Larry Summers: after Brexit, ‘political science’ is an oxymoron

After Brexit, Trump, Sanders and the misforecast British and Canadian general elections, it should be clear that the term political science is an oxymoron. Political events cannot be reliably predicted by pollsters, pundits or punters. All three groups should have humility going forward. In particular no one should be confident about the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

The political challenge in many countries going forward is to develop a “responsible nationalism.” It is clear that there is a hunger on the part of electorates, if not the Davos set within countries, for approaches to policy that privilege local interests and local people over more cosmopolitan concerns. Channeling this hunger constructively rather than destructively is the challenge for the next decade. We now know that neither denying the hunger, nor explaining that it is based on fallacy, is a viable strategy.

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One possible future?

“Not so long ago, in an ill-advised flourish of complacency, liberal opinion suggested that nationalism, like religious fundamentalism, was on the wane. A nice idea. Although it is easy to read too much into the British vote (disconnection from the E.U. will be a lengthy process), there is little doubt that national amour propre, misty with old glories and smarting from old wounds, is back in vogue. It is conceivable that, by the summer of 2017, President Putin, of Russia, could be joined on the world stage by President Trump, of the United States, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, of Great Britain, and President Marine Le Pen, of France. Applications for residence on the International Space Station, orbiting more than two hundred miles above Earth, are now closed.”

Anthony Lane, writing in the current issue of the New Yorker.

The so-called ‘United’ Kingdom: rulers asleep at the wheel

The Economist nails it:

No-one seems capable of stepping forward and offering reassurance. The Leavers, who disagreed on what Brexit should look like, do not think it is their responsibility to set out a path. They reckon that falls to Number 10 (where they have appeared in public, it has mostly been to discard the very pledges on which they won the referendum). Number 10, however, seems to have done little planning for this eventuality. It seems transfixed by the unfolding chaos; reluctant to formulate answers to the Brexiteers’ unanswered questions. As Mr Cameron reportedly told aides on June 24th when explaining his decision to resign: “Why should I do all the hard shit?”

This could go on for a while. The Conservative leadership contest will last until at least early October, perhaps longer. It may be almost as long until Labour has a new chief, and even then he or she may be a caretaker. The new prime minister could call a general election. It might be over half a year until Britain has a leader capable of addressing the myriad crises now engulfing it.

The country does not have that kind of time. Despite arguments for patience from continental Anglophiles, including Angela Merkel, the insistence that Britain immediately invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, launching exit negotiations and that can last no longer than two years, is hardening. Soon it may be a consensus. Britain could be thrust into talks under a lame-duck leader with no clear notion of what Brexit should look like or mandate to negotiate. All against a background of intensifying economic turmoil and increasingly ugly divides on Britain’s streets. The country is sailing into a storm. And no-one is at the wheel.

This makes the ERM fiasco look like a village fête.

Cameron’s legacy

From the Economist‘s Bagehot column:

The prime minister’s gamble was underwritten by the assurance that he could handle it, that his powers of persuasion and credibility (which, to be fair, are considerable) would save the day. In the months and years after his 2013 speech, he wasted opportunity after opportunity to roll the pitch for the referendum; to build, over time, a durable case to stay in the EU. Under-advised and overconfident, he turned the renegotiation from an asset to a stick with which Brexiteers could beat him. His referendum campaign, for all its flashes of skill and conviction, was too little, too late. The whole exercise was a spectacularly foolhardy act of overreach. The unanticipated outcome will be a Britain poorer, more isolated, less influential and more divided.

A time will come for reflection on the good in Mr Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party and his premiership, on his fundamentally correct vision for a one-nation Tory party in possession of the centre ground. But it will surely be dwarfed by this giant, nation-changing misstep, one guaranteed to scar the country for decades and diminish his place in the history books. He leaves office in ignominy.

Yep.

And this from Krugman:

Well, that was pretty awesome – and I mean that in the worst way. A number of people deserve vast condemnation here, from David Cameron, who may go down in history as the man who risked wrecking Europe and his own nation for the sake of a momentary political advantage, to the seriously evil editors of Britain’s tabloids, who fed the public a steady diet of lies.

That said, I’m finding myself less horrified by Brexit than one might have expected – in fact, less than I myself expected. The economic consequences will be bad, but not, I’d argue, as bad as many are claiming. The political consequences might be much more dire; but many of the bad things I fear would probably have happened even if Remain had won.

Now Gove loses his marbles

What is wrong with these people? I don’t know Michael Gove, but when he was Education Secretary and we were campaigning for a change in the GCSE ICT curriculum he was courteous and appeared rational, or at any rate cerebral. But according to this report he has today been comparing the economists who think that leaving the EU would be a mistake for Britain to the Nazi-recruited scientists who challenged Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The Justice Secretary made the historical comparison to Einstein after being asked why voters should not listen to the economic organisations warning about the impact of an Out vote.

“I think the key thing here is to interrogate the assumptions that are made and to ask if these arguments are good,” Mr Gove said during an interview with LBC Radio.

“We have to be careful about historical comparisons, but Albert Einstein during the 1930s was denounced by the German authorities for being wrong and his theories were denounced and one of the reasons of course he was denounced was because he was Jewish. They got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say that he was wrong and Einstein said ‘Look, if I was wrong, one would have been enough.’”

Hmmm… Time for a lie-down in a darkened room, methinks.

Brexit: the fake revolt

Good robust stuff from Paul Mason:

The problem is, I also know what a real revolt looks like. The miners strike; the Arab spring; the barricade fighting around Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013. So, to people getting ready for the mother of all revolts on Thursday, I want to point out the crucial difference between a real revolt and a fake one. The elite does not usually lead the real ones. In a real revolt, the rich and powerful usually head for the hills, terrified. Nor are the Sun and the Daily Mail usually to be found egging on a real insurrection.

But, all over Britain, people have fallen for the scam. In the Brexit referendum, we’ve seen what happens when working-class culture gets hijacked – and when the party that is supposed to be defending working people just cannot find the language or the offer to separate a fake revolt from a real one. In many working-class communities, people are getting ready to vote leave not just as a way of telling the neoliberal elite to get stuffed. They also want to discomfort the metropolitan, liberal, university-educated salariat for good measure. For many people involved, it feels like their first ever effective political choice.

The shambles of the First World War was memorably satirised by (I think) Alan Clark as “Lions led by donkeys”. Brexit, in those terms, is donkeys led by weasels.

Bayes’s theorem, Brexit and the world economy

This is something you won’t hear from either Brexit or Remain camps:

Statistical theory even allows us to quantify how expectations about the US presidential election should shift if Brexit wins in Britain. Suppose, for the sake of simplicity, that we start by giving equal credibility to opinion polls showing Brexit and Trump with almost 50% support and expert opinions, which gave them only a 25% chance. Now suppose that Brexit wins. A statistical formula called Bayes’ theorem then shows that belief in opinion polls would increase from 50% to 67%, while the credibility of expert opinion would fall from 50% to 33%.

Since bond markets hate uncertainty, you can imagine what happens next.