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

If socialists really wanted to help people they’d be capitalists.

Andy Puzder.

Spotted by Stephen Green of Instapundit, to whom thanks.

Has higher education had its Bernie Madoff moment?

A big story is developing about claims that financiers, Hollywood celebs and others engaged in criminal fraud to enable their children to get into posh Ivy League universities and other such places.

Beyond the salacious details about such a story – and you can imagine how this plays to the “poor ordinary folk outraged by rich people doing Bad Stuff” sort of narrative – is the issue of what the likes of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has called the education bubble. With credentialism in the workplace rising, demand for college/university degrees expanding, and fuelling rising student debt, higher tuition fees and yes, more debt, the higher ed. industry is exhibiting the kind of distortions and potential for fraud that we saw in the period leading up to the financial crack-up of 2008. Remember the Bernie Madoff Ponzi fraud scam? The hedge fund that wasn’t was able to scam people at a time when asset prices were rising everywhere and getting into the juiciest hedge funds was the name of the game, rather like getting into the poshest schools was seen as important to people today. By preying on insecurity, vanity, status and worries that being outside meant failure, Madoff defrauded people out of billions of dollars. The parallels with what is going on in higher ed. are quite close.

On a related point, I recently read US academic Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education: Why The Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. I might not go as far as agreeing with the totality of his ideas, but it seems to me that when people are allegedly committing crimes to get kids into a university, and where the kind of “snowflake” issues are turning some of these places into echo chambers for the Hard Left, it is time for radical change.

Brexit: what happens now?

I went to the Mail for a simple explanation, but they didn’t seem to know.

What happens now May’s deal has FAILED? Brexit could be delayed or ‘cancelled’, Remainers might trigger a second referendum… and the PM could be forced to QUIT

Do you?

Free market meat

Vegans have a point: the great thing about civilisation is we can overcome basic natural urges to improve the world. Animals do not want to be eaten; humans have the ability to reduce animal suffering; not eating them is a good thing to do.

On the other hand, bacon tastes good. If I honestly answer the question of why I am not a vegan, the answer comes out something like this: I care about eating bacon more than I care about the welfare of pigs.

There is a spectrum, though. A well-cared-for pig can live happily on a pleasant farm for years, oblivious to its impending doom. I imagine it is possible to sneak up behind it one day and kill it painlessly. Probably such methods of bacon production are more expensive than intensive factory farming of pigs, but if I have enough spare disposeable income I will pay that price to alleviate a little bit of bacon guilt. It is quite likely the bacon will taste nicer too.

This sets the scene for this question:

So you’d be happy for us to have low animal welfare and environmental standards in the name of consumer choice?

Or this question:

How would you maintain environmental and animal welfare standards in your model? Would it be entirely a matter of consumer choice?

These questions are asked in the context of a discussion about free trade. If we just allow people to buy food from wherever they want, the argument goes, then they will buy meat from places where animals are poorly treated because it is cheaper.

One possible answer to that is: so what? People ought to be able to choose how much they care about things like animal welfare. Honestly, I agree with this. I do not think the non-aggression principle applies to animals. I do not think it is right to harm a human solely to protect an animal. Whatever the role of the state is, it is not to intervene in individual choices about animal farming.

That is not to say that treating animals nicely is not desirable. I happen to think there is a good chance that as people get wealthier, they start to be able to afford to care about such things as animal welfare, and they do. This is why there is a market for free range animal products, and in the UK meat branded “Organic” is purchased partly because the Soil Association, who license that brand, mandate strict animal welfare standards. This is exactly how it should work. Somebody cares about animal welfare, somebody puts their money where their mouth is and markets products which promise better animal welfare, people voluntarily buy these products.

Banning imports of food from certain countries because they have lower animal welfare standards is harming people solely to protect animals. It is insisting on threatening people with violence for treating their farm animals in a certain way. And it is threatening people with violence for voluntarily trading in animal products from certain sources. It takes choice away from people. It is regressive: by removing cheaper products from the market, poorer people have to eat less meat. It might be argued that eating less meat is better for them, or that the trade-off is worthwhile because it is perfectly possible to cheaply obtain enough protein from other sources, but this is paternalistic nannying. If these things are true then it ought to be possible to persuade people to change their ways. Resorting to the violence of trade regulations is admitting that you can not persuade people to make these decisions voluntarily. Complaining that people make the wrong voluntary decisions is condescending.

