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The EU really doesn’t like tech – can we leave yet?

“In an almost direct clash of intentions, the GDPR has effectively banned the use of blockchain technology in Europe because of its immutable nature. The GDPR offers the power back to the individual to edit and delete data which falls into the hands of centralized authorities, but when there is no centralized authority, there is no need for data to be moved around. This is the crux of the GDPR’s clash with blockchain. So, what happens to Europe and the next technological wave?”

Darryn Pollock, columnist for Forbes.

The “blockchain” technology is a distributed ledger that allows information to be securely transferred without the need for third-party authentication, which could mean that many of the settlement and custody functions provided by banks – the sort of “plumbing” of finance we take for granted – could be done far faster, and at less cost. Although the crypto currencies that sit atop of this technology have their fair share of sceptics, the blockchain tech. is seen by banks as a potentially revolutionary one. While people complain that some London-based jobs could leave London if the UK has a clean Brexit and leaves the Customs Union (not to be confused with access to the European market as such), I would wager that blockchain will be far more important in affecting financial employment overall.

And yet the EU, with its usual plodding, bovine way, has enacted data protection rules (GDPR) that could blight this new technology, as well – as we have already seen – add layers of costs to organisations of all kinds. Coupled with the recent vote by MEPs to impose intrusive and costly controls on the internet, I’d hope that all those Millennials whom we are told are full of so much love for Brussels might wake up. This doesn’t of course mean that British politicians aren’t capable of enacting plenty of daft laws, but it’s usually a sight easier to lobby for change at a national level than try to persuade hundreds of millions of voters in 28 countries to change.

So as Tim Worstall likes to argue: can we leave yet?

The IEA’s prescription for Brexit

Some critics of Leavers from the EU like to claim that Leavers don’t spell out the details of what Leave would mean, although that always struck me as disingenuous. Even so, it is good that the Institute of Economic Affairs has issued a paper on what a pro-liberty, pro-free market Brexit will look like:

“We have looked at Brexit in the wrong way, and in so doing we have hampered our ability to get a good deal with the EU. We must execute an independent trade and regulatory policy in order to capture gains from this process, and also to ensure that we have a better framework for negotiations with the EU. This plan offers comprehensive approach which shouldn’t be considered a ‘Plan B’, but rather a ‘Plan A+’ for Brexit.”

So says Shanker Singham, the Director of the IEA’s International Trade and Competition Unit, and co-author of the new IEA paper.

There is a lot of detail to chew over, but this is pretty manageable and sensible from where I can see it. The proposals ought, surely, to be studied closely by government ministers and it would be indeed scandalous if they have not been before. And that, of course, is the worry: Theresa May has, perhaps only now, come to a realisation that a “Brexit in name only” fudge is electoral suicide and a no-go diplomatically.

As an aside, three separate people, all Remainers, told me over the weekend that they were so disgusted by the blank refusal of EU heads of state to even bother considering May’s Chequers plan that it has made them feel that, if a referendum were held again, they’d vote Leave. These views are those of Londoners who work closely with the City, and have been the sort giving the EU the benefit of the doubt in the past. They no longer do so. That’s important.

Moderation is often not the best policy

“It’s a crowded space, this search for the so called moderate centre ground. It is defined as going back to Brussels, saying we are sorry for ever thinking of leaving, and accepting the full swathe of laws, taxes, budgets and common policies that characterise the modern EU. What ever is either moderate or democratic about such an agenda? How is it democratic for more and more laws to be made behind closed doors, drafted by officials we cannot sack or make accountable, and approved by Ministers from 27 countries under pressure not to rock the boat? What is liberal about the austerity policies of the EU’s budget controls, requiring higher taxes, lower spending and lower deficits from countries mired in unemployment in the south and west of the EU? How is the EU’s policy of helping pay for Turkey’s heavily defended borders with the Middle East moderate? What is green about the fishing discard policy or the dash for diesel and the reliance on coal for power by Germany? Why does everything proposed by the EU get through without a whisper of criticism? When will they apologise for the huge damage the Exchange Rate Mechanism did to the livelihoods and businesses of many in the UK, or for the revenge the Euro crisis visited on Cyprus, Greece, Ireland and Spain?”

John Redwood.

A very good article, even if you might not agree with all of Mr Redwood’s politics. His observation that “moderate” Labour MPs (they still want to seize private property, tax us up to the neck and so on) are caught between understandable loathing of Mr Corbyn, and their own foolish Europhilia, is very well made.

