Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Tatyana on Four towers joined together by two bridges
Patrick Crozier on Peter Foster on Robert Owen
Brian Micklethwait on Filling in a Meaningless Triangle near Kensington High Street tube
Alastair on Filling in a Meaningless Triangle near Kensington High Street tube
loony sports on Standing on boxes to interview Irfan
Brian Micklethwait on Standing on boxes to interview Irfan
Brian Micklethwait on Couple photoing their own shadows
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Brian Micklethwait on A Morris Minor advertising a ping pong night club
6000 on A Morris Minor advertising a ping pong night club
Most recent entries
- Milo Yiannopoulos
- Four towers joined together by two bridges
- Peter Foster on Robert Owen
- Quota Bald Blokes and Big Ben
- Less heat and more light
- Antoine Clarke on herding drunk cats
- Antony Flew on the Terrors of Islam
- Bell end?
- Couple photoing their own shadows
- Standing on boxes to interview Irfan
- What is this iceStone device?
- Filling in a Meaningless Triangle near Kensington High Street tube
- A Morris Minor advertising a ping pong night club
- Going to Kings Cross to see gas holders
- The sexiest statue in London?
Other Blogs I write for
6000 Miles from Civilisation
A Decent Muesli
Adventures in Capitalism
Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise
Another Food Blog
Antoine Clarke's Election Watch
Armed and Dangerous
Art Of The State Blog
Boatang & Demetriou
Burning Our Money
Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry
China Law Blog
Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
Coffee & Complexity
Communities Dominate Brands
Confused of Calcutta
Conservative Party Reptile
Counting Cats in Zanzibar
Deleted by tomorrow
Don't Hold Your Breath
Douglas Carswell Blog
Dr Robert Lefever
Englands Freedome, Souldiers Rights
Everything I Say is Right
Fat Man on a Keyboard
Ferraris for all
Freedom and Whisky
From The Barrel of a Gun
Gates of Vienna
Global Warming Politics
Greg Mankiw's Blog
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Here Comes Everybody
Hit & Run
House of Dumb
Iain Dale's Diary
Jeffrey Archer's Official Blog
Jessica Duchen's classical music blog
Laissez Faire Books
Last of the Few
Libertarian Alliance: Blog
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Lib on the United Kingdom
Little Man, What Now?
Loic Le Meur Blog
L'Ombre de l'Olivier
London Daily Photo
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Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal
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we make money not art
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Category archive: Libertarianism
Last night I did a posting at Samizdata about Milo Yiannopoulos.
Until today, when I dug him up on YouTube, I didn’t even know what nationality this guy is. American would have been my guess, but basically I didn’t know, although I did learn yesterday what he looks like. But for me he was basically a name, that I couldn’t spell.
Turns out he’s British. Very British. Who knew? Everybody except me, presumably. Blog and learn.
I asked for the opinions of Samizdata commentariat, and got some. I don’t know why, but I expected more variety in these responses, more doubts, more reservations. Actually, the Samizdata commentariat has, so far, been uniformly approving of this guy.
Now I’m listening to him babble away, and it turns out that, being a libertarian and an atheist, I’m “touchy” - meaning oversensitive about being criticised - times two. As a libertarian I’m obsessed with marijuana and with computer hacking. (Actually: No, times two.) As an atheist, well, it turns out I dress stupidly. (Yes. True.) He does love to wind people up, which he does by saying slightly untrue and quite funny things. He’s like that classic old Fleet Street type, the Opinionated Female Columnist, whose job is to overgeneralise in ways that are quite popular and pile up the readers, and to make the Outraged Classes really really outraged, and who eventually gets … old.
I’m starting to think he may soon be a bit of a has been. But, at least he now is.
I think the article that I linked to from Samizdata may have been a peak. It is truly brilliant.
What I do like is his interest in the tactics of how to spread ideas, how to win arguments, how to be able to make arguments despite the efforts of people who want nothing except to shut him up, by saying things that shut them up.
On Friday November 27th (i.e. exactly one week from now), my friend from way back, Antoine Clarke, will be giving a talk at my place entitled “Herding cats, or lessons from drunks about organising anarchy”.
