Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
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Category archive: Friends
I will, I am now sure (although I actually promise nothing), be writing more in connection with the talk that Christian Michel has just given at my home, but as of right now, I am too tired to do it anything like justice. All I will say about it now is that it was superb. (Read his sales pitch for the talk in this earlier posting here.)
But two bits of trivia about the evening occur to me to mention, both so trivial that I don’t have to have all my wits about me to mention them.
First, I made a particular resolution not just to provide satisfactory snacks to my guests but to actually open the packets of the snacks and putting the snacks in plates. In the past, I have found myself burdened, once my guests have departed, with unopened packets of party food. My surmise is that this is not because nobody wanted to eat any of these snacks. No, the problem is that people don’t like to open food packets, because that feels, and worse, may appear greedy. It’s like they want to eat all of them. Or maybe, that they are reluctant to open a new packet when they only want one of them. But, faced with a plate of biscuits or a big bowl of crisps, they will not hesitate to partake, if so inclined. It’s a little thing, but this worked well, I think.
And second, as usual, the exactly right number of people showed up. How do they know to do this? Last time around I was afraid that there would be too many. This time, for various reasons involving several semi-regulars happening to have other things on such as wedding anniversaries, I feared there might be too few. In the event, the number of attenders, both last time and this time was pretty much identical and just right. It always is. A Samizdata commenter, commenting on something I wrote there about this odd phenomenon, said that there is an explanation of it in this book, which I’m pretty sure I already possess. I must track it down. With luck, this posting will remind me to do this instead of forgetting about it.
Incoming from Sam Bowman in the form of an email, dated March 6th, entitled “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism - an apologia”:
Thanks for mentioning my Libertarian Home talk on Samizdata. I look forward to seeing you tonight if you can make it.
“Tonight” was March 6th (Simon Gibbs introductory spiel about Sam and his talk here), when Sam gave his talk at the Rose and Crown. This is not yet available on video, but it presumably soon will be, because as always at these Libertarian Home Rose and Crown talks, a video camera was in action. On the right is a photo that Sam took of me and him with his mobile, after he had given his talk.
And thanks for coming on Monday!
That was an ASI event, about whether prison works. (Answer, with all kinds of reservations: yes.)
I typed out quite a long email to you but decided against it, because I figured none of it would be new to you.
Wrong. Now that my hair is mostly grey and I no longer say everything I am thinking, other libertarians seem to assume that I now know everything that there is to be known, and because I own lots of books that I have read everything that there is to be read, about libertarianism. None of this is true. I do not read and have not read nearly as much as I have time to read and have had time to read. I regret that Sam didn’t preserve this longer email.
Having said that, since it’s something we’re both interested in I thought I’d try to outline my position a bit more briefly:
Excellent. I asked Sam, quite a long time ago now, if he minded me recycling what follows in a posting, and maybe then sticking bits of it up at Samizdata. No, he said, post away. So here it is:
I still hate the term ‘social justice’ (Hayek did a real number on me), and philosophically I’m not on board with the Rawlsian view of ethics. My moral position is preference utilitarianism – that people getting what they want is what’s good. Having said that, practically I think that ethical consequentialists and believers in ‘social justice’ are in basically the same position: both think that improving the welfare of the poor is a high priority.
I think it makes sense to treat libertarianism as being about means, not ends. Most political positions claim that they’re good because they will make people’s lives easier, happier, etc. (There are some exceptions of course.) I think many people make the error of forgetting that the world is complex, so they assume that differences of opinion about politics must be down to differences of opinion about what sort of world we want.
People sometimes also try to waterproof their beliefs by attaching moral claims to empirical arguments – eg, a supporter of the minimum wage, presented with strong arguments that undermine their empirical claims, may fall back on the argument that it’s just indecent for people to earn below £x/hour, and a decent society should simply not allow that, consequences be damned. Of course we libertarians often do this too – presented with strong arguments in favour of the minimum wage we may fall back on the claim that it’s just wrong to interfere with private contracts between adults. I think there’s some merit to both these claims (much more so the latter, obviously) but they shouldn’t be treated as unbreakable absolutes. If they were, were the earlier, empirical arguments just rhetoric?
So you can boil my position down to this: if I was convinced that free markets and a high degree of individual liberty were not the best way of allowing people to get what they want, I wouldn’t support them. My libertarianism/liberalism is entirely contingent on empirical beliefs I have about the world.
I make explicit the fact that I’d be relaxed about redistribution of wealth from rich to poor if I thought it led to good outcomes, and indeed I think the libertarian empirical case is much stronger on regulation of people’s lives (in the broadest sense) and commerce than it is on wealth redistribution. I also think that it’s where we have the most original things to say.
