Choose your elites – I’ll go with the ones that have done some proper work

The FT’s Janan Ganesh was at his most eloquent earlier this week when he laid into Leave campaigners who dismiss anything from the Remain side as establishment or elitist.

There is bespoke invective for any third party who speaks against their cause, always on the theme of elite collusion. The governor of the Bank of England? Goldman Sachs puppet. Big business? Gluttons at the trough. As for the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde, she was put up to it by Treasury back-scratchers.

Yet the leaders of the Leave side are just as much an elite as the other lot. He continues:

What damns the Leavers is not their belief that the Treasury forecast is wrong. It is the hint they give off that they do not really mind if it is right. They can live with a recession if they must. If others cannot, well, nobody said the path to freedom is lined with cherry blossom. Their nonchalance is all the worse for their pose as underdog yeomen, a droll routine that has cabinet members and an Etonian former mayor of London deploring the “establishment”, presumably while buffing each other’s brass necks.

As if to prove him right, the following day, after publishing its report on the impact of Brexit on public finances, the Institute for Fiscal Studies was accused of being a “paid-up propaganda arm of the European commission” by Vote Leave and “part of the cosy establishment” by John Redwood.

The establishment has never been easy to define but if a director of N M Rothschild, Fellow of All Souls, MP in the governing party and former cabinet minister isn’t part of it, I don’t know who is.

The leaders of the Leave side are just as much establishment as the leaders of Remain. It may look like they have fewer big names but it’s worth remembering that most of the newspaper owners want Britain to leave the EU. A Reuters study published last week showed that most of the UK newspaper coverage was heavily skewed towards Brexit. Not bad for a supposedly anti-establishment campaign.

No, the truth of it is that, as with elections, the EU referendum is a competition between elites. The voters must make up their own minds but the information they get comes through politicians, academics, journalists, think tanks, industry bodies and professional services firms.

A commonly heard complaint every time you hear people interviewed is that they want the facts. That’s pretty difficult, given that we are talking about what might happen in the future but most of those who have analysed the data and used it to model the various scenarios have drawn similar conclusions. The numbers might be different but the story is the same.

The IFS report summarised them:

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 12.23.52

Apart from Economists for Brexit and Open Europe’s most optimistic scenario, every other study has concluded that the economy would be smaller by 2030 if we left the EU. The projections range from horrendous to merely unpleasant.

The estimates for the short-term hit are, if anything, even worse as they occur over a shorter period.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 17.20.16

The figures from the CBI/PwC study are particularly interesting as they expect a severe hit and then things to settle down and improve over the longer term. This chart shows their most optimistic scenario.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 17.31.27

The trouble is, as Janan says, most of us don’t have the resources to weather that storm. It may indeed turn out more-or-less OK in the end. It’s possible that, by 2030, the economy might not be that much worse. It might even be slightly better, though I doubt it. But in the meantime, our already fragile economy, with its slowing growth, flatlining productivity and an inability to cope with the sort of interest rates we used to think of as normal, will have been given another kicking. That means even slower pay growth if we are lucky and possibly pay cuts and unemployment if we are not. Even for those of us in relatively secure jobs, that’s another five years the youngsters have to save to buy a house and another five years the middle-aged have to work before they can retire. In short, with the economy as it is, another recession would be enough to finish a lot of us off.

Set against this, all the opposing elite has to offer is bluster and polemic. Their articles may be beautifully written, their speeches entertaining and sprinkled with classical references but they are short on anything that comes even close to evidence. Rather than building up their own body of knowledge, they have tried to denigrate their opponents with ad hominem attacks. As even the Mail on Sunday concluded last week:

They have failed to produce a substantial body of evidence that Britain will prosper or gain as a result of quitting the EU, and time is running out for them to do so.

Leaving the EU is a one-way door. The onus is on the people who want the change to make the case and they haven’t come anywhere near.

When choosing which elites to believe, I am more inclined to go with the ones that have given this some proper thought; the organisations who have looked at the numbers in detail and used sound methodologies to draw their conclusions. Should we leave the EU, none of them will be right, at least not exactly, but they will probably not be far short of the mark. When lots of clever people have crunched the numbers and have come to a broadly similar conclusion, there is probably something in what they say.

There is no elitist conspiracy here. Just about everybody who has looked at the evidence in any detail believes that leaving the EU would be a disaster for the UK. You may describe some of the people who say this as establishment but they are no more so than their critics. The difference is that those warning about the dangers of leaving the EU have actually done some work.

