Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Natalie Solent on Victor!
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Category archive: Libertarianism
Is this book … :
… the same book as this book?:
It turns out that they are the same book. Hannan:
But, are they precisely the same? I mean: same intro? Same preface? Any other small tinkerings? If the Yanks (maybe the Brits?) changed the damn title, what the hell else did they change?
I find this kind of thing intensely annoying. The whole point of reading something like a book, or watching something like a movie, is that you read (or watch) precisely the same object as everybody else. (This being one reason why I so particularly resent censorship. It prevents me, again and again, from seeing what others elsewhere are seeing.)
The best you can say about this muddle is that at least this/these book/books seem to be coming out at approximately the same time.
How we invented Freedom is nevertheless in the post.
Here is one of those memo-to-self but also memo-to-anyone-else-interested postings, about the next few speakers who have been fixed for the next few Brian’s Last Fridays. The last posting I did along these lines was useful, to me and to people I was emailing about these events, and so will this one be.
So, here are the next five speakers, who have been inked in:
Nov 29 - Marc Sidwell on The School of Freedom: Why Libertarians Should Care About Liberal Education.
Dec 27 – Antoine Clarke on Immigration and the Bad Arguments Against It.
Jan 31 – Alex Singleton on How Individual Individualists can influence the Media.
Feb 28 – Dominique Lazanski on Digital Freedom in the UK and Europe.
March 28 – Christian Michel on A Subject Yet To Be Determined.
Note the change of speaker next Friday. Dominique Lazanski can’t do Nov 29 so will be doing Feb 28 instead.
Also, I am doing a talk for Christian Michel on Jan 20. In this Samizdata posting about the talk, I previously had the date as February 20, but have now corrected this date, because February 20 is wrong. It’s January 20.
Last night I attended the Simon Gibbs talk about how to herd cats. For me the problem was right there in the title. It was like he knew he was attempting something impossible.
My immediate reaction is that what I do to cats is stroke them, if they will let me. If I “owned” a cat, that would mean that it would also be my duty to feed it. But herding cats? There’s a reason this phrase is used to describe social schemes that can’t work.
Simon’s scheme seems to depend on some kind of website. Websites are not my strong point, even understanding the point of them let alone actually making them work. The less new software I have in my life, the happier I am. So maybe I am missing not something here, but everything. Simon made several mentions of a “button”. When I find out where this is (somewhere at Libertarian Home?), I’ll give it a go. If others do and do whatever Simon wants them to do, then I guess the cats will start being herded and my present scepticism will be proved wrong. I hope that happens. (As I said to Simon after his talk, see this.)
Slightly more seriously, Simon’s talk made me think of a distinction that I associate with the great American theorist of management, Peter Drucker. As I recall it, Drucker describes various different ways to do organisation.
One is to imagine the perfect organisation. You ask: Suppose we had no organisation already, with all its obligations and habits and rituals, what would the ideal organisation for what we are trying to accomplish look like? And then let’s turn what we have into that. An example Drucker was fond of was Sloane’s General Motors, probably because Drucker worked for Sloane, although exactly when he did that work, I’m not sure.
Another is not to dream dreams of future perfection. It is to ask: What little steps can we take, now, immediately, in the right general direction, given the strengths and resources that we already now possess?
In my opinion the second attitude is better suited to the life of a London libertarian with a bit of influence but not much (i.e. libertarians like me and like Simon Gibbs), than is the first.
The late Chris Tame, whose Number Two I was for about a decade, was one hell of a libertarian organiser. Over the years he organised some superb and superbly ambitious events, because he asked what the perfect event would look like (as I did not) and then went ahead and organised it. But my ongoing disagreement (it never boiled over but it was always there) with Chris was that too many of his ideal schemes did not achieve anything other than some rather demoralising costs.
My own approach was to concentrate on much smaller completions – a small meeting, a pamphlet, a radio performance – and just try to get each potential completion completed as quickly and satisfactorily as possible, at which point it was on to the next one, and so on until victory is achieved. (You can see why I like blogging so much. And perhaps also why Chris never liked it, although he had other reasons besides the mere smallness of individual blog postings.)
