A commenter over at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the joyful name of “Rasta Pickles”, comments on the notion that the UK electorate is too thick to figure out the complexities of Brexit, and that such complex matters should be left to a political class that has done such a tremendous job down the years. He or she notes a flaw in this “argument”:
“99.9% of the UK electorate have no idea what they’re voting for every time they vote in a council election; they regard local elections as a popularity poll on what’s happening in Westminster. Your local Labour/Tory council might well be planning on a compulsory purchase order on your house and those around you in order to build a new mega-PoundLand store and you’d still have people voting for them out of sheer ignorance.”
Even so, there are libertarians/classical liberals who point out that democracy, unless hedged with checks and balances, isn’t compatible with liberty and can be harmful to it. Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter is a good read, as is this recent effort by Jason Brennan. But my problem with the arguments they make is that what, realistically, can they propose other than the sort of return to oligarchy of “smart people” that, as history tends to show, descends into corruption pretty damn quick?
Hitler lookalike arrested in Austria
A Hitler lookalike has been arrested in Austria on charges of glorifying the Nazi era, local officials say.
The 25-year-old man reportedly calls himself Harald Hitler.
The man, sporting a side parting and a trademark moustache, had been seen having his photograph taken outside the house in Braunau am Inn in which Adolf Hitler was born.
The lookalike had recently moved to the town on the German border, police spokesman David Furtner told the BBC.
Well if ever someone’s face didn’t fit… Best not be a Charlie Chaplin tribute act in Austria then, or go to a Sparks concert, that town ain’t big enough for the both of them.
What’s next, putting down cats with unfortunate colouring?
On a more serious note, how better to discredit freedom that to carry on like this? Perhaps that’s all socialists can think to do. Mocking a fool is better that locking a fool up. Hitler is, thanks to Downfall parodies (here’s one, oddly prescient on the EU referendum, about Gordon Brown’s fading Premiership), a laughing stock, and the one thing that discredits tyrants more than anything is being laughed at. After all, mass murder has not discredited any brand of socialism.
News reaches us from the Telegraph of rumblings in Rome, where an expansionist Pope appears to have burst the bonds set up by Mussolini and, setting his sights on the smallest ‘state’ within Rome, persuaded the British head of the International Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Grand Master Matthew Festing, to resign. Unlike a previous situation of Argentine aggression against a small group of islands sitting peacefully in a deep blue sea, this has passed off far more peacefully and entirely within Rome.
The background to this dispute is, we are told:
Mr Festing and the Vatican have been locked in a bitter dispute since one of the order’s top knights, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was sacked in December in the chivalric equivalent of a boardroom showdown – ostensibly because he allowed the use of condoms in a medical project for the poor.
Is the article hinting that the ‘condoms’ issue is a bit of a stretch?
When Festing fired von Boeselager, he accused the German of hiding the fact that he allowed the use of condoms when he ran Malteser International, the order’s humanitarian aid agency.
Von Boeselager and his supporters say the condom issue was an excuse by Festing and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, an arch-conservative who has accused the pope of being too liberal, to increase their power.
Well since neither the Swiss Guard nor the St John’s Ambulance have got involved, it all seems rather peaceful. But the Pope seems to brook no dissent, not even in his last satellite ‘state’.
Francis has said he wants the 1.2 billion-member church to avoid so-called “culture wars” over moral teachings and show mercy to those who cannot live by all its rules, especially the poor.
Perhaps this is the Pope’s version of the Brezhnev Doctrine?
When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.
If all the approved policies fail, but a disapproved policy looks like it might work, then the disapproved policy is what might very well end up being done. Discuss.
While you’re discussing that, allow me to throw in this titbit of news, from the Czech Republic, which I encountered in the Washington Post:
Now the country’s interior ministry is pushing a constitutional change that would let citizens use guns against terrorists. Proponents say this could save lives if an attack occurs and police are delayed or unable to make their way to the scene. To become law, Parliament must approve the proposal; they’ll vote in the coming months.
From the bit linked to in that paragraph, this:
… it is not always possible for the police to guarantee a fast and effective intervention and fast action from a member of the public could prevent the loss of many lives.
Spotting Muslim terrorists is hard because so many Muslims behave like about-to-be-terrorists that it’s hard to know which ones to pick on and stop. And when one of them does strike, it could be anywhere, and the government can’t be everywhere. Only people can.
One of the bigger long term impacts of Muslim immigration into Europe could prove to be an armed European citizenry. Discuss some more.
[Sweden] appear[s] to have stumbled on the concept that a low-tech economy in which consumers have fewer choices produces fewer greenhouse gases. Now they want to move to such an economy, which is in the precise opposite direction everyone else is moving. We have the developed world. We also have the developing world. Sweden wants to kick-start the undeveloping world.
