It’s a crime, unless the government is doing it

Pyramid schemes are part of human financial history, from Charles Ponzi to multilevel marketing, lots of people have already fallen prey to some kind of pyramid fraud, it is so common that now even cryptocurrencies are being used to trick gullible “investors” into giving away their assets to make extraordinary returns, only to see all of it vanish overnight. At this point most people are aware of how those schemes work, and know better not to be a victim of such an obvious scam, however the biggest pyramid scheme in human history is going with full force, and unlike all of the others, has complete support from the government, and we are all part of it.

I’m talking about state pensions. The way they work now is pretty simple: you pay taxes now, and by the time you are old you are going to get it back. Some people believe that somehow the government saves the money we are paying now, and gives it back to us in the future when we are old, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The way pensions work today is pretty much like a pyramid scheme, the money that is paid in taxes by the young people is redirected straight away to the retirees, and you don’t need to be a math genius to know this can’t hold for long.

According to the official statistics the UK government spends 20% of its budget on pensions, with 18% of the population that is retired, and the current projection is that by the year 2040 the retiree population is going to grow to 24.7%, which represents a 37.2% increase. Looking at this prediction it can be argued that in order for those retirees to have the same amount of money as the current ones, in relation to the GDP, the government would also need to increase the percentage of its budget dedicated to pensions by the same rate, which means that in the year 2040 the government would have to be spending 27.4% of its budget in pensions. So where is this money going to come from? It will have to be cut from somewhere, but where exactly? Education? Welfare? Health Care?! The ageing population will also put pressure on the budget for the NHS, which will require ever increasing funding to keep up with the demand, so it becomes clear that this system is doomed to failure, and needs drastic change.

The libertarian perspective on retirement is usually one of personal responsibility, where each individual would have their own fund, which they are going to consume in their non-working years, such system would incentivize people to save their resources and invest/spend them wisely, exactly the opposite of what happens currently with the perverse incentives laid by the current system, where you pay into a system hoping someone will pay for you in the future.

It may very well be that there is going to be no one there for the future retirees, and that the young people today are going to be the suckers in the scheme, who will be left with nothing but the costs of running this irresponsible arrangement for such a long time.

The Devil wears no-platform soles

This week the now-routine disruption of speaker meetings claimed another victim. A discussion between Yaron Brook and Carl Benjamin at Kings College London was shut down by an incursion by masked thugs. What are the practical limits and effects of these kinds of tactics, and what is to be done about them?

The stakes are high: in Western Anglophone polities, the socially acceptable limits of speech are much narrower than what is permitted by law even before ideologically-motivated activists try to stop anyone from speaking: the raised eyebrow, curled lip and withdrawn dinner-party invitation have a very firm regulatory effect on most individuals. The means by which Salonfähig opinion is policed are outside the scope of this article and almost exclusively legal. What is new is an organised small group of radicals attempting their own private policing in flagrant violation of the law.

If nothing is done about no-platforming, fake bomb threats against speaker meetings, falsely activated fire alarms and so on, then a trivially small group of people will be able to prevent the free interchange of ideas face-to-face in public. An analogous battle takes place routinely against uncensored discussion platforms on the Internet.

Those waving the Antifa banners don’t do it to everyone. They are perfectly strategic about their targets, and in the recent incident, the target was Carl Benjamin, a mild-mannered centre-left Youtube personality who happens to be effective in countering a narrative they want to propagate. More usually, the targets are the centre-right or the far-right; the Anglophone centre-right is orders of magnitude more popular, decent and entertaining than the far right and is proportionately more likely to be targeted. Left unchecked, all the off-message figures, both of centre-left and centre-right, all those people trying out NEW ideas that are threatening to someone will be driven from the public stage.

It is useful to understand the broader context of the Antifa tactics against public meetings. See these three articles (which come with something of a health warning themselves):

So, the Antifa types do it because it is fun, because it’s hardcore, because it works, because it is intellectually low-effort, and so on. Critically, it drives up the costs of their opponents.

