Saturday, 28 January 2023

"Society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort": Our general gain from the existence of others

“In the state of isolation, our wants exceed our productive capacities. By virtue of exchange, our productive capacities come to exceed our immediate wants. Implicit in exchange is division of labour...”
~ Frederic Bastiat, from his Economic Harmonies

“The individual lives and acts within society. But society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. It exists nowhere else than in the actions of individual men.”
~ Ludwig Von Mises, from, his book Human Action

When you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you. When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labour, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible...”
~ Ayn Rand from her essay 'What is Capitalism?'

“Economic competition is not a process by which the success of the biologically fit brings about the extermination of the biologically weak. On the contrary, it is a process by which the success of better products and more efficient methods of production promotes the survival and well- being of all. It is a process in which the success of the more able raises the productivity and improves the standard of living of the less able....
    "So far from being the law of the jungle, the freedom of economic competition emerges as the true principle of the universal brotherhood of man.”
~ George Reisman, from his book Capitalism
"Economic competition is one of the unfortunate accidents of terminology; what it means is simply the freedom of individuals to cooperate through exchange with the others who offer (or accept) the best terms."
~ Frank Knight, from his 1944 lecture “The Planful Act: The Possibilities and Limitations of Collective Rationality,” as reprinted in Knight’s 1947 collection, Freedom and Reform [hat tip Cafe Hayek]

“The very fact that an exchange takes place is proof that there must necessarily be profit in it for both the contracting parties; otherwise it would not be made. Hence, every exchange represents two gains for humanity.”
- Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, from his Le commerce et le gouvernement considérés relativement l'un à l'autre

Friday, 27 January 2023

Watch out for his woggle

"Chris Hipkins is copping the standard new PM honeymoon treatment from the media, albeit somewhat muted. It won’t last and [his] government will be thrashed in October. The only thing which can save it is World War 3 breaking out. Chris massively fails an all-important test I originated in the highly politicised mid 1970s, this after Bill Rowling inherited the office following Kirk’s death, namely no-one could ever be elected as PM if one could imagine him in a scout master’s uniform."
~ Bob Jones, from his post 'Political Imagery'

"Coase insisted that government should largely limit itself to defining and enforcing property rights."

"[Ronald] Coase showed that as long as property rights are clear and secure, and people can bargain freely with each other, nonphysical resources (such as the electromagnetic spectrum) will eventually be owned by those people and businesses that use these resources most productively from society's perspective....
    "Suppose [for example, that bureaucrats] award a part of the spectrum to a station that insists on broadcasting insect noises. That station is unlikely to be the one that uses that part of the spectrum most productively from the public's point of view. Another station that has plans to use that part of the spectrum in ways more useful to the public — say, by broadcasting pop music — will offer to purchase the insect station's property right in the spectrum. And the insect station will voluntarily sell because the pop-music station will attach a higher value to owning that part of the spectrum than will the insect station....
    "An upshot of Coase's insight is that command-and-control regulations are almost always harmful, or at least suboptimal. Such regulations dictate in detail how firms should behave and deny them the flexibility to find better ways to achieve the same desired outcomes. If each steel producer, say, is told that it must install pollution scrubbers on its factory's smokestacks, every steel producer is barred from using less costly ways to reduce pollution.
    "Coase insisted that government should largely limit itself to defining and enforcing property rights. Bargaining in markets — bargaining to buy, to sell and to use such rights as individuals on the spot judge best — will almost always generate better outcomes than will top-down diktats."
~ Don Boudreaux, from his op-ed 'Property Rights' Importance'

Thursday, 26 January 2023

"The leaders of any political system—no matter how enlightened—inevitably convince themselves that *now* freedom of speech has gone too far.”

"In recent years, a growing chorus of voices has become increasingly hostile to free speech. Certain people, ideas, and narratives, we are told, must be suppressed in order to combat 'hate speech,' stop misinformation, and 'protect democracy.' As Jacob Mchangama explains in his book, Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media, these arguments are not new. The 'justifications for limiting free speech in the twenty-first century,' he observes, 'have more in common with those used many centuries past than perhaps we would like to admit'....
    "One reason for this, Mchangama writes, is that 'the introduction of free speech sets in motion a process of entropy. The leaders of any political system—no matter how enlightened—inevitably convince themselves that now freedom of speech has gone too far'.”
 from his review of Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media by Jacob Mchangama

"Fix housing regulation and you go along way toward fixing malinvestment."

