Second Brexit referendum questions.

We seem to have a Brexit deal today, which has two important components: free-movement between the UK and the EU ends (no single market) whilst on all matters of trade, the UK indefinitely follows the EU until a new deal is reached (a customs union). The nitty gritty has to be picked over and might unearth interesting elements, such as with tax-evasion regulation, fishing rights, and what-not, but in broad political terms the tradeoff is increased sovereignty over migration in exchange for less sovereignty over customs and many other regulations.

Now that there is something concrete, the likelihood of a second referendum increases: if the UK parliament rejects this deal then one logical way to break the deadlock is to have a second referendum to which the major parties bind themselves. There are other ways of breaking the deadlock before the deadline of March 29th, such as a roll-over of the whole show such that there is two more years of pantomime. Also, Labour might want a general election rather than a second referendum as a means of breaking the deadlock.

What would the suitable questions on a second referendum look like? The questions would have to break the deadlock and leave a clear decision on the next step. That requires more than a simple yes/no on this deal or between the many alternatives. What suggests itself is a two-part question:


Question 1. Do you support the Nov14 deal as the agreement with the EU to come into effect on March 29th, 2019? Yes/no.

Question 2. In the eventuality that a majority answers ‘no’ to Question 1 in this Referendum, do you support the UK remaining in the EU after March 29th as a full member? Yes/no.


Note that question 2 does not include a choice between ‘remain’ and any particular alternative, such as what is called a ‘Hard Brexit’. That is because there is no clear alternative that one could give a particular label: whatever happens outside the EU will involve lots of negotiations with the EU on many topics, which will thus include hundreds of decisions and issues that cannot be anticipated this moment. In effect, the concept of a Hard-Brexit is not very precise because it would in reality mean ‘continued negotiations and interim agreements’ and thus mean lots of things. Hence the only clear second question to ask of voters apart from whether the deal currently being proposed is acceptable, is whether a return to the EU is acceptable.

One reason why a second referendum is seen as not all that likely by the betting markets who give it about 30% chance, is that a second referendum is very likely to lead to a third one: only in the situation that the UK population rejects the current deal AND goes back to full EU membership has normality resumed. In all other scenarios there is likely some other agreement that will come up for potential ratification, including the possibility that the UK will apply for new membership!

What do you think would be the question(s) on any second referendum?

Oh, incidentally, the whole Brexit thing is a tremendous boon for the Conservative party which has every incentive to keep this going as long as possible: they have picked up the UKIP voters, so are well ahead of Labour in the polls; they are hogging all the top-political jobs because they are in power; and all major reforms that would alienate their supporters are off because Brexit takes all the energy. From a status-quo-loving conservative perspective, this is a fantastic state of affairs that they will of course want to continue as long as possible.

Posted in Cultural Critique, Geeky Musings, Politics - international, Politics - national | 4 Comments

Arise Nicholas Gruen: Economic Rockstar

Yes, it is a little over the top isn’t it?

Anyway, here’s Frank’s interview with me last Friday night.

Posted in Democracy, Economics and public policy | 1 Comment

The Big Con – Reassessing the “Great” Recession and its “Fix”

The Big Con – Reassessing the “Great” Recession and its “Fix” by Laurence J. Kotlikoff


Most economists differ, not on the causes of the Great Recession, but on their relative importance. They concur, though, on the basic problem, namely human, not market failure. This study applies the evidence, some new, some old, to re-try the usual suspects. It finds none guilty. Instead, it identifies broadly defined multiple equilibrium, mediated by opacity, false rumors, and panic, as the real culprit. There are many models of bank runs. But each can trigger firing runs – firing someone else’s
customers for fear that others are firing your customers. Firing runs, in turn, exacerbate bank runs, producing a vicious cycle. This cycle can be manipulated by those who benefit from economic distress (short sellers). If the banking system, not the banking players is the problem, the solution surely lies in fundamental banking reform. This paper concludes by pointing out that a reform that shifted to 100 percent, equity-financed mutual-fund banking with government-organized, real-time asset verification and disclosure could preclude financial runs and their ability to induce firing runs.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Economic forecasts: more easy wins go begging

In late June this year CEDA asked me to reprise an earlier presentation I gave to them on forecasting. They also asked for a blog post which I also reproduce below. Add one more item to the Overton Juggernaut, my term for that unstoppable agenda of things we keep doing the way we are doing them, even though it’s obvious we can do them better.

Why don’t we do them better when people point out how? Well because. Because no-one is saying anything about it. Well, not no-one obviously. But no Very Serious People. And even if one Very Serious Person were to raise these issues, it probably takes a few more. As the Most Serious One Himself said: “I say unto you that where a Very Serious Person expresseth a notion, that notion may not yet be a notion, but when two or three Very Serious People are gathered in my name at a conference (especially one sponsored by The Australian, the Productivity Commission and maybe a bank) then verily, they are gathered in my name and the notion may join the great river of notions that everyone knoweth.”

Why are we obsessed with forecasts? I’m not being flippant when I start with football. For as long as I’ve known, it’s seemed to me that the media space given to football in the 48 hours before the game seems to be about as much as analysis after the game.