The reason I mention Chris Tame, apart from the fact that I think it may illuminate, is that what I may very well be doing here is being reminded by Simon’s current scheme, as expounded last night, of a past argument in my life, and then slotting him into that argument on the other side from me. I may, that is to say, be completely misunderstanding what he is now proposing. I might, as the saying goes, be fighting the last war rather than this one. Since I do not now really get what he is proposing, this is not, to put it mildly, unlikely. Happily, Simon’s talk was being videoed, so you’ll soon be able to watch it for yourself and decide for yourself what you think about it.
I may very well, at some future date (maybe after watching the talk again), be explaining why this posting is completely wrong.
I used to defer gratification when I was a teenager. Now that I am middle-aged I take it when it presents itself. Not only have the opportunities become rarer and more precious, but the benefits of deferral are always in the future. And my future is getting shorter every day.
“A moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips.” This equation advises us to forgo the pleasure of tasty but fattening food. It may be good advice when you are 20. But as you age and your hips’ lifetime shortens, the scales begin to tip in the direction of instant labial gratification. No one counts the calories of his last supper.
Those are the first two paragraphs of the first column in a collection of columns entitled Free Thoughts, by Jamie Whyte. All available on line.
I found them while looking for this (about housing subsidies being a bad idea), which is by Preston Byrne. Byrne is my next Brian’s Last Friday speaker (about housing subsidies being a bad idea), this coming Friday, as I’ve already written about on Samizdata.
I enjoyed reading this review of McBride’s book, by Guido, not least because it is a reminder of how capably Guido can do posh. His blog is deliberately tabloid, and he greatly admires the tabloid style. But, as I learned when he was still at the stage of occasionally contributing stuff to the Libertarian Alliance, way back when, this is not the only style he can do.
I just did a bit of searching for LA stuff he had written, and found my way to this (scroll down to page 8), from the turn of the century. It’s about how he wants to switch to a kinder, gentler libertarianism.
Anton Howes spoke earlier this evening to Libertarian Home, about what made the Industrial Revolution get started. I took this photo of Howes, as he relaxed afterwards:
Howes really is a class act, as I already knew from when he addressed my Brian’s Last Friday, in July. What he has to say about the Industrial Revolution is already fascinating, and full of fascinating detail. When he has done all his research, then this talk will turn into something very formidable.
Meanwhile, a way to understand where Howes is coming from, and what kind of thesis he is exploring the further biographical and other detail of, is to read a book called Bourgeois Dignity, by Deirdre McCloskey. Howes recommended this book at the talk he gave in July. I bought a copy and am reading it now.
McCloskey’s basic thesis is that the thing that made the difference was ideas. The Industrial Revolution was not merely a bunch of people responding to economic incentives. It was people doing something they had come to believe in, surrounded by other people who also got the point, enough to let them get on with it. The Industrial Revolution was an ideology, brought to life by a core community of industrial inventors and creators, and sufficiently bought into by the wider society for those creators not to be suppressed.
The Industrial Revolution had plenty of chances to happen far earlier, in such places as China and Imperial Rome. That it did not happen earlier in such places is because, although the material conditions seemed to be all present and correct, they just weren’t thinking the right way to make the breakthrough. So McCloskey says, anyway.
As to what Howes said, well, the good news is that, unlike the talk he gave at my place, tonight’s talk was recorded on video by Simon Gibbs, and will accordingly materialise at Libertarian Home, by and by.
Tomorrow evening I have another Brian’s Last Friday. Richard Carey will speak about “The English Radicals: 1640-1660”. Click on Contact (top left) to cadge an invite.
Until now, I have been slightly struggling to get good speakers soon enough for these evenings, but now I have at last got ahead of myself and have fixed, barring mishaps, the next three speakers also.
Oct 25 - Preston Byrne on Mortgage Subsidies: Why They Didn’t Work in America and Won’t Work Here.
Nov 29 - Dominique Lazanski on Digital Freedom in the UK and Europe.