"Most people don’t understand this process. When they see it play out, they misdiagnose what is actually going on. I see article after article claiming that [central banks like] the US Federal Reserve 'artificially' lowered interest rates, and that this created “malinvestment” into unproductive projects. They claim the problem can be fixed by raising interest rates to a level that imposes discipline on investors, a rate that doesn’t allow for low quality investments to be profitable. That’s wrong.
    "[New Zealand] does have a malinvestment problem, but it’s not at all what many pundits assume. The cause of the malinvestment is zoning and other regulations that make it difficult to build housing. And housing is not just another sector; it’s a key part of investment. These bad regulations push saving into areas that are less productive than housing construction, including marginally productive government and corporate investment.
    "The problem of malinvestment cannot be fixed [just] by having the [Reserve Bank] tweak interest rates; it requires much more fundamental solution. The only way to fix malinvestment is to remove regulations that prevent developers from building what people really want, which is high-quality housing. [Cities like Auckland were transformed in the 1920s when a ring of affordable yet attractive California bungalows were built by profit-seeking speculators at the end of new tram lines. But New Zealand has lost the ambition for such things, and settled instead for three-storey stagnation.]
    "If you ask most people what stands in the way of them having the sort of lifestyle they wish to have, not many will mention a lack of food or clothing. Most have adequate cars and TV sets. Most have a school to send their kid to and some form of health care. Instead, housing is the one area where lots of people are dissatisfied, where dramatic improvements in living standards are still possible. But that requires building new housing in locations close to good jobs. Bandaids such as rent control do not result in a single extra person having housing, and indeed reduce the housing stock in the long run. More housing is the low hanging fruit to raising living standards. Fix housing regulation and you go along way toward fixing malinvestment."
~ Scott Sumner, from his post 'Zoning and 'malinvestment'' [US references have been localised]


Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Warm, dry ... and increasingly out of reach


A lesson from Scotland for locals here who like to bash landlords in the name of improving things for renters. 

It turns out that private rents in Glasgow are rocketing as landlords, sick of being bashed by the Scottish government's many laws making it harder to be a landlord ( in the name, it's said, of improving things for renters), are simply exiting the market. CityLets, a Glasgow residential letting agency, explained that "legislation was leading to many small landlords selling up." 

The results are, predictably, disastrous for renters. Colin Macmillan, from Glasgow Property Letting, said: 

Whilst the reality of the Scottish Government’s sanctions and actions are filtering through the private rented sector, many traditional landlords have had enough and are exiting the market.
    With an oversubscription of university places, we find ourselves in a perfect storm.
    Fewer properties available with unprecedented demand equals hyper-inflated rents.
    We also find ourselves in a cost of living crisis at probably the worst time of the year, with energy costs rising as the temperature is falling, and subsequent worries that rent arrears may increase also.”
    Those involved in the rented sector said private landlords have become a 'political football'.

One of the measures that would make the the disaster even worse was a rent freeze to come in from April. In what's called "a major u-turn," the Scottish government now propose to replace it with a "cap" on rent increases. Housing minister Patrick Harvey "said the government now accepted a rent freeze would hit landlords too hard." You think?

As Natalie Solent comments

Well, “disastrous” to “bad” is an improvement. But unless and until the Scottish government realises that both rent freezes and rent caps are very nice for tenants already in place but very bad for anyone trying to rent a house or flat from the day they are announced onwards, times will be hard for those seeking to rent in Scotland.

And the same for anywhere else they're threatened.

"The larger meaning of Free Trade..."

"The larger meaning of Free Trade ranks it as a phase in social evolution by which, on the one hand, militarism is displaced by industrialism, and, on the other hand, political limits of nationalism yield place to an effective internationalism based upon identity of commercial interests."
~ J.A. Hobson, from his 1898 article 'Free Trade and Foreign Policy'

Tuesday, 24 January 2023


"If co-governance denotes a political system in which an indigenous people and the descendants of the settlers who joined them wrestle together with the legacies of colonisation – as free and equal citizens – then we already have it."
~ Chris Trotter, from his post 'What is Co-Governance?'

"It is surprising how much emphasis the Ministry of Education is giving to race as a key variable in education.

"The biggest problems in New Zealand’s schooling system are poor literacy and numeracy... 
    "Given all this, it is surprising how much emphasis the Ministry of Education (MoE) is giving to race as a key variable in education. MoE seems more focused on promoting Māori racial and cultural identity than, for example, professional identities. 'Māori succeeding as Māori' is a recurring trope. A wisely sardonic Māori kuia once said to me that New Zealand has too few Māori in the professions and too many professional Māoris.... This was decades ago, and she spoke in a whisper. By now the prevailing zeitgeist will have silenced her completely."

~ Peter Winslet, from his post 'Science, mātauranga Māori, and the national curriculum'

Monday, 23 January 2023

He's New Zealand's new Prime Minister, by the way.