The most important thing about counter-measures is to choose those which are anti-escalation. If stopping Antifa thuggery turns society into a police state, or increases political polarisation and tension, that is likely to be severe net negative. Note that the tactic mentioned in “Days of Rage”, of retaliating in kind by turning up at Leftist meetings and disrupting them, is itself illegal in the UK under the Public Meeting Act 1908.

In the Kings College case this week, there were a few notable features: the college and/or student authorities failed to provide adequate security, imposed odd last-minute restrictions and changes, and tried to ban filming. One has to ask (and someone should formally ask), whether filming was banned in order to assist the incursion. Additionally, colleges do not want to have their security staff actually hit students, as that is bad PR. They must not be permitted to charge a premium for security services they tacitly don’t want to provide.

What is to be done?

  • Ensure the Public Meeting Act 1908 always goes enforced.
  • Ensure that when the law is breached, a complaint is made to the police, absolutely unconditionally.
  • Compile quantative datasets of no-platform incidents.
  • Ensure the law is enforced consistently.

Antifa thugs have power and this is a political problem

Last night I travelled to attend the long-planned Yaron Brook vs Sargon of Akkad event. This event ultimately did not occur in its planned form. Well done to the KCL Libertarians and Ayn Rand Centre for working hard to ensure something did go ahead. It is not yet clear if anyone saw it though.

For days the event has suffered terribly from a variety of late changes of venue and from having conditions imposed. Additional security, an independent observer and “Safe Space Marshals” were required to ensure the event could go ahead. This caused a few silly logistical impediments meaning that before anything else occurred the organisers and attendees had all had a difficult time, yet many had travelled for hours to attend. I ended up having beers with a Scot and a chap from Coventry.

At 1600 on the day of the event, just 2.5 hours before doors opened the University imposed a further condition. The 200 non-student attendees, by far the majority, would be excluded from the event in order to “maintain a Safe Space”. This language is used as code for speech policing, although in hindsight may possibly refer to genuine safety (I look forward to more details emerging from KCL Libertarians). The result was more than 100 bored and disappointed young people hanging around in the KCL Strand campus lobby waiting for the live stream to start and wondering which pub to go watch it in, and hoping for a last minute change of policy.

The reason for the hopefulness was that the advertised protest against the event, which had attracted 147 sign-ups on Facebook had apparently failed to occur. There were exactly two protesters visible outside – protesting the change to lecturer pensions (they said). With the protest a damp-squib we all felt the University should be able to welcome us in. I spoke to the head of security who was in the lobby by the desk, and I put this to him. His response was that a decision had been made by the University (i.e. not by the head of security) and it was not not going to be altered. I went back to my group to share the news.

While standing with the group of Libertarian Home regulars I heard that the event was now subject to one further restriction: it was banned from being taped. This meant that nobody present in the lobby was going to be able to see the content of the speakers debate. News from inside was dribbling out only very slowly through Meetup and private channels so it took time but, despondent, people eventually began to leave. There was still no sign at all of a protest, or that security were expecting much to happen.

Then it did happen.

About twelve people, dressed in black, ran determinedly towards the security barrier. With everyone else milling around confused, the way these guys moved was a dead give away. They were up to no good. Sure enough the lead figures leapt the barrier and began being wrestled by up to 5 security guards, including the rapidly redeployed head of security. A shower of sparks announced the ignition of a purple smoke bomb. One, perhaps two at the most. While security wrestled the trespassers and the smoke slowly rose to the ceiling there were chants of “fuck antifa” and “left wing lies people die”. I fumbled for my camera and, while snapping the action took it upon myself to scold the ticket holders for using harsh language. The fire alarm went off. A few of the ticket holders seemed to switch chants, which speaks volumes about the quality of this crowd – they were willing to engage brains.