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21 Responses to Choose your elites – I’ll go with the ones that have done some proper work

  1. Pete North says:

    Plenty good reasons to ignore the IFS report…

    http://peterjnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/the-ifs-report-is-another-one-worth.html

    All economists in this are forging their projections on the basis of a groupthink – based on a bogus leave scenario – because they have the same blindspot for regulation/TBTs as you do. As for Ganesh, his snobbery and condescension is way more repellent that the ineptitude of Vote Leave.
    http://peterjnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/economists-deserve-to-be-ignored.html

  2. P Hearn says:

    The campaign from both sides has been less than edifying and I cannot think of a single personality on either side that emerges with much credit. Neither seems remotely interested in painting a positive vision for their cause: the scare stories are just a depressing strategy, and one which now seems to dominate politics.

    If Remain doesn’t win this by 10 to 15 points, they’ll have failed. They have government, civil service, the entire BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BoE, IMF, Obama, independent think tanks, France, Germany, students and Uncle Tom Cobbly warning us they’ll be everything from two years additional austerity, immediate recession, forced repatriation to full-on war in Europe, if we leave.

    Combine this with the natural human inclination to stick with the status quo, and Remain already has this in the bag.

    On the Leave side, the campaign has failed to paint any inspiring vision for life outside the EU. That’s a great shame, because it was a chance to make people consider whether they need ever more layers of government and bureaucracy to rule their lives. However, that vision hasn’t come, so that, too, is a lost cause.

    Those of us wanting an EU exit must now wait for the whole project to implode. I doubt, at 52 years old, that’ll be in my lifetime, but my kids might see it. Leavers should now press for full federalisation of Europe and the abolition of national parliaments so that we can at least cut government back down to fewer layers, mostly based in Brussels, and make plain the objective of the EU “grand projet”

    Once this referendum is over, I’d like another referendum to decide what the next referendum should be about.

    • David says:

      I’ll vote for that !

    • On the whole you are right.

      As to, “On the Leave side, the campaign has failed to paint any inspiring vision for life outside the EU.”

      They say we get democracy back – at least our smaller version of it – e.g. no proportional representation when every vote counts.

      Also they say we are big enough to run our own country – something the Remainians say we cannot – no other country will talk to us any more e.g. trade or security.

      The most negative campaign by far is the Inners – the world will virtually end according to them – world war and everything but hoard of locusts.

    • RES says:

      “If Remain doesn’t win this by 10 to 15 points, they’ll have failed. They have government, civil service, the entire BBC, ITV, Channel 4, BoE, IMF, Obama, independent think tanks, France, Germany, students and Uncle Tom Cobbly warning us they’ll be everything from two years additional austerity, immediate recession, forced repatriation to full-on war in Europe, if we leave.”

      It’s not really a failure of Remain. It’s a failure of the establishment, the institutions of state and their representatives to earn the public’s trust. The opinion of someone neither liked nor trusted is very easily dismissed – even if it’s right.

  3. I am amazed that we have more than 5% of the population voting to leave who cannot see the problems getting worse in the EU or that us remaining makes our own problems worse – especially for the sake of our kid’s.

    These blinkered people want to do the same for our grand-children.

    The Electoral Commission is in charge of guaranteeing a fair contest for the official EU referendum campaigns – I wrote to them:

    Why are you allowing all the authorities to give biased one sided advice in support of the government position?

    They warn of the dangers of leaving – yet we are given to believe there is no danger in staying.

    This then is propaganda and not objective advice or a fair contest. How am I mistaken?

  4. Patricia Leighton says:

    I am very puzzled by arguments from the Brexit side that state that the UK is economically strong enough to take ion the world, make deals with everyone, take the lead in all sorts of ways, and yet are so weak they cannot stand up to other EU states or the EU itself.( And please don’t lecture us on democracy or lack of from the EU. Take a look at the unelected House of Lords, and the unfair voting systems we have here)There are many and varied benefits we have gained from the EU both nationally and individually. lets hear more of them, fewer statistics, more ordinary people especially women and free ourselves from these sterile arguments, siundbites and distiortions from the so-called press.

    • Angela says:

      “There are many and varied benefits we have gained from the EU both nationally and individually. lets hear more of them,”

      You haven’t posted any, even though you had the chance to. You’re asking other people to do it, and bypassing the chance yourself.

      Nick Clegg in 2014 said he would set out the case for being in the EU. He failed spectacularly, despite a wall-to-wall media campaign to convince everyone that he’d succeeded.

      There is not one politician capable of doing it, because it can’t be done. Don’t even get me started on celebrities or the ‘captains of industry’.

