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The elite that failed (economist.com)
38 points by sajid 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

I've seen the argument this article trots out that the referendum should've required a supermajority a lot, but it always seems more like an attempt to block something the author doesn't want than an actual principled argument.

There was no supermajority required to take the major and quite possibly irreversible step of joining the EU. Indeed, there was no referendum on it at all; the 1975 referendum was on leaving after we'd already joined, and came with the same terrifying warnings about the perils of leaving as the more recent one. The government of the time just decided to join and put it through parliament like any other law. It squeaked through the House of Commons on an incredibly tight 309-301 vote...

It's tricky. The EU of 1975 is very different from the EU of 2018 (indeed, the "EU" didn't exist then, just the EEC). Does joining a customs union even require a referendum? My initial strong gut response to this is that it shouldn't, but it's also abundantly clear now that a customs union can easily lead to much greater integration over decades. Boiling a frog. Note that all the increased integration was accepted by the elected governments of the UK, so you can't write this off as some authoritarian, anti-democratic power creep by the EU bureaucracy.

And now the immediate implications of leaving the EU are much greater than the immediate implications in 1975 of joining a customs union, so even if a 50%+ referendum was enough for a customs union, a strong argument can be made that leaving the EU should be held to a higher standard.

I think the main takeaway of this experience should be this: the EU should never accept new members unless there's durable majority support in the member country for being a part of the EU. One plausible version of this is 60%+ support in two consecutive elections.

That's an unrealistic ask. 40 years have passed since 1975, almost two generations. People die, the will of the country changes, and you cannot run elections on a single issue. Even europhile countries like France and Italy have periodic bouts of euro-skepticism, and places like Texas, Quebec or the Balkans demonstrate that tribalism is always lurking anyway.

I think the EU should simply improve its outreach programs. Some of them were very successful (Erasmus), some weren't (the EU flag on buildings is almost imperialistic).

The truth is that getting 511m+ people to agree on things, when they won't even speak the same language, will always be a huge challenge. Unfortunately, there is no alternative: this planet has to learn to resolve its problems by talking and agreeing a common course of action, so might as well start with your immediate neighbours.

You're technically right, but I'm not sure it helps here; every step that took us from the EEC of 1972 to the modern EU was done with no UK referendum and required at most an ordinary majority in Parliament as far as I know. (Also, EU supporters rely quite heavily on the argument that the modern EU is basically the same as the original EEC, just refined, and that all of the subsequent changes were part of the original intention.)

Now, other member states did hold referendums on these changes, of course - and in some cases, their voting public ended up rejecting those changes. They went ahead anyway, usually with some tweaks to the language used to describe them but very few substantiative differences.

> They went ahead anyway, usually with some tweaks to the language used to describe them but very few substantiative differences.

That's utterly false.

Ireland (twice) got legal guarantees that the scary scenarios evoked by the rejectors, would never happen.

Denmark obtained opt-outs, again listening to concerns and guaranteeing that they would never happen.

France (and basically the Dutch) literally re-negotiated the whole treaty.

Those are substantive changes. I don't know how more substantive you can get than "if we make a law you don't like, you're free to ignore it" and "ok, we'll do it again from scratch".

> the 1975 referendum was on leaving after we'd already joined

Something I see forgotten often is the referendum experience in other countries like Canada and Australia (who have them more frequently) is that most referendums fail, it's incredibly hard to get a vote to change the status quo because you have to convince people why changing is necessary. A vote to remain in the EEC/EU should not be seen as the same as a vote to join would have been.

I suspect this is why there has not been a second brexit vote, they know how much momentum there is behind leave side. Well that and the decade of uncertainty of stay vote would bring.

There is a great Alvin Toffler quote that foretold this: " One of the functions of a legislature is to negotiate compromises among various constituencies. Well, the constituencies today are so numerous, their demands are so complex, and the rate of change in their demands and in the constituencies is so high that nobody in Congress represents anybody anymore. They represent themselves. Because their constituency changes from day to day. And as a consequence, their ability to broker out differences to arrive at compromise is more limited than it was. "

I had this same thought when thinking about Toronto and their distinct lack of action on public transit. We keep flip flopping on whether or not to build this or build that or tear down this or that, blah blah blah.