These talks happen every last Friday of the month, and before they give one of them, I ask each speaker to supply a paragraph or two about what they’ll be saying, so I can email my list of potential attenders. Antoine has just supplied me with ten paragraphs on his talk:
It would be hard to imagine any more dysfunctional organisation than a leaderless group of drunks promising among themselves to quit drinking and to help other drunks to quit.
And then I realized that there is a similar organisation for narcotics addicts, one for cocaine addicts, crystal meth addicts and even “sex and love addicts” - whatever that may mean.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as a “benign anarchy” by one of its founders and manages to organize over 100,000 groups worldwide with between 1.5 million and 2 million members. Its power structure has been described as an “inverted pyramid”.
AA operates by having almost completely autonomous branches, no publicity, no professional class of “charity workers” and no set fees. It has a “12-step program” and “12 traditions” which have been described respectively as “rules for not killing yourself” and “rules for not killing other people”.
The effectiveness of AA at curing or controlling alcohol addiction is not clear cut. Because of anonymity, self-selection and the difficulty of known if someone who stops attending meetings has relapsed or simply found he can lead a functional lifestyle. The fact that over a dozen other organisations have copied AA’s 12-step and 12 tradition system suggests at least some level of success, unlike, say the UK’s National Health Service which has fewer imitators.
One particular problem for AA is that any 12-step program will only really work if it is voluntary, but in the USA especially, courts mandate that convicted criminals attend AA meetings as a parole condition. I think this reduces recidivism among the criminals (compared with them NOT following a program), but it surely dilutes the effectiveness of AA groups (more disruptive attendees, people going through the motions, possible discouragement of others).
I shall be looking at the elements of AA’s structure and organisational culture to see what lessons can be learned about the possibility of anarchic institutions especially at handling social problems.
What interests me is the “anarchy with table manners” aspect of AA and the contrast with truly dysfunctional libertarian organisations, like the Libertarian Alliance.
I’m also interested in the issue of government interference and the ways in which well-meaning interventions make matters worse. I shall also take a look at the spiritual element of AA’s 12-step program, noting that it claims to work for atheists and agnostics as well as for theists.
Hopefully, this is an attractive alternative to binge drinking on a Friday night in central London.
Indeed. There will be no binge drinking at the meeting.
This posting is not so much me passing on advice as me seeking to solidify some ludicrously overdue advice from me to myself, about how to photograph speakers.
Don’t try to do it when they’re speaking.
Last night I took about two dozen photos of Dominic Frisby, who was address the Libertarian Home crowd at the Two Chairmen pub in Westminster. Almost all these photos were useless. This was because Frisby was talking, and when people talk, they move. The indoor light was very scarce, so the slightest motion meant a blur, and a succession of blurs was accordingly all that I got. My only photographic successes during the Frisby talk were when I switched my attention to the people listening to him. They were keeping still.
People like Richard Carey:
I think Rob clocked me, don’t you?
The only half-decent Frisby photos I got were during the Q&A, when, just like the two persons featured above, he too was listening rather than talking:
Doesn’t he look adorkable.
As to what Frisby said (on the subject of Bitcoin), well, it was all videoed, although the video camera was being hand-held, as this further snap of Richard Carey, helping out with that, illustrates:
I include that snap also because of the John Lilburne reference, Lilburne being a man whom we libertarians should be bigging up every chance we get.
Finally, a book photo. On account of Frisby’s talk beginning a few minutes earlier than I had been expecting it to, I arrived a few minutes late, and the only seat I could find was the one with Frisby’s books on it, which he had presumably earlier been sitting at. That explains the odd angle of this photo:
Both books highly recommended. More about Frisby by me (+ further links) in this Samizdata posting. In this I mentioned that Frisby was working on a Bitcoin book. As you can see, that book has now materialised.
It helps that books, like people who are listening, or for that matter doing photography, and unlike people who are talking, do not move.
It’s actually the final sentence of the Samizdata quote of the day:
Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
It’s Edward Snowden, in one of those unwieldy comment thready things that I never read.