Being a professional political blogger and all (and by 'professional' here I mean simply 'one who professes to be or do a thing to some degree of efficacy'), and since every other professional commentator is currently going through the 'H' section of their filing cabinets to pad out stories introducing Chris Hipkins to their readers, I thought I'd better examine what I've already written here about the profoundly unexciting young fellow. (He's New Zealand's new Prime Minister, by the way.)

Searching the scrolls here reveals he's caught this blog's eye only five times, which probably says something already.

Oddly, the first time he's mentioned is with a recommendation to vote for the fresh-faced new candidate in his first election. Yes, true story. And yes, there is a catch. (It's down near the end of the post, if you're really interested.)

The next time he catches this blog's attention is 8 years ago as minister of education, defending the teachers' unions. Our Dr McGrath describes the "boyish Labour MP and teacher's pet Chris Hipkins" who "seems convinced that if teachers in charter schools aren't registered, children will be at risk and the sky will fall." The good doctor's recitation of many registered teachers peccadilloes still suggests otherwise. 

As minister of education he also oversaw the introduction in the government's factory schools of new dumbed-down curricula, of course, including in science. Sorry, I mean in climate change, in which New Zealand children are now indoctrinated taught. ("As the post reminds us, "What happens in our schools is a very big part of shaping the future of New Zealand,"as Helen Clark herself crowed back in her day.)

Hipkins first emerged to prominent notice in his role as Minister in charge of Responding to Covid Headlines. As it happens, our own post's headline describes his work well, as compared to that of his colleagues: 'Even 'pretty inept' looks good compared to 'not at all.'

And with our last and most recent reference to this emerging talent, we're going to have to claim some kind of prescience in saying "it seems pretty clear: the most dangerous ministers in the current cabinet are the young and eager Wood and Hipkins, and the older, wiser and more devious Parker, Little, Faafoi and Robertson." (Okay, maybe not Faafoi.)

To be fair, it's not truly insightful analysis. And there is more about him we might have said, including about his time most recently as Minister Oveseeing Ram Raids (a suitable bench-mate then for his deputy, in her role as Minister for Social Mayhem), but he really is so dreadfully unexciting it's hard to say anything much at all. 

How his handlers decide to brighten him up for the electorate will be about the only interesting thing to observe about him in his last few months as Prime Minister -- playing as Geoffrey Palmer to Jacinda's David Lange.

"The fawning over Sepuloni..."

"In the 'NZ Herald' Thomas Coughlan writes: 'Sepuloni ... [is] social development minister and may keep this roll after the reshuffle (she's excelled, so far.' And at RNZ Jane Patterson says: 'Sepuloni has been a steady pair of hands in the social development portfolio'...
    "For starters emergency housing is in the social development portfolio. The take-over of motels leading to social mayhem (think Rotorua) has been a tragedy for those housed in them and those in their surrounds. The waiting list for public housing has sky-rocketed since Sepuloni has been Minister.
    "EVERY main benefit has seen increased numbers since 2017. Covid played a part, but the upward trend was established before 2020.
    "Never before has New Zealand seen demand for both skilled and unskilled labour at current levels yet 11.3 percent (up from 9.7 in 2017) of the working age population is benefit-dependent.
    "Compounding this, the average length of time people are spending dependent has gone up....
    "Her own ministry's annual reports acknowledge the department is not moving in the right direction in a number of areas.
    "Worst of all Sepuloni has overseen a rise in children living in unemployed homes. The damage to their outcomes is well researched and documented. But unheeded by this government whose sole focus has been to lift incomes with their fingers firmly in their ears over the unintended consequences of paying people to do nothing ... except have children.
    "If all of the above is 'excelling' I hate to envisage what failing looks like."
~ Lindsay Mitchell, from her post 'Sepuloni'

"It is sometimes forgotten that New Zealand is a securely post-Enlightenment society..."


"It is sometimes forgotten that New Zealand, as a neo-European society, is a securely post-Enlightenment society... a very particular example of post-Enlightenment experimental practice…. The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment … [argued] that men were governed by interest if not reason and that those interests could be orchestrated for beneficent purposes….
    “[W] e still live in a world first codified then, a world seen as 'a unified and self-sufficient Nature, governed by orderly laws, and including man within itself as part of Nature'….
    “Such a view underwrote 'the autonomy and sovereignty of knowledge'…. Thereafter the world was to be located and constituted through knowledge….
    “By the last quarter of the nineteenth century economic and moral progress would be widely considered fruits of knowledge. The myth of the Garden of Eden, where knowledge brings the Fall, had been stood on its head.”


