A Brexit moratorium of two years is the best advice today that econometrics can offer the UK and EU. Two years are only a short period with respect to the long future ahead. After two years of misinformation the UK and EU better make room for two years of proper information.
The difference between a flat Earth and a sphere
My background is in econometrics, Political Economy and Public Choice, and the latter is “the use of economic tools to deal with traditional problems of political science” (Gordon Tullock 1987). The Brexit referendum outcome in 2016 caused me to look deeper into its causes. In August 2017 I discovered that “political science on electoral systems” (including referenda) still is locked in the humanities and thus pseudo-science. For its claims on reality this branch is comparable to astrology, alchemy and homeopathy. This branch has been misinforming the world for a good part of last century.
The Great Depression in the 1930s came about because economists had confusions about the gold standard and such. Now we have a similar situation with respect to this branch of political science. This discovery on “political science on electoral systems” compares to the distinction between a flat Earth and a sphere. It means that all evidence must be re-evaluated.
If you wonder where failing government in the USA, UK or France comes from, then include this misinformation and miseducation as a fundamental factor. Brexit is an example of a democracy running astray because of this misinformation. The deeper cause of Brexit is that the House of Commons and the electorate are misinformed by the academia. There is a grand scale of misinformation by famous UK scholars like Iain McLean, John Curtice, Simon Hix, younger Alan Renwick, and (other) members of the UK Political Studies Association and lack of critique by the UK Royal Statistical Society.
For the National Academia of Sciences and Humanities of the world I propose that they set up their own national buddy systems, consisting of both scientists and scholars on democracy and electoral systems. Scientists tend to be less interested in democracy and scholars are at a distance from empirics, so that buddies can support each other in commitment to study and in bridging gaps of understanding.
The evidence is in my paper “One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France” (MPRA 84482, 2018). The buddies perhaps better start with the novel statistics on the USA midterm 2018 and the SDID measure on disproportionality.
Cold Civil War in the UK
Many Britons are dead-tired of the Brexit discussion and want a clean break of it. The term Cold Civil War has been used. Rather than force a decision down each other’s throat on the three available options, it is better to kick the can down the road, and have a time-out to reconsider how the UK got where it is now. The UK better changes the discussion to another topic, away from Brexit, on which the three options are rather clear, and instead onto the foundations, structure and workings of UK democracy itself. The UK appears to be horribly confused on both democracy and statistics, and the people in the UK will gain new energy when they finally would get proper information.
All three options have the risk of a Stab-in-the-Back Myth
Both the EU and prime minister Theresa May have emphasized that there will be no more negotiation. There are three options on the table. Firstly the EU-May deal, secondly the Crash out of the EU, and thirdly a Bregret and return to the Status Quo Ex Ante. All three options come with the risk of a Stab-in-the-Back Myth.
Many UK voters have been dreaming and have been misinformed by all sides. It will be easy for many Britons to blame the EU as the villain who abused virgin Britannia. It will be hard for them to admit that they themselves have been dreaming.
- A stagnation or even a drop in income can be portrayed as punishment by the EU.
- The May-EU deal would fail on the sovereignty a promised by many Brexiteers.
- Bregret would be seen as a betrayal of the referendum outcome.
Cognitive dissonance can be resolved by finding scapegoats, and butchering them in cleansing rituals. The Stab-in-the-Back Myth would not only affect the UK and future EU-UK relations, but Pied Pipers of Hamelin within the EU would also use UK resentment as ‘proof’ that the EU is devious indeed.
This lose-lose outcome exposes the weak spots of international governance. Basically, though, the irresponsibility in the UK has infected the EU. EU policy makers should have known better. They treated Brexit as an issue between Member States but they rather should have cared for EU citizens too, also in the UK, even when this notion of EU citizenship has little legal status. This present discussion provides a solution approach.
Two past years of misinformation, two new years for information
The last two years were burdened by misinformation around the 2016 Brexit Referendum and then there were both secrecy and some open chaos in the subsequent UK-EU negotiations. Voters in the UK are only dimly aware about the logic of the Irish border and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in this balancing act on national sovereignty and international treaties. Yet the greatest problem lies at a more fundamental level on democracy itself.
Another two years of uncertainty might play into economic stagnation, yet there are many no-regret investments waiting to be done. It really is wisest to take a time-out. This armistice of two more years gives breathing space and appears crucial to clear the fog of war and prevent a Stab-in-the-Back Myth that would play into rancuous backlash in both UK and EU and that could wreak havoc in the future.
