Sunday, June 26, 2016

More Reactions to Brexit

I wrote some quick thoughts about Brexit on Friday, and then spent yesterday mostly offline as I drove to and from the US to pick up both my repaired car and my exhausted daughter (film making is hard work!).  So, of course, I have more reactions:
  • I have always thought that 50% plus one is a lousy decision-making rule for big decisions.  For many reasons:
    • The drunk frat boy vote.  Ok, not this time, but instead we have some folks, don't know how many, who may have not been voting sincerely.
    • Turnout, turnout, turnout. More on this below, but having major historical events potentially being affected rain is not great.
    • More importantly: tyranny of the temporary majority.*  The UK has already borne tremendous costs and is likely to incur much more despite the fact that the country is essentially ambivalent about leaving.  For major decisions, I have always believed that qualified majorities are necessary.  Sure, that gums up the works, and paralysis can be problematic.  But paralysis looks mighty good today compared to Brexit.
  • Referenda suck.
    • The founders of the US opposed direct democracy for a reason: "unchecked, democratic communities were subject to "the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions".
    • We are only now learning about the details of the process, the complications and all that.  Only after the event?
    • Reminds me of my time in California where much policy was decided by propositions.  And those were mostly shitshows.  Yes, that is the technical political science term.  How do we decide the best car insurance scheme?   Vote against the propositions endorsed by the car insurance industry and the trial lawyers.  California tied itself up in knots due to popular votes on tax policy.  At least in California, the government gave out booklets explaining each proposition, its estimated costs, and who was on which side and their arguments.  Brexit? Not so much.
  • The age splits on the vote and on turnout are appalling but not surprising.  Those under 50 voted against Brexit, those over voted for it.  Any student of democracy knows that the young don't turn out, but the older folks do. Which is why government spending, such as health care dollars, often is focused on the last few years of life.  Politicians respond to those who show up.  In a referendum, the outcome is determined by turnout (again, that stupid 50%+1), and this is the turnout for Brexit by age: 
    •  Yeah.  Not great, Bob.  We can and should blame the young for poorly asserting their interests. We can and should blame the old for screwing over the young.  Heaps of blame to be shared although, sorry but you cannot really blame Obama for this one.
  • The leadership on all sides in the UK is, um, wow, um, a train wreck.  Who comes out of this looking like they knew what they were doing, were representing their constituents and their country well?  Lots of craven behavior with folks running away from their stances (did we say that 350 million pounds were going to the EU?  Oops, our bad!).  
  • Yes, the EU has a democratic deficit--hard to do any research related to the EU without running into heaps of articles on this.  But one of the most likely outcomes for the UK (or UK minus Scotland) is to have to live with/by the EU's dictates but with no power to influence them--the Norway model as it is called.  Having some kind of association with the EU that reduces the costs of the transition and provides access to markets means accepting regulations written in Brussels but with no members in the EU parliament, no Brits serving as commissioners, and no UK folks on the Council of Ministers.  So, whatever "taxation/regulation without representation" folks might have thought been problematic before is going to be far worse now. Well done.

*  This is probably the attitude that makes me most American despite 14 years in Canada--concern about tyranny of the majority.


Anonymous said...

More irony: Brexiters, obviously the most disdainful of Westminster, have just put their trust in individuals who embody the worst stereotypes they have of the UK political class. Anti-elitism, a strange beast.

Anonymous said...

Now - "We've taken our country back, we have control again! Power to the people! Democracy! Freedom! Our independence day!"

Next month to 5 years -

Anonymous said...

All right, you're an American living in Canada (a nation whose entire history is based in rejecting a continental political union -- your nation, as it happens) and you don't understand why we voted to leave the European Union. Well, let me help you as well as correct some of your mistakes.

1) Britain is one of the oldest and most successful nation states in human history. Why should we end our national sovereignty? Does the U.S. feel the need to form a political union with Latin America? You have as much, if not more politically and culturally in common with them than we do Continental Europe (you're all republics for one thing and for another there are many more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than there are all speakers of European languages combined in the U.K.)

2) You're free to complain about the shortcomings of referendums all you want. But could you at explain what was so democratic about the process by which our national sovereignty was usurped by Europe in the first place? Polls for the past 30 years demonstrated that only around 18% of Britons favoured political union with Europe. This did not stop our politicians signing up to a succession of treaties, from Maastricht to Lisbon, that would have been defeated by a 3-1 margin had they been put to a referendum. Oh, and please don't blather on about the 1975 referendum. All we voted for there was to remain in a "common market" (read the ballot). No-one mentioned a political union, federation or United States of Europe.

3) Aside from being out by a decade on the age at which Britons voted against the EU (the cut off was 40, not 50) I'm sorry to see you lazily repeat, albeit indirectly, the young people good, old people bad line to criticise the result. Another way of putting things is that older people have more life experience, are more likely to be parents, are more likely to be in positions of responsibility and more likely to be politically engaged (and thus informed) than young people. Certainly the higher turn out among the elderly suggests greater civic involvement. Also, did it ever occur to you that these elderly people who voted "leave" were the same people who voted to stay in the Common Market in 1975? Perhaps the more of Europe people experience, the less they like it.

To be continued....

Anonymous said...

As promised...

4) Scotland will secede from the UK because of this result? Of course. That's why Alexander Salmond's dummy, Nicola Sturgeon, campaigned so hard to remain. It's also why she still hasn't called a referendum. Fact is, the EU was a godsend to the SNP which, with the continual diminuition of Westminster's power in favour of Brussels', could reasonably argue there was no reason for Edinburgh to go through the London middleman instead of having a seat at the top table. The SNP's last independence campaign was based on the premise that there'd be little change -- Scotland would keep the pound, the BBC, Royal Mail, etc. They can't claim that now. Oh, and it'll be interesting how Scotland gets around the veto on their membership by Spain worried about the Catalan independence movement. Quebec will secede from Canada before Scotland secedes from the U.K.

5) Re: "Having some kind of association with the EU that reduces the costs of the transition and provides access to markets means accepting regulations written in Brussels but with no members in the EU parliament, no Brits serving as commissioners, and no UK folks on the Council of Ministers. So, whatever 'taxation/regulation without representation' folks might have thought been problematic before is going to be far worse now."

Are you aware that our trade with Europe has been on a downward trajectory for two decades now and is now less than half our trade? I fully expect it to be below 25% within 15 years. This also overlooks the fact the EU is not simply a "trade association" but an embryonic superstate whose tentacles reach into all sorts of areas it ought not to. We'll be free of the CAP, CFP, and a host of other insane policies.

6) Finally the American Founding Fathers. Ah yes. Interesting you're citing them while living in a country whose political foundation is based on an outright rejection of America's Founding Fathers and their beliefs. Also, from what I recall, during our war with Napoleon -- one of Europe's would-be unifiers -- they sided with Corsican corporal and tried to seize Canada.

I'm sure you can find some Canadians who wish Canada had joined the U.S. just as I'm sure you can find some Americans who regret declaring independence from Britain.

But most Canadians prefer their national sovereignty, as do most Americans.

This may come as a shock, but so do most of us in Britain.

Please stop being a parochial American. It does you no credit.