Sunday, 22 January 2023

"The Case for Open Borders"

What should immigration should look like in a free society? it should look something like this, argues Harry Binswanger: Borders should be open, but defended. Something like the Schengen borders in today's Europe.

People risk their lives every day to flee dire conditions in their home countries to build a new life in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the USA ... what right do you have to stop them? Shouldn't they be allowed in?
"During his talk at OCON 2022, Dr. Harry Binswanger answered: yes, and without restriction.
    "Dr. Binswanger is aware that his position is radical and controversial. There are many arguments against open borders — from economic to cultural to political. Binswanger addresses the main objections, which he says are based on collectivist premises. But first he grounds his positive argument on the individualist principles of the Declaration of Independence: the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which are possessed by any individual from any nation. This includes [all and any locals] who wish to trade and engage with immigrants.
    "Binswanger understands, however, that open borders are an ideal for a free society that cannot be achieved overnight. But that shouldn’t deter us, he says, from using that ideal to guide us in the right direction and start implementing certain incremental changes toward that end. He makes some concrete policy suggestions to that end.
In the Q&A portion of the talk, Binswanger addresses questions on topics such as:
    * Screening at the border for infectious disease and during times of war;
    * The relevance of the political sympathies of immigrants and whether they should be allowed to vote;
     * The 'overpopulation' objection to immigration.
       "Binswanger closes by relating how, when asked about her position on immigration, Ayn Rand said, 'How could I advocate restricting immigration when I wouldn’t be alive today if our borders were closed?'”

Saturday, 21 January 2023

"Money is not an artefact of the emerges from nature and is used by humanity just like other natural elements and their compounds are used"

"'The Natural Order of Money' offers a complete debunking of the State theory of money by explaining how money is not an artefact of the State or something that is only useful because of enforcement by State power. Money is not a human-made invention outside of the natural order. Because economic activity is based in the first instance on the individual as a producer and consumer regardless of the State or other entities, money emerges from nature and is used by humanity just like other natural elements and their compounds are used – to enable individuals to improve their situation by which standards of living advance.
    "More to the point, money is a unit of weight that in pre-history became a unit of account useful in economic calculation as primitive humans learned that voluntary cooperation through the division of labour helped them to improve their life by better meeting their needs and wants. We learn why gold is natural money, and why only it provides an objective standard to measure progress and bind the wider economy to the real economy so that all economic activity is measured equitably and in conformity with the natural order.
    “'The Natural Order of Money' is a beautifully produced book that fittingly conveys its principal topics – the beauty of nature, humanity’s place within it, and the harmony offered to everyone when abiding with the natural order.

~ James Turk, from his book review of Roy Sebag's The Natural Order of Money

Friday, 20 January 2023

"That was the point about Ardern...." [updated]

"That was the point about Ardern. She wasn’t just Prime Minister of New Zealand – and a popular one at her peak – she was a global pin-up for progressive values [and the opprobrium therefrom, deserved or underserved, from being so- Ed.]. She was the beacon of hope among those on the Left who had been destabilised by Donald Trump, Brexit and Boris Johnson. For many, she was seen as a breed apart among global leaders: one who was untouched by the fatal brew of ego, arrogance and self-interest which they saw as inbred into many male politicians.
    "Ardern’s undoing was in that she appeared to believe that herself. I don’t claim to be able to read her mind, but I would guess that her real reason for resigning ahead of New Zealand’s general election later this year was not primarily that she wanted to collect her daughter from playgroup every day, as she has intimated, but that she could no longer cope with her halo having slipped. When you have been built up into a living saint it must come as a shock to find yourself under attack for failing to address the same old problems which afflict less-progressive national leaders. Inflation, a stuttering economy and rising crime are hardly unique to New Zealand, but they showed that there was nothing magical about Ardern’s politics – the only difference is that in her case she lacked the toughness to weather serious adversity....
    "The danger now is that in resigning before what was beginning to look like an inevitable defeat at the polls, she will come to be seen by progressives as a political martyr, reinforcing their belief in her greatness, as a female leader who willingly gave up power to be with her family. The reality is that she failed in much that she tried to achieve, and the hero-worship which she enjoyed around the world made things worse by adding to her hubris."
~ Ross Clark, writing in the UK Telegraph

