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 – Dipshit: a form of the planner’s delusion

I was actually there when Boris (Yeltsin) freed food prices. Replacing that planned, understood, thing with the complexity – and the impossibility of understanding its complexity – of the market is exactly what filled the shops with food.

Now do you see the point here? The dipshittiness of the basic demand being made about AI? The lawyer is saying that unless we already understand it all we shouldn’t be using it. But the entire point of the use of these complex not-understood things is that we don’t, in fact, know how it all works. Therefore we use this miracle thing to work it out for us.

To say that we can’t use AI until we know what the result will be is the same as saying we’ve got to use economic planning because we don’t know what the market outcome will be. We’ve even that long experiment – the 20th Century – to tell us how that worked out. Those who didn’t use the not-understood complexity remained shit poor.

Tim Worstall

The protectionist ratchet effect – and lack of political anger about it

The recent decision by President Biden to slap tariffs on a range of Chinese imports, including electric vehicles, has gone through with relatively little political noise and pushback. There was a time a while ago when certain figures in the Republican Party and part of the mainstream media would have been alarmed by this, given how widely free trade was accepted as a default position, with caveats about protecting sectors deemed vital for security, or because of things such as blatant abuse of intellectual property. Nowadays, it appears that mercantilism, and special interest lobbying power that drives it, is as strong as ever.

The Wall Street Journal writes ($):

The way to defeat Beijing economically is by making America more competitive. This means playing to traditional strengths of innovation, low taxes and regulation, and trade alliances. Mr. Biden has done the opposite. His Administration has blocked critical mineral mining projects. It has attacked domestic fossil-fuel production and petrochemicals, which contributes to pharmaceutical production.

Of course, the question is who is being “defeated”, if at all, by hammering the economy of China? Will it be the Chinese Communist Party, which in many ways is more or less a sort of Mafia, or the regular Chinese people? Let’s not forget that tens of millions of Chinese citizens have been lifted to a standard of living that would have been a shock to those familiar with the terrible Mao-induced catastophes/crimes of the Great Leap Forward in the 50s and the Cultural Revolution of the mid-60s.

While I suppose that deliberately impoverishing China – which is what some people might want to see – is the goal, regardless of the human costs – I see it as right to pursue two broad courses – encourage prosperity around the world and resist the most egregious abuses. It is also a fact worth considering that it is not, in general, prosperous countries that attack other rich ones. It usually tends to be countries that are in decline for various reasons – often self-induced – that lash out against their real or presumed opponents. A China that wants to conquer Taiwan, for example, or mess with the West in various ways, is in my view motivated by a sort of nagging insecurity as much as anything else. China has done far more to harm itself by its clampdowns under Xi than anything that Biden, Trump or whoever is likely to do. And protectionism is, as I explain below, a very blunt instrument that causes widespread collateral damage and self-harm.

The newspaper notes that one bad policy begets another, as politicians try to offset the bad effects of their previous policy:

The Biden tariffs are a classic example of how bad industrial policy is compounded by another bad policy in the name of fixing the first mistake. Thus Mr. Biden wants to use tariffs to raise the price of EVs that he wants everyone to buy. It’s bananas.

It is. The long-term negative consequences of rising protectionism will be complacency, sloth, special pleading, shoddier products, and the rest. This may take years to manifest itself. It is not even as if the tariffs being imposed by the Biden administration are to be offset by large tax cuts domestically. In the late 19th Century, the various administrations after the US Civil War did impose tariffs, but domestic taxes were puny compared with what we have now.

In any event, arguments that protectionism “protects” seem to be as weak as they ever have been. And there are the downstream impacts to consider: by making imports of solar panels, cars, cooking oil or whatever more expensive, it increases costs not just to consumers, but also to intermediate manufacturers who use these things. Import tariffs on steel drive up the cost of everthing made with steel, to give one simple example.