Guy Herbert doesn’t add what comes next, which is also good:
A free press benefits more than just those who read the paper.
Here is a picture of Edward Snowden, that I took in June of last year ...:
... in Battersea, right across the road from where the big new US Embassy is being constructed. (Pictures of that, as recently was and as soon will be, here.)
A Last Friday last Friday, then a performance at a fringe meeting at LLFF15. But, the problem was I wasn’t completely clear of the lurgy. A performance always holds illness at arms length for the duration, but only for the duration. So today the lurgy was back with a vengeance.
Tomorrow may be similarly laconic.
Here (pp. 143-5) is how Thiel explains the difference between humans and computers, and how they complement one another in doing business together:
To understand the scale of this variance, consider another of Google’s computer-for-human substitution projects. In 2012, one of their supercomputers made headlines when, after scanning 10 million thumbnails of YouTube videos, it learned to identify a cat with 75% accuracy. That seems impressive-until you remember that an average four-year-old can do it flawlessly. When a cheap laptop beats the smartest mathematicians at some tasks but even a supercomputer with 16,000 CPUs can’t beat a child at others, you can tell that humans and computers are not just more or less powerful than each other - they’re categorically different.
The stark differences between man and machine mean that gains from working with computers are much higher than gains from trade with other people. We don’t trade with computers any more than we trade with livestock or lamps. And that’s the point: computers are tools, not rivals.
Thiel then writes about how he learned about the above truths when he and his pals at Paypal solved one of their biggest problems:
In mid-2000 we had survived the dot-com crash and we were growing fast, but we faced one huge problem: we were losing upwards of $10 million to credit card fraud every month. Since we were processing hundreds or even thousands of transactions per minute, we couldn’t possibly review each one - no human quality control team could work that fast.
So we did what any group of engineers would do: we tried to automate a solution. First, Max Levchin assembled an elite team of mathematicians to study the fraudulent transfers in detail. Then we took what we learned and wrote software to automatically identify and cancel bogus transactions in real time. But it quickly became clear that this approach wouldn’t work either: after an hour or two, the thieves would catch on and change their tactics. We were dealing with an adaptive enemy, and our software couldn’t adapt in response.
The fraudsters’ adaptive evasions fooled our automatic detection algorithms, but we found that they didn’t fool our human analysts as easily. So Max and his engineers rewrote the software to take a hybrid approach: the computer would flag the most suspicious transactions on a well-designed user interface, and human operators would make the final judgment as to their legitimacy. Thanks to this hybrid system - we named it “Igor,” after the Russian fraudster who bragged that we’d never be able to stop him - we turned our first quarterly profit in the first quarter of 2002 (as opposed to a quarterly loss of $29.3 million one year before).
There then follow these sentences.
The FBI asked us if we’d let them use Igor to help detect financial crime. And Max was able to boast, grandiosely but truthfully, that he was “the Sherlock Holmes of the Internet Underground.”
The answer was yes.
Thus did the self-declared libertarian Peter Thiel, who had founded Paypal in order to replace the dollar with a free market currency, switch to another career, as a servant of the state, using government-collected data to chase criminals. But that’s another story.
Libertarian Home have been having their meetings in several different venues of late. Last night’s event was in the Prince of Wales, Covent Garden, which is on the corner of Long Acre and Drury Lane. I got there a bit early, and filled the time by strolling along Long Acre towards where the old Alternative Bookshop once was, hoping for photoable diversion, and I was not disappointed. Through a window, just across the road from Covent Garden tube, I spied, and photoed, this:
I’m pretty sure I don’t like it, but it’s definitely a Thing worth photoing. This time I remembered to photo enough information about the place to be able later to identify it. The outside didn’t actually say what the place is, merely the address. But that was enough for googling purposes. It turns out this is a Fred Perry place, where Fred Perry and Co ... does things. And this wooden Thing is a combination of reception desk, seating and window logo. The Fred Perry enterprise makes, I assume sporty stuff and in particular sporty clothing, although that’s only a guess. That Fred Perry website is all design but bizarrely little information.
