Monday, November 07, 2016


So on Tuesday we will learn whether the USA is going to take the UK's crown as having the World's Most Stupid Electorate. Predictions are apparently quite close, with putting the odds around 2:1 at the time of writing. Colorado is a particularly close state, not that you'd know it from Boulder of course. I ran past a Trump poster on Sunday, and someone in the group I was with mentioned it was only the second one they had seen.

I've written about brexit before, and it's shocking to see how little progress has been made in the intervening 4+ months. Perhaps the most significant change is that brexit is now an official word in the Collins English dictionary, so I can use it without embarassment (I mean, without embarassment about the word - embarassment about the shambles itself is less easily cast aside).

Apart from that, we've got the unedifying and dangerous spectacle of those who called for the sovereignty of British Parliament, now denouncing this sovereignty as anti-democratic - and worse, labelling judges who upheld it with the chilling Nazi-era “Enemies of the people” slogan.

Great to see the Telegraph get in on the act too, patriotic poppy and all. And rather than supporting the independence of the judiciary, the govt response was to issue mealy-mouthed evasions about the importance of  a free press. So much for the so-called Party of Law and Order.

It's blatantly obvious that the reason May doesn't want to reveal her cunning plan to parliament is that there is no plan. What is more puzzling is how those who are supposed to be among the brightest and best minds in the country haven't yet worked out the problem, which is quite simply that there is no “good brexit”; there is no sensible way though the process of cutting ourselves off from our largest trading partners and source of much-needed labour. Yet the Three Brexiteers are still blethering on with their idiot fantasies about how we can pick and choose exactly what we want from the EU27, and they will just roll over and accept it. Economics isn't everything and no doubt there are quite a number of xenophobes who would think a recession is a price well worth paying to reduce the number of young europeans coming here, studying in our universities and/or working and paying taxes. What's more troublesome from my own point of view is the growth of anti-rational populism fed by deliberately malicious and dishonest politicians and the media.

Of course the question is not even whether brexit is a good idea or not. Brexit isn't an idea at all, it's an incoherent mishmash of contradictory ideas, connected only in that they involve some change from the status quo. The vote for brexit is the logical equivalent of voting to go out for dinner - we might all agree that my cooking isn't great but if one person thinks they've been promised a curry, another is wanting to go to a French restaurant and a third is expecting fish and chips - and all have been promised that it will be completely free, in fact they'll be paid to eat it - then there is likely to be disappointment and disagreement as a result. As the chant goes: “What do we want? Well if you didn't know why did you vote leave?” At least, that's how it should go.

Jules says (quite rightly) that I shouldn't just criticise without coming up with a solution. What would I do? Well, nothing has change my previous opinion that the only reasonable solution is to abandon the process. This will take a lot of backtracking now that May has backed herself into a corner so firmly, but the reality of the situation is that there is no plausible brexit that will actually satisfy the British public, and all options for change are substantially worse than the status quo in basically all aspects. Will this actually happen? I don't know, the betting odds give about 70% probability to article 50 being invoked next year, 30% probability to 2018 or later or not at all.

Still, at least we can all rely on the BBC to do its patriotic duty and bend over backwards when some reactionary bigot demands that they play the national anthem at every opportunity:


David B. Benson said...

Yes, by all means sing "God Save the Queen" as all of England marches into the sea...

William M. Connolley said...

> opinion that the only reasonable solution is to abandon the process

Tricky, but perhaps not impossible. As we know, most MPs would favour it, but currently it isn't an opinion that's allowed to speak its name. So you have to imagine a set of circumstances that would allow it. Most business is opposed, too, but Big Banks are also everyone's pet hatred; so ironically, backing off the hate against business would help. Obviously, concessions from the EU would help too, particularly on free movement (or related matters; like making it more possible, or more obvious, not to give benefits to evil immigrants). Unfortunately the EU seems to focussed on being Tough-n-Stuff to do that. It's almost like they want us to leave. Obviously other things (like the EU being competent; see recent CETA-passing near-debacle) would also help, a bit.

FWIW my own view would be that if we have to go through with this, lets do it properly: hard Brexit, unilateral free trade with everyone, sack all the useless folk currently "negotiating".

