Brian – And the scientific method

“The electorate has presented the political class with a challenge, which is that we would like to leave the EU but we would like to do it in a way that of course doesn’t impose a border in Ireland, and isn’t particularly economically damaging.”


Some thoughts on the worthy man’s musings:

It’s a worthy idea, but I would humbly suggest that he’s already fallen over at the formulation of the question, and so building a hypothesis to second order problems,  thus making predictions for things that aren’t core. The real question is: Given the rejection of a EUropean political identity, what is the closest possible arrangement that can be constructed between a semi-integrated giant neighbour, whilst preserving what is understood to be fundamental sovereignty?

The hypothesis begins from the understanding that fundamental sovereignty derives to a very significant extent from the nexus of authority that can legitimise or disallow the conduct of private activity. This isn’t about law, it’s about politics and power. Political integration isn’t a matter of pointy-headed constitutional tinkering, it’s Gladstone’s “power of the purse”: On whom do we tax and how punitively, and whom shall we deem the beneficiary of this largesse. A century after Gladstone I’d say we entered a new era where we live with the “power of the pettifogger”: Which activities to deem less moral and seek to regulate, and which behaviour do we choose to elevate above others. If you are harmonising taxation/spending, and social regulation, then you are engaging in political integration. Indeed, key areas of political policy making such as a justice, social, and economic policy. Should prisoners vote? What is the maximum number of hours that can be worked? Should we discourage high-frequency trading/gene research/fracking? So your hypethesis looks for what these key areas are that impact on justice, social and economic policy, and where the nexus of authority lie that govern them.

Your predictions look at each of these areas in turn with an assessment of whether power is authority is where it needs to be:

  1. Does it matter whether we have sovereign control over whether a widget is specified with a three mm thread on a 13 degree spiral track? Even if it did matter, is that power held by; a) me, b) the EU, or c) a global standards body such as UNECE?
  2. Does it matter that that key elements of the tax system such as VAT are bounded by EU? Both in and of itself, but also as a functioning part of your broader tax package that becomes the social compact between gov’t the individual and industry.

Your testing then looks at the trade-offs required for closeness, aggregated as a total political package across all the predictions covered, because that is how they will be presented in a political treaty. Can I have free movement of Services without free movement of People. Arguably not. Perhaps I can have free movement of Goods, with all the compromises that entails, because it is so technical it is abstracted away from real political consequence and the EU is only really the implementing body. If the counter-party is reluctant to package together these elements you desire, is it possible to emphasise the value of external elements such that political compromise results in them being valued together pragmatically, rather than considered separately on principle.

Your analysis of the above then builds your picture of how close the relationship should be. Maybe the counter-party is not willing to consider the value of security sufficient to separate goods and capital from services and people, and that this would leave a sovereign unique competitive advantage under the regulatory aegis of a foriegn power, i.e services. This situation would push for a more remote relationship in order that this ‘moat’ (in buffett jargon) doesn’t get filled in.

In conclusion, I see nothing wrong with Brian’s Cox’s desire to be analytical about the process of managing brexit, but he is perhaps too focused on second order issues, blinding him to the real question that needs addressing.

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