It’s all because the city is waaaayyy too diverse and there’s literally no way to meet in the middle on this; somebody is going to lose, and anybody losing is unfathomable, so the better option is... for everybody to lose.

Another thing is how commentators describe constituencies in psycho-graphic terms, not concrete interests. You hear that rural people are "unhappy and left behind." Well some rural people in England are that, and some work at the Nissan factory and they probably don't see Brexit as being good for their job. The point is that there aren't enough people working at an automobile plant (in England) to form a really powerful constituency. Society is more fragmented and there are fewer large blocks of people who have a concrete political interest.

The law of the universe dictates that our world is always moving toward entropy (chaos) no matter what, and things will keep getting more and more chaos everyday.

These so called "elite" politicians are after all just homo sapiens, thus limited by human capabilities. They are nothing more special than you and me. Nobody really has any fucking clue what's going on or how to fix it. Nobody has been more wrong throughout the history than those expert economists. Everybody sort of just wings it and hope they will get lucky. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.

This shows you what a clusterfuck we are all in. Stop fighting, go get a drink and just enjoy the ride as there's nothing we can do to fight against the force of entropy. Shit will sort itself out.

Equating the popular sense of chaos and entropy doesn't really provide much insight into "the world," unless you're making a literal claim that all microstates of "the world" are equally plausible and we ergodically explore them.

> The law of the universe dictates that our world is always moving toward entropy (chaos) no matter what,

Unless you put in energy, which this glowing thing in the sky seems to do quite well and human civilization has also been quite good at. Furthermore, entropy is not the same thing as chaos and does not fit into the picture you are painting. For instance a random Gaussian distribution of wealth has much higher entropy than the very ordered distribution where 1% of the population has almost all the wealth.

> Nobody has been more wrong throughout the history than those expert economists.

Plenty people have been more wrong, e.g. the Great Leap Forward.

Anomie and omni/suicidal destruction are only a self-fulfilling prophecy only if you subscribe to, and reinforce, learned helplessness as you appear to with a chicken-little "let's do nothing because it doesn't matter" or "it's someone else's problem" argument.

But human nature is Inertia. So humans should be striving for less Chaos.

Which I think precisely is reason why so many people are suffering with depression and anxiety. People just cannot cope with the speed of change everywhere around the world.

Compared to the 80's or 90's in which life was much more slower and calmer, today everybody is living life on steroid. Everyone constantly feels they must optimize every detail of their life to increase productivity and yet it's still not enough.

Things will get more chaos everyday and there is no way for us to avoid it. We just need to let it all go and accept the fact that nobody can change this world, especially not by these politicians who are completely useless. Don't cling onto the life of the past, embrace the state of entropy and do not fight it.

A system failed not the ‘elites’. This was a referendum we should never have had. This was a referendum that was badly executed. This was a referendum whose result was impossible to achieve. This is a disaster of a modern democracy.

Never have a referendum that doesn’t explain in detail how to achieve either result. If you can’t explain how to achieve the results then it’s not a matter that is appropriate for a referendum. Brexit falls squarely in the latter camp.

This is a time where the monarch can and should apply mild pressure. That’s kind of the benefit of a monarchy, they have the long term interest at heart and can (used sparingly) knock people into place

The monarchs continued legitimacy and global reach is only sustained through a lack of domestic political involvement.

That's the claim, I'm saying is bullocks. There are monarch's who've been asked to return and there are monarchs (such as Norway) who have a very high approval rating.

Assisting in fixing the whole Brexit thing would be amazingly good for them politically.

Wouldn't that only aggravate republicans?

Note: Republican means something very different in the UK than in the US.

Do republicans even exist, outside London?

who are generally on the side of Brexit

I'm not sure how this is a failure of the elite. The elite want to be in the EU and we are still in the EU. That doesn't seem to be a failure to me. That seems to be a success.

> and we are still in the EU

Ben, I hope you do realize your premise changes in roughly ~10 weeks, unless something extraordinary happens. Theresa is determined to leave..

Seems like the "elites" are holding out hope for something extraordinary to me, like a second referendum. Brexit being as painful as possible is a means to achieve said goal.

> Theresa is determined to leave.

And rightly so, given the referendum outcome. However, she and the EU have a common incentive to kick the can down the road for quite a while and preserve some possibility (however small) of getting to something other than hard Brexit. It's not going to be over in 10 weeks.