However, I have a problem. My Big Idea (such as it is) is that the left tends to win arguments because it successfully appeals to people’s sense of virtue, and we ought to get in on that action. Helping people who are suffering is virtuous. Reducing animal suffering is virtuous. Our job is to demonstrate that freedom achieves these things better than the ideas of the left do.

A Guardian article by Chris McGreal is an example of the left being really good at this.

In these industrial farming units, pigs, cows and chickens are crammed by the thousand into rows of barns. Many units are semi-automated, with feeding run by computer and the animals watched by video, with periodic visits by workers who drive between several operations.

The article paints a picture of rural America reduced to a few people farming grain to feed animals in factories in the worst possible conditions. All this is done in the name of profit because nobody cares about animals suffering; they only care about getting dinner on the table as cheaply as possible.

This might actually be true. If so we have a paradox: being kind to animals is virtuous; people want to be virtuous; but everybody is choosing voluntarily to buy meat from producers who are cruel to animals. Perhaps they are misinformed, in which case opponents of this type of animal production need only to inform them; there is no need to use violence against people who buy meat from the USA.

Or perhaps all this talk of virtue is mere signalling. Perhaps nobody really does care about animal welfare. If true, then persuasion will not work. People who care about animal suffering have no choice but to resort to violence. This is the problem with the state, of course. You use clever semantics to hide the nature of the violence: you call it regulation; you say it is legitimised by democracy. At the ballot box you trick people into thinking that other people will pay the cost of the decision. Someone voluntarily buying Organic bacon pays the price and they see that they are paying the price. If you convince people to vote for the politician who will instruct the police to arrest the person who buys bacon from the USA, you remove from the marketplace the cheap bacon and nobody sees.

What path, then, is left for us to convince people that freedom minimises suffering, even of animals?

It might just be true that state meddling does not work to minimise animal suffering at all. If so, we should make sure of it and tell people.

In Everything I Want To Do is Illegal, Joel Salatin writes,

I want to dress my beef and pork on the farm where I’ve coddled and raised it. But zoning laws prohibit slaughterhouses on agricultural land. For crying out loud, what makes more holistic sense than to put abattoirs where the animals are? But no, in the wisdom of western disconnected thinking, abattoirs are massive centralized facilities visited daily by a steady stream of tractor trailers and illegal alien workers.

But what about dressing a couple of animals a year in the backyard? Why is that a Con-Agra or Tyson facility? In the eyes of the government, the two are one and the same. Every T-bone steak has to be wrapped in a half-million dollar facility so that it can be sold to your neighbor. The fact that I can do it on my own farm more cleanly, more responsibly, more humanely, more efficiently, and more environmentally doesn’t matter to the government agents who walk around with big badges on their jackets and wheelbarrow-sized regulations tucked under their arms.

Okay, so I take my animals and load them onto a trailer for the first time in their life to send them up the already clogged interstate to the abattoir to await their appointed hour with a shed full of animals of dubious extraction. They are dressed by people wearing long coats with deep pockets with whom I cannot even communicate. The carcasses hang in a cooler alongside others that were not similarly cared for in life. After the animals are processed, I return to the facility hoping to retrieve my meat.

And when I return home to sell these delectable packages, the county zoning ordinance says this is a manufactured product because it exited the farm and was re-imported as a value-added product, thereby throwing our farm into the Wal-mart category, another prohibition in agricultural areas. Just so you understand this, remember that an abattoir was illegal, so I took the animals to a legal abattoir, but now the selling of said products in an on-farm store is illegal.

The picture here is one of the state actively stifling innovative attempts to make a profit at selling well-cared-for animals. It may well be that without all this regulation, being cruel to animals may not be the most profitable way to produce them. Or at the very least that marginally more people would buy meat from well-cared-for animals because it would be marginally cheaper.

The other case to make is that economic growth solves all problems. Enough economic growth gets you tasty lab-grown meat at a fraction of the price of tortured-animal meat. Anything that impedes economic growth by a fraction of a per-cent per year directly causes the suffering of millions of additional future animals, not to mention people. If we can market that argument in an appealing way and counter the more-to-life-than-profit rhetoric of the left, we will be onto a winner.

Samizdata quote of the day

Generally these days ‘liberal’ means someone who supports profoundly illiberal positions. But as ‘socialist’ means someone who wants to replace social interactions with politically mediated interactions, it seems they are named after what they want to destroy.

– Perry de Havilland

Samizdata quote of the day

The British political firmament as a whole is hardly blessed with a multitude of bold, original thinkers, and such figures certainly aren’t among the fabulous seven, the daring eleven or whatever number of forgettable non-entities currently comprise The Independent Group.