As Mr Redwood said, there’s nothing “moderate” about defending a creaking customs union, unaccountable bureaucracy, etc. But then what really does this sort of “moderation” really mean? I’m reminded of Ayn Rand’s excellent essay, The Wreckage of the Consensus, where she pointed to the foolishness of imagining that wisdom is to be found in some sort of “middle” between some sort of polar opposites.

Take another case: We are sometimes told to take “a moderate amount of exercise” when, in fact, what we might want to do for better health is high intensity interval training, for instance, or heavy lifting with barbells, rather than messing around by jogging a short distance (and buggering up one’s knees and back, by the way). Sometimes the “moderate” course isn’t really a course at all, but a sort of cop-out.

Back to the subject of Mr Redwood’s post, it reminds me that the voice of genuine political liberalism, to use that fine old word, has been quiet for a very long time in the UK. There appears zero chance of it being encouraged by the current Liberal Democrat Party, which even before its demise, was scarcely connected to the great traditions of Cobden, Gladstone or, even in a more recent example, the late Jo Grimmond.

Samizdata quote of the day

“In relation to the Irish border, we need to be tougher and call the EU’s bluff. Currently a border already exists between the UK and Ireland – in currency, VAT, excise duties and security which do not present any problems at all. Using new technology as well as extending schemes such as the Authorised Economic Operator scheme means any post-Brexit customs checks can be done without a hard border. The EU insists on customs checks but in reality no UK or Irish Government would ever accept a hard border. Those making the case for the Chequers plan off the back of threats about the Irish border are simply playing into the EU’s hands.”

Ross Thomson, MP.

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is conceivable that Mrs May could, with Labour support, push such a half-baked Brexit though Parliament. But her party would be finished. For most of its advocates on the Government benches, Brexit is about global free trade or it is nothing. Leaving the single market is not enough; Britain must also regain the power to trade freely with the rest of the world. Anything less would not just be a monumental betrayal but would tear the Conservatives apart. The party split in 1846 after the Corn Laws were repealed; it would surely do so again if Mrs May sells out her Brexiteers.”

Allister Heath

Big regulation

War and Peace is 1,200 pages long. Bleak House spreads to 1,000. Dodd-Frank, the US’s sprawling overhaul of financial regulations after 2008, runs to 848 pages – earning itself the nickname `Dodd-Frankenstein’. And the EU’s bumper trade deal with Canada reaches a hearty 1,600 pages. Last week, surmounting all of these achievements, the EU introduced a truly spectacular piece of regulation. `Mifid 2′ is its name and it weighs in at a princely 7,000 pages. That’s 1.4 million paragraphs, or six Bible-lengths. It must surely be a contender for the longest piece of red tape ever.

Juliet Samuel (Daily Telegraph, registration required). Needless to say, people continue to drone on about “neo-liberalism” and “unfettered markets”. If only.

I can predict a standard retort: that if the UK wanted to be an enthusiastic EU member (no laughing at the back, kids) then it could influence the EU machine and reduce this regulation. But how has that worked out, really? True, I know of some politicians who have tried to slow this process down, but it continues regardless.

Sure, when the UK leaves, then UK-based firms that wish to do business with the EU will need to comply with EU regulations just as they must do so with the laws of the US, or Canada, Australia, or Planet Zog. But the process cuts two ways. If the UK parliament has any sense (big if, course) and keeps rules within bounds rather than “gold-plates” whatever is in force in other countries, then the UK will gain. Further, the very existence of countries with independent rule-making makes it harder for policymakers in transnational groupings such as the EU to create tax/regulatory cartels. (This is why countries such as Switzerland drive Brussels nuts.)

In time, the regulatory costs of doing business in the EU will cripple its financial markets, and that makes it rather harder to persuade yours truly that being outside this regulatory behemoth is so bad for business. Being outside a relatively free and flexible customs union, which is what the Single Market is, can sound risky, even daunting. Being outside an expensive, inflexible, bureaucratic nightmare is far less so. In fact, getting as far away as possible from such a structure is not just a smart gamble, but essential.

Terror at living outside the EU, ctd

Recent UK gross domestic forecast predictions, issued this week via the glum figure of UK finance minister Philip Hammond, have encouraged some of my friends who are EU Remainers to shout about how Brexit is damaging Britain, we are going to lose tens of thousands of jobs to the continent, or wherever, etc, etc. The rage is not dying, in fact. Some of the language (Brexit supporters are “retarded” being a recent one) is not becoming milder. We haven’t yet reached the acceptance phase after the initial shock and anger.