"Surely no politician has burnt through more political capital in as fast a time as Jacinda Ardern. Winning her second election in a landslide in Oct 2020, she resigns in January 2023. There was simply no more political capital left in the tank.
"Was Ardern’s position left untenable due to a failed cabinet reshuffle that was rebuffed by her colleagues? And what will the change of leader mean for the flagship policies which Labour decides to continue to support in 2023?"
          'No Political Capital Left' - HOMEPADDOCK
"The progressive Left outside NZ love her, but that’s because they have literally no idea of her policies. [Any more than do the offshore right who criticise her ... - Ed.]
    "Her government was rabidly anti-immigration, right from the start. It depresses workers’ wages see. So NZ, which is structurally geared for immigration, is now desperately short of masses of key workers. Old school Socialist, not progressive at all.
    "Her government was rabidly centrist, [literally], though it took some time to become apparent. It started to recentralise things that have long been decentralised in NZ. Old school Socialist, not progressive at all. It tended to be badly done, and wildly unpopular — Kiwis aren’t really into centralisation.
    "Finally, and incredibly for a country used to non-unionised workplaces, Jacinda tried to return to central bargaining.
    "It’s hard to find a progressive policy.
    "Abortion was legalised, but no-one had been prosecuted under the old legislation, so that was an easy win. It literally changed nothing.
    "She tried to legalise marijuana, but her proposed system was like the Canadian one, bound by so many restrictions that the illegal trade would have continued...."
          ~ Chester Draws at Samizdata
"So credit to the PM for realising that despite having more time left than most world leaders, she was not going to realise her cherished goals for New Zealand.
    "What might send a shiver down the spine of some older and more time-limited world leaders (as well as her own successor) is that her problems – even if rhetorically more polished – are quite similar to their own.
    "And seem equally intractable.
    "Just run through a list of potential policy-reality clashes: ending relative poverty when statistically poor people show little desire to model your own sensible behaviour; reducing carbon consumption without confronting the truly enormous welfare costs; paying for more health and social welfare without robust long-term market-led productivity growth; building affordable houses without substantial environmental modification and painful disruption to ossified local practice; increasing opportunity and outcomes for indigenous people without creating privilege and double standards.
    "One can speculate that Ardern’s relative youthfulness and sense of greater opportunities to come has made it easier to choose the early transition to minor international celebrity over the responsibility of exercising authority – let alone the risk of losing it.
    "Whatever your political views, you have to feel sorry for her successor.... Barring an economic miracle, it will be hard ... to slip out from under the burden of Ardern’s policy indecision....
    "Meanwhile, the world’s leaders will be asking themselves if Jacinda has made a wise move in beating them to an early shower.
          'PM Makes NZ a World Leader' - POINT OF ORDER
"The rise of Saint Jacinda reflect[ed] the triumph of paternalism. Among our supposedly liberal elites it has become common sense that populations must be controlled for their own good; that a measure of how much a leader cares is how brutally she cracks down on ideas or behaviours she deems dangerous.
    "We almost certainly haven’t seen the last of Ardern. No doubt a plum job at the United Nations, the World Health Organisation or some other ghastly supranational body beckons. Nor have we seen the last of the elitist politics that she came to represent. It’s high time we had a reckoning with this ‘kindly’ authoritarianism."
          'Good Riddance to Saint Jacinda' - Tom Slater, SPIKED ONLINE
"When Jacinda allowed herself to be guided by her heart her decisions were politically faultless. It was only when she ignored her instincts and followed her head that the poor decisions began to multiply.
"She never appeared to grasp that announcing policy is not the same as implementing it. Press releases do not build houses. Speeches do not end poverty. In the end, it was Jacinda's constant failure to deliver that made it impossible for her to go on.
If you say 'Let's do this!,' then, Dear God, you have to do it!
          'Jacinda Resigns' - Chris Trotter, BOWALLEY ROAD

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Vale historian Paul Johnson, (1928-2023)


Source: Daily Telegraph

I'm disappointed this morning to hear that historian Paul Johnson has died -- aged 94, it seems!

I haven't read him for a while, but I did, many years ago. In some ways he provided my introduction to a lot of 19th and 20th century history through his two books Birth of the Modern, and Modern Times, which is still a masterful account of the post-colonial independence movements around the post-WWII-world. I still reflect occasionally on his comment in the latter that New Zealand represents a lonely beacon with a unique respect for individual human lives.

He wrote well, and broadly -- both things rare these days in a historian.  Those two books above remain my two favourites of his. 

Others I rate would be his A History of the American People (he rates the creation of the United States, with only slight hyperbole, as "the greatest of all human adventures" -- "no other national story holds so many tremendous lessons," he says) -- and Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre & Chomsky, in which he "revels in the wickedness" of so many who have shaped history for the worst. None emerge well. It's less an attack on their ideas than on the distance between their ideas and their private lives. Of Marx, for example, he reveals that he never went near a factory in his life, that many of the most lubricious 'facts' related in Das Kapital were from long-out-of-date government reports scarcely reflective of contemporary working conditions, and that maybe the only exploited labourer he every knew personally was his maid -- whom he impregnated, forcing the child into an orphanage, and never paid her a cent for her work.

