29/04/2016

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Brexit after Obama

He came, he saw, he went. But did he conquer?

The first opinion-poll results on President Obama’s intervention in the Brexit debate since he left London for Germany and the EU summit have now been published. They show two things of interest: a small movement toward the Leave campaign, and a clear majority of voters who disapproved of the president’s intervention.

Of four polls, all four shifted toward Leave, by between one and four percentage points. That still left Remain ahead in two polls, and Leave in the other two (but by smaller numbers, in or close to the margin of error). Probably the fairest interpretation is that Remain is slightly ahead but Leave is closing a small gap and that Obama helped to close it further.

Disapproval of Obama’s intervention is far clearer, however. Majorities of 55 and 60 percent were critical. This popular response was expressed in a cartoon of Obama seated opposite the Queen at a Palace dining table, saying airily, “She’ll have the fish” — as the Queen winces and the butler staggers back in horror.

But Obama is popular in Britain, and this reaction was not very harsh. It seems to have focused on his arrogance in telling the Brits that if they left the EU and wanted a separate U.S.-U.K. trade deal, they would have to go to the back of “the queue.” That word is a Britishism that commentators immediately cited as evidence that the speech had been written in Downing Street. It wasn’t personal arrogance so much as calculated pressure from both governments.

RELATED: Brexit and the Meddlesome Mr. Obama

That episode illustrates one of the oddest elements in this referendum campaign. Though it’s quite common in modern politics (see Trump, passim) for outsiders and dissidents to denounce the overwhelming influence of “elites” or “establishments,” this is a rare occasion when the elites and establishments boast about it themselves.

One after another, various national and international bodies step forward to warn darkly about the dangers that lurk in Brexit.

One after another, various national and international bodies — the OECD, Scientists Against Brexit, the G20, the IMF — step forward to warn darkly about the dangers that lurk in Brexit, after which Downing Street or the Remain campaign points out how important these bodies are and how we must take their advice. Day after day this argument from authority is deployed with a surprising blatancy, as if its authors were unaware that the argumentum ad verecundiam was identified by John Locke as an intellectual fallacy if it is advanced to support something controversial. You can’t legitimately say “experts say” if other experts say the opposite — as they do about Brexit.

Indeed, much of the time these authority-mongers are asserting things that are obviously absurd, demonstrably false, or reliant on highly dubious figures. Brexit will not mean the abolition of cheap air fares, for instance; that is absurd. Nor will it mean losses of income for the average family on anything like the scales — the estimates differ wildly — predicted by the various official authorities.

One of the most egregious examples occurred in an official Treasury document. This predicted a fall in the average family income of 4,300 pounds (about $6,800) by 2030. This figure was arrived at by guesstimating Britain’s GDP for that year, dividing that GDP estimate by the numbers in the population today rather than in 2030, and then guesstimating how much lower it might be if Brexit happened.

RELATED: Obama to Brits: America Expects

This looked odd and its consequences even odder. As hawk-eyed critics soon discovered, estimates of future GDP in 2030 were based on rises in immigration that exceeded the government’s targets in every single intervening year. They deprived those who were either born or who immigrated to the U.K. between now and 2030 of any incomes at all, since the Treasury’s method had statistically redistributed them to families living today.

Now, however you slice it, this kind of argument is baloney. Indeed, even honest attempts at estimating how Brexit will raise or reduce incomes years ahead are likely to prove correct only by accident. As the former chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont (who favors Brexit) said, economists add decimal points to their estimates “to show they have a sense of humor.” And in almost all these scare stories, the estimated losses are vaporized by media criticisms within a day or two.

So why is it that the Remain campaign uses them almost to the exclusion of any other appeal? One reason is plain enough: If people are persuaded that Brexit will cost them significant sums of money, they’ll have a strong incentive to vote against it. But the other reason is that they don’t have any other issues.

 

Original article here.

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