If you think the main motive in taking up that space is informational, you’d have to confess it makes no sense. Will Dusty Martin play well on Saturday? We’ll find out then. Meanwhile, anything could happen. Better wait and see. But of course, football punditry is as much about entertainment as it is about information. It’s also about demonstrations of expertise and savvy. But let’s take the most knowledgeable football pundit in the country. Will he really be that much better at predicting how Dusty will go than I will? So, demonstrating one’s savvy is as much a social thing as actually adding value.

What about economic forecasts? There’s a whole discipline of economics to master, so presumably, expertise adds a lot more value. And there’s a lot more at stake. People want to know what the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) forecasts because they might be able to piggyback on their expertise in thinking about their own plans – whether they’re running a firm or a household or just their own personal budget.

And the RBA forecasts also help us work out how they might move interest rates next. But I’m sticking with that football analogy. It’s not perfect, but it’s much closer to the mark than you might think.

Here are some questions for you. Do you know how much value will be added by your attending to forecasts?

Do you know how to tell a good forecaster from a bad forecaster? Do you know whose forecasts have turned out better than others?

My forecast is that, if they were honest, most people, including those who pay quite a bit of attention to economic forecasts, would have to answer “no” to each question. So at least in terms of why people pay attention to them, economic forecasts aren’t that far from those ‘before the game’ football shows. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Why the US has no chance against China on its own.

The US political establishment is now firmly of the belief that the US is still the world’s dominant superpower, and that they could easily win a cold-war confrontation with China, just like it overwhelmed the Soviet Union with economic firepower. I think the Americans are basically wrong about this. It is far too late to stop China becoming the single most important country. American pride blinds them to the reality of their situation. To hold their own against China, they will need their European allies.

Let’s consider the arguments you hear some Americans make for why they think they’d easily win against China.

The Americans point out that in nominal GDP terms (just counting the dollars), the US economy is about 40% bigger than the Chinese economy. The US economy also has a strong position in international finance, with its stranglehold on Dollar transactions and interbank transactions (SWIFT). Furthermore, the dominant internet firms are all American (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc.), giving the US a huge informational and coordination advantage. It furthermore dominates the international media and its universities draw talent from a base population of over 2 billion, including the Indian middle classes and Latin America.

The US undoubtedly has a more modern army that is easily 10 years ahead of China’s armed forces, and it has a network of bases around the world, including very close to China, ie in the Philippines, South Korea, Central Asia, and Japan.

Furthermore, the Americans are used to conflict, with its army in continuous operations since the start of the second world war. It is practiced in intelligence, war on various fronts, and cyber warfare. They are used to winning as well, with a great depth of knowledge in how to co-opt reluctant foreign leaders.

The Americans can also point to glaring weaknesses on the side of the Chinese. They can point to an ageing population, a much lower level of average efficiency of the Chinese economy, and a history of unfortunate friends on the part of the Chinese, where the Chinese have invested hundreds of billions in the Pakistanis, North Koreans, and the Central Asian Silk Road with very little to show for it.

All these elements have grains of truth in them, but I still think the Americans have no chance against the Chinese on their own. So consider how the story unravels if you look a bit closer. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy, History, Innovation, Intellectual Property, IT and Internet, Politics - international, Social Policy | 23 Comments

Protectionists: I hate these guys

People you don’t like – they’re everywhere

International Competition and Adjustment: Evidence from the First Great Liberalization
by Stephane Becuwe, Bertrand Blancheton, Christopher M. Meissner – #25173 (DAE ITI)


France and Great Britain signed the Cobden Chevalier treaty in
1860 eliminating import prohibitions and lowering tariffs with
Britain. This policy change was unexpected by French industry
and entirely free from lobbying efforts. A series of commercial
treaties with other nations followed in the 1860s lowering
tariffs with France’s largest trade partners. We study the
dynamics of French trade patterns using product level exports and
imports for France with all partners and at the bilateral level
before and after these tectonic trade policy shocks. We find a
significant rise in intra-industry trade in leading manufactured
products. Cotton, woolen and silk cloth “held their ground,”
rising imports being met with rising exports. Rather than
shifting or destabilizing French patterns of specialization,
liberalization allowed for an expansion of exports in
differentiated products. The findings are consistent with the
“smooth adjustment” hypothesis. The return to discussion of
higher tariffs from 1878 should not be regarded as a backlash to
international competition, but rather the outcome of
anti-competitive protectionist lobbying.

Posted in Economics and public policy, History | 1 Comment


Konstantin Kisin is a comedian who was born in Russia and emigrated to Britain with his family when he was twelve. And he’s a friend of mine whom I met at the inimitable Kilkenomics. Like most comedians he’s a thoughtful guy. He’s much preoccupied with political correctness and he and a fellow comedian have worked up a regular podcast which they tell me will earn them a good income in the not too distant future – via Patreon. Which is great.

In any event, Konstantin invited me onto the program and we speak about economics and democracy – unified by the single theme that economics (like most social sciences) is too preoccupied with ideological and thematic signalling – left/right, free market/intervention – in just the way in which politics is marred by the same thing, recently weaponised as political correctnesses of various kinds.

You might like to check out the podcast more generally. Here it is at iTunes and here’s another general podcast site.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on TriggerPod