  5. John says:

    Rick:
    Thank you – as always – for presenting us with some reasoned analysis.
    It has been hard – if not impossible – to get anything like this from the mass media.
    Many people, I think, are finding this decision a tussle between head and heart, so to speak.
    Ultimately, I view the leading Leavers as part of the retrograde end of our political society.
    I don’t think much of Cameron and Osborne either but they will be gone in a few years.
    I am now “sold”; I will probably vote to remain on June 23rd – before, I was unsure.
    I think most of the claims for Remain are way over-blown but the alternative is just not known.
    If the Remainers are right, famine, pestilence and the Black Death would be sure to follow Leave!

    • “If the Remainers are right, famine, pestilence and the Black Death would be sure to follow Leave!”

      And you think they would not exaggerate – the people that lied to us about “tens of thousands” and the authorities that advised us to go into the Euro – who allowed the crash to happen with no financial control?

      The Electoral Commission is in charge of a fair contest – I wrote to them:

      Why are you allowing all the authorities to give biased one sided advice in support of the government position?

      They warn of the dangers of leaving – yet we are given to believe there is no danger in staying.

      This then is propaganda and not objective advice or a fair contest. How am I mistaken?

      Still no reply from the incompetent government stooges.

    • Angela says:

      Of course the alternative is known. It has always been possible for countries to thrive as self-governing. It always will be. Medium-sized countries have numerous advantages socially, politically, economically and culturally over supersized ones.

      The future of the EU is hidden because of all the lies. Vote for it if you think you know what it is.

  6. Keith says:

    I think that the rational part of the ruling class have all they want from the EU project. The leave side are fronted by people who are romantics and pawns of, as you say, certain interests like the press barons. The reality is that all past Governments have taken an À la carte approach. They have accepted the single market while rejecting successfully most of the things they dislike. The “conservative” case for Brexit just is not there. Like the former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell talking about a “thousand years of British History” being threatened by the EEC it is all emotional and irrational bunk. Wilson moved pragmatically to a pro EU position as PM. As have all other Prime Ministers. Off course that is not how either side sells their support for the EU, that it is good for big business so that is fine with us. But both Labour and the Conservative party support what is good for trade and business as that is what gives the State and nation what it wants namely wealth and high tax revenue to pay for public services. Come election time if you have the wealth to bribe the voters you win, if you do not you tend to lose. It is this kind of calculation that I suspect converts sceptical politicians to a pro EU position they may not have started off with.

  7. Angela says:

    “Leaving the EU is a one-way door.”

    Not necessarily, unless you’re in charge and can dictate that. But you’re talking as if the EU is the only game in town, which would be a strange view, but not unexpected.

    “The onus is on the people who want the change to make the case and they haven’t come anywhere near.”

    No it isn’t. The onus is on the ones who want the UK to be in the EU in the first place, and to re-rubber-stamp the 1975 vote, and to commit to ever close union in every law, every policy, and every practice.

    You, Rick, are the one advocating the change. Those of us who want the UK to be self-governing are advocating the continuation of the UK. You are advocating its abolition. You cannot do that by getting 51% or 60-odd% of the vote in a badly-run referendum (see 1975 for an example of how that works in practice).

    The onus is on those who say we’re better off liquidating the UK’s democracy, sovereignty, self-governance, to convince everyone that you’re right and they are wrong. Economists and think tanks won’t do that job for you. They’re not capable of it, their subjects are limited in scope and their role in society is neither to lead us nor govern us. Why would an intelligent person try to elevate them into that position?

    The UK is the status quo. You want to change it to the EU. The answer is ‘no’.

    • Ivan Pope says:

      What our elected government divides is the democratic choice. Our membership of the EU is democratic and supported by all elected governments. How is that not totally democratic?

  8. JohnM says:

    From my viewpoint of Britain BEFORE we entered the EU, and Britain SINCE we entered the EU, I have decided that staying in is the better option in both long and short term. I read no “news”papers, since none are unbiased and all are owned by people who would sell their mothers into slavery to get a few quid more (and live abroad for “tax” reasons). It must be really galling for politicians to realise that the EU doesn’t think the sun shines out of their anal regions…so be it.
    View story at Medium.com

  9. James says:

    All well and good talking about elites and economics but when i talk to people around me all they care about is ‘stopping the bloody immigrants’, even from people i consider liberal in every other area. You can talk economics and how they benefit from other laws until blue in the face but for some people stemming immigration (which won’t change much even with leaving) is the only thing the care about.

    If we vote to leave, the country will be a shambles for at least 2 decades because of the bigotry of the ‘left behind’ demographic.

  10. Nick the Slick says:

    What won my vote was the 18% reduction in house prices.
    The best reason for my vote.

  11. Pingback: Brexit part II: the economy and the left – Negative Capability

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