Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Monday, June 27, 2016

What Hath God Wrought

Conservatives in the U.S. are overjoyed at Britain's decision to leave the EU, and they are gleefully pointing to polls that seem to indicate that few Britons actually regret their vote, despite a few anecdotes to the contrary.  Conservatives are also enjoying their favorite game:  portraying liberals as out-of-touch elitists who look down on working-class people and call them bigots when they don't vote "the right way."

Let me suggest that it is a little premature to measure the level of regret, but that we will have more information soon enough.  If the "leave" campaigners are able to fulfill their promises—greatly reduced immigration, an extra £350,000,000 per week for the NHS, and so on—then liberals will indeed look silly for hyperventilating.  We might regret the curbs on immigration, but the "leave" voters could not be portrayed as rubes.  They simply made a choice, and not an irrational one.  They were not misled, and they didn't let bigotry override their self-interest.  And as I've argued, there are plenty of good reasons to regret the direction the European Union has taken.  Anyway, what could be more self-interested than spending £350,000,000 per week on domestic health care rather than sending it to Brussels?  

So, you know, we'll see.  I would call it a bad sign for the rational-self-interest thesis that the "leave" politicians are already backpedaling from the promises that they made during the campaign.  Nigel Farage, for instance, has somewhat belatedly discovered that the "£350,000,000 per week" figure may have been somewhat inflated.  More fundamentally, there is a contradiction at the heart of the "leave" campaign.  It is theoretically possible that the EU will permit Britain to retain full access to the common market, in which case its "exit" may not cause significant economic consequences.  But it is highly unlikely that the EU will accommodate Britain unless Britain allows full labor mobility—precisely the evil that the "leave" voters hoped to escape.

But there is no need for haste.  We will have ample time to assess the sobriety and good faith of the "exit" movement as events unfold.


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