Friday, 9 February 2018

Facts and beliefs

Yesterday’s revelation that under the UK Government’s own figures (dismissed of course as fake news by those with blind faith in the Brexit project) all parts of the UK will be worse off than under any scenario except the favoured one involving free unicorns merely confirms what many of us already felt was fairly certain.  In economic terms, for the foreseeable future, Brexit will leave us worse off than continuing membership of the EU.  Any attempt at providing a justification for Brexit has to be non-economic in nature.
For anyone interested in facts and analysis as a basis for taking decisions, the report actually ‘proves’ nothing at all, beyond the mathematical certainty that a given model fed a given set of assumptions will produce a particular result.  As noted previously, the track record of economic forecasting is not exactly brilliant, because the real world never behaves exactly as the model says it should, and assumptions are always open to challenge.  There is a danger though of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; individual models may be untrustworthy, but when a whole series of models and forecasts start to paint a similar picture, it would be folly to simply dismiss them.  That, coupled with a belief that the assumptions are not unreasonable ones to be making, rightly causes concern.
However, for those who hold to the true faith of Brexit, the report allows much firmer conclusions to be drawn.  One is that the entire civil service, the BBC, and a whole host of others are in a giant and malevolent conspiracy to pervert their ‘facts’.  And a second is that the research showing that the areas which voted leave will suffer most clearly demonstrates the existence of a deliberate policy of punishment by the EU.
There is little scope for any meeting of minds between those two positions, which probably helps to explain the comparatively small shift in opinion which has occurred since the referendum.  What was missing at the time of the referendum – and is still largely absent today – is any attempt on the part of Remainers to present the EU as anything other than an economic entity from which we gain more than we lose financially.  Most of those likely to be convinced by that argument already have been, but it will do nothing to change the minds of those who see the EU as some sort of evil empire.

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