All of which is a great pity. As this blog has noted over and over and over and over and over and over again, Britain has entered a period of political discontinuity – a time when the existing political settlement, with its narrow range of policy options, are no longer adequate to the challenges at hand. Such periods of discontinuity require politicians to think the previously unthinkable in terms of policy solutions, not to flee their former political parties in an outrage that people are actually starting to do so.

Samuel Hooper

Less economy of truth, please: who pays whom?

In today’s UK, we can only envy the US its first amendment, but Brits familiar with the PC narrative on race over here still find some US excesses hard to credit. Even Brits who hang out with lefties can be astounded by the wilder shores of the US narrative.

Enthroned on this mad narrative, Ta-Nehisi Coates nevertheless gets some push-back. He’s not hard to criticise. In his own memoir, some shoving on a crowded New York escalator is the worst that white people ever did to him in propria persona, but their malign influence is everywhere: when a black kid points a gun at the young Coates, it’s the fault of whites; when a black friend is shot by a black cop in a black majority area, it’s the fault of whites.

However, those who dare question this feel they must virtue-signal even as they do so.

“Coates’s book is … angry about things we should be angry about” signals an article that shreds Coates’ memoir.

“Coates reminds us of the shame of the American inner city … His account of slavery and the ensuing discrimination against blacks is powerful and true.” says an article titled ‘The Toxic World-View of Ta-Nehisi Coates’.

While cringing white ‘liberals’ tell each other that “Coates is right about white supremacy — but that doesn’t mean that Bernie Sanders is wrong”, other critics seem to be saying that “Coates is absurd, dishonest or channeling racism – but that doesn’t mean I’m a racist for saying so.”

This lets lies survive even in the words of those fighting against them. After denouncing “genocidal whiteness”, Coates demands “reparations” for slavery. Consider the following thought experiments.

– Suppose the US government tells Mr Coates they have just learned he was in fact born in Senegal and adopted as a tiny infant by his US parents, who neglected the relevant legalities – so he is not a US citizen and should depart for his true country. In this thought experiment, Mr Coates’ true parents were not descended from slaves sold to white traders on the West African coast centuries ago. His true ancestors did not suffer from “genocidal whiteness”. How much money would Mr Coates spend on lawyers and investigators to overturn this assessment? How much money would Mr Coates pay to reacquire the legacy for which he says he should be paid?

– As another way of asking the same thing, suppose a powerful witch offers to wave her magic wand over Mr Coates. His ancestors’ past will be changed. The “genocidal whiteness” that has affected that past will be expunged. At every moment when one of his ancestors was about to be pushed onto a white trader’s ship – at every moment when the white western world was about to impinge upon them – they will instead be among the unselected, remaining in Africa. As a special bonus, the witch will ensure that they are not instead sent into the King of Dahomey’s murder spectacle, nor have their eyes gouged out by the Bemba, nor die entertaining the Ashanti, nor be eaten by a cannibal tribe. They will instead live to give rise to Ta-Nehisi Coates, still himself, but now a slave-descended citizen of Senegal from whose past all “genocidal whiteness” has been erased. How much would Mr Coates pay the witch not to wave her wand?

It seems so superfluous to point out that the sums Mr Coates would pay (in these hypothetical examples) to keep his heritage are the sums he should pay, not be paid, if his agitation for reparations ever overcame the many better, more fundamental reasons against it.

I understand the urge to utter that ‘but’but I’m not a racist, but I know evil things were done, but I’m not Adolf reborn. Even I find myself wanting to tell you that being sold as a slave by his jealous brothers, and then falsely accused by Potiphar’s lustful wife, worked out really well for Joseph in the end – but they all needed Grand Vizier Joseph’s forgiveness, not his thanks, and his giving it was an act of grace, forgoing the punishment he could so justly have inflicted. I so needed to make sure you all knew I knew that – even though I already knew you all knew I knew that. Even though I already knew what surely we all know by now: that cringing to the PC only encourages them. Even though I already knew that anyone who would have pretended not to know I thought it if I did not say it will still pretend just as hard although I have.