The trespassers, however, had no such manners. Reconstructing what happened next from videos, it seems that the trespassers got to the door of the lecture hall and were held there for a time perhaps only a couple of seconds. I suspect they switched direction to another door and just walked in, but I don’t know. They then started yelping nonsensically, perhaps in Russian and started pushing people around. The students inside were having none of it. Between the guests and the security, they were wrestled to the floor, their numbers thinned and they were cornered.

Some were escorted past me through reception and were kicked out. Most never made it through reception. A police officer later told me that the rest had legged it out the back way and over Waterloo Bridge. One sad-act was spotted hanging around outside for while and then it was all over, except that everyone now had to work their way to the pub.

There is a lot exaggeration on Twitter. Even the Washington Examiner says “Violent protests also erupted outside the event hall, which led the college to bar all non-student ticket holders from attending the event”, implying the events were quite protracted. They have messed up the timeline in a way that amplifies the Antifa’s effect. There was only one small group that tried to get in, gave us all some verbal and then sloped off. I’d be surprised in six made it to the hall and they did not stay long. The real damage was done by the smoke bomb which caused an immediate evacuation. In a large building, any issue which stops the fire alarm system from working to detect a new fire is deemed a cause for evacuation. As soon as that smoke bomb went off, Antifa had sealed the deal.

What is truly scary is that, for most of us, the event was effectively cancelled hours before any of this occurred. There were 147 clicks on a Facebook event that never took place. There was one threatening tweet. That was all it really took. Those tweets and clicks are what really stopped the show. We need to be able to talk to each other and should not be stopped by threats. Nor should we be stopped by what happened afterwards. The current situation is not a situation that society can tolerate. The solution to this cannot be more private violence, this is the proper domain of the state and of the police.

 

LATER:

Yaron Brook did a live stream from his hotel last night and mentioned a possible protest within the building:

Obviously I was restricted to the foyer and he was locked in the green room under guard. Our perspectives don’t match on whether there was a protest. I find it very odd that I was speaking to the silver haired head of security and put it to him that we should go in because there was no protest. He did not correct that point.

I believe this gentleman was taken to hospital which is a shame because he seemed like a good guy.

 

Take the hypothetical seriously

“What if this happens?”, “What would you do in this case?”, “Imagine this happens…”, “Let’s say this happened…”, “What could have been in case this had happened?”, “Suppose you were in this situation…”. These are all examples of how we use language to describe hypothetical situations, and according to professor James Flynn, those statements are central to any moral debate, as it is practically impossible to formulate any moral argument without using such language.

Another key aspect implied in the use of those sentences, is that when they are used the listener must take the hypothetical seriously in order to understand what the speaker is trying to say, failure to do so will result in a complete misalignment between the interlocutors, and no progress is going to be achieved. Flynn’s example illustrates this perfectly, let’s look at this conversation between a morally worried person and his “racially biased” friend:

Person A: “Imagine you woke up tomorrow, and the skin of your colour changed to black, wouldn’t you feel bad being judged by other people only because of that?”
Person B: “This argument makes no sense! When was the last time you saw a person waking up the other day with a different skin colour?!”

In this case, Person B failed to take the hypothetical seriously, either by unwillingness to imagine the situation, or as Flynn argues, by sheer incapacity to do so. In this talk he explains why with each generation comes great improvement in IQ scores, and what are the skills that drive this progress. Taking the hypothetical seriously, according to his research, is only one of the factors that explain why we are becoming more intelligent, and why we are capable of having increasingly complex debates.

This strikes a really big chord with me as a libertarian, I can’t count the amount of times my arguments were met with similar responses as the one in the example above, and it is so frustrating because after all libertarianism is about imagining a better world, and criticising the current understanding about politics and morals. With time people become used to the way things work, and sometimes it is hard to imagine a different world, where things are radically different. I know all libertarians have experienced this problem to a higher or lesser degree in their conversations, and I know it is easy to just judge people as unable to understand what is evident to you, however it is not that obvious, as your ‘opponent’ might not have spent that much time thinking about the specific scenario you have so clear in your mind, and you may also fall short of imagination, so I suggest that next time when making these kinds of arguments, try to express the scenarios as clear as possible, and to persuade the listener to imagine the world of your dreams, let’s not allow the failure of imagination to stand on liberty’s way.

