Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Monday 21 January 2019

No deal syndrome: why do people keep buying snake oil when it doesn’t work?

Using a very broad brush, the Leave vote represented the votes of two groups: social conservatives who felt threatened by immigration, and the group often referred to as the left behind. Both groups were sold snake-oil by the Brexiters. There would be more money for the NHS, we would avoid a flood of immigrants coming from ‘about to join’ Turkey, we would get the easiest deal in history with the EU (because we held all the cards), and we would get lots of advantageous trade deals that the EU were not able to make on our behalf. To mention just a few of the lies that were told to sell their snake oil.

Their lies were gradually exposed over the two years following the referendum vote. There would be less money for the NHS, and even with the money it has they cannot hire enough nurses or doctors because EU citizens no longer want those jobs. Turkey didn’t join, and the EU will not give us all the benefits we had as members. Mr. Fox has not even managed to replicate third party trade deals we have enjoyed as a result of being in the EU, for the simple reason that the EU have a lot to offer and great experience at doing trade deals and we have neither.

To say ‘but both sides lied’ misses the point. We knew what Remain was, while the Leavers sold a prospectus that was false in almost every detail. As a result, the Brexiters stopped talking about the easiest deal in history and started talking about No Deal. In fact they knew before 2016 that there was no plan they were happy with before the vote. But because they hate the EU (either because they want a neoliberal paradise or they are nostalgic Little Englanders who want to rule the waves again) they have just moved from one set of lies to another.

The only difference between the lies they told in 2016 and the lies they tell now is the scale of disaster they are pretending will not happen. Leaving in a controlled and partial way would hurt business but they would get time to adjust. Leaving suddenly and completely has business in an absolute panic, and consumers as well as workers would soon feel the impact. The snake-oil sellers are unmoved: just more ‘Project Fear’ they say. In addition our political influence in the world, already severely dented, would crash to zero under No Deal. No worries, say the snake oil sellers, we stood alone once before, as they endlessly churn out utterly misplaced WWII analogies. (This is only possible because none of them actually lived through WWII, but instead just remember santised histories and films.) As David Heniq says, that this is happening is political failure on a grand scale.

In US popular culture, snake oil sellers peddled their wares in Wild West medicine shows. In the UK they do so in much of the press, and relentlessly in the broadcast media. Even when BBC journalists know their claims are all garbage, most are too frightened to challenge them because they fear being picked out as another example of Remain bias by the right wing print media. Brexiters have all the time in the world to appear in the media because they do not need to analyse policies. They just pick up the latest sound bite and off they go.

No Deal is like someone who hates modernity but cannot work out why, and so retreats to living as a hermit in a cave. It will not last long. No country on earth wants no trade deals, which is why recent history is all about new trade deals being done rather than undone. Just as Lexiters talk of deals with Bolivia and other countries that have ‘true socialist’ governments, the Brexiters end state is for the UK to become an unincorporated territory of the US. Ask the people of Puerto Rico what that feels like.

Why do so many of the public still believe these lies, when it is obvious that these snake oil sellers lied, or to be too charitable got it so wrong, in 2016? Being fooled once is understandable, but twice in such quick succession? Well not all those who vote Leave are fooled. In particular, a few of the left behind group have switched to Remain, and others in that group can see that No Deal would hit them hard.

But a remarkable number of 2016 Leavers still back the snake oil sellers. One reason goes back to the media. The Brexiters pretend that Remain told as many lies as they did in 2016, and that 2016 Project Fear has been proved to be such, and unfortunately too many in the broadcast media believe this. In reality, most forecasters got the decline of GDP and real wages as a result of the referendum over the last 2+ years roughly right. As often happens, the media’s narrative and reality are very different, because the media does not talk to experts.

However a misleading media narrative is not the only cause of popular belief in the virtues of No Deal. We have, I fear, a UK example of Trump support syndrome. Many of Trump’s supporters accept that he lies all the time but still support him. They believe that Trump supports their identity and values. Social conservatives feel threatened by multiculturalism, by social liberalism, by feminism (no dealers tend to be men), by the green movement. They also tend to be nostalgic for an old order. What better figure to represent all that than Rees-Mogg. Of course the old order they remember involved an industrialised economy with strong unions and a strong welfare state, while a No Deal UK run by the Brexiters would be a completely service economy with few unions and little welfare state. This is an irony of No Deal: its supporters are nostalgic for a pre-neoliberal past while its leaders want to give them even more of neoliberal modernity. 

