CO066 Yaron Brook on Healthcare and Cellphones

Yaron Brook is an entrepreneur, podcaster and writer, and the current chairman of the board at the Ayn Rand Institute. You can watch his video that I raised here.

Despite the NHS providing universal healthcare for everyone in the UK, the British government spends a lower percentage of UK GDP, and a far lower dollar amount on healthcare than the US government does; and the US government spending on healthcare is only about half of the total spend, while most people in the UK don’t bother with any further health insurance. 

The UK is considerably poorer than the US, and would rank last or close to last if it were a state of the US, depending on the exchange rate used and other technical measurements.

While life expectancy largely tracks health spending in OECD countries, the US is stark exception to this trend; despite vastly higher health spending, average life expectancy at birth in the USA is 78.8, compared with 81.4 in the UK. Yaron suggested that this was because of confounding racial factors, however the US population group most closely matching the UK, non-Hispanic whites, have a life expectancy of 78.9, still well below the UK figure.

A very adequate cellphone plan in Germany can cost €8 (less than US$10) per month. Equivalent plans in the us are rarely available for less than US$20 per month.

Use of SMS messages was widespread in Europe by the year 2000, but was not popularised in the US until 2007/08, where the absence of a common standard between cellphone companies inhibited growth.

The common external power supply directive from the European Union has ensured that almost all devices can be charged with any charger. The sole holdout, Apple, is likely to be forced to comply. Despite this directive having no authority outside the EU, electronics companies have largely not bothered to manufacture non-compliant devices, suggesting that the EU directive does not prevent innovation.


You don’t hear much music on podcasts, there’s a reason for that, it’s a legal copyright thing, you mostly can’t play well-known music on a podcast, and even when you can, you can’t play much of it, but that in the background there is by David Bowie, I suppose he’s pretty well known, or he was at least, depending on your generation.

That’s a track from his album Heroes, released in 1977 but I’ll get back to why I’m playing it in a while.

Anyway, in the meantime I wanted to talk a bit about the people I don’t have on the podcast. Well, it’s obvious who I do have on the podcast if you listen at all. Generally what I do is when I hear about someone who I think is interesting, I send them an email or a tweet or whatever and a lot of them are good enough to come back to me and take the time to record, and you listeners hear the results. Sometimes people contact me to suggest someone I should have on, and sometimes people get in touch to suggest themselves, and that’s all fine.

I like to have lots of different voices, different viewpoints, from right across the political spectrum, and people with views that don’t really fit anywhere on the spectrum. But I’ve noticed that there are some viewpoints that are really hard to persuade anyone to speak about. In fact, there’s two in particular.

You might remember that a few weeks back I had Linda Bellos, the veteran British feminist on the podcast. She’s a grandmother in her 60s, but she had no difficulty in putting across her point of view, she particularly was against trans women – that’s to say people born male who have transitioned to female – she is particularly against them being regarded as women in the true sense. There’s obviously a whole other side to that argument, and I’d love to have  somebody on who is a trans activist, or just has a different opinion to Linda Bellos to hear their views.

So I researched, I contacted a bunch of people at different advocacy groups, bloggers, put out a call on Reddit. No go. I only got one response, that was from an activist who asked me detailed questions about how the interview would be conducted. When I get an email like that my heart sinks, I get the feeling that the person is fishing for an excuse to say no, so I have a standard text that I send back, which basically says that the interview is for them to express their views, they will be treated respectfully, I never edit the interview in a misleading way, but of course I will ask whatever questions I think are relevant. And like almost always when I send that standard text, I never hear anything back.

So no interview yet with a trans activist, but I’m more than happy to have one if I can get a guest to come on, so guys, and girls, and anyone anywhere in between, get in touch, I’d be delighted to have a chat with you.

Then there is a second point of view that I have been trying to get on the podcast. It’s not like this is a marginal opinion. Well maybe it is marginal, but it’s not like there is any lack of voices making the claim. It’s been heard for example on Fox News.

The basic claim is that there exist in European cities Muslim-controlled areas, where Sharia law applies, either legally or de facto, depending on who you are listening to, and that these are no-go-zones where non-Muslims cannot or will not go. As well as being featured on Fox News, this claim is hugely popular on right-wing blogs and YouTube. Various posters have given very detailed descriptions of what they call Muslim enclaves in European cities, where Christians are either formally or informally excluded, where supposed Muslim patrols confront or harass people who drink alcohol, women who don’t cover their faces with veils or anyone who isn’t a Muslim. Typically these stories contain lots of other juicy details, such as that the no-go zones are spreading rapidly, that even armed police are afraid to enter them, and that this is all somehow the fault of whatever politician the poster doesn’t like on the day.