I actually think this is unlikely. I actually I hope it happens because I think the EU is a long term con. Basically the EU is holding free trade as a hostage. Free trade offers great benefits but the EU as an institution can continue to force a greater political union on the countries forming the union even if this political union is not to the benefit of these countries. We are seeing it right now with the Brexit negotiations. There are two clear paths that solve the Irish issue but neither of them are possible because it would destroy the EU as an institution.

Solution 1)

Split the tariff union and the political union. The UK joins the tariff union. I honestly think most leave voters would be happy with the compromise of losing control over tariffs if they retain control over everything else. However, this basically destroys the EU as a political union because the EU as political union only exists because of the benefits of free trade and if every country can defect and maintain free trade they will.

Solution 2)

The EU offers a free trade area between the EU and the UK. This has some negative consequences for the EU and the UK in that they are restricted in the way in which they can increase tariffs from before the agreement to post the agreement. Again I think most leave voters would be happy with this trade off. Also, this restriction should not be a big deal for the EU. However, from the point of view of the EU as institution this is very bad because the UK is basically enjoying the benefits of free trade without the political union. If the UK is able to do this then all the other countries who do not benefit from the political union will want to do it and the political union will collapse.

The EU is a big problem for the UK going forward because they can keep demanding a closer and closer political union and use the threat of the UK losing free trade to make this possible. At what point should the UK walk away from the EU? I think it is better to rip off the band-aid now.

And just to add. Most economists believe free trade is beneficial to all parties. So why are the UK and the EU not able to agree on a WTO free trade area deal which would solve the Irish issue and presumably benefit both the EU and the UK in a post-brexit world?

Surely, this is a win-win outcome unless you are trying to punish someone for taking a branch in the game tree you don't want them to.

The reason I think it is unlikely that the UK will leave the EU with a hard brexit is because it doesn't seem like the government has taken reasonable steps in order to maximise the benefit for this course of action. Surely, if you considered a hard brexit an option you would be actively negotiating bilateral and free trade agreements with other countries. I understand if you were resource strapped this might not be something you would pursue but the UK government is not resource strapped and it would seem to make sense to pursue these deals even if there was like a 10% chance of a hard brexit.

May and her government are probably massively incompetent but it is hard to believe that they are that incompetent. I suspect either May or her bureaucracy believe the Britain's interests are best served staying in the EU and they are trying to engineer the situation to maximise the chance of this happening.

I stopped reading once you made a distinction between “tariffs” and “politics”: you don’t have one without the other. You have a common market only if you can agree common rules, and you agree common rules with shared political institutions.

You cannot buy chlorine-washed chicken in the EU because EU countries agreed that, in order to be able to freely trade chicken in the union, chicken should have certain qualities - qualities defined through a political process.

The EU is simply a place where all the stuff that used to get done with slow and opaque bilateral treaties or with wars, now gets done mostly in the open, faster and more democratically than before. It doesn’t “hold free trade hostage”, it’s actually the opposite: it takes free trade to its eventual consequences. Everything is free to trade, all the time; but to do that, we must agree on common standards to make, sell, buy, and consume all stuff - it wouldn’t be fair competition, otherwise, right?

So we built a process to write these rules together. Once we have rules, we need ways to enforce them and amend them - which happen to be useful to also sort out other pesky issues like borders and to foster collaboration in various endeavours. And if all products and services can be freely moved across the market, why shouldn’t people be allowed to do the same?

That’s the EU, in a nutshell; built on and for commerce. Trying to unpick trade from the rule-writing is nonsensical.

> Surely, if you considered a hard brexit an option you would be actively negotiating bilateral and free trade agreements with other countries.

Britain cannot negotiate new trade agreements until they have actually departed the EU.

> The elite want to be in the EU

Does that mean Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jacob Reese-Mogg, Michael Gove and their friends are not "elite"? In that case, I don't think that word means what you think it means.

The truth is that there are bits of elite on both sides, and that humanizing a social class is just a propaganda trick.

>Does that mean Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Jacob Reese-Mogg, Michael Gove and their friends are not "elite"?

Well, with the possible exception of Farage, these people wanted to remain. They just wanted to posture and score political points. Which is why they all panicked when the referendum went the way it did.

