Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A Few (More) Notes on the Brexit

This article annoyed me, mostly because I see it as an abuse of Venn diagrams, although it does say some interesting things about the Brexit.

See, this isn't a proper Venn diagram.  It would better be drawn as a triangle with one side saying "Won't crash UK economy," "Acceptable to EU 27 states" and "Acceptable to Leave voters" on the side and each point of the triangle showing where the two items (but never three) converge.  A proper Venn diagram should have something in the areas that don't overlap, as well as more than one option in areas that do.  And either areas that overlap with all categories or an explicit note that there is no such place.

Now this is a REAL Venn diagram:

Or, if that is too complicated, here is a simpler (and unrelated) example of how a Venn diagram should work.

The basic argument is that the remaining EU members are not going to be willing to negotiate an exit on favorable terms.  They either want Britain to cave and agree to remain, or they want to make leaving intentionally painful.  It was rather the same with Greece, except that Greece was a lot more vulnerable than Britain.  For Britain, as for Greece, the best way out of this dilemma ("trilemma?") is to drag out negotiations until it becomes obvious to all that the EU is trying to make an example of them to show the price for wanting out.  Once that becomes apparent, it should sufficiently fire up British nationalism that the Brits will be willing to accept the hardships that accompany exit.  In other words, what is called for is a top-notch demagogue, something the Brits do not usually excel at, but they are working on it.

In any event, I count myself among people who believe that the near-term consequences of the Brexit won't be all that ruinous.  Anxiety will cause the pound to fall, British exports and tourism will boom, and it will be a case of everyone being pinched but no one being really impoverished.  What concerns me is not whether some demagogue will be able to inflame enough nationalism to persuade people to endure whatever hardships accompany leaving the EU.

It is the kind of demagogue we are most likely to see come forward.  Alexis Tsipras was the sort of demagogue I could approve of, the kind who punches up rather than kicking down.  If Tsipras had had the guts to take the Grexit (and the skill to manage it well, a dubious proposition) he would have appealed to Greek nationalism by denouncing those Eurocrats (specifically German Eurocrats) who wanted to wreck the Greek economy as a lesson to anyone else who might try to stand up to their dictates, and offer Greece as an inspiration to debtors everywhere wanting to stand up to Eurocratic/German imperialism.  It would require a certain delicacy of touch not often seen among demagogues to get the Greeks fired up enough to be able to endure the (genuinely severe) hardships that leaving the euro would have entailed without firing them up to something stupid like trash the German embassy, let alone make mob attacks on German tourists.  But at least I could trust Tsipras not to scapegoat immigrants.

Boris Johnson, Britain's most promising demagogue
The problem in Britain is that anger over immigrants was probably the major factor driving the "Leave" vote.  That means that a really effective demagogue will not just be one who stokes British rage over being made an example of, but one who encourages treating immigrants as scapegoats and is willing to inflame resentment toward them.  In other words, in a land not noted for its demagogues, Britain appears to have one ready in the wings in the person of Boris Johnson, the new foreign minister, described as Donald Trump with his wig on backwards. 

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