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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Comments

Tuesday April 15 2014

I love this, from AndrewZ at Samizdata, commenting on this piece by Natalie Solent, which quotes a couple of particularly demented pieces of writing in the Guardian, about cupcake fascism (this phrase should never be forgotten) and about the horrors of tourism.  (Natalie has been agreeably busy at Samizdata of late.)

Says AZ:

The online edition of any newspaper that isn’t behind a paywall relies on advertising to generate income and this depends on maximising the number of page views. The simplest way to do that is to publish outrageous and provocative opinions that will attract links from elsewhere and start a blazing row among the regular commenters. The great liberal newspaper of old is now little more than a group blog that trolls its own readers for advertising revenue.

No link from here to the original pieces, about cupcake fascism or tourism.  Oh no.  BmdotCOM is not falling into that trap.

Now that I have read the rest of them, I can report that all the comments at Samizdata on this posting are pretty good and worth a look.

Wednesday April 09 2014

As already noted here, I did a piece last week for Samizdata entitled The Institute of Economic Affairs and its support for Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014.  “Hayek1337” has just added this interesting and informative comment, which I want to remember before it disappears off the bottom of Samizdata:

It’s worth noting that Liberty League is ultimately run by Anton Howes, James Lawson, and Will Hamilton – who I’ve considered great friends since their first conference (and the 80s dance floor in some dingy Birmingham club).

Their contribution in the silent background is huge, even if largely ignored. They had the entrepreneurial drive, and they’re the ones who make sure the conference actually has worthwhile speakers,and young people filling the rooms. They do it on the side, Anton’s a full time PHD student for example, but often has a bigger impact than a lot of these full time think tankers. They don’t make a penny from their efforts, it all goes to the conference and supporting student societies. There’s also whole Liberty League team around them, promoting Liberty across all corners of the UK at student societies.

Obviously the IEA is a big backer, and it’s got a hell of a lot of financial muscle, but Liberty League is very close to others in the Free Market movement, and isn’t an IEA project. I’ve seen those three at every Adam Smith Institute Next Generation since time began, and I met two of them at Freedom Week, back when it was set up by JP Floru of the ASI. So, you’ve got to look at return on investment, and those in the background. People like Madsen Pirie of the ASI, and Donal Blaney in the more Conservative movement have played a key role here – identifying and developing entrepreneurs in the battle of ideas, or as Atlas calls them, “multipliers for liberty”.

I guess it’s a case of the more multipliers for liberty the merrier …

Indeed. Quality is good, but quantity of quality has a extra quality about it.  It’s not just more of the same.  Things become possible, even inevitable, that were impossible before quantity kicked in.

I’ve admired Anton Howes for quite a while, and I hope to get to meet and learn more about James Lawson and Will Hamilton at LLFF2014, which is happening next weekend.  Here are some pictures of these three, at the top of this clutch.

What I’ve heard about James Lawson (him in particular) says he might be an excellent Brian’s Fridays speaker.

Saturday March 22 2014

As anyone who noticed the sudden piling up of moronic spam comments here may have suspected, I had an internet disconnect crisis last night, and it was still in effect this morning.  I fiddled about with wires, last night and again this morning, because the last time it happened this is what solved it.  I did lots of rebooting last night to no avail, so didn’t bother to do this again this morning.  Instead I rang The Guru.

It was amazing how much The Guru was this morning able to learn about the problem, by which I mean to learn what the problem was not, just by unleashing his remote control Superpowers.  He then suggested another rebooting, and I did this, just to humour him, and back it all came.  But why?  What was I doing right, all of a sudden?  Very troubling.

It’s like that pivotal moment in movie history when Harrison Ford, in one of the first and good trio of Star Wars movies, got a bit of electrical kit in his spaceship to work properly by smacking it.

Wednesday March 19 2014

imageIncoming from Sam Bowman in the form of an email, dated March 6th, entitled “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism - an apologia”:

Hey Brian,

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.

Best,

Sam

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.

Wednesday November 20 2013

I just left a comment at Samizdata, on this posting by Natalie Solent (who has been very productive there of late) about the lack of security of the ObamaCare website, and this Guardian story on the subject:

The insecurity of the site, probably incurable in less than several months (from what I’m reading), has always struck me (ever since I first read about it a week or two back) as the absolute worst thing about ObamaCare, though I admit it’s a crowded field. The Bad News letters from insurance companies at least put a number to how much money is now going to be screwed out of you, that Obama said (about forty times) you would not be screwed out of. But all that data lying around for any tech-savvy passer-by to grab means there’s no upper limit to what you just might lose, if you have anything whatsoever to do with this horrible horrible thing.

