Out And Into The World

UK FlagWe actually did it. I was convinced for more than a year that the vote to leave the European Union would end up in a 60/40 result in favour of remaining. Once again, UK politics has confounded my expectations, and produced a result few predicted.

So what happens next? We have a new prime minister (in the form of Theresa May) and she’s stated that “Brexit means Brexit”, and has appointed serious “Brexiteers” to the task of negotiating our way out of the supranational entity.

But what exactly IS Brexit? It’s a negotiation that could have many different forms, so which is best?

I think the result probably helps inform this decision. People voted 52% for leaving the EU, and 48% against. A massive turnout with 17.5 million people voting to leave, in absolute terms that’s more people in the UK voting to leave than have voted on anything ever before.

But is it such an overwhelming majority that gives the government a huge mandate to pursue an aggressive and ambitious (and fast) Brexit? The numbers are large, but 52/48 is still pretty close. There’s a lot of people who bought into “project fear” and are deeply concerned about us leaving the EU. I think it’s important to bring those people on-side.
So Brexit absolutely means Brexit, but the closeness of the result should influence how we transition from being an EU member state to being an independent sovereign nation. It’ll take a little longer than a quick clean break, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

In the medium-term, there will be a limited series of economic wobbles, but nothing on the scale that “project fear” was threatening. Already their big scary warnings are starting to look a little silly, (I thought they did anyway to be honest). The threatened “emergency budget” never happened, but the drop in the value of sterling and the short-lived dip in markets did shake some people up. They saw it as the beginning of the Brexit warnings coming true. The question is, how can the 52% bring the 48% on-board?

A decent suggestion would be to create a situation where they see what leaving looks like, dipping our toe into the wider world if you will. After that, moving further out would be easier.

An idea I had would be to start talking right away to the EFTA countries (Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland), and secure our membership. It should be pretty straightforward. After all, it was the UK who created EFTA originally, as an alternative to the EEC.

Once a member of EFTA, we could leave the EU, retaining our membership of the EEA (European Economic Area). You don’t need to be an EU country to be party of the EEA, after all, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland are all EEA members (Switzerland has a series of bilateral deals with the EU that don’t require EEA membership).

As a non-EU EEA country, we retain tariff-free access to the single market on goods, services and capital. We could unilaterally invoke Article 112 of the EEA agreement to apply a handbrake on free movement (as it was an area of such concern for many who voted to leave). In return for an agreement of free-movement of people in the financial services sector, it might be easier to secure the so-called passporting rights to ply our lucrative financial services to the EU member states. And that means in return that Germany can make money selling us their cars, and France their cheese and wine. All tariff-free.

A couple of years of that arrangement, and I think two things would become clear to lots of the 48%: firstly, the free-trade deals forged with the rest of the world (that we can’t do while shackled to the EU) will become striking and valuable, with a strong possibility that we’ll get our self-confidence back. We may also end up thinking that these free trade deals are so good, that we couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of rejoining the EU and giving them up. There’s a whole world out there, and the possibilities surrounding rejoining it once out of the EU are too exciting to ignore.

Secondly, they will see, simply, that the sky did NOT fall in. Free trade continues with the EU states, and life goes on quite happily.

It’s from a position like that, that we can start to unpick the EEA agreements, and replace them with a series of bilateral agreements, Swiss-style. Plus, our current laws and regulations will remain on the books, each only being rejected and altered as and when we want to. That’s not so scary.

The future outside the EU is bright and full of promise. My sincere hope is that in time, even great swathes of the 48% get to see it too, once we’re out and into the world.

Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo pencil cartoonAt the time of writing, the sick and twisted individuals behind the Charlie Hebdo attack have yet to be arrested or killed. Reports of an explosion near where they were located are coming in, and we await the events in Dammartin-En-Goele with great interest.

The horrific images coming out of the massacre in Paris don’t deserve to be reposted here. But the outpouring of libertarianism around the world does. Free speech, in all its forms, is suddenly very popular. I hope it lasts.