The only one of those who had serious doubts was Boris Johnson, and he built a career on writing lies about the EU when he was a journalist. JRM has always been a hard leaver. Farage has always been a hard leaver. Arron Banks has always been a hard leaver. I could go on listing 90% of the Leave campaign from a wealthy background, but I have stuff to do.

The Tories, who are the natural party of the elite, have been deeply split on this subject since the 70s. That’s why we’re even having this argument in the first place.

how is it a failure? they are in power. all a politician should care about is getting into power and remaining in power (and gracefully exiting gracefully before people shoot you out) they promised a referendum because that's what people wanted in order to vote for them. success #1.

they held the referendum and accepted the result, based their policy on it, because that was people had voted for. the result was winning an election and clinging to power. success #2.

perhaps the new leader of the tories will do things differently and ignore the referendum, but that will only be a succcess if he manages to win the election. but to me it seems unlikely that will be a succesful strategy especially with that corbyn dude breathing down your neck. papers like the economist tend to dismiss him as an extremist, but he's a man with an affinity for populism and a serious problem for the tories.

apparantly chooosing your schoolmates to be your running mate is the recipe for success in politics. perhaps power is all about whom you can trust. maybe boris johnson is an idiot, but he is someone who has affinity for the common man, she knows him from way back and she knows he would not stab her in the back. that makes him a rather useful idiot.

Perhaps if the Brexit referendum required 66% or some other supermajority, this would not be so hard to make happen.

I don't know enough about Brexit to know whether I would be in the leave or remain camp if I was allowed to vote in the referendum, but I do know that they screwed up in the beginning by making this massive decision only need 50% + 1 vote in order to be passed. However, since those were the rules of the game, I do think they should go forward with it.

The required acceptance level is one factor. But I guess an even more important factor is the „what are we actually voting for“ question.

I‘d have solved this by having two votes, one to start a negotiation about the exit terms. And then a second one, once an agreement on the terms has been reached. That way, everyone can know ehat they are actually voting for.

From my reading of Brexit it appears that there are a lot of elites on both sides of the fight...

Just seems to me that one side of elites has co-opted the non-elites more effectively on this occasion.

2016: brexit vote indicates failure of elite

2019: failure to ratify vote indicates failure of elite

pick one

You equate a target (EU membership) as the criteria for failure, whereas the failure is in the approach to the problem itself, regardless of outcomes.

A decent elite would not have gambled away the future of the country just to get rid of a couple of party rivals (2016) or to keep a schizophrenic party together (2019). In both cases, machinations were set in motion in a completely careless way, with an outrageously cavalier attitude, and now the country as a whole is falling apart - regardless of whether we get back to pre-2016 state or we become Singapore-on-Thames, 20m people will forever feel angry and disenfranchised. No party intrigue is worth that price.

(It is incredibly funny and sad at the same time, that the guy who started it all was elected on a platform of fixing the "Broken Society" that Britain, in his words, had become. Good job, Dave - you really broke it for good now.)

I'm sick of people saying it is inevitable that Brexit will be a failure. Do you have a crystal ball?

Pretty tired also of deliberately provocatory trolls with no reading-comprehension skills. Please point out where I said brexit will be a failure, or GTFO.

"They shouldn't have riled people up to vote for brexit, but once the people did, they should have carried it out". No need to pick one.

The vote has been "ratified" because it only asked if Britain should leave the EU, and without a new referendum, it will.

If I had to model an elite failure it is this: people on both sides began to pretend a "hard" Brexit was an unthinkable catastrophe, this after an even sillier period when people talked as if Britain got to choose between soft and hard Brexits as a kind of policy choice.

In truth such things could only ever have been the outcome of a negotiation (or failure of negotiation) with the rest of the EU. The government should, from the get-go, have said "we will try to negotiate a deal, but we will also prepare for a hard exit".

This would have both prepared the country in the case of an outcome like this, and reduced the chances of it too by strengthening May's position when negotiating the terms of an exit -- thus making the final deal more acceptable to Parliament.

I think you are assuming a lot of things. If you think Britain leaving the EU is massively -EV then failing to negotiate trade agreements with other countries in order to create a better fallback position when negotiations fail with the EU is actually +EV.