These Brexiter leaders are like the Republicans in the US they so admire: politicians armed with an ideology who know little about the policies they peddle and the reality these policies would change. What they do specialise in is selling policies. The rest of the Conservative party may be too attached to business to swallow No Deal, but they were happy to enact austerity and the widespread use of sanctions for benefits. There may be some obvious liars who lie about lying, but more generally there is a party that continues to pretend that stopping money to the poor has nothing to do with an explosion in food bank use. The One Nation Tories of old are almost gone, and have little future in a party whose members, as Tim Bale explains, are obsessed with Brexit and mostly want No Deal.

There will always be people who buy snake oil, particularly if it is linked by its sellers to medicines of old. If real snake oil sellers still existed today they would be banned from touting their wares. The mechanism we used to have to keep these people out of politics was a critical media, but most of that media today seems either to be advertising the benefits of the snake oil, or incapable of challenging the snake oil sellers’ claims. The consequence of letting these charlatans run loose with no checks on the lies they tell is a country stockpiling food and medicine, and preparing to put troops on the streets, for no other reason but that too many people bought snake oil.


  1. I don't support brexit, but this article is a little unfair to the leave voters. As Paul Krugman and others have noted, the currency depreciation will benefit some of the production areas at the expense of London, although this may not be enough to restore economic dynamism. That trade deals and immigration are beneficial for GDP and allow for greater social services is small comfort to those who have lost jobs or are living away from cities in areas that are slowly becoming economically irrelevant. Even though Germany is generous in providing social services in east Germany, that was one of the regions where the right wing AfD gained a lot.

    Granted, the brexiters will not be able to restore the past glory days (there's probably nothing that can), but the Remain side is not really addressing the angst of the leave voters. Providing more social services and taking care of their material needs won't stop them from gravitating to towards extremist forces. The media has certainly played a role, but I don't think people would so easily gravitate to snake oil unless there was a real ailment being ignored.

    1. I never suggested otherwise - that is the whole point of using the snake-oil analogy. The issue is why they still believe in the snake-oil when its sellers so obviously lied in 2016.

  2. You hit the nail, it is the stop the world I want to get off. John Harris's piece in the guardian is a pretty good over view of the conversations I have heard. We have reached the point for big talk, being hard, clear and decisive are all that matter. I have always believed this is where we were headed, a crash out cheered on by the great British public. If there is any clear will of the electorate this is is it. I'd agree the media have a lot to answer for but we cant absolve a large slice of people of the blame.

    The crash will be followed by utter chaos. Everyone will blame someone, the EU, foreigners, Tories etc and say if only my recipe had been followed we would not be here.

    Crash out will the the orphan policy that everyone denies was their responsibility. However, once we crash out there is no way back. I'd hate to right twice but my prediction is some form of soft fascism (a la Orban or the Polish Peace party) will emerge from this chaos. Scotland will try to depart and a border poll called for in NI will add to the sense of siege, could we have a major civil disruption possibly? The trouble with soft fascism is it does not work, but like eating a chocolate only it can feel good at the time for enough people to continue.

  3. That's a lot of use of the term snake-oil in one blog. I'd be fascinated to see your evidence that the Single Market has ever delivered on the promises made at its inception.

    Certainly at the aggregate level the results have been poor, but worse the SM has ensured that all the benefits have been accrued by Capital.
    These two pieces suggest it's you who are peddling the snake-oil here Professor.

    1. That the SM benefited services based UK is undeniable. If those benefits were not evenly spread I think that is because of domestic policy. Think of more trade like technical progress, with domestic policy determining who gets the gains.

    2. I would find it pretty deniable since the UK's economic growth rate has not increased since the SM. Perhaps growth would have been lower otherwise, but it doesn't necessarily follow.

    3. Was the UK really services-based in 1973? Or is this a way to gloss over the loss of manufacturing? Since the public was told manufacturing would benefit from dynamic effects from the larger home market of the EEC in 1975, that would make the Yes vote snake oil. And yeds, if the economic growth rate has not gone up as a result then are there "gains" at all?