The Maduro Regime is going very well, thanks!

It has been well over a year since I wrote a couple of articles for this blog talking about Venezuela, which you can find here and here. Today, I come back, to once again, cast our attention on our fellow men, perishing, being abused and starving to death under Nicolas Maduro.

It will never cease to infuriate me how blasé the world has been towards Venezuela’s struggle. Seems to me very counter intuitive that no other country in the world is considering action, taking into consideration the country’s oil reserves and  previous interference in the Middle East, allegedly for the very same reason.  Well, you see, I am a Libertarian at core and against intervention of other states in general. Venezuela however is making me actually wish for something to be done. Where are the humanitarian charities ? The level of suffering, clear revocation of rights to life, speech, movement are topped with actual infliction of torture and death, directly by the authoritarian Bolivarian state,  surely are to be compared with atrocities dignified with more assertive responses.

Recent reports only help raising more questions, and eyebrows, as a staggering 87% of Venezuelans are reportedly now under the poverty stats. When it comes to food, 6 out of 10 lost an average of 11 pounds of body mass in 2017, not for fitness purposes (don’t go getting any ideas, NHS, Corbyn) and 9 out of 10 are unable to afford daily food.

Venezuelans have been fleeing for refuge in bordering countries, with a reported 40,000 seeking refuge in Brazil alone in the last few months, triggering talks of declaring a “state of social emergency” in the latter country. The numbers are even more dramatic when it comes to immigration to Colombia, as over half a million Venezuelans have now migrated into the neighboring country. Colombia has passed tighter border control, which only spiked the number Venezuelan immigrants trying to beat the upcoming rules. The government creates “solutions”, humans go around it, or in this case, across it. Ian Bremmer, from the Eurasia Group, has labelled this, the world’s “least-talked-about” immigration crisis”.

With Inflation set to hit a 13,000% in 2018 according to the International Monetary Fund, despite Maduro’s attempt to enter the Cryptocurrency world with the Venezuelan Petro. The expected desperation of the affected population leads us to question again and again how can anyone ignore on the next Venezuelan’s Elections. In April, only one man will be running for the Presidency. Yes, you might have guessed it, and rightly so, Nicolas Maduro. No other person in the whole country will stand against the dictator’s candidacy, not even as a cover up.

It is in times like this, that I question our resolve to do anything for freedom, for life.

 

 

Featured image © Joka Madruga

Water Monopolies demand Smart Meter installation

Water, the stuff piped into your home and er… out again, is a privatised industry in the UK. Like many of the Thatcher era privatisations it works on the principle of a regional monopoly. So, in the Thames region we have “Thames Water”. There are no alternatives.

Therefore when Thames Water says it is going to make a change then it is like Lando Calrissian vs Darth Vader. They can change the terms of the agreement, and if you don’t like it you get to move house in a hurry. This week, apart from when it is snowing, Thames Water has been busy making just such a change in my road. They have dug up pavements to put in Smart Meters. These gadgets sit under the road and are attached to the water supply into your home. They watch what you use and you get to pay for it. I have had a letter and a visit to my door to tell me this is happening and there is no choice in the matter.

Superficially this does appears to be at least a reasonable change. The status quo allows unfettered use of water, but home water use is very sensitive to lifestyle choices and by definition, those are private choices. The classic example of tension arising over from this is during water shortages. Suddenly gardeners are a public nuisance and you get a “hose-pipe ban”. It does seem reasonable that gardeners, and those who like to run a bath, etc, should all pay for their luxuries. In fact, compared to a hose pipe ban this is maximises both liberty and accountability.

I have three objections to this narrative:

The particular meters being installed are able to measure water usage by the hour. That high-definition reporting of water use is already enough to raise privacy concerns. It is enough to show which houses are empty, how many people live there, what hours do they keep and a little about what they do. Why did No 43 have a shower at 3am? That is a question that exactly nobody outside no 43 should be asking.