Dec 27 - Antoine Clarke on Immigration and the Bad Arguments Against It.
Note in particular December 27, Antoine Clarke. This might seem like the sort of date I might want to cancel, but actually, the more that a date might seem like cancellation fodder, the better this is, by not cancelling, an opportunity to tell people that there will be a Brian’s Last Friday, every last Friday, every month, no matter what. Even if it’s just me talking to myself on Christmas Day, or some such strange thing.
I’m already starting to get emails from people who are just assuming there will be a meeting on Friday the whenever-it-is, and simply asking who will be speaking and can they come. I want to encourage this sort of thinking. You know the dates for years in advance, just as I do.
So, I am especially grateful to Antoine for agreeing to do that one in December. I have no idea how many people will show up, but I have a feeling that the day after the day after Christmas Day might prove quite a draw. Public transport will be back in business, unlike on the previous day, and … what else is there to do on that particular day? Work? Play with presents? Go to other meetings?
Regulars here know that I am an admirer of Britain’s short term weather forecasts. Britain’s Meteorological Office also has a disgustingly politicised long term weather forecasting department, whose prophecies I despise. But the short term forecasts are the real deal, based on real knowledge. Pretty much always, these short term forecasts are correct.
Me being a libertarian, I regret that the Met Office is funded out of taxation rather than with voluntary payments from customers. That it is now corrupted by the addition of that long term forecasting bit is a typical consequence of such compulsory funding, because compulsory funding has an inbuilt tendency to be grabbed hold of by people with dodgy agendas that wouldn’t pay for themselves by voluntary methods. It is upon the prestige generated by the short term weather forecasts that the politicised long term forecasts sail forth and do all their damage.
None of which alters the fact that the Met Office’s short term forecasts are, as of now, very good, and a big part of the way I now live.
But as a fan of cricket, as well as of short term weather forecasts, I can’t help noticing that cricket people don’t admire short term weather forecasts nearly as much as I do. I think this is because the only time when weather forecasts loom large for cricket players and cricket watchers is on rainy days, and most rainy days in England are not days of solid rain, but days with rain sometimes but not at other times, and in some places but not in other nearby places. Now that the top cricket grounds in England mostly have clever drainage systems, cricket can be played at them pretty much whenever it is not actually raining. But, when exactly will that be? “Sunny intervals, scattered showers.” That’s a typical weather forecast in these islands. But for how long, exactly, and where, exactly, will the sunny intervals be radiating their sunshine and the scattered showers be scattering their showers?
In England, the weather on a rainy day can be very local. I live a walk away from the Oval cricket ground, which is on the other side of the Thames from me. I have known many a nice day for me when the cricket was washed completely out at the Oval, and other days when they played, but would not have played at all had the weather been as I got it.
A day can be generally rainy, but whether any of the rain will fall, and for how long, on the particular cricket ground that the cricket world happens to be obsessing about that day is in the lap of the weather gods, and beyond the powers of the Met Office to be exact about.
So, cricket people tend not to admire weather forecasts, or to set much store by them.
The ODI on Thursday in Leeds was a total washout. I pretty much knew that it would be, because they were forecasting solid rain, which is actually quite rare in England. But even then, a little local break in the clouds might have meant a shortened game. They just had to wait and see, although by about lunchtime the game was up. That was a day when their deep distrust of forecasts got their hopes up needlessly. The spectators, I believe, stayed away in their thousands.
Today there is the second ODI between England and Australia in Manchester. Here is the BBC version of the weather forecast for that right now:
A chilly but bright start to the day in many areas, but with showers affecting some western areas. Showers becoming more widespread during the morning with some of these heavy. A cool day with generally light winds.
That tells me, and has actually been telling me for several days, that today in Manchester would probably not be that good day for one of my photo-wanders. I typically just want to know what kind of day it’s going to be, and that tells me. If I did venture out, I’d take a brolly and a good book, make an early start, and stay close to transport so I could get home quick if it later turned really bad. But the cricketers can’t tell from that whether they’ll get a game or not, because everything depends on exactly where the rain lands, and in what exact amounts. That forecast could mean anything from an almost total wash-out to a great day of cricket. I will be tuning in to see, but I don’t know what kind of game it will be, and neither does anyone else.