– Tim Newman
May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature of the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavors for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.
– The prayer of Horatio Nelson, commander of the British fleet, written on the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar, the following day. For those interested in this period of naval warfare, I strongly recommend this excellent book by Sam Willis.
Roger Knight’s excellent biography of Nelson, which I read about three years’ ago after it was published, is also a brilliant study of the man. (Being an East Anglian, as Nelson also was, I am somewhat biased.)
I leave it to Samizdata readers to elaborate on the potential parallels between Nelson’s destruction of the French/Spanish fleets on that day and the recent far less violent assertion of UK independence on 23 June, 2016.
Ben Chu in the Independent describes 5 possible Brexit outcomes. The only interesting ones are 4 and 5.
Brexit 4 is, “Leave the single market and customs union with no free trade deal in place and trade with Europe under World Trade Organisation rules.” Brexit 5 is, “Leave the single market and customs union with no free trade deal – but unilaterally scrap all import tariffs.”
He thinks 4 will make us poor, and 5 is politically impossible because the exporters will make a fuss. I think we will end up with something between 4 and 5, with lots of bluster and threats but ultimately low-ish tariffs because British and EU politicians are not completely self-destructive. But I am a very optimistic person. Of course the tariff structures will be ridiculously complicated and riddled with special interest exceptions.
This is funny, from Brexit 3, which is a comprehensive free trade deal that will somehow require a strong customs border: “There would additionally have to be a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with potentially serious political consequences.” I think any such border would be for appearances only and eyes would be blind to any goods moving across it. This is because trade deals are not really there to improve anyone’s economic prospects. They are to win favour with voters, so only outward appearances matter. They do not need to be properly enforced. Nobody in charge actually cares about smuggling.
Incidental note: I was thinking of this song when I wrote the title.
Postscript: Further to that, and with apologies to anyone not familiar with the best Megadeth album:
Give me sov’renty, give me liberty,
True autonomy, unilat’rally,
Strong economy, Brexit if you please,
Master all of these, EU on its knees
I master five Brexits, I master five Brexits
I’ll get my coat.
Team 1: A Samar, Mudassar Muhammad, R Pillai, D Weston, Sajid Liaqat, Asad Mohammad, Khaled Khan, Kashif Hussain, ME Latif, D Kumar.
Team 2: Afzal Virk, B Zaigham, Sadat Sidiqi, Azam Khalil, Shahzeb Choudhry, Usman Arif, Muhammad Asif, Azam Mohammad, Mohammad Naveed, Sweed Ullah, W Jalali.
Team 1 is Germany. Team 2 is Sweden. These two teams have today been contesting a game of cricket, a game truncated by the weather. Keep track of all the other games in the ICC World Cricket League Europe Region Division Two Twenty20, here.
I know what you’re thinking. “D Weston” doesn’t sound like a very German sort of name.
I have been banging on for weeks to anyone who will listen that all this talk about the importance of getting good trade deals is nonsense. All that is needed is unilateral free trade.
Just now I stumbled upon an article in the Guardian, of all places, discussing just that. Even talking about “the unilateral free trade option”.
A group called Economists for Brexit seem to have got it in the paper. Jolly good work!
EU Banks Need $166 Billion, Deutsche Bank Economist Tells Welt
Europe urgently needs a 150 billion-euro ($166 billion) bailout fund to recapitalize its beleaguered banks, particularly those in Italy, Deutsche Bank AG’s chief economist said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag.
“Europe is extremely sick and must start dealing with its problems extremely quickly, or else there may be an accident,” Deutsche Bank’s David Folkerts-Landau said, according to the newspaper.
With the Brexit vote of last week continuing to send shockwaves through the corridors of power (does that mean those corridors are vibrating, door handles jiggling and lights flickering?), one argument I have seen break out is of how the UK will, without being in the mighty, efficient and effective mechanism of the EU, be able to work out a deal. (If you are detecting a touch of sarcasm, you are correct.) For example, on a social media exchange, a person earnestly exclaimed that the UK can’t possibly arrange a free trade agreement (FTA) with India because the Indians just won’t, just won’t agree on one with us, because, well, they won’t. A stock argument goes that if the UK leaves the EU, then depending on whether it does or does not retain Single Market access, like Switzerland, other countries will be reluctant to trade with the UK. Why? Because the only reason, it is said, that people want to engage with the UK is because it gives access to the rest of the EU. The UK is, on this argument, nothing more than a conduit, an entrepôt, for Europe. The fact that another country might want to deal with the world’s fifth-largest economy on its own right is scarcely entertained.