And that is how this need to virtue-signal lets lies survive even in the words of those fighting against them. Yes, all the perpetrators and victims are dead. Yes, how could we unravel all their clashing inheritances. Yes, reparations for the past opens a pandora’s box of endless complications. But all this general philosophy merely hides specific points. You can hate the British Empire or you can hate slavery but no-one honestly hates both – and the PC hate that fact. If Mr Coates’ ancestors had never been put on the ships, their enslaved descendants might have had to wait decades longer for the Empire to reach and free them in their homeland. Reparations for centuries-old events may be philosophically impractical in general, but focussing on that only obscures that when you indict a whole society’s dead past on behalf of another, as Coates does, then you should ask whether that society was peculiarly guilty, or peculiar only in its relative lack of guilt. Slavery was ‘the peculiar institution’ in the pre-war south. In the non-western world, it did not look peculiar – and would not today, but for the western world.

“You’re taught that on race issues you are morally obliged to suspend your usual standards of logic. Faced with a choice between some benign mendacity and being mauled, few human beings choose the latter.”

Those who do ‘choose the latter’ know what Burke did about economy of truth: “a man may speak the truth by measure that he be allowed to speak it longer”. But Burke never thought mendacity could be ‘benign’ – and nor do I. I think we should be less economical.

The suffering of being voluntary

“National service should be compulsory for the young, says Chuka Umunna”

Coming out can be a stressful process. All should have sympathy with Mr Umunna’s personal struggle to accept his inner Tory.

Young Britons should do a form of ‘national service’ to end the current ‘social apartheid,’ according to Chuka Umunna. The Independent Group frontman has unveiled a list of policies, including on tuition fees, education grants and how to fund the health service. The former Labour MP has suggested that youngsters be forced to carry out work to break down barriers within society.

Because nothing builds unity in a society like some of its members using force on others. Both sides are participating, right?

The TIG spokesman stressed the plan would not be a return to compulsory military service but would help people meet other Britons from different social backgrounds.

Mr Umunna said his proposal could build on the National Citizen Service scheme introduced by David Cameron, which ‘has suffered by being voluntary’. It could also draw on evidence from France, where Emmanuel Macron made a national service requirement for 16-year-olds a key policy, with trials beginning this year.

Will no one think of the National Citizen Service scheme? We cannot leave it to suffer this way.

True but not the point

“Police waste too much time over silly spats”, writes Clare Foges in the Times. (Paywalled, but I will quote all the bits that matter.)

But perhaps the most time-sucking of new developments has been the resources spent on hate incidents and online crime. Last year it was reported that in 2015-16, 30 police forces dealt with 11,236 hate incidents which were too trivial to be classed as crimes; one every half hour. Among those lodging complaints were a man who claimed a tennis umpire had made racist line-calls against his daughter, a woman who was told that she looked like Peter Griffin from the cartoon Family Guy, and a person who felt a man had stood “intimidatingly” close because she was “a non-conforming gender-specific lesbian in a wheelchair”.

Instead of realising the folly of all this, the National Police Chiefs’ Council responded by restating that “those feeling vulnerable should report any incident of hate crime to the police”. The trouble is that hate crime is astonishingly subjective. The official definition is “any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice”.

The College of Policing states that “for recording purposes, the perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident . . . Evidence of the hostility is not required.” In other words, any crackpot or attention seeker who feels victimised, regardless of the “offence”, may go to the police.

Sucking up police time on “hate” incidents in the offline world is bad enough, but in the past couple of years the police have been expected to protect us online too. In 2017 the Crown Prosecution Service announced that online hate crimes should be treated as seriously as those committed face to face. This has led us to ludicrous cases like that of Kate Scottow, who last December was arrested in front of her children by three police officers and detained for seven hours. Her crime? Calling a transgender woman on Twitter a man.

In 2017 this paper reported that police were arresting nine people a day in the fight against web trolls, a rise of nearly 50 per cent in just three years. The arrests were made under the Communications Act 2003, which makes it illegal to intentionally “cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another” with online posts. Annoyance? Inconvenience? Given the cesspit of spite that social media has become, we can only imagine how many are being arrested today.

Commissioner Dick was criticised when she said that focusing on violent crime must be the over-riding priority for police, over misogynistic abuse, over fraud, even over catching those who view indecent material online. “We can’t go on increasing the scale of the mission, unless we are given more resources, or the public is prepared for us to do some things not very well.” No one wants to give a free ride to certain offenders. But in a world of finite resources there cannot be a bobby on every corner as well as bobbies to guard the good name of the Duchess of Sussex and bobbies to police every spat on social media. There aren’t enough resources for this and never will be.

I do not disagree with any of the arguments Ms Foges makes. But I think she is missing something rather important…

Update: I have decided to stop being coy and just say what I think the problem with Clare Foges’ piece is. She talks as if the main thing wrong with the police “increasing the scale of the mission” (as Commissioner Cressida Dick puts it) to encompass the policing of spats on social media is that it wastes police time. So it does, but the scandal of the arrest of Kate Scottow for calling a transgender woman a man on Twitter did not lie in the time wasted by the three officers who bravely took on that mission. It lay in the violation of Kate Scottow’s liberty.