How this makes me any different to people like Milton Friedman and FA Hayek I am not sure, given that both were also explicitly supportive of wealth/income redistribution. Of course, any consequentialist libertarian would have to concede that, at least in theory, they would be open to the idea of redistribution.
Some emails, rather like some comments, can have particular expressive merit. Because people are relaxed rather than mounted self-consciously on their official high horses, so to speak, they often communicate in this more informal circumstance with particular eloquence. So, my particular thanks to Sam for allowing me to publish this. More of his many thoughts here, although you may have to scroll your way past a huge photo of Sam in front of a brick wall. (Odd. Did anyone else have this problem?) I recommend doing this.
This time it’s another person whose name I am determined to stop getting wrong, who is called Christiana Hambro. For no intelligent reason that I can think of, I have been getting the Christiana bit of her name wrong. The good news is that I can’t now even remember what I used to say instead, because I have known for several hours, ever since I thought about doing it, what the rest of this posting is going to consist of, and because this posting is already doing the job of fixing Christiana’s correct Christian name, Christiana, in my head, even before I write the posting, never mind before I stick it up for others to read.
Christiana is the one on the left, of these two pictures:
And the one of the right is Christian. Christian Michel. I have never got Christian’s Christian name wrong. Putting these two people next to one another in my head has solved my Christiana Hambro problem.
Christian Michel will be speaking at my next Last Friday meeting, on March 28th. This is what he just emailed me about what he will be saying:
In August 1938, a rich and talented American journalist gathered 36 economists and philosophers in Paris, in what has become known after his name: the Lippmann Colloquium. The objective was nothing less than a refoundation of liberalism, under attack by Marxists and Fascists. Participants only agreed in their opposition to command economies. Mises remained attached to unfettered free markets. Röpke and Rüstow developed what became Ordoliberalism, still the official ideology in today’s Germany. Einaudi, future president of Italy, remained faithful to the social teachings of the Church. Hayek tried to federate all these currents in the Mont Pélerin Society, to the point of dilution. In America, neo-liberals merged into the neo-conservative movement, whilst in France, Michel Foucault, in his insightful Birth of Biopolitics, reclaimed it for libertarianism (which he espoused in his last works, to the horror of the Leftist establishment). Today, for the likes of Naomi Klein and George Monbiot, the term ‘neoliberalism’ is a word of abuse, whilst it was meant to characterize the very ‘third way’ they so eagerly embrace. In the talk, I will go over the debates within the liberal movement of the last 80 years, which all revolve around the definition of this neologism: neo-liberalism.
In my thankyou email back to him, I told Christian that this piece alone makes an illuminating read.
Which is a lot of the point of talks these days, now that we can all know about everything that is happening that we even might be attending. Yes, the small number of people who choose to squeeze themselves into my living room on the 28th will hear Christian’s talk, and very good and very detailed it will be, I am sure. They will learn lots that will not be learned by others. But meanwhile, many more will read the above spiel by Christian about his talk, and the ripples will spread out way beyond my living room. If just half the people on the Brian’s Fridays email list read the above piece, when I send it out in about a week’s time, many of them will learn quite a lot. I had no idea Michel Foucault ended up as a libertarian, until Christian started telling me about this.
I found the above picture of Christian Michel here. I probably could have dug up a picture of him taken by me, but image googling was easier, given the state of my photo-archives.
Christiana’s relevance to all this is that she is one of a number of free-market-stroke-libertarian activists who have been putting some organisational juice behind spreading these ideas to British students. She is based at the I(nstitute of) E(conomic) A(ffairs). I took that photo of Christiana at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which she helped to organise, and “helped” may well be a serious understatement.
I hope to organise a Brian’s Friday at which Christiana and/or one of her colleagues describe the outreach work they are doing at the IEA. In my opinion it is the biggest single piece of news about the spread of libertarian thinking in Britain. The British public continue to be indifferent to libertarian ideas, as is their habit with so many ideas. But the British student libertarian movement is now growing from insignificant to … significant, and it is to a great degree thanks to the work of people like Christiana.
… Yet for me, the most memorable 3D printing innovation of the last year or so was the launch of a $1,200 service called ‘Form of Angels’ from the Japanese pioneer Fasotec. Here an MRI scan is taken of a pregnant woman, and then used to produce a 3D printed model of her unborn baby. The plastic foetus can even be supplied embedded in a resin model of its mother’s midriff for presentation on the expectant parent’s mantelpiece.
Pictures of what that looks like here, among (as you can imagine) many other places.
