I Win My EU Bet
By Bryan Caplan
Happy New Year!
Twelve years ago, I was struck by the following passage in Mark Steyn’s America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It:
The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council is predicting that the EU will collapse by 2020. I think that’s a rather cautious estimate myself. Ever since September 11, I’ve been gloomily predicting that within the next couple of election cycles the internal contradictions of the EU will manifest themselves in the usual way.
Since it seemed rather absurd, I publicly challenged Steyn to the following bet:
If any current EU member with a population over 10 million people in 2007 officially withdraws from the EU before January 1, 2020, I will pay you $100. Otherwise, you owe me $100.
Steyn accepted; so did my co-blogger David Henderson. Since today is January 1, 2020, and no such country has officially withdrawn, I have won my bet.
This victory brings my betting record to 20 wins, 0 losses.
After the Brexit referedum, Steyn declared victory in our bet. Several friends advised me to concede, even though the referendum was merely advisory. I refused. Scenarios like the UK’s long limbo were precisely why I included the phrase “officially withdraws” in the original terms. Since the UK remains in the EU today, it has clearly not officially withdrawn yet. End of story.
Philip Tetlock notes that when experts make barely incorrect predictions, they tend to plead bad luck (“I was almost right”); when they make barely correct predictions, however, they tend to plead great skill (“I was not almost wrong”). I will not do this. Although the UK remains in the EU today, it will leave on January 31, 2020. Therefore, I clearly got lucky. Or to be more precise, I first got unlucky (since David Cameron could have easily refused to call the Brexit referendum in the first place), and then I got lucky three times in a row.
In contrast, Steyn’s original claim was not remotely close to true. The EU didn’t “collapse” by 2020, the year Steyn described as “cautious.” Indeed, by his own account he has been incorrectly making extreme predictions on this topic for the past 19 years. While I give him intellectual credit for making our original bet, he really should reflect on his attraction to hyperbole and overconfidence.
Unlike Steyn, David Henderson genuinely was unlucky. To the best of my knowledge, David has made no extreme predictions about the EU. He simply thought that I offered Steyn overly generous terms to coax him into a bet, and jumped on the perceived opportunity.
People have occasionally asked me if I foresaw the political chaos of the last few years. My answer is: No and Yes.
No, I didn’t not foresee the specific scenario that unfolded.
Yes, I did foresee that any attempt to leave the EU would be subject to a long series of obstacles, each of which could delay or even derail the exit process.
What’s the most important thing I learned from this twelve-year bet? This: While my commitment to betting has great cognitive benefits, it also has great emotional costs. During the last two years, I have spent far too much time wondering if I could salvage my perfect betting record, and far too much time checking electionbettingodds.com. This bet interfered with my inner harmony, my commitment to detachment from this corrupt society. From now on, I’ll remember these costs before I bet.