Funnily enough, last year I recall reporting on how Australia, which for some crazy nationalist reason isn’t in the EU, signed a trade deal with China, which much to its shame, isn’t in the EU either. China is the world’s second-largest economy; Australia is some way down the order but still relatively significant. These two nations signed a deal. It was done without all the structures of a transnational organisation. This is an event that, for quite a lot of people, is unthinkable, like a decent summer in England.
Another option for the UK is to simply declare unilateral free trade, rather than wait for some grand negotiation with the EU over access. There is a consideration of this approach at Econlog here:
But if the new British prime minister want to puzzle and indeed shock its European counterparts, this may well be the best option. Go ahead and zero tariffs on imports coming from the EU. It might well be one of those very few choices that could prove to be economically beneficially in the long run, not least because it will minimize the problem of capture by special interest groups when it comes to trade policy. But it may prove to be expedient from a political perspective too. As the government should run through the Houses its proposed “interpretation” of the vote (which was, after all, a consultative referendum), open support for free trade may help, in the short run, to restore peace and harmony among the Tories. On top of this, it might give the UK a strong card in negotiations with the EU, making retaliatory attempts hard to “sell” to the public.
And here is Tim Worstall on the same subject:
The entire point of trade is that we can get our hands on what they make: so why would we ever want to have anything other than unilateral free trade? Why would we impose tariffs on the very things we want and make them more expensive for ourselves?
Sure, other people might impose tariffs on our exports. But that means that they are making themselves poorer by not having tax free access to the lovely things that we can make cheaper or better than they can. As Joan Robinson was fond of pointing out, tariffs are like throwing rocks in the harbour to make imports more difficult. And just because you are throwing rocks in your harbour there’s no reason I should throw rocks in my own. To do so just makes me worse off and why should I do that?
As I have said recently, one of the excellent consequences of Brexit is that it rends apart many of the lazy assumptions that give rise to transnational organisations, as well as the assumptions of the sort of people who prosper in working for them. It makes us think again about what sort of rules and regulations, if any, are needed so that human beings can trade. And those of a classical liberal disposition need to take the lead in pointing out that ultimately, countries don’t trade, individuals do. Any attempt to interfere with such transactions is ultimately about Person A being prevented from transacting with Person B on terms to their liking.
Maybe it is also time to dust of the speeches and writings of Richard Cobden.
Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the publication Spiked, and who is an ardent Leaver when it comes to the European Union, has been writing about how the exit vote last week can be largely explained in terms of class and attitudes of elites. (O’Neill is, or is recovering from being, a Marxist, so his economics still seems a bit suspect to me, even though I like the cut of his jib generally, especially on other issues around liberty and government).
I think the class analysis has some validity; it is worth noting that there is more to class-based interpretations of what is going on than the Marxian version. There are, in the classical liberal/conservative traditions of political philosophy and approach, uses of class as a way of seeing how the world works. One person’s essay that I am reminded of is the famous one by William Graham Sumner, The Forgotten Man. Or perhaps a riff on the same tune is Nixon’s “great silent majority”. These approaches aren’t really about proletarians versus “bosses”. They are, in my view, more about those who are broadly self-reliant, deriving the bulk of their earnings from their own efforts and who aspire to have, and retain, capital, and those who do not. The latter can be those who subsist on state benefits, or grander folk working in the public sector paid for largely by the first group. (There are fuzzy boundaries between all types.) And I think that sort of split maps better in explaining whether you are going to be liberal or protectionist, for a big State or a smaller one. But it doesn’t necessarily help on explaining all the voting on the Brexit debate. I wrote this in response to one of O’Neill’s posts on Facebook, and I reproduce it here with some light edits:
I am not sure how far the class-based analysis can be made to work in terms of having a causal effect (remember that old warning about correlation and causation). Whether used in a Marxian or other sense, class can explain some of the differences, but some of the arguments cut across. I am middle class, working in the media covering private banking and wealth management around the world. My job takes me to the continent a lot, as well as Asia, the US, and Middle East. Some of the people I work with are from continental Europe. I am relaxed – mostly – about free movement of labour. I went to a good state school, went into higher ed. in the 1980s, my late mother was posh, my old man was a grammar schoolboy who later became a farmer and is comfortably off. I like classical music, fine art, French wine and sailing. So from a lot of points of view I am “middle class”. And I voted Leave. To some extent I “voted my wallet”, not, as might be the case with someone from the old industrial north, because I was worried about “cheap labour”, or had some notion that this will “save the NHS” or suchlike, but because I want the UK to have the freedom to negotiate new economic links outside the EU to hedge this country’s economy against the weakness, and possible crisis, in the eurozone. I am on the free market, libertarian end of the political and philosophical spectrum. I therefore loathe the unaccountable, nanny tendencies of the EU, and think my values will flourish if we leave.