  4. I don't deny that there were many evasions, half-truths or deliberate distortions communicated in 2016. However, it should be noted that many of the arguments for accession were faith-based and not supported by much or any evidence. Some of us might recall that both the Wilson and Heath governments issued white papers in 1970 and 1971 which placed great emphasis upon the 'dynamic effects' to British industry that would result from accession. in this they were supported by a large section of big business though not (contrary to the present position) by most farmers. It was felt that accession would allow UK manufacturers better access to a new, and much larger, home market across the Channel which would, in turn, create better economies of scale for British producers and therefore reverse the perceived decline of British industry during the 1950s and 1960s.

    Within eighteen months of accession no one was talking about 'dynamic effects', since it had presumably become too embarrassing. Accession meant that the UK, which once had the cheapest food prices of any advanced economy (despite the great distances the food travelled) was paying markedly more for its food; VAT also had an inflationary effect, and the costs of the CAP came to weigh heavily upon the taxpayer (deficiency payments having been abandoned). The unions bid for higher wages in order to compensate for this inflation (and also for the quadrupling of the oil price, which had nothing to do with accession), making UK manufactures uncompetitive. The UK entered the EEC with a respectable current account surplus; it has run a deficit ever since (with only occasional interruptions). The current account deficit has to be matched with a corresponding capital account surplus, meaning that more and more national assets have had to be sold. Within a decade of accession the UK had had to made an aggressive shift towards services, specifically financial services, in order to offset the evisceration of industry (compounded by the monetarist experiment). Although a devout remainer, William Davies has written cogently about the perceived loss of control encouraging Brexit sentiment (in 'Nervous States'); that progressive loss of control was, arguably, a function of the economic consequences of accession.

    Whilst I suspect (though I am not certain) that Brexit is a deeply unwise move, I do think that it should be recognised that many of the proponents of accession were reckless as to the truth of the benefits of membership on the way in - against the advice of the likes of Nicholas Kaldor, Harry Johnson, etc. - just as Leave has been reckless as to the truth on the way out.

    1. If you compare UK economic growth with France and Germany, broadly we were failing behind before we joined and have at least kept up since. It is reasonable to attribute that being in the EU.

    2. Thank you. However, I suspect that the higher rates of growth in the Six prior to the Yom Kippur oil shock were attributable to causes specific to the times (for instance the well-known and rapid transfer of labour from the countryside to cities, as in France and Italy, which had occurred in the UK a century earlier). By 1973 the causes of this growth were largely spent, so there was a tendency for UK/Six growth rates to converge thereafter - though for the first decade following accession, UK growth was pretty dire. Also, I would query whether much of the UK's more robust growth between the early 1980s and 2007 flattered to deceive, and was a function of financialisation and the shift to financial services in reaction to the collapse in manufacturing. So, in that sense at least, membership of the EC/EU was a factor in advancing that growth, since the UK had become the de facto banker to the other member states. Whether all of that growth was beneficial to the UK may be open to question.

      What I really crave is an explanation how, in default of state aid and some of the prescriptions advanced by the late Robert Neild, Wynne Godley, etc., during the 1970s and early 1980s, the current account can be brought back into balance - whether Remain or Leave prevails - so that British assets are not alienated to overseas interests and the country stops burning the furniture to keep warm.

      Thank you also for all your wonderful work on this blog, and beyond.

    3. How much of that improvement in growth however was either fake growth built on rising debt, or driven by factors unconnected to the EU (ie North Sea oil)?

    4. I suggest you read Nick Crafts on this.

    5. "we were failing behind before we joined and have at least kept up since. It is reasonable to attribute that being in the EU."

      Simon, this is a really, REALLY funny way of putting it, when after accession our growth did rise, theirs merely fell. Without higher growth from membership for the UK, what is the point?

    6. Froghole can you please recommend something by Neild about the EU for the general reader? I haven't come up with anything in newspaper database searches. Otherwise, I'd be grateful if you'd tell me a little about what he said.

  5. “Project Fear has been proved to be such, and unfortunately too many in the broadcast media believe this.”