It would be a lot more logical to have a reception desk, some seating, and a company logo in the window, each separate, each doing their own job, each replaceable as and when, or if decreed to be imperfect in some way. Why do all these things need to be connected? They don’t. They need not to be connected. And the reception desk bit must be very inconvenient actually to do receptioning on.
Thinking about this some more, this Thing makes me think that the Fred Perry enterprise is all about “design”, way beyond the bounds of intelligence or sanity or usefulness. The website exudes the same atmosphere. It tells you almost nothing, very prettily. The whole company seems like one of those arrogantly stylish twats whose attitude is: I don’t have to explain myself. I have your attention. I am not going to deign to use it by actually talking to you. I am wonderful and wonderfully stylish me. That is enough for mere you. Consider yourself lucky to be even seeing me.
But then, I guess that I am not their target demographic. I am neither sporty (as in actually doing sport), nor stylish (as in myself wanting to look stylish).
While trying to find some kind of link to this enterprise, I learned that Fred Perry, the man himself, Wimbledon tennis champion in the year whenever it was, was also the 1929 world champion at ping pong. Blog and learn.
This coming Friday I have another of my Last Friday of the Month meetings at my home in London SW1. This coming Friday is, after all, the last Friday of the month, so the logic is inexorable. Every Friday (even if the last Friday of, say, December 2014, happened to be Boxing Day, as it was) there is a Last Friday of the Month meeting at my home.
I have been having email problems, in the form of people using gmail suddenly not receiving my emails, so even if you thought you were on my list but hear nothing via email, be assured that this meeting will happen. Try emailing me (which should work) and then telling your spam filter not to reject my reply, which you will have to do despite it being a particular individual reply. I know, crazy. I hope to write more about this problem in a posting at Samizdata, Real Soon Now.
Or, if you intend coming to this particular meeting, you could leave a comment below, and I will respond saying message received and look forward to greeting you.
Anyway, this coming Friday (Feb 27), Pete Comley will be talking about inflation. He has recently published a book on the subject, which you can learn about in this posting at Comley’s website. And you can hear what Comley sounds like and a little of how he thinks by listening to this short interview with Simon Rose of Share Radio.
The thing about Comley is that he takes a long-term - very long-term - view of inflation. He began a recent talk I attended by discussing inflation at the time of the Roman Empire.
And in the long-term, there are not one but two major influences on inflation. There is, of course, the supply of money, by the powers that be who have always insisted upon supplying money. And when they make too many coins, too many bank notes or create too much bank credit, the price of regular stuff in shops goes creeping, or rocketing, up. But there is also the demand for that regular stuff. In particular, human population fluctuates. At some moments in history, population shoots up. At other times it falls, or at the very least the rate at which it increases falls. Just now, in country after country, the birthrate is falling, and that has consequences for inflation.
Before you say it, I’ll say if for you. Many simply define inflation as the first of these two processes but not the second. Inflation is what money issuers do to the money supply. A price rise caused by rising demand is simply not inflation. It is a mere price rise. Fair enough. It certainly makes sense to distinguish these two processes from each other, however hard it may be for consumers to do this when both are happening to them. And if you do that by restricting the definition of inflation in this way, then be aware that Pete Comley’s talk will be about inflation thus defined and about price rises sparked by rising demand, and for that matter about price stability caused by static demand. (He says, by the way, that we might be about to enjoy just such a period of price stability. And although you can never be sure about such things, better handling of the recent financial crisis, and we might have got there already.)
There is also the question of what causes money issuers to inflate, in the second and more restricted sense of inflation. They seem to do this more at certain historical junctures than at others. Inflation, restrictively defined, does not just cause bad economic experiences; it is itself caused, more at some times than at others.
All very interesting, or so I think. Libertarians like me tend to be quite well informed about recent monetary history and about the evils of fiat currencies, the Fed, the Bank of England, and so on and so forth. We tend to know a lot less about similar episodes in the more distant past to what he have recently experienced. In general, we are more interested in the fluctuating supply of money than in the way that population fluctuations influence prices.