He visited New Zealand in 1995, at the invitation of the Business Roundtable, and you can still read the talks he delivered here. One topic seems especially relevant today...

As an author, he was prolific. He was reputed to write in a small study in his house, a "writing machine" lined with book shelves all within arm's reach, which he pre-loaded with pre-prepared file cards (see pic above) and all the books necessary for his forthcoming tome. I've tried that too. It takes a lot of books!

"His stream of books was almost torrential," writes Theodore Dalrymple in his obituary of the man. "Perhaps his biggest and most influential one was Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties(1983)."
"What Johnson called 'gangster despots' came to dominate the history of the first half of the twentieth century, and he was scarcely more flattering about the self-proclaimed liberators of the second half. Even those who did not altogether approve of, or share, his historical outlook admitted that this book was a tour de force. 'Modern Times' influenced a generation of American conservatives....
    "Johnson liked nothing more than to infuriate by means of iconoclastic polemic. His book 'Intellectuals' (1988) provided potted biographies of such revered figures as Rousseau, Marx, and Tolstoy, demonstrating what rotters they all were in their personal lives. This was not exactly an exercise in scientific method, but it was good fun and gave pleasure to those who distrust intellectual gurus. It also gave rise to insinuations that Johnson himself did not always quite live up to the moral ideals that he so fiercely propounded in public.
    "He coined striking phrases—Hitler’s views, for example, were 'the syphilis of antisemitism in its tertiary phase'—and he could never be accused of mealy-mouthedness. His views, though somewhat changeable, were expressed with vigour approaching dogmatism, though they were always well-informed. You knew where you stood with him.
    "It is customary to say of remarkable men that we shall not see their like again. Whatever may be the case with other remarkable men, this is likely to be true of Paul Johnson. It is unlikely that anyone will tackle so huge a range of subjects again with such knowledge and verve."

Johnson is somewhat of a litmus test for contemporary times. Without changing his own views substantially -- he was, and remained, an individualist -- he was first seen as a proud and leading member of Britain's intellectual left (he as editor for a time of the New Statesman) and then as a Thatcherite; in the US he was enthusiastically embraced by a generation of conservatives (as Dalrymple relates above), then dropped for being too "challenging."

For one thing, his conservatism was unmistakably 'Thatcherite' and had free market undertones, which are less popular now than they used to be. For another, Johnson was a polemicist but his books (and his understanding of history) are rich with nuances. And that doesn’t go very well with the Zeitgeist, left or right.
This says more, of course, about the changing periods through which he lived and wrote, than it does about Johnson himself. A fact the great historian would no doubt have found fascinating.

"It is easy to be sentimental, or romantic, about the beauties of primitive societies..."

"It is easy to be sentimental, or romantic, about the beauties of primitive societies; but it remains true that when people are offered a genuine opportunity for economic growth (for that is what [trade] is, they are generally glad to take it."
~ John Hicks, from his Theory of Economic History

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

"New Zealand was born free without having to become so."


"Self-government and the rule of law came to New Zealand from above. These great principles were ordained by imperial authority. The result, to paraphrase de Tocqueville, was that New Zealand was born free without having to become so. It never had to fight for self-government, or win its rights by armed struggle."

~ David Hackett Fisher, from his book Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States

Tuesday, 17 January 2023

"Remove all taxes from savings."

"If there was one taxation policy that would reduce consumer price inflation, stabilise a fiat currency, encourage capital allocation for productive purposes, and improve government finances for the longer-term, what would it be?
    "Remove all taxes from savings."

~ Alasdair MacLeod, from his article 'The Benefits Of A Saving Culture'

Monday, 16 January 2023

'The buying of the media is nothing less than political corruption of a scale hitherto unknown in New Zealand'


"This [Garrick Tremain cartoon] aptly sums up the disgraceful sell-out by our print [and electronic] media to toe the government line.... willingly prostitut[ing themselves] to the government bribe in return for the taxpayer’s unwitting subsidy...
    "The buying of the ... media, so cleverly summed up by Garrick’s cartoon, was nothing less than political corruption of a scale hitherto unknown in New Zealand."

~ Bob Jones, from his post 'Political Corruption'

Not everything that's measured is important. And not everything's that's important can be measured.

