a math challenge, they use whatever tools they can to figure out a workaround.

There are some things the article misses. Perhaps learning about a diverse array of things when young, thereby learning how to tackle diverse problems, is a good way to become “agile”. Perhaps sampling a diverse array of things when young is also a good way to figure out what it is you would like to specialise in. Perhaps the author has unduly conflated standardised curricula with learning diverse topics.

One of the problems with my state secondary school education was the rapid time division multiplexing of topics. I would have preferred to focus on one thing at a time. Not everyone is like this*, and supply of different types of education for different people (perhaps via some kind of “market”, who knows?) might be of value, and is separate from the idea of education on specialised topics.

(*) — Incidentally, many parents seem to worry about their children obsessing over one particular thing and not being “well-balanced”. But multiplexing of diverse interests can be done over a scale of months rather than hours. I think such obsessions usually turn out to be temporary and are best left to run their course, or else they will be long-lasting and productive. I hope so: my own children are currently specialising in computer game testing.

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