How can anyone not be touched by the creativity, courage, solidarity and beauty that almost immediately sprung forth from the cartoonist community?

I’ve been a little concerned at the line that we’re hearing in some places already that goes along the lines of “I agree that no one should be killed for drawing cartoons and I condemn  these attacks, but…”

No.

I’m sorry, no. There is no “but”. You only know you have the right and moral position, when you can defend the very things you disapprove of. Voltaire’s quote about defending what someone says – not matter how strongly you disagree – applies fully today. Especially today.

Any concession against speech or free expression, no matter how hateful or disagreeable that expression, must be removed. Otherwise we’ll be forever stuck with cartoons like this:

Etremist approved cartoon

(Except, in the future, it won’t be a poignant joke.)

Why We Should Celebrate Magna Carta Day

It's 'Magna Carta Day' on June 15th, and for my money, it's much better celebration of what it means to be English, than the tired old esoteric St George's day, which has just become an excuse to endulge in vague piffle to do with “what does it mean to be English”, without giving any real answer. Except for something about a dragon. That didn't exist.

If we really want to celebrate England's contribution to the world, it should be about the best gift our nation gave the rest of the world – namely, the rule of law.

Throughout the Commonwealth – and, indeed, the Anglosphere more generally – The “Great Charter of Freedom” is venerated and highly respected. Sadly, here in the country of its origin, we seem to have forgotten about it entirely.

So, on June 15th, take a moment to remember England's great contribution to the world, that radical, revolutionary truth: we, as human beings, are born free. And any tyrant who claims otherwise, is sorely mistaken.

 

Ukriane: Putin’s Fault, or Russia’s?

An interesting, and unique take on Russia’s interference in Ukraine from Reason’s David Harsanyi.

I’ve mentioned a few times about the difference between freedom and democracy, and how (unfortunately) democracy often unfairly trumps freedom. It’s fascinating to see it in a real-world context that is tragically unfolding before our eyes.

The Secret to World Peace

Summed up better by libertarian magicians Penn & Teller than almost anyone else:

Yup. That.

DRM on eBooks

wbookA great post on TechDirt about an ebook publisher that hasn’t seen any significant increase in piracy since they stopped using DRM (Digital Rights Management, or copy-protection) on their titles.

If anything, the number of copies purchased increased. I always thought this would happen if you sell your digital products that are more aligned to what the market wants – i.e. a very good price and with no restrictions on where you can make use of them – you will always be better off.

If you have heavy copyright restrictions on a song, TV show, movie or ebook, the pirated version is actually better than the legit version. And you’ve just created a kind of moral hazard – there is now an almost valid reason or motivation to remove that copy-protection and once you’ve done that, why not just add it to a file sharing site or torrent? Where as if you just have it available cheaply, and copyright-free, people just buy it, use it, and – generally at least – have less motivation to share it. Just buy it yourself dude, and use it however you’d like.

Now let’s be clear, I’m a hypocrite. All of my books are available on the Nook, Kindle iPad, etc. And all of them have DRM. But that’s seldom a decision that’s made by the author. That’s a publisher/distributor issue. And I’d love to have no DRM on my books. In fact, DRM-free pdf versions of most of my books are available and as far as I’m aware, it hasn’t increased piracy on my books one jot.

Where Adam Smith Stands

Adam SmithAdam Smith’s philosophy is not an easy concept to grasp. The principles are straightforward, but wading into his book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” is not a task to be taken lightly.

However, there’s a new and fascinating breakdown of the pertinent details that has been grafted together by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that’s worth checking out.

It’s a big wordy though. Thankfully Matt Zwolinski over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians has got an excellently-written summary of the whole thing, that provides a nice overview and commentary.

If only the powers that be were a little more like Adam Smith, and a little less like Melvyn King…

Andy Jones TV Season 5 Episode 3

The trouble with the philosophy of Objectivism is that many have a hard time divorcing it from Ayn Rand, the philosopher who advanced the concept. I think that’s a mistake – and leads to a lot of misunderstandings about an essentially decent and moral philosophy:

Andy Jones TV Season 5 Episode 2

A lot of people wonder when the more libertarian period was in human history. Just the other day someone proudly pronounced to me that it was 1790. Really? I bet if you were a black slave in the cotton fields you’d have a very different point of view.