I have another last Friday of the Month meeting tomorrow. Patrick Crozier will speak about life in Britain in 1913.
In an email to Patrick, I asked him:
Were they libertarians?
And in the email to all those on my list for these evenings, I included that and other questions, together with Patrick’s responses about what else he’ll be talking aboutt. (If you want to be on that, click where it says “Contact”, top left.)
In response to this email, Antoine Clarke emailed back thus:
I definitely intend to be there. …
Good. And yes Antoine, bring some crisps.
And he continued:
For what it’s worth, my short guess would be: They weren’t libertarians, though they lived in a society that was largely libertarian (perhaps the problem was not getting the importance of [or caring about] the things that kept it libertarian). Assumptions about what the state could and should do were more libertarian.
But racism, at least between Europeans and non-Europeans, was there. It might not be translated into “… therefore they must be destroyed ...” but only weird people would marry blacks.
I think that only started seriously changing half a century later.
Perhaps the most significant impression people had was that life was a lot better than it had been 50 or 100 years ago, in terms of money, quality of life and freedom. And they thought it would probably continue.
I’ll shortly be sending out a reminder email about tomorrow night, containing links to this posting here, and to this Samizdata posting.
I like how, when a topic of discussion is announced, the discussion can now get underway beforehand, and continue afterwards. You do not have to show up at a meeting in order to be influenced by it, one way or another. And nowadays that applies to many more people than to those who do show up.
One of the things I like to do with this blog from time to time is to single out particularly eloquent Samizdata comments, comments that deserve to echo in eternity, as Russell Crowe put it in that gladiator movie. Putting a comment here probably doesn’t do much to assist such an outcome, but it can’t hurt, can it?
Here, from Perry Metzger, joining in the comment thread on one of his quite numerous recent Samizdata postings is a particularly choice comment, I think:
For myself, I decided long ago that it was best to take my ideological enemies at their word when they claim to have a particular concern.
Although they might be lying, perhaps even to themselves, it rarely seems fruitful to explore that. For one thing, it has no impact on whether their public claims are true or false — we may (indeed, must) analyze those without any resort to ad hominem analysis of the speaker. For another, I myself resent it when my enemies claim that I actually truly want the poor to starve in the streets (or something similar) and am only professing concern — I see no reason not to grant them what I ask them to grant me, which is to say, the benefit of the doubt as to the sincerity of my motivations.
Once one goes down the path of debating “true intentions” instead of arguing the substantive points, one gets into endless cycles of meta-analysis, distraction, and attempts at impossible feats of remote psychoanalysis.
I prefer to simply stipulate, even if I cannot possibly conceive of how my opponent could not have evil motives, that if he says his motive is to help people that for purposes of the conversation we will assume that this is his motivation.
So, for myself, I just act as though they’re telling the truth about what they want and show that their proposals will do something entirely different, if not something entirely in opposition to their stated desires. That is enough to demonstrate their program is bad. If their actual concerns are elsewhere, I happily wait for them to tell me and begin anew — the results are rarely different anyway.
I recall having an argument in a magazine, way back when, with Peter Tatchell, in which he attributed base motives to me, in my desire to see the USSR toppled. I responded not by denying, or not at any length, his accusation of bad faith. I merely asked him what he thought of my argument, however insincere he believed me to be about it. Supposing someone said that and meant it. Then what, Mr T? Tatchell subsequently became an arms length ally of libertarianism, once he got that we meant all that also. I think this exchange helped to cause that, not least because, by declining to discuss evil motives, in this case my own supposedly evil motives, I remained civil and respectful. It helped that I did then, as now, greatly respect Tatchell.
Yesterday evening I attended the talk organised by Libertarian Home, in the City, given by Steve Davies. I sat right at the front, and took photos:
On the left, Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home photographs, on the right, Steve Davies. Here we see Davies taking time out from talking about the history of individualism in Britain, to describe the best way to play the opening chords of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.