EliRabett said...

So to hold Nissan, May told them what her plan was, of course, Nissan is 40+ % owned by Renault which is 20 % owned by the French Government and Eli is old enough to remember a Tom Lehrer song about how information travels. The only way to hold US, Chinese and Japanese business in the UK is tell them all the goodies they are going to get, and, of course, news travels fast.

andrew adams said...

Dinner means Dinner!

James Annan said...

Unilateral open trade as advocated by wmc is a nice utopian fantasy but I don't believe it would work in the real world.

William M. Connolley said...

> I don't believe it would work in the real world

In what sense? In that getting to it would be politically infeasible, or that if we did implement it something would go wrong? If the latter, what?

James Annan said...

In the sense that the damage to our domestic industry would be immediate and catastrophic. Unless we replace tariff barriers with regulatory barriers, which is hardly in the spirit of the idea.

Would be great for consumers, for a month or two, until they ran out of money :-)

William M. Connolley said...

That seems unlikely to me. Speaking as someone who works in "domestic" industry, it would have no significant impact on my work. What kinds of things are you thinking of, and why are you so sure?

James Annan said...

I'm talking initially about the sort of stuff that will get swamped with imports from places with cheaper land and/or labour, including food, all sorts of chinese technology and materials also comes to mind. You might personally be ok for a while, but are you really confident that China won't just undercut you, even if it means a short-term loss for them? is a typical opinion. No, I'm not "so sure" that I'm right. I just said I don't believe it would work in the real world.

William M. Connolley said...

We already compete with the Chinese, since most of our chips are sold outside the EU. I've no idea if there are tariffs on chips anyway.

> is a typical opinion

Well, yeah, its pretty typical of the "free trade is a good idea but not in any areas where I don't happen to like it" type of opinion.

from which:

> The case of Chinese solar subsidies shows that governments do not always act in their own interest.

Well, duh. That's, like, the whole point: tariffs and subsidies are, indeed, not in the interest of the populace of the countries involved; they are in the interest of the manufacturers.

> China's attempt to corner the world market for solar power blew up, but it took much of the American (and German) solar industries with it

WTF: is your man a complete nutter? Prices for solar panels are far lower than anyone expected any your man can do nothing but whinge about it? Who gives a toss if the US solar panel industry withered, as long as the US can buy cheap solar panels.

And... that's all he has.

William M. Connolley said...

(sorry, I didn't mean to hijack your thread with pro-free-trade ranting)

James Annan said...

That particular post was found by google but I've read a fair bit of Noah Smith's stuff and he seems a fairly intelligent and respectable economist to me. On the specific point of solar panels, not that I think they are a particularly vital case, "who gives a toss" might well include US solar panel manufacturers, which returns to me previous point. They are also consumers, remember.

William M. Connolley said... is a nice thought.

James Annan said...

Yes but clearly just a gesture: I'm sure the EU parliament doesn't have the power and the states won't allow it.

MartinM said...

Apart from that, we've got the unedifying and dangerous spectacle of those who called for the sovereignty of British Parliament, now denouncing this sovereignty as anti-democratic - and worse, labelling judges who upheld it with the chilling Nazi-era “Enemies of the people” slogan.

It's particularly disturbing when you consider that the "crime" these enemies of the people committed was to prevent an unelected executive from unilaterally stripping citizens of rights granted by an act of parliament.

Steve Bloom said...

Sad to see WMC reduced to pro-free trade rants on his own blog.

May of course has very little else on her mind re brexit than how to arrange things so the Tories win the next election. I see two paths:

1) Delay Brexit until so close to the election that the nasty consequences won't have had time to manifest. Yes, that's just a political solution for a single cycle, but such people don't substantively think beyond that horizon.

2) Put the actual choices (stay vs. the outline of the actual Brexit deal) up for a second vote. That would probably be the sane course. It relies on the EU rolling over to allow cancellation of the initial leave vote, but I suspect they would accept the spectacle of several years of British political agony leading to a decision to remain as a sufficient object lesson for both the UK and any others tempted to leave. Unfortunately for sanity this path might lead to diehard leavers taking their revenge on the Tories, and May may lack the backbone to accept such an outcome.

Interesting times.