Friday, 5 August 2016

Economists will never understand Brexit

Some would have it that we voted to leave because Brits are stupid and racist and don't know what's good for them. This is the view of LSE and the Financial Times. They would have it that Brexit was an act of self harm because the gormless British public were conned into believing all manner of falsehoods. I would be lying if I pretended there wasn't an element of that but these are the hardcore leavers who were never going to vote any other way. But more than anything the vote was a rejection of a remain campaign that above all insisted that there is no alternative.

We saw a procession of smug, self congratulatory pious individuals making a virtue of their love of all things EU, heaping grim prognostications on us by the day on what would happen should we defy their sage advice. Now that the votes have been cast bewildered remainers are in a tailspin wondering what they did wrong. Why would we be so reckless as to ignore their prestigious advice?

For a start they need to get past the idea that voters lack any agency and are incapable of weighing up a variety of opinions, and nobody can complain that the remain message was not heard. Everybody who voted will have heard a prestigious economic opinion repeating the mantra that Brexit is universally bad. So why would they ignore the experts?

Here we find that the tables turn. If anyone is massively thick it's the economists who still genuinely don't understand why their advice was ignored. In the post-Brexit debate they persist in putting it down to a dislike of foreigners (because that's the only possible explanation, right?) but every poll shows that sovereignty came first and foremost.

Now we can talk about sovereignty til the cows come home and what it means in theory and in practice but what it means to most people is that Britain should have the final word on the laws that govern it. This is something people feel quite strongly about. As do I. It is also something we would pay a price for. As it happens, if I am willing to fight and die for democracy then I'm not going to let a short recession dissuade me am I?

And then let's look at the economic forecasts themselves. All of them are based on the three commonly accepted Brexit models. The WTO option (which isn't going to happen), The Swiss Option (which doesn't actually exist) or the Norway Option (which is suboptimal but achievable). Pick any economic forecast based on these models (ie all of them) and they trot out the usual tired arguments. None of them see any advantages. Why? Because none of them want to.

As it happens there are some distinct advantages to the EEA/Norway option. This blog has discussed them at length, as have others. I am not going to rehearse those arguments here. All I will say is that if those producing these Brexit forecasts had factored in some of these arguments then the debate would be cracked wide open and would present a lot of awkward questions.

Since these remainer economists are also remain activists the very last thing they want to do is acknowledge a weakness in their case so the response is to ignore it. In so doing they build a perfect world where they possess all the answers and so long as they can exclude those who intrude with inconvenient facts then they can present a case that has no weaknesses.

But in politics, a case without weaknesses looks like what it is. Propaganda. And though the man on the Clapham omnibus doesn't hold an economics degree, he knows a sales pitch when he sees it. And like any sales pitch, you don't look at the pitch, you examine the salesman. And when you look at the salesmen you find smarmy, smug, condescending, sanctimonious turds. And that is why we ignore the experts.

Now that's it's all over, the losers are now engaged in a game of confirmation seeking, looking for any scrap of evidence that proves them right. There's almost a Punch and Judy tone to it. "Aaahh! We said this would happen" they say - as though it were only just dawning on us leave voters that they were right. As it happens there were one or two negative economic projections that did get it right and I even published them on this blog before the referendum. It doesn't actually matter that they were right. The bottom line is that we don't care.

If you're a parent or an uncle or aunt, you're not thinking how Brexit affects you in the next five to ten years. You're thinking about what kind of country you want to pass on. Do we want to be a shadow state inside a greater EU, with Brussels calling the shots, or do we want to be a country in our own right with a functioning democracy? The remainers may be right in the end that Brexit doesn't give us that - but it might.

The only certainty is that remaining in the EU guarantees we will have nothing of the sort. A leave vote is a gamble. We're gambling a lot on the belief that Britain has endured worse and come out stronger for it. No economic model can speak to that. The mistake of economists and FT hacks is assuming that the British public are as shortsighted, narrow-minded, selfish and shallow as they are. That is why they will never understand why we voted to leave.

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