    So what are you saying? Osborne did actually hold an emergency budget and introduce £40 billion of tax as and cuts? Unemployment really did rise by between 520,000 and 820,000? House prices really did fall by between 10% and 18%. We really did have a recession?

    Basically, if the UK had voted to remain in the EU, very few Leave voters would have thought the UK had missed the opportunity of an NHS bonanza but every Remain voter would have been convinced that they had avoided an emergency budget and a substantial rise in unemployment. The lies on the Remain side were far more pernicious.

    The problem is that there has never been a clear and plausible explanation of what wrong with the pre-referendum forecasts. There has been no attempt to undertake a lessons-learnt exercise and the majority of economists are even in denial that the forecasts were wrong. Basically, Leave supporters see economists as snake oil sellers and do not therefore believe their post Brexit forecasts.

    What if the Treasury had accurately predicted in advance the short term economic effects of a Leave vote? How much bigger would the Leave majority have been? Conceivably, it may have been large enough that the country would have presented a united front in negotiations with the EU. Who would have blinked first under those circumstances? It is all very well saying that the negotiations didn’t go as well as some had promised, and therefore we should remain. That is not the message as Leavers are receiving it. What they hear is Remainers who are gloating that they have undermined the negotiations and are now demanding an unconditional surrender.

    1. Osborne is a Tory. Are you surprised he encouraged the Treasury to produce a 'just recession' forecast? But Osborne was right that the economy would be hit by a Leave vote, so getting the timing wrong is hardly the same as claiming there would be more money for public finances when in reality there is less. In other words Osborne got the sign right, Leavers did not.
      But as I say in my post, if you look at the independent forecasts over a 2 year period, they got the hit roughly right. Why doesn't the Leave side ever mention that? Why does it always talk about just one forecast? Because they want to pretend there has been no Brexit hit. They lie, all the time.
      They say, for example, that WTO rules say we can carry on trading under the old rules for 10 years. We cannot. They say that businesses are making things up. They are not. They said it would be the easiest deaal in history, and we had all the cards. They say getting round the border problem is easy, but then complain about the backstop. They lie all the time in a way that other politicians do not. They are our Trump.
      And please, in what way have Remainers undermined the negotiations? The negotiations have been obviously undermined by the impossible demands of the Brexiters. Are you receiving a different message. Then I suggest the people you are listening to are lying to you.

    2. Actually the letter writers who supported the recession forecasts on vote leave in the Treasury Project Fear documents are the snake oil salesman. They were slaughtered by Prof Krugman who accused them of motivated reasoning. In other words he thought them snake oil salemen.

  6. One thing that I'm really wondering is:

    What would a no-deal Brexit mean for the Good Friday agreement? Crashing out with no deal implicitly means a hard border will have to be erected. How could that possibly be managed?

    Creating a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland seems to violate international treaty.

    Avoiding a border within Ireland means that the UK would have to create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, while Northern Ireland would be a de facto member of the Eurozone without any voting privileges.

    Or the UK would have to agree to a last-minute soft Brexit with terms set entirely by the EU.

    Economic consequences aside, I expect the international political fallout of a hard Brexit to be dramatic.

    1. Please read the GFA, it allows a hard border. This is why the Republic's government says it would be bad for the GFA but not "violate" it. Even Sinn Féin doesn't say it would be violated.

      I live in NI and voted Remain. The GFA doesn't impose an obligation to refrain from border checks in any way. Indeed we still have them occasionally to deal with fuel and tobacco smuggling and non-EU illegal immigration. Nobody has a right not to have their car or lorry checked or to have their identity checked to see if they qualify for the Common Travel Area.

      The Republic has a reason to muddy the waters over this because they want to ensure a free trade deal with the UK to protect their exporters.

      The GFA keeps powers over immigration, UK-wide taxes (i.e. tariffs), international trade, etc to the governments of the UK and RoI respectively. Therefore each side can have as hard border as they like.

  7. Ordinarily it would never occur to me to comment on an economics blog, but this is an exercise in psychology and media analysis that totally misses the mark. Perhaps the problem is that the author is only pretending to ask questions. Plainly he has already decided he knows the answers, that the Brexiters are dupes, stupid, manipulated -- I'm surprised Putin doesn't make an appearance at the end.