There is also the corrupting effect that protectionism has, as explained by Phillip W Magness:

In economic terms, tariffs deliver a “rent” by transferring a portion of the consumer surplus from exchange to beneficiary producers who no longer face import competition. The collective action advantages of concentrated interest groups enable lobbying efforts to coalesce around tariff-benefitting industries, which then divert resources away from productive economic activities and into seeking favors through the political system. On net, the concentrated benefits received by politically savvy industries are dwarfed by the combination of deadweight losses on consumers and political losses due to rent-seeking to obtain more tariffs.

Magness also notes another myth about tariffs that modern-day protectionists like to lean on:

As Douglas Irwin has shown, the claimed correlations between late nineteenth-century American industrialization and protectionism are both exaggerated and spurious. Economic growth in sectors that did not face heavy import-competition—think of transportation, communication, and utilities—generally outpaced the tariff-beneficiaries of industrial manufacturing. The United States also had the unique advantage of a large, geographically diverse internal commercial base in this period. Nor were tariffs the unambiguous benefit to industry that Cass claims. They raised the prices on imported capital goods like heavy machinery, which likely impaired many of the same industries that benefited from tariffs on their own goods.

In any event, while they are different in many ways, it appears that both Mr Biden and Mr Trump are in agreement that tariffs are great. Whatever other qualities, or the lack thereof, may distinguish these men from each other and may persuade voters to jump one way or the other, or abstain, or just despair, it appears that on protectionism, we are back in an age as if Adam Smith and David Ricardo never existed.

Samizdata quote of the day – rationing is good for you, donchaknow?

Not surprisingly, take-up of smart meters has been far slower than governments have hoped. Nobody wants a device in their home whose only function will be to enable an energy company to charge them five quid for a shower before work. Yet to avoid public pushback, ministers since Miliband have falsely claimed that smart meters will help households ‘reduce bills’ and put the onus on energy retailers to implement the rollout – if they don’t show sufficient effort in enforcement of the Government’s policy, they can then be fined. Thus, the public standing of energy companies has diminished over the duration, fuelling a growing antagonism between customers and retailers, as smart meters and other policies, such as the destruction of coal-fired power stations, have caused power prices to triple since the early 2000s. Energy companies take much of the blame for Westminster’s policy failures.

Don’t misunderstand the point. This is not a defence of energy companies. Of course, companies like National Grid have their greedy eyes on the opportunities created for them by green dirigisme. But only a fool would expect them not to. And one thing that there is no scarcity of is fools in SW1A. Energy companies have been relatively candid, if one cares to look, whereas Energy and Environment Ministers, from Gummer, Yeo, and Huhne, to more ideological zombies such as Miliband and Davey, have promised that climate targets can be hit with no downsides. But whereas the targets are binding in law, the upsides they promise are not. Anyway, rationing is good for you, donchaknow?

– Ben Pile

What would Hitler do?

Once upon a time we had God. God was someone to emulate; someone whose rules one should attempt to live by. Nowadays, in our secular age, we have anti-God a.k.a. Hitler. Hitler is all bad and we should do the precise opposite of what he said and did.

But is that the case? How bad would things be if Hitler were in charge?

It would not be great for freedom of speech. But then right now is not great for freedom of speech. It would not be great for Jews. But then right now is not great for Jews. And they do, at least, have somewhere to go nowadays.

He might want to start a world war. But he would be frustrated because we are already in a world war. But I think we can be pretty sure he would prosecute that war with rather more vigour than our current masters can muster.

Economically speaking, he would be a disaster. He is, after all, a socialist. He would do nothing about the debt, he would reduce trade and be constantly trying to pick winners. So not much change there. A lot would depend on how enthusiastically he embraced Net Zero. Nazis were appalling environmentalists. I suspect, however, that so long as there was a war to fight that would take priority.

I think we can be pretty sure that the small boats crisis would come to an end. The Volksmarine machine-gunning anyone in a small boat would be likely to put a damper on the people-smugglng trade. Similarly, I don’t think he’d have much time for illegal migration. Or legal migration for that matter. Quite the opposite. Fewer people around would mean lower house prices. So, that’s a Hitler win. Unfortunately, Hitler’s socialist economics would mean shortages of all sorts of things. So, you’d have a house but it wouldn’t have any windows.