"What gets measured gets managed. But I’m saying something stronger here. If we are not careful, what gets measured is all we manage. We don’t just pay more attention to what is in the light. We forget what is in the shadows. We forget about the rest of the things that do not get captured in measures we become accustomed to studying and using.
    "Our desire to quantify complexity seduces us into ignoring [valuable] things that are less easily measured.... Other factors get forgotten [whose] effects, if real, are virtually impossible to quantify.... These intangibles are hard to keep in mind....
This is one of the first mistakes we can make with [a raw number] — we forget that it only captures part of what we care about. The other mistake we make is that a measure isn’t the thing itself...."
~ Russ Roberts, from his post 'Apples and Oranges: A Critique of Utilitarianism'

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Statistical tests on the efficacy of prayer

"Adam Rutherford reminded me that it was the now-demonised Francis Galton who did statistical tests on the efficacy of prayer. His most famous is finding out that British Royals, who are prayed for constantly, didn’t live any longer than non-royals at a similar level of well being. Galton did related studies of the success of sea voyages accompanied by prayer versus those with no prayer. Again, no effect. And, more recently, I’ve written about the Templeton-funded study of intercessory prayer that found no effect of such prayer on the rate of recovery from cardiac surgery (in fact, those who were prayed for did marginally but not significantly worse). This constitutes direct evidence against [the] implicit thesis [of the efficacy of prayer]."

Saturday, 14 January 2023

"...but that doesn’t mean that AI won’t put a lot of human musicians out of work."

"Duke Ellington once said that the blues was the 'music of romantic failure'—and just consider how many hit songs are about that particular way of falling short of expectations.
    "But can a machine ever even begin to understand such matters? Will AI [Artificial Intelligence] ever have a broken heart? Will AI ever grieve the death of a loved one? Will AI ever know about the music that helps Alzheimer’s patients or Parkinson’s sufferers or war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder? Will an AI ever sing a lullaby to its child? Will an AI ever need to pick a song for the first dance at its wedding reception?
    "And consider even more trivial uses of song, far beyond the experience of software, no matter how smartly designed. Will an AI ever need a [sea] shanty to help it hoist the sails on a ship? Will an AI ever embarrass itself at karaoke? Will an AI ever sing in the shower, or along with the radio during a daily commute?
    "These are limitations that the robot can never overcome. The human element in music will always be beyond its scope—and that’s a large part of what songs are all about.
    "It’s just like the Tin Man from Oz. What’s missing is the heart.
    "But that doesn’t mean that AI won’t put a lot of human musicians out of work. And the more those flesh-and-blood performers simplify their songs, the more likely they are to lose their jobs to the robot. The less they play from the heart, and the more they rely on formulas and stylised poses, the easier they will be to replace.
    "There’s a lesson there, for those human musicians savvy enough to learn it."

~ Ted Gioia, from his post 'How I Got an AI Theme Song for My Substack'

Friday, 13 January 2023

UK-NZ-Australia free-trade deal -- good for everyone, says Hannan

Daniel Hannan explains to the UK's House of Lords why the UK-NZ-Australia free-trade deal is not just better in "food miles," not just "better for Britons," but better all around for all.

Few things worked better historically to raise the UK to success than free commerce and free exchange, he points out. "We invented them." The biggest advantage of unhampered international markets, he says, is to allow prices to fall. That's good for everyone.

" do absolutely nothing in life but complain about one’s victimhood."

"Think about the kind of person who would find Harry & Meghan interesting and enlightening. It must be the kind of person who sees it as the ideal to do absolutely nothing in life but complain about one’s victimhood. It’s literally all these former royalists do. It’s not a side activity. It’s their whole reason for living.
    "They complain. They already have a huge audience because of the very thing they decry daily — the largely unearned wealth and notoriety of the royal family. They hate the very idea of the royal family, and say so regularly. Yet they complain and whine that they’re not getting more money, visibility and power from the same royal family they regularly decry.
    "It strikes me: This is the very essence of the woke mentality — not politically, but deeper: culturally and psychologically. Harry and Meghan stand for all the things that wokesters want: Something for nothing. Not just economically (though money is definitely part of it); but psychologically, in terms of the unearned and unlimited visibility snowflakes everywhere yearn for."

~ Michael Hurd, from his post 'Harry & Meghan: A Couple About NOTHING' [emphasis in the original]

Thursday, 12 January 2023

What Adrian Orr should learn from Jerome Powell: "Stick to the knitting"

"The case for monetary policy independence lies in the benefits of insulating monetary policy decisions from short-term political considerations. Price stability is the bedrock of a healthy economy and provides the public with immeasurable benefits over time. But restoring price stability when inflation is high can require measures that are not popular in the short term as we raise interest rates to slow the economy....
    "It is essential that we stick to our statutory goals and authorities, and that we resist the temptation to broaden our scope to address other important social issues of the day. Taking on new goals, however worthy, without a clear statutory mandate would undermine the case for our independence."
~ US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, quoted by The Grumpy Economist in his post 'Cheers for Powell' [emphasis mine]

"Ending inflation demands that government is deprived of the recourse to the printing press for financing its expenditures. Government must balance its budget..."