But there is one detail that they pretty much never give about the no-go zones. Where are they?

It’s not like you could hide a whole district of a city.

There are thousands of versions of this story online and in other media, and almost none of them specify where you could actually find a no-go zone. Lots of them give vague hints, say that they are everywhere in Europe, in every major city, but very few actually where. And when they do, the problems are more obvious. Here’s what one commentator said on Fox News:

If either Fox News or Steve Emerson, that’s who was speaking there, supposedly a terrorism expert, and if either he or Fox News had bothered to check the UK census figures on Wikipedia, they would see that Birmingham is the second biggest city in the UK, the metro area has about 3.6 million people, and that 46 per cent of the population is Christian, and a further 25 per cent have no religion, they’re typically people who came from a Christian background who  are no longer religious.

Muslims are less than 22 per cent of the population.

The then conservative prime minister, David Cameron didn’t hold back, he called Steve Emerson an idiot, and Emerson issued a grovelling apology.  Basically the same thing happened when Fox News displayed a map of Paris, with a series of areas marked out in red, and claimed that they were no-go zones. People analysed the map, and it was clear that the areas were basically marked at random. Fox News issued a withdrawal, of sorts, the next day, in the face of huge online ridicule.

But despite this, there are still many thousands of postings and websites online that claim these supposed no-go-zones do exist. They are long on rhetoric about how Muslims have taken over, and short on details of exactly where they have taken over.

I got into a discussion on Facebook recently on a group where there were literally dozens of people telling each other this story, in this case relating to Germany, and I asked a pretty simple question. Where are they? I won’t go into what I was called for doubting such a sacred tenet of their belief system, but it’s enough to say the conversation went round in circles quite a bit. Over and over I was called blind, a denier, unwilling to look at the evidence and each time I would just ask for the evidence. Where are these no-go zones.

And, eventually, someone answered me. They posted a long piece of text that made me suspect that it was copied from somewhere else, so I googled a chunk of it, and I was right, it was pulled from an article by Soren Kern, a guys you heard in one of the Fox News clips.

And this is where I go back to the David Bowie track.

The article by Soren Kern gave a list of supposed no-go zones in Germany, and first on the list was Berlin Neukölln. And that track that I’m playing in the background, is actually called Neukölln. I’m not sure why he called it that, but David Bowie was living in Berlin – though not in Neukölln – when he recorded that album.

And also, long after Bowie, I lived in Neukölln, for about five years, so I know the place really well. Berlin, by the way is by far the city in Germany with the most Muslims, about half a million,  maybe five times more than the next biggest Muslim population. I’m still in Berlin, I was back in Neukölln in the last few days so I think I can say that the claim that it is a no-go zone for non-Muslims is total nonsense.  Neukölln is certainly one of the less well-off areas of Berlin, there are certainly many immigrants there, but the huge majority of people are white, ethnic Germans, and many of the immigrants are from other European countries, like I was.

I can’t get a religious breakdown, but about 18 per cent of the people are from immigrant stock from Muslim-majority countries. There was a mosque around the corner from my apartment, it wasn’t purpose built, just a room on the ground floor of an apartment building. I never saw anyone going in or out, although I’m sure they did. It is directly opposite a Bulgarian Orthodox church, which seemed to me much more actively used.

In the years I lived in Neukölln, I once – once – saw a woman wearing a face-covering. Some Muslim women do wear headscarves, but they were far and away in the minority among Muslims, let alone in the wider population.

In all the years I lived there, the only crime I witnessed was people smoking dope in the street, which is pretty common all over Berlin. It’s difficult to compare most crime statistics internationally because of differences in reporting and recording; the best statistic to compare is the murder rate, because a murder is a murder anywhere, and is certain to show up in statistics. The murder rate in the US is 5.6 per hundred thousand. In Berlin, it’s 1.8.

Now there is social change going on in Neukölln, but it’s exactly the opposite of what Soren Kern claimed. Neukölln is being rapidly gentrified. Property prices have gone up five-fold in the past 10 years. You can’t turn around without seeing a newly opened bar, chic restaurant or organic supermarket. Many of the non-European immigrants are actually Americans who are looking for a cool place to live while they work in a tech start-up.

So when I see Neukölln being put at the top of the list of supposed no-go zones, it seems wildly inaccurate to me. And, that’s exactly what I would like to ask one of those commentators about. I’ve invited Soren Kern, or any other spokesperson from his organisation onto the podcast, along with other commentators. So far no answer.