Monday Smackdown: Cosma Shalizi vs. the Econometricians!

DeLong Smackdown Watch: Simon Wren-Lewis and Ann Pettifor Take Their Whacks

Simon Wren-Lewis: Ann Pettifor on mainstream economics: "Ann has a article that talks about the underlying factor behind the Brexit vote...

...Her thesis, that it represents the discontent of those left behind by globalisation, has been put forward by others. Unlike Brad DeLong, I have few problems with seeing this as a contributing factor to Brexit, because it is backed up by evidence, but like Brad DeLong I doubt it generalises to other countries...

Simon Wren-Lewis: A divided nation: "There is no reason why we need to choose between the economic and the social types of explanation...

...Kaufmann and Johnston et al can both be right. As Max Wind-Cowie says (quoted by Rick here):

Bringing together the dissatisfied of Tunbridge Wells and the downtrodden of Merseyside is a remarkable feat, and it stems from UKIP’s empathy for those who have been left behind by the relentless march of globalisation and glib liberalism.

Both these explanations see antagonism to the idea (rather than the actuality) of migration as the way an underlying grievance got translated into a dislike of the EU. But was immigration really so crucial? A widely quoted poll by Lord Ashcroft says a wish for sovereignty was more important. The problem here, of course, is that sovereignty - and a phrase like taking back control - is an all embracing term which might well be seen as more encompassing than just a concern about immigration. It really needs a follow-up asking what aspects of sovereignty are important. If we look at what Leavers thought was important, the “ability to control our own laws” seemed to have little to do with the final vote compared to more standard concerns, including immigration.

However there are other aspects of the Ashcroft poll that I think are revealing. First, economic arguments were important for Remain voters. The economic message did get through to many voters. Second, the NHS was important to Leave voters, so the point economists also made that ending free movement would harm the NHS was either not believed or did not get through to this group. Indeed “more than two thirds (69%) of leavers, by contrast, thought the decision “might make us a bit better or worse off as a country, but there probably isn’t much in it either way””. Whether they did not know about the overwhelming consensus among economists who thought otherwise, or chose to ignore it, we cannot tell.

Third, Leave voters are far more pessimistic about the future, and also tend to believe that life today is much worse than life 30 years ago. Finally, those who thought the following were a source of ill rather than good - multiculturalism, social liberalism, feminism, globalisation, the internet, the green movement and immigration - tended by large majorities to vote Leave. Only in the case of capitalism did as many Remain and Leave voters cite it as a source of ill. These results suggest that Leave voters were those left behind in modern society in either an economic or social way (or perhaps both).

Taking all this evidence into account it seems that the Brexit vote was a protest vote against both the impact of globalisation and social liberalism. The two are connected by immigration, and of course the one certainty of the Brexit debate was that free movement prevented controls on EU migration. But that does not mean defeat was inevitable, as Chris makes clear. Kevin O’Rourke points out that the state can play an active role in compensating the losers from globalisation, and of course in recent years there has been an attempt to roll back the state. Furthermore, as Johnston et al suggest, the connection between economic decline and immigration is more manufactured than real. Tomorrow I’ll discuss both the campaign and what implications this all might have.