"From the technical point of view there is no serious difficulty about stopping inflation. As the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Arthur Burns, has recently confirmed in a much noticed lecture, the monetary authority can always stop inflation 'with little delay.' The difficulties are not economic but political and especially problems of government finance. Ending inflation demands that government is deprived of the recourse to the printing press for financing its expenditures. Government must balance its budget and I admit that it is not humanly possible to do so overnight."
~ Friedrich Hayek, from his 1980 letter to London's Times newspaper (reprinted in his Essays on Liberalism and the Economy) [hat tip Cafe Hayek]

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

"No force in the world since 1848 has been more powerful, more deadly, more pervasive, or more persistent, than nationalistic zeal."

"If you had convened a meeting of the great European thinkers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and asked them what would drive future global politics, not one of them would have put nationalism on the list.
    "The leaders of the Enlightenment anticipated a coming age when reason and universal values would shape the course of events. Marx and his fellow travellers trusted that class struggle and economics oppression would serve as the spire to change. The positivists in the camp of Auguste Comte championed science and progress as the driving force in future history. Social Darwinists postulated evolutionary models; political economists attributed power to Adam Smith's 'invisible hand'; and Neo-scholastics put faith in the hand of God. 
    "Everybody had a theory. But none of the thought leaders anticipated a future when war and bloody carnage would be instigated by chauvinistic impulses and love of country. The illustrious philosophers dismissed those as archaic loyalties, irrational sentiments no longer useful for human society, and destined for the dustbin of human. history.
    "But the theorists were wrong. No force in the world since 1848 has been more powerful, more deadly, more pervasive, or more persistent, than nationalistic zeal."
~ Ted Gioia, from his book Music: A Subversive History

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

"This virtuous process ... grants anyone and everyone at least a chance to prosper."

"The wealth of a nation and its people came from enhanced productivity. Greater output per capita led to higher wages and incomes, greater consumption, and increased capital accumulation. This virtuous process, led by entrepreneurs and innovators, would swell production, granting anyone and everyone at least a chance to prosper."
~ Phil Gramm, Robert Ekelund and John Early, from their 2022 book The Myth of American Inequality: How Government Biases Policy Debate [hat tip Cafe Hayek]

Monday, 9 January 2023

State Investing, Not ESG, Is the Problem

"[What's the problem with] the left wing policy fad/clever corporate power grab once known as 'corporate responsibility' and now known — for the moment, at least — as environmental, social and governance (ESG)? ...
    "[T]he problem isn’t so much that a company takes ideological considerations into account in its business practices so much as that governments — such as state-run pension funds — are imposing ideological agendas on businesses via this financial control. ...
    "[And] government has no business forcing an ideology ... on anyone.
    "Let’s consider how this applies to ESG....
    "[W]hen state pension plans ... start making or 'encouraging' companies to change how they operate based on ideological issues (such as causing oil companies to get behind green anti-fossil fuel initiatives), this amounts to the state adding the further injury of lower profitability for such companies to the original one of what amounts to nationalisation by stealth.
    "These are both bad, but they are not the essence of what is wrong with ESG, which is a further wrong than state ownership and mismanagement.
    "State interference in ideology is the real problem with ESG. A truly free market would allow investors to make clear-eyed decisions about where to place their money and whether they want to earn higher returns or support political causes with their money.
    "But when the state sets up a retirement fund with the supposed purpose of reducing taxpayer costs of a pension plan by high returns, it should not then use that money to support causes the retirees may or may not outright oppose, and finance the shortfall by taxes on others (wrong to begin with!) whose opinions also aren’t being consulted.
    "Of course, any investment strategy has to have an implicit basis, so there is no way for a state to run a pension plan without running afoul of separation of ideology and state.
    "The proper response by lovers of liberty is not ... merely object to the particular ideas that underly some state investment strategies, but to work towards the real solution, namely to privatise the investment sector.
    "This won’t eliminate ideologically-driven companies from the marketplace (although a free market would cull unprofitable ones), but it will end the gross abuse of government officials improperly forcing their political beliefs into corporate boardrooms throughout the economy all at once, as we see them doing today."
~ Gus Van Horn from his op-ed 'State Investing, Not ESG, Is the Problem'