Apart from the devaluation of sterling after June last year, there hasn’t been all that much of a shift on the economics front. The underlying performance of the UK economy does not appear to have altered that much. Some American banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan talk of shifting some business to the continent to create subsidiaries in anticipation of any EU access shenanigans, as I would expect, but it hardly fits with a Biblical level of terror to justify some of the vehement language I see on forums such as Facebook.

Assume we must take seriously the risk of life outside the joyous embrace of the EU Single Market, this is worth considering, from Tory MP and former minister, Peter Lilley:

The Single Market is talked about as if it were some inner sanctum accessible to a privileged few. In fact, every country has access to the Single Market – with or without tariffs. The Single Market programme, which I implemented, involved harmonising product rules – sensible, since businesses can now make one product range for the European market, not 28. But that benefits American and Japanese exporters as much as German or British firms. Although often invoked as particularly benefiting UK service companies, in fact UK service exports to the EU have grown less rapidly since the Single Market reforms than any member state except Greece and Italy

He also responds to the point that apparently, by being outside the EU, the UK will now submit to EU rules without being able to influence them:

People assume Britain benefits from participating in setting these rules. But rules provide a framework within which all companies operate – not an advantage to any individual country. Britain set the rules of tennis but rarely wins Wimbledon! British exports to the EU have grown less rapidly since the Single Market than they did before 1993, less than our partners’ and much less than non-EU countries’ exports! Maybe that is partly because we suffer EU regulations on 100% of our companies (costing our economy billions of £s) whereas non-EU firms need only comply with EU regulations on activities carried out within the EU.

And on the “passporting” issue that comes up:

How important is the right to passport services to the EU? Passporting lets financial institutions operate throughout the EU via branches supervised by their home country regulator without seeking authorisation from local regulators. Having introduced the Single Market measures, I decided to make a speech extolling how they had removed barriers to trade, not least through passporting. Unfortunately, my officials could not find a single company doing business it previously could not do! Banks were almost invariably operating, not through branches, but via subsidiaries which still needed local authorisation and regulation. (Emphasis mine.)

And on the terror that outside the EU, the UK will be hurt, Mr Lilley looks at EU-regulated mutual funds and alternative investment funds regulation (private equity, real estate, private equity, etc):

Since then the UCITS, MiFID and AIFM directives have extended passporting rights to other financial service providers who do take advantage of it. However, most UCITS funds choose to operate via subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Dublin without causing an exodus of jobs from London. Also the AIFM directive provides for recognition of equivalent standards of regulation by non-EU providers which is intended to be granted to Hong Kong and Singapore, so could scarcely be refused to the UK post Brexit.

In other words, you don’t have to be in the EU to manage investments sold within its borders. And yet if you take some of the Remainer arguments at face value, you would think that the UK is to be cast into a dark, lonely place.

A final thought. One of my Remainer co-jousters talks of the folly of the UK “going it alone”, as he claimed we had done after 1945. That, however, not only ignores our membership of NATO but also the UK’s web of trade with not just the continent of Europe, but also the old Commonwealth nations and places such as Argentina, and of course the US. The UK was hardly living under a rock during the period before EEC membership began in 1973, and further, that membership involved slapping tariffs on many of those countries. As Mr Lilley says, it has taken ages for the EU to hammer out free trade deals with nations such as India, China, etc, and to improve on what we have with the US. (I have even seen some of my Remainer friends dismiss this range of countries as “minor”, or “colonial outposts”). So let me get this straight: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, parts of Latin America, the Pacific-Rim, etc, are “minor”, but the European Union is a powerhouse. Great, got it.

Have a good weekend everyone.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“The EU’s finances run the way they do because no one has a sense of ownership of the funds. It is always “someone else’s money” that is being abused.”

Lee Rotherham

Samizdata quote of the day

“The really big point is that far from being a tumultuous, cacophonic, unstable, firecracker of a polity, Brexit Britain is starting to feel like a relative island of calm, more at ease with itself than it has been for many years, led by a sort of 1950s Prime Minister, who is nearly 20 points ahead in the polls. The spotlight of worry has swivelled round elsewhere, to Greece, France and to the United States. If Brexit is a revolution, it is so far turning out to be a very British and incremental one, lacking in violence or upset. More tea, vicar?”

George Trefgarne

Indeed. What has struck me about some on the Remain side, for example, is that they have been coming across as a bid mad, unpleasant or utopian, not the other side. It is pretty hard to portray the likes of David Davis, for example, as fire-eating radicals when the eurozone, for example, is and remains an economic clusterfuck of Old Testament proportions.