I think the most libertarian time is now:

A Guns Schools and Violence Reality Check

The recent mass-shootings in the US are nothing short of tragic. But we have to remember that they’re an anomaly. These things don’t happen that often and you’re probably more likely to win the lottery than be killed in a mass-shooting. This doesn’t distract from the real pain and suffering that the people involved are going through. But you can’t legislate against statistical anomalies.

There’s calls to not only regulate guns, but also some really unpleasant stuff being said about people with Asberger’s Syndrome. Seriously? Do we really think this 100% non-violent mental illness is responsible for the killings in the Sandy Hook Elementary School? The perpetrator of that crime did have Asberger’s – but that wasn’t why he committed that crime. He did it because he was a violently disturbed individual.

And the calls to ban ‘violent’ video games have come around again. Apparently he played “Call of Duty” a lot. No kidding. No offense grandpa, but so does everyone else under 40. He also probably brushed his teeth with Colgate. Shall we ban that too? Video games are the current thing that parents and authority figures fear, though they’re something that young people enjoy, and the generation before just don’t understand.

Stated differently, video games are the new rock ‘n roll. Remember Charles Manson saying that the Beatles inspired him to commit his horrific crimes? Remember the calls of how “rock & roll has got to go”? If you were born between 1945-1975, you’ll probably remember how crazy it sounded when your parents and government-types screamed that nonsense. Well baby-boomers, I’m sorry to say you’re doing the same thing to us here in Generation Wired. Video games are the new rock & roll and you might just never get it, the way your parents didn’t get The Rolling Stones or Elvis. Or the way their parents didn’t get Miles Davis and Chet Baker.

That’s just my feelings on this. Remember that saying “If someone says ‘there ought to be a law’, there probably oughtn’t”? I think that summarises the hysteria against guns at the moment. (And the hysteria for them, if you’re conspiracy theorist Alex Jones I guess).

So in the interest of a little objective sanity, here’s an important video from one of my favourite commentators and journalists out there, reason.com‘s Nick Gillespie:

Just to recap Nick’s points: Violent crime (including violent crime involving guns) has fallen significantly in the last 20 years. Murder, rape, assaults are half of what they were in the early 1990s. And according to the US Department of Justice’s own figures, violent crime involving the use of weapons has fallen at the same rate.

There’s no correlation that suggests mass shootings have increased in recent years. Simply, they haven’t. The data is clear. And mass-killings more generally actually peaked in the US in 1929 (the year of a particularly awful tragedy at the hands of a pyromaniac, if I’m not mistaken).

According to the National Centre for Education Statistics, schools are significantly safer now than they were 20 years ago: the violent crime victimisation rate fell from 53 per 1,000 students to 14. An incredible fall of 74% from the early 90s.

At the time of writing, there’s now only two states that don’t have ‘right to carry’ laws in the US (i.e. laws that mean you can carry a concealed handgun). The unprecedented liberalisation (in the proper sense of the word) means that there’s over 300 million guns in the US and at least one in 45% of all households. All this despite the massive fall in gun-related violent crime. In fact, the proliferation of guns in America that are held by law-abiding citizens are probably a reason why the crimes are falling. A legally held gun is significantly more likely to be used to prevent a crime than instigate one.

And as Nick points out, this call for bans on “assault weapons” (there’s a correlation between how passionately someone wants to ban them and their inability to define what one actually is), would lead to no change in the level of gun crime. And that’s at best. A report by the US governments National Criminal Justice Reference Service concludes in a comprehensive study (where you get the feeling they really wanted to prove assault weapons should be outlawed): “Should [the so-called assault weapon ban] be renewed, the ban’s effects would on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”

We don’t need new laws. We just need to morn the loss of these precious people that we have lost. You want to solve the problems of the world? We libertarians cracked that a long time ago: More freedom. More love.