This was one of many pictures I took this afternoon, following a most agreeable and tasty lunch at the Windmill, courtesy of Michael Jennings:
A classic church dwarfed by modernity. And off the top of the picture there is more modernity that I did not include, a lot of it being what used to be called the NatWest Tower, or Tower Something Numerical, as it’s now called. It took me a while to hunt down this particular church, but I finally found it.
In the foreground, Blackfriars Station, the one on the bridge.
Much humour is to be had by modifying a cliché, and something similar applies to photography. The Eiffel Tower features in many photos. The chimney pots of Paris, not quite so much.
That was taken on February 2nd 2012, from the Pompidou Centre.
I an still stunned by how brilliant my new, cheap computer screen is. Pictures like this one become hugely better than I remember them first time around, and wandering around in my photo-archives is more enjoyable than ever before.
Here is another picture taken at the same time from the same place. Also lots of chimneys, though you have to look a bit more closely this time. But in the background there, La Défense, Paris’s Big New Thing district.
What that big dome is in the foreground, I don’t know. I was staying with Antoine Clarke when I took these snaps, and in fact he was up there with me when I took these. Maybe he can tell us what that big curvey thing is. When you take pictures of some big thing, there is a presumption that you do care what it is, but personally, in this case, I don’t really care. There are more than enough mysterious buildings like this in London to keep me wondering, without me fretting about mystery buildings in Paris. But maybe you would like to know.
And yes, I am almost certain that is a crane.
One other thing. This new screen has me thinking that maybe the size of pictures I am putting up here may be a bit wrong. When you click on the above two, you’ll get them at 1200x900, which is bigger than I usually do, because now my own screen is bigger. Is this either too big, or too small? I’d welcome anyone’s opinion on that.
Incoming from Simon Gibbs:
Near the mayors blob
And there was a photograph attached to this message, “sent from my Sony Xperia™ smartphone”:
On the left there, as we look at it, is the Mayor’s Blob that Simon mentions, near the Shard, and a building I am very familiar with, at any rate from the outside. In the middle, something new, which Simon knew I might be keen to check out. So, he photos it, and sends it to me.
Neither Simon nor I are asking anyone to think that this is a good photograph, in the technical sense. Don’t click on it, because it is quite big enough as is. Simon is probably a bit appalled that I am even showing it to anyone, even in the almost total privacy that is BrianMicklethwaitDotCom. But the photo suffices for its purpose, which is not to delight attenders at an art gallery (real or virtual), merely to provide me with information, should I be interested. (Although actually, this is the kind of thing you often do see in an art gallery nowadays, put there by an artist trying, as most artists must these days, to be contrary. “Good” photos are so twentieth century, my dears. Imagine the blurb, as written by this guy.)
I show this casual snap because it illustrates a typical use of digital photography, which is the communication of information, potentially in real time. Me being so hopelessly twentieth century in my uses of twenty-first century tech, I don’t know when he took this photo. It duly arrived on my desk, via my clunky old twentieth century desktop computer. Was it taken only seconds before Simon sent it to me? Perhaps he can tell us. But my point here is that he could have. And like him, I could have been as much on the move as he clearly was, while still as connected to the world as he was.
Here we see photography not as the nineteenth and then twentieth century mechanisation of oil painting, but as a twenty first century amplification of conversation. “Ooh, Brian might like to see that, snap. Hi Brian. Take a look at this.” Try doing that with a twentieth century phone. You could, in this case, after a fashion, but it wouldn’t be nearly so quick, definite and easy.
I am giving a talk on Monday evening at Christian Michel’s about The Impact of Digital Photography, and this is the kind of thing I will be talking about.
Digital photography was, or so I recall reading recently, invented by NASA, not so much to take photos, as to communicate photos, of other planets from robot cameras on space-ships, back to planet earth. Yes.
The logical mid-to-late twentieth century end-point of episodes like this, after you have thrown in a big dash of this sort of stuff, is (see above): telepathy.
I spent all my blogging time today concocting this posting, which is very long (being a review of my past year) and has twelve of my photos in it (one from each month). Enjoy.
ls Happy Old Year right? As in: hope you had one. I rather think it might be, for today. Anyway, I hope you did.
I have categorised this under, among other things, “Friends”, because if you are reading this today, or at all frankly, then you are.
Friend on telly
Alex on Quentin
The Heron Tower restaurant
The next four Brian’s Last Fridays (including December 27)
Photoing each other - and photoing stuff in the canal
The Alex Singleton blog
The Johnathan Pearce Samizdata gap
Wedding photography (7): Evening
Steve Davies talk last night
the Norlonto Review is back!