Another fail by Obama

With the TTIP, the EU and US set out trying to construct a slightly watered down version of the single market – in which corporations would be able to use the courts to force governments to open up their public services to foreign providers. It was doomed to collapse because there is such an obvious asymmetry between the US and the EU on this. The US already has high involvement of private companies in the provision of public services. As for those where the state does still retain a monopoly – like defence – there is no way US courts are going to allow, say, French missile manufacturers to supply weapons. It will be ruled out on grounds of national security.

Europe, by contrast, has a relatively high degree of state involvement in the economy, giving plenty of juicy opportunities for US firms – and plenty of reason for left wing parties in France and Germany to oppose TTIP. Britain may now be at the back of Barack Obama’s queue – though what relevance that has given that it will soon be where we stand in Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s queue that matters. But my money would be on post-Brexit Britain sewing up a trade deal with the US before the EU has managed it.

Ross Clark, having fun at the expense of Barack Obama, whose comment earlier this year that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in trade deals with Washington if it had the temerity to quit the European Union has, along with so many others, backfired.

We are often told that President Obama was going to bring us an era of smart diplomacy, unlike that that moron Bush, etc, etc. The gap between the promise, and the reality, is wider than ever.

The Eurocrats were nothing if not predicted

I found this post from eleven years ago while hunting around the internet for something else. It is quite strange to read it now. The author may have been on to something:

As several people have predicted would be the case, many of the EU’s ‘great and good’ are just continuing with the Great European Integration project as if the French and Dutch NO votes never happened. But it does seem that the shock to the system those votes administered to the torpid media has indeed woken up a few people. It seems that the insects have not noticed that someone has picked up the rock they were under.

Have they noticed even now?

Patrik Schumacher – architect and libertarian

One of my daily internet visits is to a site called Dezeen. Here I learn about lots that bores me, involving designers making small buildings shaped like boxes rather than ornamented, and about lots that interests me, including such things as much bigger and (to me) much more interesting buildings that are being dreamed of, built and celebrated.

On the matter of Brexit, Dezeen reported that the the overwhelming majority of “creatives”, in London and in the world generally, favoured and still favour Remain. These creatives were very angry when they learned that a majority of British voters did not share their views.

But Dezeen also had a recent link to a creative who sings a very different sort of ideological song to that sung by most of the kind of creatives whose work and opinions Dezeen reports on. I give you Patrik Schumacher:

PatrikSchumacher

Patrik Schumacher has written an opinion piece for Archinect, with these words at the top of it:

Brexit: a chance to roll back the interventionist state and unleash entrepreneurial creativity …

I have very little in common with the arguments of the Leave Campaign, and in particular reject the anti-immigration thrust of the Campaign. However, I welcome Brexit as offering an enhanced ability and chance to experiment with new policies that dare more economic freedom.

Later on in the piece, we read stuff like this:

I am convinced that the next prosperity potentials of our civilisation can only be explored and discovered if the straight jacket of the nanny state is gradually loosened and dismantled. (The bigger the scale of a country or block, the easier it becomes for the state to expand its scope. That’s why I favour small countries: they must keep their state action small in scope and cannot afford to erect trade barriers or impose heavy tax and regulatory burdens.) It’s time to roll back the state and for us to take the risk of giving more freedom and self-responsibility to us all, unleashing entrepreneurial creativity, organisational experimentation as well as individual aspiration and empowerment.

It’s those particular sorts of libertarian phraseology that I find so intriguing. “Roll back” the “interventionist state”. “Unleash entrepreneurial creativity”. “Nanny state”. “Heavy tax and regulatory burdens”. Above all the simple: “Economic freedom”. This guy is one of us. There really can be no doubt about it. He has been reading the same kind of stuff that Samizdata readers have read, in among training to be an architect and then working as an architect. Any libertarians who doubt the ability of libertarian ideas to spread beyond the confines of mere libertarians should read this piece, and rejoice.

Patrik Schumacher works for Zaha Hadid architects. The recently deceased Zaha Hadid was rumoured to be a very “difficult” woman to work for. Bossy. Opinionated. Highly individual in her behaviour and in her designs. I don’t know much about Hadid other than noticing when she recently died (at far too young an age for an architect). But if Patrik Schumacher was the sort of man she hired to do her bidding, I am starting to suspect that she too may have been some sort of libertarian, maybe in the closet, but maybe of the in-your-face variety.

There’s lots more I could say about this, but my basic point is: how interesting, and how encouraging.