That mobile phones have cameras means that even regular people now always have a camera with them. Already, mobile phone cameras are quite good. Soon, they will be as good as all but the best cameras, to the point where ever more people will be satisfied with their mobile phone cameras, and accordingly won’t want to be bothering with dedicated cameras at all. This transition is already under way, a fact which I regularly track whenever I roam about London snapping (among other delights) my fellow snappers and their snapping machines.
This photographer, for instance, looks like he’s using a “phone”, the inverted commas there being because these things are so much more than phones, to the point where the phoning is almost an afterthought. As Michael Jennings said last night, it really is something of an accident that we just happen to call these things “phones”.
Here is a photo I took with my Google Nexus 4, very soon after I got it, of Randy Barnett (already featured here in this earlier posting - bottom right of the first lot of pictures there), speaking at Freedom Forum 2013:
As you can see, the quality is okay, but only okay. Compare with the zoomed photo (at the link above) of Barnett, and you can easily see the difference that a better camera makes. If the Google Nexus 4 camera has a zoom feature, I have yet to discover it.
As the picture above shows, I (of course) had my regular camera with me at FF2013. But last night I was out and about for a short while, without that camera, only the Google Nexus 4. I was dining at Chateau Samizdata, and collecting Amazon stuff that I have delivered there rather than at my own front door, because at my own front door there have been robberies. So anyway, a recent arrive at CS was a keyboard, for use with the GN4, but although pre-warned that this keyboard would require two AAA batteries to make it go, I had forgotten to bring these with me. So, I nipped out to buy some. Without my regular camera.
Sod’s Law decrees that whenever you are out and about without your camera, interesting things will immediately present themselves to you. And one such interesting thing did, in the form of a sign making use of the double meaning of the word Pole. But, Sod’s Law was held at bay by my GN4, which I did have with me, in my jacket pocket, because keeping the GN4 in my jacket pocket at all times except when I am using it is The Rule. Snap snap, which fortunately I had more or less learned how to do:
The GN4 may not be much good for distance Big Things, and the like, but it is fine for a sign.
And since the sign was the point, even though I do like scaffolding, here is the bit of the picture with the sign:
No computerised trickery there, apart from the cropping. More than somewhat blurry, but entirely legible, the whole point of letters being that they hack their way through exactly such communicational barriers.
The speakers at the Liberty League Freedom Forum were an impressive lot. I intend, Real Soon Now, to be writing at greater length (at Samizdata) about what some of the speakers said. In this posting here, I will concentrate on shoving up photos.
Here are some snaps of just a few of the speakers in action:
Top left: Douglas Carswell; top middle: Terence Kealey; top right: Mark Littlewood.
Bottom left: Sam Bowman; bottom middle: J. P. Floru; bottom right: Randy Barnett.
I did not attend anything like all the sessions, not least because many of them were simultaneous. But we all crowded into the big hall to have lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and there were a couple of speeches there also, from Mark Littlewood on the Saturday, and from J. P. Floru on the Sunday, both of whom are shown above, doing their lunchtime talks.
Impressive though the line-up of speakers was, and hard as it often was to choose which speaker to listen to, the real star of the occasion, for me, was the audience that the Liberty League people had managed to assemble for this event. It would have been quite something for me to have listened to a succession of very good talks. It was something else again to be part of a 200-strong audience listening attentively to those same talks, most of them of less than half my age.
So, here are some crowd shots:
The more I study the world and its ways, the more importance I attach to the influence of gatherings like this one. Getting a couple of hundred of Britain’s most committed libertarians and free marketeers together over a weekend, and permanently connecting them with each other, will have network effects beyond calculation, especially when you consider how much easier it now is to do networking electronically.
So who put this event together? Well, I did some asking around, and three people kept getting mentioned:
Left: Anton Howes; centre: Christiana Hambro; right: Stephen Davies.