    Perhaps turning the question around and asking it sincerely, with genuine curiousity, would help: Why do so many people -- at times a clear majority -- no longer believe people like the author, or even want to listen to them? Why do people act as if the people who cared about them and their issues are the people telling them that? Why do they shut their ears to people who can prove to them they are fools, uneducated, too emotional, irrational, sheep, open-mouthed knuckle-draggers who swallow all the poison they see on TV? Why aren't they embracing the author? Why can't the right people, the good people, the better people, win politically?

    But if you already know what the truth is, why would you ask?

    1. "they are fools, uneducated, too emotional, irrational, sheep, open-mouthed knuckle-draggers who swallow all the poison they see on TV" Those are your words, not mine. I'm influenced by what I read or see. Are you really suggesting I'm unusual?

    2. Kathleen Quinn encapsulates where we are now. Its a question of identity, for better or worse. I'll ask KQ a question, do you think vaccines should be compulsory? If so why? If not why? I doubt you and I know I have all the information to answer this, I trust experts. I would not get into a plane with someone who has a 'feel' for flying.
      Simon asks a question why is someone as serially dishonest, transparently selfish and privileged as Boris Johnson seen as "a man for the people". Why is Jacob Rees-Mogg who makes it a sport to derail private MP bills, including one on helping poor people with the bedroom tax seen as on the side of the downtrodden worker? Why is Dyson who just moved out yet more activity of the UK lionised as a captain of Industry?
      If the Brexit gang stood up, made a legally binding contract that they would all personally would forgo their wealth and income in proportion (9 fold) to the change in UK GDP per person relative to trend growth, I'd be say OK at least they believe it will. Its a simple test, if GDP per person growth over the next 10 years is 1 % below trend, then they will hand over 90 % of all wealth and 90 % salary. They are millionaires they won't be destitute, anyway it will encourage them to work even harder (not lulled by the blanket of something for nothing etc). Anyway its all going to be fine, so they will be even more rich, surely no risk at all they know better than economists. If they dont put their money and comfort on the table, they are only gambling with other people's lives and money. Anyone can do that, have the courage of your convictions.

    3. Unfortunately, Kathleen, you're the one who has missed the mark. The blog post is asking why people still believe lies, whether we mean the old ones from the campaign or the new ones that appear every morning.

      The author doesn't at any point insult Leave voters as you suggest. Instead he is angry at politicians, journalists and others who are spreading the lies or failing to counter them.

      Have you actually read the post? You seem to have gone out of your way to misrepresent it.

    4. Uncle Abe, Since Dyson was already using Singapore, it made sense for him to move management close to the manufacturing. Many other companies which have offshored their production to Asia have done this. And of course being in the EU is suppose to be good for our exports, but has also allowed offshoring such as HP Sauce and Cadbury moving to Eastern Europe and some Minis to Holland and Austria.

      One could have issued a similar challenge to those who campaign for entry in 1973 and staying in 1975. But whether campaigners have the courage of their convictions or have told lies does not settle the issue and we should looking at the arguments themselves in any case.

  8. Sorry for just reacting to your perceived tone. Let me make a different observation:

    I think you are right to see that electronic media -- dominated entirely by television, driving all public discourse -- is a ruinous phenomena, making everything worse in the present moment. It really is a threat to stability, politics, the "commonwealth" in the old fashioned sense of the word. It's not an exaggeration to say it threatens humanity and our mortal souls! But my own view of why this is so is slightly different from yours. Television has become THE authority in public life. It is perceived and being used as the enforcer of "morality", the arbiter of all public discourse, having overthrown every other moral force that came before it. In our childhoods, television was not seen or used this way. It was clearly seen as a working class amusement, provided for free. To the very small extent it also provided educational content or high culture, it did so politely, engendering excitement around the notion of glimpsing things previously beyond the reach of the working class -- opera, science, great minds who write books. I'm not trying to romanticize it but point out a very sharp turn TV took to become a wide window for an audience left at home into a smugly grinning society of glamourous winners, the in-crowd, the exclusive set with all the right answers, never at a loss for words.

    The problem for any genuine expert who goes on TV is that in recent years a series of real world events and failures of governance (including the many failures of the EU, since we're talking about this) became impossible to cover up, and it caused the viewing audience to see -- correctly in my view -- that television is a propaganda machine and a phony moral "authority". The development of social media has allowed people to cross-check this insight with each other, and not feel so alone, but it still hasn't displaced TV, which has so embedded itself into a central position in the politics of the country.

