Steyn on Our EU Bet
By Bryan Caplan
So here we are on January 1st 2020. Bryan Caplan has now announced:
Since the UK remains in the EU today, it has clearly not officially withdrawn yet. End of story.
He is quite right. As of today, the United Kingdom is a (non-participatory) member of the EU. It will supposedly “officially withdraw” from the EU on January 31st – although, after the last three-and-a-half years, one would be unwise to discount yet another desperate rearguard action from the obstructionists…
After the invocation of Article 50, I chanced to be on Stuart Varney’s Fox Business show and, contemplating my C-note, I sang, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”. Instead, Professor Caplan has cleaned me out. On the next Heathrow-Dublin shuttle I shall eschew the bubbly. I have contacted him to arrange delivery of the hundred dollars he won fair and square.
Mr Caplan won in a larger sense, too. As he puts it:
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.
These “obstacles” were entirely of the Remoaners’ making. Britain, over the last century-and-a-half, has written more constitutions of more countries than anybody on the planet.
By comparison with Mr Caplan, I was naïve. I assumed the bet was about the disposition of the polity. It was not inconceivable in 2008 to imagine the UK or indeed other EU member states voting to leave the Union – if they were given the opportunity. Of course, precisely for that reason, no one wanted to give them that opportunity: in the 2016 election, every party other than Farage’s was in favor of the EU; you could be a Tory, a socialist, a Scots nationalist, an Irish republican – and you were represented in Parliament by a Remain party. It’s like illegal immigration in the US, where pre-Trump the electorate had a choice between a de facto open-borders party and a Chamber of Commerce “comprehensive immigration reform” party, both of which lead to the exact same destination. In self-governing societies, such a gulf becomes untenable. My view was that, by 2020, popular antipathy to the EU would find political expression.
Mr Caplan was savvier. He’d already galloped on to the next phase: So what if it did? He correctly saw that the PermaState would subject the will of the people to, as he puts it, “a long series of obstacles”. In that sense, his bet of 2008 anticipated the defining feature of what’s shaping up to be the Post-Democratic Age: as I put it to Tucker a while back re Trump, the elites are revolting against the masses. You can vote outside the acceptable parameters, but you’ll just be walled up in the Hotel Brexifornia: You can check “Out” any time you like, but you can never leave.
Steyn’s absurd claim about near-bipartisan elite support for open borders aside, my only substantive disagreement comes here:
Bryan Caplan is homo economicus, so he would probably prefer to characterize the above as the superior understanding of rational experts that the modern world is too complex and interconnected for anything so crude as the yes/no up/down votes of the masses. I don’t myself think that the world is particularly more complex than it was when Westminster presumed to introduce responsible government to Nova Scotia or India, or dissolve its Central African federation, or partition the United Kingdom itself. What’s changed, certainly by comparison with the chippy nationalism of the post-colonial era, is the rise of a globalist class ever more contemptuous of dissenting views.
On average, I do trust Western elites more than Western masses. My main reason, though, is not that the modern world is too “complex” or “interconnected,” but that (a) economic freedom, personal freedom, and cosmopolitanism are Very Good Things, and (b) Western elites are at least less opposed to all three Very Good Things than the deeply authoritarian Western masses. Back in 2012, I described the median American voter as a “moderate national socialist,” and subsequent events have reaffirmed my doleful perspective.
Contrary to Steyn, moreover, most members of the so-called “globalist class” are only modestly less nationalist than he is. Read Paul Krugman on immigration, or Larry Summers on economic nationalism. While they are indeed “contemptuous of dissenting views,” this is a contempt of small differences. Seriously.