The latter two are both briefly biographised at the IEA website, and Anton Howes is likewise described on this list of Liberty Leaguers. Hannah Besford, Will Hamilton and James Lawson, also on that Liberty Leaguers list, also got several mentions, not least in the conference progamme (i.e. on page 2 of this), as having contributed importantly. Notoriously, when credit is to be shared among humans for their cooperative achievements, there are frequent mismatches between who gets given the credit and who did the actual work, so my best guess could be seriously off. Nevertheless, my best guess is that the three people pictured above were the prime movers (certainly among the prime movers), all three of them having decided independently that what the British free market/libertarian movement needs is a succession of gatherings like this one, wherever in the UK it makes sense to stage them. So, that is what they have been doing, this latest London event being merely the biggest of such events so far. There have been several others during the last few years, and it looks like there will be many more. I certainly hope so.
One benefit of meeting up with fellow libertarians is that together we sort out the world. But there is also the matter of sorting out the ongoing activities of the libertarian movement itself.
When I finally got to the Rose and Crown did some exploratory chit-chatting with Simon Gibbs, about such things as future writings for Libertarian Home by me (I promise nothing but hope to do something) and about how he does his videos. I would like to get good at doing videos, but don’t know where to start. Except now I do. Simon has agreed to teach me what he does. He uses Adobe Premier Elements. So, that’s what I have in mind to be using. I also showed him my camera, the reviews of which when I first bought it said it would be good at video. Will that do? Yes, he said.
In exchange I was able to offer Simon some tips about how to do radio in general and the BBC’s Moral Maze in particular, which he was nearly on last week, and will surely be on Real Soon Now.
I daresay similar conversations were going on elsewhere in the room, where other libertarian doings were likewise being furthered.
I also got to talk with Richard Carey, who is to be my next Last Friday speaker but one. Which means that I now have my next three Last Fridays sorted. February 22: Michael Jennings. (We now – at last - have Samizdata author archives!) March 29: Richard Carey. April 26: Rob Fisher. Michael will be telling us some of the things he has learned about the globe and its ways of organising itself from his various globe trottings. Rob will be talking about open source software. And now it is pretty much settled that Richard will talk about the relationship between libertarianism and Austrian Economics. Excellent. Email me (see “contact” top left here) if you want to know more about any of these events.
Oddly enough, the one thing I didn’t think to do at this gathering was take any photos. I was similarly forgetful on the Last Friday of January.
Neither omission was at all clever. Photos create an aura of significance, a penumbra of meaningfulness, a force field of where-it’s-at-ness. Not much. A bit. We can all do out bit, and bits like that are easily done by me, except that on these two nights, they weren’t.
And after all that I went home, watched some TV, and then went to bed.
The reason for all my meandering about in the London Bridge stroke Southwark stroke Waterloo area last Thursday was that I needed to be at London Bridge to photo the bottom of the Shard before it got too dark, in other words around 4pm, but then had to wait around until after 7pm, before going to the Rose and Crown for the Libertarian Home social. Had I gone home, I’d only have had to turn around and come back again, more or less immediately. Hence all the meandering.
The LH social was a lot of fun. There was no one big conversation, just lots of little ones, and one of mine was about architecture and city planning. The problem of how to switch from a statist world to a libertarian one without destroying lots of sacred buildings was touched on, which I think is a very good question. Libertarians aren’t the Taleban, but the early effect might be the same if we aren’t careful. And if we don’t have answers to such questions, we won’t get very far.
Also on an architectural theme, I was reminded of these photos, by the man, “Ian F4”, who took them. He still had them on his mobile, and reminded me that he had put them in a comment here, on this posting. They deserve greater prominence, and at the very least, another showing:
I love how, in the left hand photo, a bright light (or in this case a bright reflection of the sun) makes everything else go dark.
The one on the right is the shot of the Shard from near the bottom of the Monument,
It was Ian F4 who got me doing this mad series of Thursday Odyssey postings, by telling me about how he reads my blog. This cheered me up no end, and I decided to have a bit of a go here, more than I have been doing lately. So, all these recent postings are his fault.