It took me years to trust Amazon with my bank details. Only when about half the world seemed to be signing up for that deal did I take the plunge, and I still fear that in some mysterious way I might one day regret this. I mean, what if Amazon gets taken over by greedy incompetents, skilled only at crookedness, of the sort now already running ObamaCare (and also “advising” people about it)? I know, there are safeguards in place, but my fear is, although small, real. My fear with Obamacare would now be big, and real. My attitude to ObamaCare would be (a) I want nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with it, and (b) If the President and his gang say I have to have something to do with it, then I hope the President and his gang rot in hell.

Obama, it seems to me, has been treated like a great many other bad black Americans.  He has been cut a million miles of slack, never criticised, never taught any morals, and now suddenly, patience has run out and he faces a lynch mob of enraged citizens.  He is going to get the political version of a life-time prison sentence, namely a place in the Presidential Hall of Infamy.  (I know what you’re thinking: wishful thinking on my part.  Maybe.  But his friends are all abandoning him now.  He surely now realises that he has screwed up big, and that there is no way back.)

Heinlein had things to say about this.  If you are going to punish big later, then it is kinder to give your punishee some warning, with small punishments earlier, when he does small things wrong when younger.  I’m not talking physical abuse here, just the odd harsh word when the kid does a bad thing.  That way he learns, instead of being hit with the kitchen sink, out of the blue, when he turns 18 or 50 or whatever.

LATER: Some cyber security experts recommend shutting Obamacare site.

Friday November 08 2013
Tuesday August 27 2013

There was a comment this morning from Rob Fisher (and I do love it that we finally have Samizdata author archives), on a piece I threw up on (?) Samizdata yesterday comparing 3D printing to blogging.  This comment has the feel of something that ought to be a bit more than a comment.  So here it is, here:

Google the Ubuntu Edge smartphone. This is a device that many people wanted, but not quite enough to raise 35 million that the company behind it say was needed to make 40,000 phones.

A large part of what made the device desirable was its physical construction. I imagine a time when people can choose from a wide library of smartphone physical designs and customise them with a choice of materials, colours and shape modifications. Those with the skills will contribute new designs to the library.

Similarly, smartphone innards are increasingly boiling down to two or three interchangeable chips. Why not select the system-on-chip you prefer; add some RAM and flash storage; and pick the screen you want? Placement of these parts is then just physical design.

So we build a one–off smartphone. The chassis may be 3D printed or cut from a metal block with some sort of robotic machinist. The circuit boards and final assembly will be robotic.

Look at how Foxconn is replacing its “slave” human labourers with robots.

So what, really, is the difference between today, when a new design for a run of 40,000 gadgets costs $35m, and my world, where a single unique device can be assembled for $800?

It’s partly logistics, which 3D printing is part of the answer to. Some entrepreneurial soul will surely eventually build the factory to solve the rest of the logistical problems.

The rest of the answer is the dispersal of the required knowledge. In the same way that making new software is largely a matter of combining libraries written previously by domain experts with a smidgen of new ideas, so the physical design of gadgets will eventually become a matter of combining standard parts with a touch of customisation.

It’s largely a software problem, too. If you imagine a Web site that lets you design your own phone in the way I have described, a lot of the problem is systematising smartphone design and putting a usable user interface on that system.

So, to make my own analogy, if the world I have just imagined of making your own gadgets is blogging, 3D printing is the web. Small, automated factories that can cheaply produce one-off items using 3D printing and robots are the Internet. And some clever software to make it easier to enter one’s designs is WordPress.

Regular Samizdata commenter Alisa called that “brilliant”, which was what made me think it ought to be immortalised.

Thursday August 08 2013

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.

Perry Metzger on taking seriously the declared objectives of opponents
Spot the Samsung connection
Talking architecture at the Libertarian Home social
Are Christian social conservatives using the Tea Party to impose social conservatism?
Patrick Crozier has just arranged for accessing ancient comments here to be much easier
How llamas told us so – in November 2008
Turning back the spam comment tide and allowing proper comments from way back still to be read
David Friedman on the similarity between fractional reserve banking and insurance
Bitcoin etc.?
Science can relax about the harm done to it by Climategate
Wisconsin question
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom spam comment spelling mistake of the day
James Waterton on a very smart very dumb Russian
Defeating Islam
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom least obnoxious spam comment so far
Is Timberland guilty of spam commenting me?
Molly Norris was just kidding!
Everybody draw Mohammed on May 20th!
“Is this a case of us operant-conditioning them or them operant-conditioning us?”
Voice and exit
Reds against Blues in Munich
ClimateGate roars on and Man(n)-made warming is taking on a whole new meaning
Twitterings
Prize idiots
God is killing cinemas!
Quotes dump
Old Holborn lets rip at Labour in a Guido comment
The curse of Gordon Brown is now ruining the England cricket team
Two Samizdata comments on the sinking of Brown and on the sinking of the Daily Telegraph
A photo of the Samsung NC10 and the original Asus Eee-PC next to each other
There’s no need to comment on this posting because it’s already perfect
Paul Marks on the financial crisis
On hating and not hating commenters
Lib Dems edge towards school choice
Comment is free and WiFi should be too