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I’m stunned. And it is likewise with just about everyone I know who’s reacted so far on social media, not to mention countless others. It’s the near unanimous reaction by everyone who supported Remain, as it was so utterly unexpected. The collective shock and dismay on my English Twitter feed—which I checked every half hour until 5am, when the outcome was clear—was total. And the final result wasn’t even close. 52-48 is not a cliffhanger. So much for the betting markets, which had reinforced my confidence on the eve of the vote that Remain would win, even handily. And then there are the polling institutes, whose credibility will take another hit. This is disquieting. Political scientist Yascha Mounk, in a commentary on social media last night, noted that the polls had significantly underestimated the anti-establishment vote, which “should give us a healthy degree of skepticism about current U.S. polls that see Trump trailing badly.” As the parallels between the Brexit and Trump phenomenons are manifest—in the composition of their electorates, populist rejection of “elites,” economic precariousness and déclassement, hostility to immigration, nationalism—the point is well-taken.
On the Brexit (and Trump) electorate, political scientist Takis Pappas recommended last night an article in The Telegraph dated June 7th—which he called the “best pre-referendum analysis”—by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “‘Irritation and anger’ may lead to Brexit, says influential psychologist,” the psychologist being Israeli-American Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. This one is worth quoting extensively:
British voters are succumbing to impulsive gut feelings and irrational reflexes in the Brexit campaign with little regard for the enormous consequences down the road, the world’s most influential psychologist has warned.
Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel laureate and father of behavioural economics, said the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society.
“The major impression one gets observing the debate is that the reasons for exit are clearly emotional,” he said.
“The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger. These seem to be powerful enough that they may lead to Brexit”…
Professor Kahneman, who survived the Nazi occupation of France as a Jewish child in the Second World War, said the risk is that the British people will be swept along by emotion and lash out later at scapegoats if EU withdrawal proves to be a disastrous strategic error.
“They won’t regret it because regret is rare. They’ll find a way to explain what happened and blame somebody. That is the general pattern when things go wrong and people are afraid,” he said.
The refusal to face up to the implications of what is really at stake in the referendum comes as no surprise to a man imbued with deep sense of anthropological pessimism.
“Confidence has very little to do with the information on which it is based…”
His life’s work is anchored in studies showing that people are irrational. They are prone to cognitive biases and “systematic errors in thinking”, made worse by chronic over-confidence in their own judgment – and the less intelligent they are, the more militantly certain they tend to be.
On the Trump phenomenon—which is not off the topic here—Kahneman has this
“Donald Trump is psychologically fascinating. He represents a sort of ideal in that he is very rich, and people want to be rich,” he said.
“He’s a masculine fantasy: lots of money and lots of women. He is not afraid of anything. In the context of politicians who seem to be doing nothing, it feels compelling. He looks strong. He is a bully, and people like bullies,” he said.
Prof Kahneman compares the Trump syndrome to the strange response of Americans to rape cases that he studied in the 1980s. Society has a proclivity to blame the victim – in the Trump saga: Mexicans, Muslims, and others – because people subtly conform to the idea that the rapist cannot act otherwise.
“It is a very interesting phenomenon and it has reached the point where Trump can get away with almost anything. ‘The bully is immutable, it is in his nature, that is what he does’, and once you convince people that it is normal for you to do that kind of thing, you can get away with things that nobody else could get away with,” he said.
Corrosive economic stress seems to be the backdrop for why such a large slice of American society is willing to suspend its normal judgment. He says globalisation was badly managed in favour of winners, and has left a tens of millions of losers.
“It destroyed American manufacturing and the American middle class. There are places where real incomes have dropped 30pc over the last thirty years. There used to be a concept that if you do your job, and live your life properly, things will be fine. People don’t think that any more,” he said.
The piece has other gems, so read it all here.