Due process of law is just so 19th Century

As some in the US will know there have been moves to ensure that when a university/college student (usually male) is accused of rape or some other form of sexual assault, the matter must be handled by a court of law, not simply for the accused to be put in front of some sort of academic panel and, without even hearing from an accuser or with a chance to challenge the version of events, can be expelled, and hence ruined for life. (Here are comments from a while ago from Tim Worstall.)

UK journalist and documentary-maker Louis Theroux thinks that when a person is acquitted by a court of law, that’s not the end of the matter. Perhaps he is a bit fuzzy on his understanding of the law of libel. When I trained as a reporter, I distinctly remember that articles about a person who was acquitted of sex assault must never imply that somehow the verdict was, you know, not the end of the matter and that X or Y was probably a bit dodgy, to be shunned and avoided, etc. (In reality, of course, social ostracism is still a factor and people who are thought of as “having got away with it” might find their lives get more difficult. To some extent that’s inevitable.)

Anyway, here he writes:

“There are two different standards. There’s a criminal standard in which you go to prison, but just because you haven’t been found guilty of a crime doesn’t mean that you haven’t done anything wrong – that you haven’t made someone very uncomfortable and possible committed a gross violation.”

Theroux says that just because a person has been acquitted by a jury does not mean there aren’t problems. Well, up to a point. The reason we have juries, due process, burdens of proof, etc, is because it is considered better to avoid innocent people being wrongly accused of crimes, even if it means a criminal goes free. Given how emotions can and do run high, risks of mistrials are large. (This is arguably even more so when public figures are implicated.)

The fact that universities and other entities hold less onerous tests of guilt than courts is not something to celebrate and at the very least, a student who joins a university should be made aware that they could be accused of bad conduct, expelled, and so on, even if their case does not go to court. That’s unlikely to encourage people to go to these places, particularly in the current climate where men are presumed to be “toxic”. (It is worth adding that recruits to the armed forces can go to a court martial that holds slightly different standards to a civilian court, at least under the English Common Law, and that recruits are to some extent waiving due process protections by signing the dotted line. Maybe a student should be asked to do the same.)

Theroux takes what I think is a rather odd turn in arguing that maybe sex assault/rape should not be such serious offences so it would be okay to bypass the courts and still get the perpetrators. I think I have got that right:

“If you define rape very, very narrowly – as it was, someone being dragged behind a bush – it kind of gives license to anyone who sexually assaults someone in a way that’s not as bad as that to sort of say ‘Well, I’m not a rapist’.

One of the signs that we live in mad times is the way that the bar is being lowered, it seems, as far as accusations of ill conduct are concerned and over how traditional checks and balances over this are being eroded. The erosion is being called for in plain sight. And scarily, there appears to be relatively little objection to this.

My comments on social media to a True EU Believer

I wrote this on Facebook today in response to a guy arguing that the EU was necessary for the following reasons:

As global trade widens and becomes more complex, rules must be harmonised and we need large bureaucracies to enforce this, so the UK should be involved, to influence this necessary process:

The UK’s own democratic arrangements are poor or not working well so why is the EU so bad?

We need to regulate even the most basic items, such as how lightbulbs are made, because, er, fair trade.

The costs of all this EU stuff are well worth it because it stopped a war for the past 70 years between the major continental powers. So stop going on about free trade, silly rules and farm subsidies. Look at the bigger picture.

As you can detect, I am not impressed by these statements. This was my response:

A few things: it is a big claim that the EU (or what used to be the EEC) has been the major reason for stopping Germany from invading France yet again after 1945. I would argue that the “glue” of the EU has had some positive impact, but surely, the fact that Germany was utterly destroyed in 1945, split in two, and that the Western powers faced the Soviets, and were protected under the NATO umbrella, was the key to why there wasn’t another continental war. And even if all the red tape, rule harmonisation, costly farm subsidies and all the other palaver was justified as a price worth paying on that basis, why would the UK, which wasn’t a defeated power and with a different history, want to subsume itself into a federal project? It does not follow at all. The case is not made. De Gaulle was also correct in his “non” to UK entry in the early 60s as he rightly feared that his Franco-German compact would be bent out of shape.