How this moratorium can be achieved
The current House of Commons was elected in 2017 and thus after the referendum of 2016, and it would have a mandate to reconsider the situation, even if it would mean breaking promises to voters, which promises clearly cannot be kept with only the present three options on the table. Potentially the EU27 would allow the UK time for such a reconsideration of it is democratic foundations. The recent advice by the ECJ Advocate General provides scope to unilaterally revoke the withdrawal notification (ECJ press release 187/18). However, the EU27 would tend to regard this correct unilateral act with suspicion, and fear for instability in the UK. If the UK would revoke and clarify that it would use a moratorium of two years for a reconsiderations of its democratic foundations, then fears in the EU27 about UK instability and risk about a Stab-in-the-Back Myth against the EU would be assuaged.
After this moratorium of two years, the UK may still leave the EU perhaps in 2021 but at least then this decision would be based upon a clearer understanding in the UK about democracy and statistics.
Not “populism” but kindergarten politics
The 2016 Brexit Referendum Question itself was simplistic and doesn’t fit the requirements for a decent statistical questionnaire. It was political manipulation pure and simple. The Leave vs Remain outcome was 52-48%, but some 17% of voters had Remain between different options of Leave, and thus had to gamble what would be the likely outcome. (RES Newsletter 2018-10) Referenda are mostly dumb and risky, and an instrument of populism instead of deliberative democracy. With this lesson learned, the UK better avoids a second referendum.
Let me quote Cas Mudde who “defined populism as an ideology that considers society to be separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite”, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people.” (Guardian 2018-11-22) The term “populism” is distractive though, as if there would be a core of truth in going back to the people, as “ideal democracy”. Cas Mudde struggles with the dictionary and is less observant of what is really happening here, namely kindergarten politics. A division between Us and Them is what kids in kindergarten understand, with a saviour prince on a shiny horse, and it is a core element in blockbuster Hollywood movies. This is what Donald Trump is comfortable with and what his analysts are feeding him with.
The proper answer to this kind of politics is to explain that issues are more complex, and Cas Mudde suggests this too. Complexity however requires time. Both UK and EU can use a moratorium of two years to come to terms with the complexity that we now see on Brexit. The key point is to use this time in an educational manner beyond kindergarten, and thus in a fundamentally different manner than we have seen in the last two years. The misinformation about Brexit not only concerns mere mundane points like on the NHS but also concerns some fundamental aspects by professors from the academia as well.
Weimar and equal proportional representation
This discussion now meets with Godwin’s law. In 1941, Ferdinand Hermens (1906-1998) fled from nazi Germany, found refuge at Notre Dame, Indiana, and published his “Democracy or Anarchy” that argued that the Weimar Republic collapsed because of (equal) proportional representation (EPR). After winning WW2, the USA and UK assumed that their electoral system of district representation (DR) would be superior too. Later research by political scientists has essentially repeated the bias, introducing ever more fallacies.
Historians have debunked Hermens’s analysis. Hitler seized power by using the fire in the Reichstag to arrest communists, eleminating such parliamentarians from voting committees. (Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian 2017) EPR was hindering the nazis, not helping them. Anyway, the choice of electoral system must be made for its own optimality, and other rules would be relevant for such stress tests. Above, I have mentioned the evidence.
A solution for the UK is to switch from DR to EPR
The two year moratorium then could have two phases. When the proposed buddy-system of the Royal Society and the British Science Association (science) and the British Academy (humanities) has generated results and has started informing the general public about their findings, in a first phase, then in a second phase the UK can consider switching from DR to EPR, and have proper elections so that all voices in the UK are duly represented, finally for the first time in history. Parties can split along their Brexit views in order to offer voters the full spectrum. The Stab-in-the-Back Myth has less risk of developing when all people can see the true proportions of the different views on Brexit. With new elections, the House of Commons can finally start from proper proportions to negotiate between parties for a compromise. Compromises would focus on internal UK affairs, since there are no more negotiations with the EU on Brexit.
With this advised solution approach provided by econometrics, it may still be, as said, that the UK leaves the EU perhaps in 2021 but at least then all UK voters have been treated properly, with prudence, justice, dignity and compassion, in equal proportion.
Disclaimer: I did not read “Democracy or Anarchy” and the EU-May Deal, but looked at abstracts. Parts of this text have been used earlier.
UK Parliament on the Boston Tea Party