Wedding photography (6): The Wedding and the Reception
A Fleet Street lunch
Wedding weather looking good
Alastair James on Blythe Hill Fields and smartphones
Doing libertarian business at the Libertarian Home social
Talking architecture at the Libertarian Home social
Brian’s Fridays will resume on the 25th of this month
A (slightly delayed) Happy New Year
Christmas Eve feast
Nice blog you have here … shame if something happens to it
“I just came across this fascinating photo …”
Usain Bolt takes photos of photographers!
The view from the train
Happy New Year
Occupy St Paul’s pictures
Les Rillettes Henaff
Alex Singleton has a new blog
No fruit juice
Five pictures of me
Out to lunch with Alex Singleton
David Botsford a decade ago
And here’s the proof!!! Sixteen little square pictures!!!
Talk at Christian Michel’s
Only up to some random linkage and a little felinity
Transport Blog restarts
Beyond the Dome with Goddaughter One
10/10/10 launch for Norlonto Review
Ums and ahs
iScream from Artisan du Chocolat
Peaceful time in war zone
Tim Evans looking happy
Making the effort
Alex Singleton on Photoshop CS5
Steve Davies lecture - photoing and videoing the lecture - post-lecture chat
Goddaughter One is now a photoblogger
We’ll always have Chelsea
Why do pregnant women now do quite a lot of driving of their husbands?
Two real cats sighted in Spain!
Two red cats
Possible holiday interruption
Saying it with lights in the Victoria Station shopping centre that were still switched on!
Free Skullcandy on a bus in snowy Edinburgh
Samizdata and Zimbabwe both on the up and up?
Antoine Clarke talks about Facebook and Twitter – Guido and … Ian Geldard?
Paul Marks on the financial crisis and on the badness of Obama
I’ve just sold Jesus!!!
A little archaeology
Me and Michael Jennings talk tech trends
Tienanmen + Twitter = Teheran
London Bites @ Sway
Green eyed monster devouring cat food
Vince Miller with cat
Busy day and busy night
Cat blogging and Gormley blogging
The Vita-Mix 5000 at the Veggie Show
Google and dongle
Another Samizdata piece
Happy Christmas to all my readers
Waiting for shooting to start
To Guy’s with Gerald
At Liberty 2008 all day
On top of Tower 42
Antoine and Michael on what to do now
Tom Burroughes on the banking crisis
When three’s company but four’s a crowd
Busy at my other personal blog
“Japan is fantastic …”
Why I prefer to live in a failing neighbourhood
Resizing Slim with Expression Engine
Twenty20 cricket on Sky TV
Posting at Michael’s
The new Lowe look
Tea with CDs
A new British citizen
Billion Monkey Alan Little?
Billion Monkeys say Happy New Year!
Here it is Merry Christmas
Billion Monkeys and a Real Photographer at the Golden Umbrellas
She’s alive I tell you! Alive!
Socialising with the Social Media
Talking with Antoine Clarke about Sean Gabb
Ideas and opportunities
A talk and a photo
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
Friends of Slava
Billion Monkeys at the wedding!
The Mainstream Media finally get around to noticing Andy and his sand sculptures
Evite makes sure I remember it
Me on a bridge by Goddaughter One
When “it’s” becomes “it is” – plus a picture of some Mac users
That Rooney goal
World War One talk at Christian Michel’s
Back to the future with the virtuoso violinists
Superb Simon Hewitt Jones gig – and a couple of blogger gripes
Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Haircuts before and after
By the rivers and canals of East London with Goddaughter One
Hellcab at the Old Red Lion
Alice in Texas on form - England in Australia not
Why photographing Big Ben can resemble being photographed with a sandwich
Sometimes things just work out
Adriana Media Influencer: What do you do? (the mp3s of the book)
“Publish it in your Blog!”
Everyone likes Magic Andy
Antoine Clarke and I don’t talk about elections
BrianMicklethwait.com quote of the day
Should blogs - this one in particular - specialise?
[new addition to my blogroll]
Remembering the Alternative Bookshop experience
A talking blog welcomes me back
Patrick and Brian talk about the War on Terror - thoughts about podcasting
Adriana tours her own back yard
Not much here today
Kristine writes down some of what Adriana said
Adriana’s Thing mp3
Podcasting with Adriana tomorrow
Unpaid happiness is not misery but it is a step in that direction
Billion Monkey Lady photos me!
Something to bore everyone
Billion Monkey flash!
Bashing on for Samizdata
Billion Monkey at Tom and Noreen’s wedding!
A handwritten letter from Alex Singleton
On style and politics
Another phone glitch
Chris Tame’s funeral will be this coming Saturday
On the spread of voluntariness
Quoted but not linked to
It went fine
Comedy on Thursday and rehearsing for it
Perry and Adriana in the Guardian