As global trade expands and the world becomes “smaller” with the Internet and jet travel and containerisation, it doesn’t require ever larger, more elaborate bureaucracies of transnational states to be built. In fact, what things require is more, not less, devolution of power, more variety, and less one-size-fits-all thinking. Why should complexity require more centralisation, rather than less?

The idea that we need single EU rules on how lightbulbs and other materials of the modern world are made is not justified on the basis of protecting “fairness”, and in fact all too often, such regulations are imposed and lobbied for by industry groups knowing that they raise barriers to entry against cheaper or different manufacturers, and reduce competition. Unless there are very clear-cut safety issues, I invariably smell a rat when people defend government bans on certain mechandise by talking about “fair trade”. It’s protectionism with a nice tie.

My position is not an “anarchist” one. It is more in tune with a general classical liberal approach to business, government and diplomacy, and above all driven by scepticism about big projects to reshape very old institutions and national loyalties. The launch of the single currency was an exercise in hubris, the results of which are still with us.

Take-home fact: Members of the European Parliament cannot, as far as I know, repeal a directive once it has become law. Nor can MEPs initiate a new law on their own, as an MP can. The MEPs are pale shadows of truly effective legislators and the democratic deficit in the EU is unsustainable.

Lawyers for Britain on the poisonous choices ahead

Martin Howe QC has written an article on the choices facing Parliament with regard to ratifying Mrs May’s agreement (as amended) or extending the Article 50 deadline, the Trojan ass beloved of Remainiacs.

Essentially, he sees the worst option as approving Mrs May deal with its indefinite nature, subjugation to the ECJ as an arbitration mechanism and no exit clause (but I think a suitably-phrased Act of Parliament and, in the event of any nonsense from over the water, a few well-aimed cruise missiles as an ultimate fallback would do). I fail to see the disadvantage of breaching such a bad treaty, President Trump is a great one for saying that this arrangement is screwing us, so screw it and if you don’t like it, tough.

A short extension would be a nonsense as the European ‘Parliament’ will take a break from rubber-stamping or worse, gilding (never ‘gelding’ it seems) the legislation put before it so that elections may be held, and it is needed to ratify the final Withdrawal Agreement. It would give three weeks for more procrastination and delay (which is the whole point of Mrs May’s premiership, in case anyone hasn’t noticed).

As Mr Howe notes of the FFC:

The Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons on 26 February 2019 opened the door to a “short, limited extension to Article 50 not beyond the end of June” if the House again rejects her deal on 12 March. She thereby abandoned her commitment, repeated in the Commons more than 100 times, that the UK will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019.

Without any apparent consciousness of the irony, she told the House that she would stick by her commitment to hold a vote on extending Article 50 “as I have [stuck by my] previous commitments”.

Mr Howe sums up the advantage of a 21 month extension over Mrs May’s ‘deal’.

A long extension of 21 months would have the same practical result as the “implementation” period in the deal, except the UK would be much better off than under the deal because we would still have a vote and representation in EU institutions and the European Parliament.
Unlike the deal, we would be free to leave on 1 January 2021 without being trapped in the “backstop” Protocol.
Our financial liabilities during the 21 month extension would be the same as under the deal, but unlike the deal, we would have no obligations afterwards.
Unlike under the deal, we would not be subject to indefinite ECJ jurisdiction after 2020.

As Mr Howe notes:

When you want to get someone to do something by threatening them, the normal protocol is that you threaten them with something which is worse than the thing you want them to do. However, in this case, it is the other way round. The ‘threat’ is manifestly more advantageous in every way than the thing the threatener wants the threatened to do (vote for the Theresa May deal).

Would an extension be granted by the EU?

… there are severe difficulties in the way of getting such an extension in the first place. The EU is wary of the problems which would be created by holding the European Parliament elections in the UK. The Conservative Party should be not simply wary, but alarmed across the board, at such a prospect, since a decimation of the Conservative vote in the face of Nigel Farage’s reinvigorated Brexit party cannot be ruled out. And if the Brexit party establishes itself with a big vote in the European Parliament elections, it will not go away and will be a real vote-splitting problem for the Conservatives in by-elections and at the next general election – an even greater problem than UKIP was in the past.

The EU may well not be willing to agree to an extension. It only takes one member state to veto it.

So this is where the Conservative Party has taken the country, to a point where threats of something better that a final outcome are being deployed with a view to getting the worst possible deal for the UK? And our best hope may well be another EU member government deciding to put a stick in the spokes of the extension? Could, say, nice Mr Orban be our saviour? We might see just how far the euroscepticism of some European politicians will take them.