À propos, I liked this passage by Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum, in an instant commentary last night
I don’t have any personal axe to grind on Brexit. Except for one: I am sick and tired of watching folks like Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, and others appeal to the worst racial instincts of our species, only to be shushed by folks telling me that it’s not really racism driving their popularity. It’s economic angst. It’s regular folks tired of being spurned by out-of-touch elites. It’s a natural anxiety over rapid cultural change.
Maybe it’s all those things. But at its core, it’s the last stand of old people who have been frightened to death by cynical right-wing media empires and the demagogues who enable them—all of whom have based their appeals on racism as overt as anything we’ve seen in decades. It’s loathsome beyond belief, and not something I thought I’d ever see in my lifetime. But that’s where we are.
On right-wing media, it is clear that this has been a principal factor in the stoking of Europhobic sentiment in the UK. One of my cousins in England—who’s lived in the US—told me last year that a Fox News-type network would not fly in the UK. Well, with high-circulation rags like The Sun, Daily Mail, and Daily Express, who needs a Fox?…
David Cameron, the biggest idiot in the modern history of 10 Downing Street, has naturally announced his resignation, but one other person also needs to quit—or be ejected from his leadership position—and that’s Jeremy Corbyn, who bears at least some responsibility for the outcome in view of his quasi absence from the campaign, barely concealed Euroscepticism, and his passivity as a large portion of his party’s electorate defected to the sirens of UKIP. Corbyn needs to be dumped illico and replaced with Hilary Benn, with a newly pro-Europe Labour absorbing the moribund Lib Dems and perhaps attracting some moderate pro-Europe Tory voters. This will be all the more important if early elections are called, on which I have seen no speculation but seems logical in view of the Brexit victory.
The thing is, the referendum hasn’t decided anything, as it’s not binding. Only the parliament can vote to leave the EU and then ratify a new relationship with it. But what happens if the majority of deputies in the House of Commons are pro-Remain, as is the case today? And Cameron’s successor is likewise? À propos, Business Insider UK had a piece, dated June 21st, arguing “Why a Brexit is unlikely to happen even if the public votes for it.” Money quote
On Monday, Peter Catterall of the University of Westminster spoke with Business Insider to shed more light on why Brexiteers would inevitably be very disappointed by what would follow a Leave victory in the referendum.
“I think that most Leave voters expect to wake up on the 24th no longer in the EU if there is a Brexit vote,” Catterall told Business Insider. “Well, they’re going to be in for a shock.”
For Britain to begin withdrawing from the 28-nation bloc, the government would need to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The majority of Leave voters probably assume that this process would be triggered immediately, but that would probably not be the case.
(…) Pro-Brexit members of Parliament including Michael Gove have said they wouldn’t want to invoke Article 50 for at least two years because it would take that long to find out what sort of deal they could reach before they enter negotiations, Catterall said.
Catterall said: “It’s not just pro-EU Tories who have talked about delaying Article 50. People like Michael Gove have said that they wouldn’t want to implement the Article 50 procedure until at least 2018 because they think it would take a very long time to get things sorted.”
Cameron, who will leave office in October, has already said that it will be up to his successor to invoke Article 50. And unless that successor is the buffoon Boris Johnson—which I don’t see—Article 50 may end up waiting until the Greek Calends.
In this respect—and speaking of Greece—political scientist Michalis Moutselos, in some “scattered thoughts after the Brexit referendum,” made this parallel with the recent experience of his native country
If the Greek post-referendum experience shows anything, there is a way to reverse an anti-EU referendum vote and that is to give those banking on anti-EU populism “full” power to implement whatever their ideas of independence are. It is an enormously expensive crash course though and it leaves everyone poorer in the short term.