He might initially have some trouble with activist judges. But given that he will have a majority in Parliament – Nazis are quite good at arranging that sort of thing – and given that via the Bill of Attainder, Parliament can execute anyone they don’t like without giving reasons, I don’t think the judges would prove much of an obstacle.

I don’t think he would have much time for DEI (or DIE as think we ought to start calling it) or the whole equality agenda. At very least that’s good news for the Garrick Club, if it can retain any degree of independence. OK, so the members would have to sing the Horst Wessel Lied every evening but who doesn’t like a good sing song every now and then? Especially, if it’s being led by prominent celebrities.

On that point, it would certainly be amusing to watch as the gobshites at the BBC and elsewhere in the establishment, heaped praise on the new government, claiming that it was their idea all along in their vain attempts to secure a party membership.

Communist indoctrination in universities would come to an end. To be sure it would be replaced by a different form of indoctrination but at least white men would not be being taught to hate themselves.

I don’t think he’d have a lot of time for Islamic terrorism or Islam in general. I think he’d put likely trouble-makers in concentration camps. Most would fall foul of his racial policies.

Art and aesthetics generally would be better. Who wouldn’t enjoy the sight of the Angel of the North being melted down to make 155mm shells? The remake of Love Thy Neighbour would be compulsory viewing. Literally.

The key thing is that by shifting the Overton Window, Hitler would be able to cut the Gordian Knot that makes doing anything at the moment almost impossible. It is amazing what you can achieve when you are prepared to lock up your opponents.

At this point, I should point out that a Hitler government may well turn out to be sub-optimal. But given the path towards an Islamo-communist tyranny we are currently on one would have to say it could be worse.

Samizdata quote of the day – we’re ruled by ghastly shits

Andrew Malkinson has been badly done by. Very badly done by.

I was wrongly imprisoned for 17 years. Then the state released me into a legal maze

Andrew Malkinson

Nine months after a court quashed my conviction, I’m living on universal credit. Why is it so hard for victims like me to get compensation?

I do not know any of the details of the conviction, the exoneration and do not care to do so. For the only important point to make here is that the system, at the end, agreed that it made a mistake. Whether that’s a mistake of the process, the procedure, getting the wrong person, just one of those fucks ups, matters not. There was, in that system, a mistake, a man then lost 17 years of his life as a result.

Then the bloke gets fucked about because we’re ruled by ghastly shits.

Tim Worstall

Samizdata quote of the day – Jerry Seinfeld college address edition

“If I messed up a funny story around my relatives, they would go ‘That’s not how you tell that joke. The prostitute has to be behind the drapes when the wife comes in.’ You went to Duke—that is an unbelievable privilege. I now have an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Duke University. And if I can figure out a way to use that, I will. I haven’t figured anything out yet. I think it’s pretty much as useful in real life as this outfit I’m wearing. But so what? I’ll take it. My point is we’re embarrassed about things we should be proud of and proud of things we should be embarrassed about.”

Jerry Seinfeld drops some humorous truth bombs at a college speech.

Samizdata quote of the day – Eurovision Song Contest and Israel edition

“Israel placed fifth this year, due to low support in the jury voting. But it came second to Croatia in the popular vote. Though Ireland’s entrant, a “nonbinary” satanist named Bambie Thug, had called for Israel’s expulsion, Irish voters put Israel in second place. Israel topped the popular vote in Britain, Spain, Germany, France, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Portugal and Italy. Europeans may struggle to tell good tunes from bad, but they know the difference between good and evil.”

Dominic Green, Wall Street Journal ($)

For more coverage on the rather satisfying result of this admittedly silly competition, see here.

If you must deal with them, they must deal with you

“Labour council to let staff ignore people they find annoying”, reports the Telegraph. To be fair to Oxford city council, the Telegraph headline and the first line are clickbait designed to (pleasurably) annoy its readers:

A council that drew a backlash for banning meat and dairy products

Misleadingly phrased and irrelevant. The “ban” only applies to meat and dairy products being served at council events.

will allow its staff to refuse contact with people they find irritating.

Relevant, but still misleadingly phrased. Most of the behaviours that the council says might cause its staff to refuse contact with a citizen are worse than “irritating”:

Oxford city council has introduced a policy to manage citizens it describes as “abusive, persistent and/or vexatious”.