How about "Forcing a brexit vote indicates a failure of the elite. Failure to ratify a brexit deal indicates a further failure of the elite"

"Too much democracy indicates a failure of the elite."

"Too little democracy indicates a failure of the elite."

Pick one.

The article specifically talks about how other countries correctly handle these decisions democratically. It's not the quantity of democracy under question, but how democracy is being applied by political leadership is repeatedly a signal of failure.

This nuance you're overlooking is why false dichotomies like yours and GP's are considered fallacies.

> pick one

That is a model example of a false dichotomy.

Yeah that is just sophistry.

2016: Incompetent elite's create a problem.

2019: Incompetent elites make it worse.

Deeper problem is part of the neoliberal revolution was popular will was to be neutered, the political process was to be neutered. So that they couldn't interfere with the the free market or oppose the power of the rentier class.

So now you have voters, politicians, and the media that see politics and policy as a game that doesn't matter. Two generations of this and people wonder why there is no competence. Big wonder!

The problems of the EU were well known among educated persons well before the Maastricht treaty was even signed.


And that's just another data point that shows incompetence.

The Maastricht treaty took away fiscal and central banking tools that governments could use and replaced them with... nothing.

That just proves my point here.

Indeed. I am agreeing with you and supporting your perspective.

One of the things I realized watching this was this stuff probably holds together in the US because.

Federal Social Insurance programs, Social security, Unemployment, food stamps, and other transfer payments. These substitute for states inability to print their own money. and set exchange rates or control the flow of capital.

The Banking system is backstopped by the Federal Reserve not individual states. See Texas and California during the S&L crisis.

And the lack of tribal attitudes. Europeans think Greeks need to pay back all the money their government borrowed from French and German Banks. No one in the US really feels that way about Puerto Ricans.

You're exactly correct. Transfer payments keep our federal union whole.

As an aside, the states actually do have de facto currency issuing power as a function of their sovereignty and taxing authority. It's rarely exercised, but it has been done. For example when California failed to pass a budget a decade ago, it started paying with IOUs that it also accepted as payment for state tax liabilities[1]. They even strong-armed banks into accepting the IOUs as deposits. The total sum was nearly $3 billion. So the states can print money.

[1] https://www.sco.ca.gov/eo_news_registeredwarrants.html

Reminded me, the EU has the power to limit the size of member states budget deficits. But this only enforced against economically weaker states. The US federal government has no such power.

I think China in the last 15 years has taken the opposite tack, demanding regional governments run large deficits and loaning them the money. Which works because, Chinese leadership can give two shits about the books.

It can be interpreted as a model example of a paradox just as easily. Depends on how you want to interpret the actors and motives.

You're assuming the elite can fail only once.

Holding the referendum was a failure of David Cameron. He tried to use the referendum to shut up a wing of his party. He should have picked a different tool, or else just ignored them.

The wording of the referendum, the non-specificity of it, was an additional failure.

Then Cameron failed in that the referendum passed. This was the opposite of shutting up that wing of his party. He should have campaigned for Remain, instead of just doing nothing. (Shooting down some of the Leave lies would have been useful, too.) The referendum passing is a failure of leadership.

Cameron, apparently tired of failing, bailed at this point, and Theresa May became Prime Minister.

May's first failure was regarding the referendum as binding, when it wasn't.

May got the best deal she could out of Europe. Parliament failed to ratify that deal. That is the success of Parliament, rather than a failure - they saw a bad idea, and they chose not to do it.

But May's failure is her determination to press on with a hard Brexit, even though that is also a bad idea. She seems totally unwilling to stand up and say, "No, this is a bad idea, and we're not going to do it" - and pay the political price for doing so. She acts as though Corbyn becoming PM would be a greater disaster than a hard Brexit.

In fairness, nobody else is willing to stand up and call a halt to this travesty, either. That's a failure of leadership.

So, yes, the 2016 vote was a maelstrom of fail. It wasn't just one event, it was a whole series of them. Events since then have also been a series of failures. The only exception was a moment of sanity by Parliament, in failing to ratify the negotiated deal.

There may be one more moment of sanity to come. If I understand correctly (and I may well not, I'm not in the UK), Parliament gets to vote on a hard Brexit, too. If they reject that, nothing remains but to revoke the invocation of Article 50. Doing so would be the opposite of a failure.


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