    So if you are looking for TV to frame you as credible, more credible than others, it won't work. I don't know if anything I've said makes any sense to you. One thing I will add that the Amerian author Neal Postman was a visionary about how TV would destroy the moral authority of expertise, and so I recommend his work to anyone who hasn't read him or read him recently.

    Like TV, the EU is, for most people, a distant power that has no identifiable location, that is run by elites who speak in tongues most people don't understand, and an ordinary person cannot exercise any influence over this thing -- make it listen, get it to change. The only action you can take against it is to turn it off. People are rejecting distant structures that leave them without control over their own lives. They are not swallowing snake oil but rejecting a superstate.

  9. Did my long reply not make it to you -- or are you just not answering? If it's the former I'll re-submit it, but if it's the latter and you don't want to answer, that's perfectly ok with me. Am only trying to determine if my response got lost.

  10. We would avoid a flood of immigrants coming from ‘about to join’ Turkey.”

    Yes the Leave side falsely extrapolated the facts but the Remain side told us that we would have migrant camps in Kent if we voted Leave and this was totally made up.

  11. “ so getting the timing wrong is hardly the same as claiming there would be more money for public finances when in reality there is less. In other words Osborne got the sign right, Leavers did not.”

    As far as I am aware none of the leading Brexiters claimed that a Leave vote would produce an additional positive effect in the period between the referendum and Brexit. If they did, then it had a very low profile so it hardly constituted a lie which determined voting intentions. Basically Osborne predicted 3 or 4 quarters of negative growth in the 2 years following the referendum. In fact growth has been positive every quarter since, as the Brexiters told us it would be.

    As for the actual GDP growth, then you need an accurate model to predict the alternative to understand if there has been a shortfall. But there is little evidence that an accurate baseline model exists. Furthermore the economies of different countries are at different stages of the economic cycles and GDP shows random variation which makes comparisons difficult. The US in any case must be left outside any comparisons since it has been achieving growth by pumping money into the economy at the top of the cycle. Also of course other countries don’t have economists and politicians rushing around shouting ‘It’s a disaster, we all doomed’, if they did have no doubt their business confidence and growth would be adversely affected. A while back Remainer sources:- this blog, the Guardian and the BBC, were telling us that UK growth was the worst in the G7. Suddenly they are strangely silent.

    Of course the Leavers always talk about the Treasury forecasts; they were a central plank of the Remain argument. Furthermore, the forecasts were endorsed by the IMF who additionally predicted a sharp increase in interest rates, a stock market crash and a steep fall in house prices

  12. This is total hyperbole.

    Do you really think that most businesses and individuals have simply been ringing their hands for the last two years and not preparing to leave on a "worst case" basis? The CBI bleats about no deal being a disaster but this says less about no deal than the incompetence of their own members who should have been preparing for a worst case exit since June 2016.

    As to dreams about Brexiters wanting a neoliberal state outside the EU this is surely a joke; the EU is the largest neoliberal bloc in the World. What on earth are the stability and fiscal compacts about if it's not to enforce austerity on recalcitrant members?

    The EZ is a doomsday machine driving divergence and whose main tool is internal devaluation - aka wage suppression and austerity - hardly a social democratic paradise more of a wet neoliberal dream.

    There is just as much snake oil on the Remain side of the argument but you fail to see it.

    1. Sadly the Leave vote came as such a shock that I would not be surprised if business wasn't preparing enough. Simply because they're tempted to wait and see how negotiations go, after being told the UK will be listened to. And for businesses which aren't exporters or manufacturers, what will happen on Brexit day is hard to tell. Most firms aren't Nissan.

      Meanwhile May has herself brought "no deal" closer seemingly as the stick to beat people into supporting whatever deal she can get with the EU, and I suppose this is because she was a Remainer herself and wants as little of a break with the EU as possible, probably BECAUSE of fear of short-term chaos, recession etc getting the Tories thrown out of office.

      While you're right that the EZ proves that it's wrong to call continental Europe "social democratic" but the right-wing Leavers really do want a neoliberal Brexit, even if their ability to get this is low.