Going back to gardeners. Not all gardeners are growing pretty flowers, or keeping immaculate lawns. It is less common in the Thames region than, say, Norfolk but some gardeners will in fact be growing food. If these growers are pensioners on fixed incomes then they are very sensitive to price changes. In an area where there are a lot of small holders, like Norfolk, then clever gardening can lower water usage below the average for the area, so a meter might help. This is less likely in the Thames region, where household expenses are already high. This turns the narrative upside down. These are high-water users who are not rich people enjoying luxuries, but poor people struggling to feed themselves.

That some gardeners are growing their food is not the only reason to lay off them. Indeed, I would go further. Unless we accept and endorse the self-interested pursuit of luxury then our world will be devoid of beauty, art, and ultimately hope. I would like anyone using more water to pay their way, but I want to highlight the difference between paying your way and being punished for doing something good. The latter is not a welcome aspect of the narrative.

What would I do? Well as I said water meters, compared to hose pipe bans would seem to maximise both liberty and accountability. They are therefore an improvement which ought to be welcomed. We are lucky we now have the technology for them. If it is feasible to offer a flat-rate service then I would like that to be an option in the market but the real problem is in the details. The data handling, security, the rate card, accurate measurement etc. Water companies ought to be accountable to customers over those details. Today water companies are closely regulated monopolies. The myriad problems likely to come up will be resolved only very slowly and reluctantly, if at all. We deserve a better model. We deserve the right to be able to choose who we deal with in every aspect of our lives.

Achieving consumer choice for household water would seem to be difficult for practical and technological reasons. Solving those problems is an issue for an entrepreneur or inventor, but we must recognise an uncomfortable imbalance of power for what it is.

Gun control doesn’t work!

Given that the debate on gun rights in the US is flaring up again, let me sum up the situation in Switzerland. I’m Swiss and I’ve been fighting for gun rights for almost 30 years now. When I say that gun control “does not work”, I mean “it does not result in the desired outcome”, which is, supposedly, less crime and less violence.

Until the end of the 1980s, I didn’t even realize how good we had it – from 1848 until 1998, gun laws were Canton laws. A Canton is like a US State. Each has its own constitution, parliament, laws and taxes. As late as 1998, most cantons (more than 60%) had Vermont-style carry laws, meaning you could carry – openly or concealed – whatever gun you wanted, handgun, assault rifle, didn’t matter. In most of the other cantons, a carry permit could be obtained quite easily.

Buying guns was and is easy: before 1999, it was legal to buy any long gun without a permit or registration. I know, I bought a various long guns as you would buy groceries, including a pump action rifle and a Steyr AUG. Handguns required a purchasing permit, which was – and is – a mere formality. It costs 50 CHF per permit and 1 permit allows the purchase of 1 to 3 guns from the same seller and you have to present a copy of your judicial record, to prove that you are not condemned for any violent crime.

Up until 2007, it was legal to buy guns privately without a permit, with a simple contract confirming that the gun had been sold. Since 2008, we have to obtain a purchasing permit even when buying a gun from another individual.

I was given my first assault rifle when I was 19, on joining the army. I kept it at home for the entire duration while I was officially a member of the militia army, although I did my service as civilian IT developer. After I left the army, it became my private property. When I returned my military equipment, they asked me if I wanted to keep my rifle and I said: “Well obviously”, so they made a slight modification to remove the full-auto mode and I could take it back home with me.

I still have it. It’s a SIG 510, far more powerful than almost anything people buy today. It has a 24 shot magazines. A bullet fired from this rifle can punch through 10 cm of concrete at a distance of 100m. Normal training distance is 300m.

I used to live in Canton Vaud (which is on lake Geneva, with capital Lausanne), one of the biggest cantons. Swiss French. It was one of the totally free carry states, so I actually carried my Beretta 92FS openly, in a holster, which generated a lot of useful dialogues, as most people were not even aware of this right or that we were going to lose it.