Pete Comley has a small but particular soft spot for me, on account of me having been the one who drew his attention to this book about the long-term history of prices (The Great Wave by David Hackett Fischer), which seems to have had quite a big influence on his latest book, which is called Inflation Matters. It certainly does.
Peter Thiel on striking a balance between optimism and pessimism and on how failure is overrated
Talk went well - two (not really) quota photos
Talk tomorrow – haircut today
My digital photos on his TV
On the rights and wrongs of me posting bits from books (plus a bit about Rule Utilarianism)
Pictures of Guy Herbert
The illustrations for Christian Michel’s talk this Friday (plus some thoughts from me)
At the Libertarian Home cost of living debate
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
Rob took photos
On meeting an American lady friend who likes to read my stuff about cricket
Happy Friday (eventually)
Something at Samizdata
ASI Boat Trip 4: Groups of posing people
ASI Boat Trip 3: Drink!
ASI Boat Trip 2: My photos were indeed better than they looked last night
What to call the sneerquote Salesforce /sneerquote tower? (plus a quite profound tangent)
Last night at my place
The Lib Dem cat is out of the box
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom quota quote of the day
Lilburne on a T-shirt and Lilburne on a mug
Michael Jennings talking about Russia this Friday
Mark Littlewood photoed by me and by this other guy
A slightly foreign part of London
Anton Howes – James Lawson – Will Hamilton
Nothing from me here today
Well that’s a relief
Green screen blue screen
Frank Turner on playing in an arena
Sam Bowman on Bleeding Heart Libertarianism
Other things last Wednesday
Remembering another Christian name (and flagging up another talk)
Detlev Schlichter talking about Von Mises (and being videoed)
When you are old you tend to assume that confusion is your fault even if actually it is not
Bits of music at non-musical blogs
Aiden Gregg meeting photos
Daniel Hannan’s latest book(s?)
The next five Brian’s Last Fridays
Simon Gibbs last night at the Rose and Crown
Jamie Whyte on deferring gratification less as he gets older
Guido in the Spectator (and in Free Life)
Anton Howes at the Rose and Crown
The next four Brian’s Last Fridays (including December 27)
Why I admire short term weather forecasts but why cricket people don’t
Antoine Clarke on life and libertarianism in Britain in 1913
Perry Metzger on taking seriously the declared objectives of opponents
Steve Davies talk last night
Google Nexus 4 photos
Pictures of LLFF2013
Doing libertarian business at the Libertarian Home social
Talking architecture at the Libertarian Home social
Bad times for the NHS
Brian’s Fridays will resume on the 25th of this month
Are Christian social conservatives using the Tea Party to impose social conservatism?
And on my other personal blog …
Doctor Theatre - here very briefly but now there
Talk by Frank Braun about Bitcoin at my home on Aug 3rd
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom has been seen elsewhere!
How gun control works and how it will defend Libertaria
Pictures of the Libertarian Home meeting in Southwark last night
Is Samizdata dying?
Liberty League Conference speakers
NFL fans and their name-and-number shirts in Trafalgar Square on Saturday
More pictures from the James Tooley lecture yesterday
David Friedman on the similarity between fractional reserve banking and insurance
Three videos from the USA that I recently watched
A potential challenger for Gary Not-Obama
Go Not Obama!
Sean Gabb’s recent statement about the Libertarian Alliance
Underestimating Paul Marks
I can now copy and paste from .pdf files
The free market encourages curiosity
Me and Patrick Crozier talk about the banking crisis and its possible consequences
St Valentine’s Day talk by me on architecture
David Botsford a decade ago
More LA Conference speaker photos
I see no purpose in separating questions from talks
Malcolm Hutty on protecting the internet
Another link enema
Google rolls out computer controlled cars
10/10/10 launch for Norlonto Review
Tim Evans looking happy
Making those Big Statements one slice at a time
Steve Davies lecture - photoing and videoing the lecture - post-lecture chat
Why my libertarianism has the look and feel of socialism
I flipping told him
Voice and exit
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom modified cliche insult of the day
Quick video work by the Oxford libertarians
Antoine Clarke on the Massachusetts election and the online effect
Talking about The Hockey Stick Illusion with Bishop Hill
The right to photograph
Trying to become an adequate interviewer of promising libertarians
Samizdata and Zimbabwe both on the up and up?