Reversing an anti-EU referendum. It’s not out of the question, via a vote in the House of Commons and/or a second referendum called after buyer’s remorse has settled in, particularly when the Scots demand another referendum of their own, plus the Ulster Catholics one to join the Irish Republic. And what if the “elites” decide that there is simply too much at stake on the EU question, that Brexit is too prejudicial to their interests, that the 48% does not want to cede to a 52% driven by fear and ignorance and whipped up by demagogic politicians and a gutter tabloid press, and all because of a merely consultative referendum that should have never been called in the first place? And what if the younger generation—which voted overwhelmingly Remain—decides that it does not want its future on the vital question of Europe decided by old farts who voted majority Leave and will be dead or in their dotage in twenty years? Legitimate questions. So Brexit is not a done deal. It ain’t over till it’s over.
For more on the international legal side of the issue, see yesterday’s post, by Harvard Law School student Zoe Bedell, on the Lawfare blog, “‘Brexit’ Hangover: The Morning After a ‘Leave’ Vote Explained.”
Historian Antony Beevor had a tribune in The Guardian, dated June 20th, “Brexit would make Britain the world’s most hated nation,” which is well worth the read (h/t Claire Berlinski).
A technical question on the referendum: Why does it take so long in the UK to count ballots? In France, where paper ballots are the rule, the count happens quickly. In a high turnout election, it takes 2 hours—and a max of 2½—to tabulate the ballots in a given polling station and certify the result. The procedures are efficient and 100% clean (having supervised some twenty vote counts here, I know of what I speak). 90% of the results are reported within three hours of the closing of the polls. Why is the UK less efficient than France on this score? Just asking.
I have not yet read any of the French reactions. Will do so and follow up.
UPDATE: Alan Renwick—the Deputy Director of The Constitution Unit, of University College London’s political science department—has a highly informative piece, dated June 20th, on the Unit’s website (h/t Jamie Mayerfeld), “The road to Brexit: 16 things you need to know about what will happen if we vote to leave the EU.” The bottom line: the Brexit, if it does come to pass, is going to be, to put it mildly, one huge casse-tête. Objectively speaking, the whole thing is just crazy.
2nd UPDATE: Charles Grant—director of the Centre for European Reform—has an analysis on “The impact of Brexit on the EU.” His conclusion
Given the political toxicity of free movement in the UK, the new prime minister will probably prefer the ‘Canada option’, meaning a free trade agreement (FTA). That would give very limited access to the single market and be particularly painful to the City of London: an FTA would not allow the ‘passporting’ system whereby a bank regulated in London is free to do business across the EU, without the need to be regulated by anyone else. Some foreign banks in the City are already planning to move significant numbers of staff to Frankfurt, Paris, Luxembourg or Dublin.
European leaders will have an interest in ensuring that the EU maintains a close economic relationship with the UK, for everyone’s benefit. But they will not compromise on fundamental principles, such as free movement of labour, as the price for single market access. And they will not want the exit talks to be pain-free, easy or pleasant for the British, since they wish to deter others from following the UK’s example.
See also the article by the CER’s John Springford and Simon Tilford in the January 2016 issue of Prospect, “Twelve things you need to know about Brexit:What would really happen if Britain left the European Union?”
3rd UPDATE: Andrew Moravcsik of Princeton University’s Politics Dept has posted an analysis of the vote on his Facebook page:
I am doubling down on my predictions a month ago about Brexit, linked [here]. Yes, referendums are uncertain, as I noted. But now we come to the interesting part of the prediction. This was, in my interpretation, all about local politics: who will govern Britain? If it is to be Boris Johnson, then he needs a united Conservative Party, with business interests behind him, and a policy that actually makes economic sense. Anyone who heard Boris Johnson’s speech this morning heard an entirely different individual than the Trumpesque populist who spoke just 24 hours ago: all about unity, pro-Europe, praising Cameron–because now it’s all about being PM. And now, despite saying yesterday that Britain would “thrive” outside the EU, he’s all for slowing it down: 6 months to a leadership change, maybe no Article 50, take it all at a leisurely pace. This is because, policy-wise, he has only two choices: negotiate something similar to current EU membership inside or outside the EU. Remember this is a guy who, just eight weeks ago, entered the referendum campaign with the public position that Britain could use a “Leave” vote to renegotiate Britain’s status within the EU and hold a second referendum. So I assume that’s his “real” preference. But even if that can’t be achieved, the stated Leave and Boris position has been to assure voters they can have all of the single market and, Johnson added today, defense, intelligence sharing, and foreign policy cooperation as well, from outside the EU as well. (Of course the notion that a British government would agree to accept the status of Switzerland or Norway–i.e. the substantive equivalent of EU membership, except perhaps free movement (of people), in exchange for surrendering democratic input into the making of those EU rules–is perverse for those who claimed Leave was not about nationalism but about democracy, but expecting consistency in ambitious politicians is unrealistic.) I stick by my argument: no matter what Britain pretends to do, there is no alternative to de facto EU membership–and Boris, a former mayor of London, is smart enough to see it and position himself appropriately.