The “vexatious behaviour policy” outlines how staff and councillors should deal with people who make complaints or inquiries in a way that is “manifestly unjustified”, “inappropriate” or “intimidating”.

Guidelines include limiting how often they can contact the council or meeting them face to face with a witness.

The council has more of a point than I first thought. It does have the responsibility to protect its staff from an intolerable working environment or actual violence. No organisation can give infinite time to complainers, even when the complaints are reasonable and the complainers polite. The courts have the concept of the “vexatious litigant” for this reason. I note from the mention of witnesses that the council does not seem to intend to cut people off entirely. It could also hold meetings with citizens it deems threatening by video. Perhaps it does say it will do that and the Telegraph did not report it because it sounded too reasonable.

That said, the quip that instantly came to my mind and yours is no mere joke: Oxford city council does not permit the citizens of Oxford to ignore it. It takes their money by force and frequently fails to properly provide those services that are meant be its side of the coerced bargain. It vexes them with its little obsessions about food and rainbows. Until they allowed to say, “Your demands annoy me, Oxford city council, and I will henceforth ignore you”, Oxford city council is obliged to continue to respond in some way to the complaints of everyone over whom it claims authority.

Samizdata quote of the day – loss of belief in freedom edition

“…you can’t long remain a free society if you don’t believe in freedom. And it’s no good just saying you believe in it: you have to live it. Sometimes that means politicians deciding ‘we would rather live with this injustice or this social problem than expand the state to deal with it.’ When was the last time you heard anyone say that? And that’s the problem.”

David Frost, Daily Telegraph (£)

Samizdata quote of the day – the WHO’s plan for public-health tyranny

Particularly troubling are the provisions that commit WHO member states to developing behavioural-science measures (a euphemism for ‘nudge’ tactics and propaganda) and countering ‘misinformation and disinformation’ (meaning increased censorship). Given the extent of state-led propaganda and censorship during the last pandemic, would it not be more appropriate to strengthen protections for scientific debate and free speech instead?

Molly Kingsley

Crushing forgiveness

This is the most repulsive, counter-productive advertisement I have ever seen:

But it is still less sinister and arrogant than this:

Pssst, wanna used car?

Some good stuff in the Telegraph today. “The electric car carnage has only just begun”, writes Matthew Lynn.

As with so much of the legislation passed during the last five years, setting a quota for the percentage of EVs companies had to sell probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Manufacturers now have to ensure that 22pc of the cars they shift off the forecourt are battery powered, rising steadily to 80pc by the end of this decade, and 100pc by 2035. If they don’t hit their quota, the senior executives will get ten years hard labour in Siberia (well, actually it is a fine of up to £15,000 per vehicle, but it nonetheless feels extremely draconian). Like Soviet planners in the 1950s, the architects of this legislation presumably assumed that all you had to do was set a target and everything would fall into place.

The trouble is, quotas don’t work any better in Britain than they did in communist Russia. EVs have some serious problems: the range is not good enough, we have not built enough charging points to power them, the repair bills are expensive, the insurance ruinous, and second hand prices are plummeting. Once all raw materials and transport costs are factored in, they may not be much better for the environment.

Yet the masterminds foisting this legislation on businesses don’t appear to have given much thought to what will happen if the quota isn’t met. Now Ford, one of the biggest auto giants in the world, and still a major manufacturer in Europe, has provided an answer. “We can’t push EVs into the market against demand,” said Martin Sander, the General Manager of Ford Model eEurope, at a conference this week. “We’re not going to pay penalties… The only alternative is to take our shipments of [engine] vehicles to the UK down and sell these vehicles somewhere else.”

In effect, Ford will limit its sales of cars in the UK. If you had your eye on a new model, forget it. You will have to put your name on a waiting list, just as East Germans had to wait years for a Trabant. Heck, we may even see a black market in off-the-books Transit vans. Ford is the first to spell it out in public, but we can be confident all the other manufacturers are thinking the same thing. They can’t absorb huge fines. The only alternative is to limit the sales of petrol cars.