Pictures of Anthony Evans
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
I’ve just sold Jesus!!!
Was it Sweeney? And what else were they trying to suppress?
Why I vote against AGW
Why I object to Madam Scotland and why I don’t
At least libertarianism is understood over there
Great speech by Kevin Dowd in Paris which should be available to listen to soon
Vince Miller with cat
UK libertarian bloggers 2.0
Who are all the UK libertarian bloggers?
Two Samizdata comments on the sinking of Brown and on the sinking of the Daily Telegraph
Patri Friedman versus Chris Tame
At Samizdata: cricket - crime - Kevin Dowd quote
James Tyler’s speech at Policy Exchange
Lawrence H. White on the Scottish experience of free banking
My confusion about free banking
The Rand revival - and some thoughts about Rand’s failure to understand architectural tradition
Brian Micklethwait’s Education Blog is now on indefinite hold
Truth is true
Photoing the Police
Nothing from me here today but something on Samizdata about cannabis
Meme for the New Depression
Commenting about the Dowd lecture at Samizdata
Link to Samizdata piece about arguments from incredulity
More random links
A little drunk blogging
Michael Jennings on shoring up the bad old economy versus building a good new one
Linkin Park - one leg short of libertarian
Thoughts concerning FDR’s warmongering nature
My Oxford talk on Google video – or summarised by a friendly blogger
New addition to blogroll
Preparing for Oxford
Blogging elsewhere and talks elsewhere
At Liberty 2008 all day
Guido Fawkes conflates the Monetarists and the Austrians – needs to chat with Antoine Clarke
Reasons to be a bit more cheerful
Antoine Clarke on the financial turmoil and the US election
Tom Burroughes on the banking crisis
Notes on libertarian tactics August 2008
Not in the top twenty
On the nature of the evolution argument
Armed is less dangerous
The British Public continues to dislike too-high-and-rising taxes
This is why I put stuff up here every day
Signs of civilisation
Antoine Clarke talking about the US Primaries
Another don’t-get-it-right-get-it-written Samizdata posting
The drive to see smiles (and they have to be real)
Michael Jennings on private law in Hollywood
Nothing untoward happening!
Links to me elsewhere – and a photo of Marc-Henri Glendening
Aid rewards low growth
Talking with Antoine Clarke about Sean Gabb
Lib Dems edge towards school choice
Links and guns
Ideas and opportunities
A talk and a photo
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
End the medical monopoly!
The double thank-you moment
Is Jeremy Paxman a closet libertarian?
How compulsion deranges the spreading of ideas
The Conservatives prepare for power
Screw you Dove – good on you Ruth Kelly – the right to avoid gay adoption
More on the Lib Dems
Antoine and me on democracy and libertarianism - and me on how to podcast
Perry de Havilland on the thinking behind Samizdata
What are conferences for? What should they consist of?
Leon Louw talks about the habits of highly effective countries
Load - fire - howl in agony clutching foot
Do the Lib Dems just tell everyone what they each of them want to hear?
They are only games
Talking with Tim Evans about the Libertarian Alliance
When everything is copyable
Remembering the Alternative Bookshop experience
Latest Brian and Antoine mp3 - Middle East, Mexico, USA
Patrick and Brian mp3 about libertarianism and spreading libertarianism
Bashing on for Samizdata
Unsweet birds of freedom
‘Libertarian’ now beats ‘Marxist’
Capitalism sermons and Bentley wings
Old days not perfect shock
It’s murder down there
Last night’s talk
I am not too clever
A brief posting on causation and responsibility
What The Tyranny of The Facts said
A little education blogging
Daniel Cuthbert - wrongly convicted “hacker” - and photographer
More on Katrina
Katrina as art – and Katrina as proof of What I’ve Always Said
On free trade and on being persuasive (and unpersuasive)