4th UPDATE: Peter A. Hall, who teaches politics and European studies at Harvard and LSE, has a post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “The Brexit referendum: Britain between the past and the future.” This passage is noteworthy
Thus, the Leave side represents something of an unholy coalition. The referendum was sparked by demands from segments of the Conservative political elite for relief from the regulations of the E.U. in the name of national sovereignty. But focus groups organized for the vote revealed that most ordinary people had no idea what sovereignty actually means.
Instead, the issue dominating the vote was immigration, and the margin of victory for Leave came from traditional Labour voters worried that an influx of workers from Europe was depressing their wages or taking their jobs. That influx is real. While Britain had 66,000 immigrants from the E.U. in 2003, 270,000 came last year. However, it is notable that support for Brexit was strongest in areas with little immigration and weakest in London, a cosmopolitan city where nearly half the residents are foreign-born. To borrow an older terminology, this referendum pitted Britain’s most vibrant “boroughs” against its “shires.”
On the views of “ordinary people” who voted Leave, see this report on Channel 4 News. À chacun de faire sa propre appréciation.
On citizens voting en connaissance de cause—or maybe not—and some having immediate buyer’s remorse, WaPo has a report on how “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it.” It seems that a sizable number of voters cast ballots on the EU without having a clear idea of what the EU is or how it works. Having lived through the 2005 referendum campaign on the European Constitutional Treaty, I can attest that voters in France are hardly better informed on the EU than their UK counterparts.
5th UPDATE: Libération’s Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer has a comment on one possible implication of a Brexit, which is the status of the English language in the bodies of the European Union. English, as one knows, has become predominant in the work of the European Commission but, as Quatremer notes, if the UK leaves the EU, there will be no EU member for whom English is the declared official language (member states being allowed to declare only one language for the purposes of the EU; Ireland having thus chosen Gaelic, Cyprus Greek, and Malta Maltese). If English is the official language of no member state, then it logically follows that English can no longer be one of the three official languages for the work of the Commission, meaning that documents may no longer be written in it. The member states could, of course, vote to maintain English nonetheless but this would open a whole new can of worms, as Quatremer points out. Another sacré Brexit casse-tête.
6th UPDATE: Timothy Garton Ash has a powerful, must-read essay in The Guardian, “As an English European, this is the biggest defeat of my political life.”
7th UPDATE: A British friend here, now retired, who spent most of his career working with organisms of the European Union, has written the following to me in an email:
I’m floored. It is a physical body blow… and yes, I think it is a global disaster.
In the bigger picture (beyond EU countries to Trumpistan), I see at least 4 ideas
a) Globalisation (of which EU is a part) and technological change have left large sections of society behind – they do not have the skills to compete (and if we face the politically incorrect truth, they do not have the mental capacities – skills can be learned); we have created an underclass in a 1984 world, which is now in revolt. We will need to find a new social contract.
b) Our socially driven communication and education systems have dumbed down political discourse and we have delegitimised rational thought (including science); the general level of public education is low except for elites. The media has failed to challenge the untruths and simplifications. In other words it has failed as a constitutional bulwark which puts our democratic systems in peril. “Post-truth” politics can only lead to failure of our democracies and our human rights protections.
c) Democracy has been captured by the elites, but we have not found a way to make societal decisions which reflect the legitimacy of listening to the people and the requirement that, in a complex world, we need professional technocratic decision making (i.e. elites know best but don’t have legitimacy to decide).
d) The baby boomers have despoiled the environment and the economy in their favour and have screwed the younger generation
I am so disgusted, I can’t think anymore.