Our homicide rate and violent crime in general were so low that no one ever worried about it, If there ever was an armed robbery, it made the national news for weeks. In other words, no one was crazy enough to attempt an armed robbery, knowing that any bystander might carry a gun.

There were – and still are – an average of 3 guns per household. Collectors, like me, obviously drive up the average. About 50% of all households own at least one gun – military or private.

In 1997, the pro-EU crowd in our government decided that they wanted to join Schengen, so our gun rights were in the way and they created a federal gun law, which we never got to vote on – they knew that it would not pass. I tried to convince Pro Tell to run a referendum, but they were all like “Meuh, all they really prohibit is gun carry and we don’t need that, it’s sooooo safe here”.

I told them “It’s safe because we have the right to carry. If we lose that right, we’ll wish we could carry!”

Guess what? I was right!

The new law was applicable in 1999. That year, violent crime rose by 15% (the previous increase had been +1% per year since 1990, due to mass immigration from ex-Yugoslavia, close to 300’000 Albanians and 200’000 Serbs and Croatians).

By now, we have at least 600% more violent crime than we did in 1998. It’s difficult to get exact numbers, because they keep messing with the statistics. They no longer count a lot of offenses, they embellish them and rate them as a lesser offense etc. But the simple fact is that people no longer feel as safe as they used to.

Yes, our homicide rate is still very low – around 0.75 per 100,000 and despite the widely available guns, only 40% of all homicides are committed with guns, which proves that it is not “easier” to kill with a gun.

We are still allowed to use gun in self-defense and if we carry illegally, but use a gun out of necessity, it’s also considered legitimate.

The self-defense law is extremely simple and straight forward – this is the official text of the law from admin.ch:

Art. 15
Legitimate self-defence
If any person is unlawfully attacked or threatened with imminent attack, the person attacked and any other person are entitled to ward off the attack by means that are reasonable in the circumstances.
Art. 16
Mitigatory self-defence
1 If a person in defending himself exceeds the limits of self-defence as defined in Article 15 and in doing so commits an offence, the court shall reduce the sentence.
2 If a person in defending himself exceeds the limits of self-defence as a result of excusable excitement or panic in reaction to the attack, he does not commit an offence.

The latest case of armed self-defense where a home owner shot and wounded an intruder was decided by a court in 2012 – the home owner acted in legitimate self-defense:

In 2010, a peasant shot and killed a thief who tried to steal some of his – legal – hemp plantation. He was condemned to a 2 year suspended sentence, i.e. he didn’t actually have to go to prison for a single day.

So from 1848 to 1998 – for 150 years – we did not have a single mass shooting.
In 2001, i.e. 2 years after the gun carry ban, we had the first ever mass shooting in the parliament of Zug:

Since then, we’ve had several other, almost all of them with illegally obtained guns.
In at least 2 instances, the police had confiscated legally owned guns.

Armed robberies are now extremely common:

Clearly, criminals do NOT respect the carry prohibition.

And why should they?

If they get caught, only the most serious crime will be considered for their sentencing. So they will never be prosecuted simply for having carried a gun.

But normal citizens who do not commit crimes would be prosecuted ONLY for carrying, if caught.

So it’s like in the US: a law that only applies to honest citizens.

In the US, criminals officially are not forced to declare any guns they own or purchase, even in states that have laws for gun registration, because that would violate their 5th amendment rights. Confirmed by the Supreme Court.

Pretty dumb, right?

Here, from November last year:

Here in Geneva, criminal gangs from France no longer hesitate and attack ATMs with explosives.

That never happened, before 1999!

They weren’t crazy enough – any citizen could have been armed. In France, they committed extremely violent crimes since the 1980s, they even attacked armored trucks with anti-tank weapons. But they never tied any such thing in Switzerland.

They do now – armed robberies of banks, post offices and jewellery shops have become very common:

So tell me again how “gun control” made us safer!

Go ahead, try!