  13. "even with the money it has they cannot hire enough nurses or doctors because EU citizens no longer want those jobs" -- sorry, this is false.

    The number of nurses and midwives is slightly higher than before the referendum.

    There's no shortage of applicants.

    The number of doctors in England is up 13% since 2010.

  14. The Economics profession is basically snake-oil salesmanship.
    I, too, wonder why people keep buying.

  15. You said previously Leave was "offering to sell people fruit without specifying the type of fruit or its price". But the Turkey issue is still open. Your post makes it sound like there was an imminent decision on this and the answer was no. Instead, as if 2019, Turkey has not joined. Unless the accession is going to be rejected, we don't know the type or fruit or its price as far as Remain is concerned, either.

  16. “And please, in what way have Remainers undermined the negotiations? The negotiations have been obviously undermined by the impossible demands of the Brexiters. Are you receiving a different message? Then I suggest the people you are listening to are lying to you.”

    I will have to stop reading the Guardian then. It told me that “Prominent remain supporters including Tony Blair and John Major have been working with Nick Clegg and Peter Mandelson on a diplomatic mission to try to persuade European leaders to stop Brexit.”

    Bearing in mind that the normal convention is that former Prime Ministers keep out of politics, then here we have two former Prime Ministers and one former Deputy Prime Minister engaged in active discussions with foreign governments encouraging them to oppose the policy of the UK Government. (Meanwhile John Major helpfully suggests that MPs should be allowed a free vote on Brexit when he himself forced the Maastricht treaty through Parliament by adopting the exact opposite tactic. His capacity for hypocrisy is apparently undiminished since the time when he used to preach to us about family values, despite his own failings.)

    Specific instances are, in any case, not the point here. The more general issue is that to do well in negotiations the number one rule is that one must speak with a common voice. I have sometimes been involved in negotiations where I have had to hold my tongue rather than contradict a person on my own team. On Brexit there was hope that the UK could exploit differences within the EU countries, but they have been more cohesive than expected. Once the EU countries observed the internal dissention in the UK from the Remainers, it became a no brainer for them to take a hard line and stick to it. In that sense the Leave side did make a miscalculation. They assumed that if they won the referendum then the country would pull together to try to get the best Brexit terms and they had every right to make that assumption and to assume an outcome consistent with that assumption. They would have expected, for example, that former Prime Ministers would engage with EU countries to help extract the best terms for Brexit rather than try to undermine negotiations.

    If the Remainers really believed that the Brexit negotiations would inevitably go badly, then they followed a stupid strategy. The right thing to do was to support the negotiations, which would then give them the right to claim a rethink if the outcome was perceived to be unsatisfactory. As it is I know a number of Remain voters who attribute our present difficulties to the Remainers rather than the Leavers.

    Why did the Remainers adopt such an apparently stupid strategy? One can only assume that they didn't believe that the Leaver's claims were wrong and they therefore did their best to undermine the negotiations.

  17. “Osborne is a Tory. Are you surprised he encouraged the Treasury to produce a 'just recession' forecast?”

    I am not surprised that he did but I am surprised that he succeeded. I thought that the forecasts were produced by civil servants and that civil servants were supposed act impartially. Indeed, my understanding, and that of the general public, is that if they didn’t act with impartiality then they were acting illegally. Without doubt there are voters who desisted from voting Leave because they did not want to be responsible for half a million people losing their jobs.

    The Treasury produced a report which stated that the following with no conditionality or caveats. “The analysis in this document comes to a clear central conclusion: a vote to leave would represent an immediate and profound shock to our economy. That shock would push our economy into a recession and lead to an increase in unemployment of around 500,000.” The report was endorsed by Professor Sir Charles Bean as employing best-practice techniques.

    When Michael Fish failed to forecast the 1987 hurricane, the Meteorological Office undertook a complete overall of its models and we now enjoy excellent standards as a consequence. It says little for the economics profession that they are so complacent about the massive failure of the Treasury forecast. The Treasury predicted a loss of half a million jobs in when in fact we have record employment. It is no wonder then that the general public do not believe that a Hard Brexit would result in significant job losses. Why would they? Economists can’t be trusted, they are pedlars of snake oil.


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