Friends and relatives of mine in England – plus Facebook friends there I don’t know personally and others I see on social media – are devastated by the referendum outcome. A sample:
A cousin (retired): “I am devastated… On the streets in St Albans over the past week I’ve heard some really idiotic and intolerant views expressed. What does it say about the culture of this country?”
Another cousin (lawyer in the City), early Friday morning: “Christ, watching Nigel Farage gloating over ‘his victory’. Am so depressed there are only two places for me today – in bed or at the pub.”
A friend (academic): “I’m going to cry… Feels like the apocalypse… It feels like 9/11 to be honest. I mean no comparison of course in terms of devastation and destruction, but same Holy Shit feeling.”
8th UPDATE: An FT reader (name unknown) has this excellent, must-read comment—which has been Tweeted and shared on Facebook by tens of thousands—on the “three tragedies” of the Brexit vote. [Update: The author of the comment is a Florence-based political journalist named Nicholas Barrett].
9th UPDATE: Here’s the best data I’ve seen on “How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why.” From Lord Ashcroft Polls (h/t Bob Bonwitt).
10th UPDATE: Two fine analyses by social scientists: “Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit,” by Will Davies of Goldsmiths, University of London, on the Political Economy Research Centre Blog; and “Britain riding the tectonic plates,” by David Held of Durham University, in Social Europe.
In his essay, Will Davies links to a four-minute video reflection, two days before the referendum, by Adam Ramsay and Anthony Barnett of OpenDemocracy UK, who spent a day interviewing voters in heavily pro-Leave Doncaster, in South Yorkshire. As they learned, those intending to vote Leave expected nothing to change for them in the event of a Brexit, there was practically no campaign in the city or any public debate or discussion over the issues or what was at stake, the Labour Party—the nº1 party there—was all but absent, and the pro-Leavers were devoid of any positive vision of the future. in other words, the act of voting Leave was a coup de gueule, or cri de cœur (choose your metaphor). Takeaway: People were going vote because the referendum had been organized and with the question of Brexit put to them, but they hadn’t demanded this. The referendum was, as is known to all, a base political maneuver by David Cameron to deal with an internal problem in his political party. It should have never been organized. And its outcome should be disregarded.
11th UPDATE: One consequence of Brexit: “UK scientists could lose $1.4 billion annually after leaving the EU,” in Big Think; and “Britain’s shaky status as a scientific superpower: Researchers say the country’s decision to leave the EU will reverse decades of academic gains,” in The Atlantic.
And this from The Guardian’s ‘EU Referendum Reality Check’ page: “Would Europeans be free to stay in the UK after Brexit? The leave campaign insists EU nationals already in Britain would be able to stay – but immigration lawyers say it’s not so simple.”
Seriously, who needs this?
12th UPDATE: Andrew Moravcsik has posted another thought on his Facebook page
When I predict that within 2-3 years there will either be a renegotiation with the EU (with or without the second referendum for which 1.5 million Brits have already petitioned), as Boris Johnson was advocating three months ago, or negotiation of a status equivalent to membership outside, it’s things like this statement that will push voters there. This is the type of cynical bait-and-switch of which politics is made—but now it will work for Europe.
Voter’s remorse will increase, one may be sure of that, toward which pro-Leave politicians—particularly Tories—will not be insensitive. And these politicians will, one hopes, be attentive to the expressions of despair and fear by young people—voters themselves and the children of theirs—who do not want to quit the EU.