David R. Henderson  

Tom Friedman on Brexit and Trump

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In the previous post on Tom Friedman, I neglected to mention that hours earlier he had flown in to San Francisco from Europe. That meant that he was likely in the air when the Brexit results came in. He led off with a good laugh line: Did anything interesting happen in the world in the last few hours?

To the extent he discussed Brexit, though, it was all negative. He saw it as Britain trying to isolate itself from the world. My guess is that he literally didn't consider the idea that Britain, if it left the EU, might have freer trade with the rest of the world, including Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Africa. He seemed to have the elitist view that the only reason people wanted to get out is that they were afraid of globalization and immigration. Even if that were true, which it's not, motives are often different from outcomes. He said not a word about the idea that Brits might be able to avoid some layers of regulation by "Brexiting."

Related to that, in the little parts of the speech in which he discussed Donald Trump, it was about him and the many Republicans who support Trump being dinosaurs (my word, not his, but that gives the gist.) Not that I necessarily disagree with that, but he said not a word about the big D dinosaurs in the other major party. A sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to push for a vote on a bill when they don't even have a bill? Give me a break.

In the first question in Q&A, my retired colleague Al Washburn of the Operations Analysis department asked Friedman if there was any upside at all to Brexit. I pointed out to Al afterwards, and Al agreed, that Friedman didn't answer his question. Instead, he went back to his theme of the pro-Brexit people wanting to isolate. "We have to understand their concerns," he said (or words to that effect). But he didn't mention, or try to find, an upside.

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CATEGORIES: Regulation

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Dave writes:
Al Washburn of the Operations Analysis department asked Friedman if there was any upside at all to Friedman.

Huh. IME academics often give the impression they think the speaker's ideas are worthless, but are rarely so direct about it.

(I imagine you meant "Brexit".)

NL7 writes:

Lord Ashcroft polling shows ~80% of those who saw immigration as a force for ill voted to leave the EU and ~80% who saw it as a force for good voted to remain. The Leave voters were also heavily concerned about social liberalism, multiculturalism, etc. Leave voters were also more likely to identify as English rather than British, meaning they are more likely to have a narrower, older, and more exclusionary sense of identity.

Conversely, views on capitalism had zero correlation to one's vote on the EU referendum.

In order for the UK to really exclude EU workers, they'd have to avoid the free trade association with Europe. So either migration of workers will remain protected or free trade with Europe week be sacrificed. This is assuming unilateral free trade will be discarded by statists, as it more or less always is.

It would be nice to think that Brexit was about freedom, trade, and openness. But if Brexit supporters are any indication, they expect it to be the opposite. Roughly 80% of voters on each side expect the vote to result in a more closed society. Let's hope they are wrong or at least exaggerating.

BC writes:

"In order for the UK to really exclude EU workers, they'd have to avoid the free trade association with Europe."

Why is that? NAFTA allows free-trade in North America without any concurrent agreement on migration. Do you mean that, as a condition of access to Europe, the *EU* will insist on free migration? In that case, we should say that the EU's insistence on free migration is what is limiting or sacrificing free trade.

I support open borders and free trade, unilateral if necessary. However, people on both sides of the Brexit debate have falsely conflated the issues of free trade, free migration, and regulation/sovereignty. The three are completely separable and distinct issues.

Weir writes:


Ashcroft's figure is precisely 82% when you add the percentages for the second most popular argument ("offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders" at 33%) and the first most popular argument ("the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK" at 49%).

The figure for "more English than British" is 66% on the leave side. On the remain side, there must be vanishingly few immigrants who see themselves as "more English than British," which is exactly as you'd expect: People don't immigrate to England. They immigrate to Britain.

So if you take into account the importance that people clearly attach to collective decisionmaking at the national, as opposed to supranational level, we can expect that free movement of people (and goods, since Boris has been talking nonstop about how much he supports free trade) should become more popular, not less, within the independent polity of Britain.

The alternative is for wealthy, well-educated people to keep doing what they've been doing very loudly all week, which is to heap abuse and disdain on poor people with lousy or no work prospects and no degrees and no million dollar properties in London. But that policy of insulting people doesn't actually produce any support for open borders.

Richard A. writes:

When brexit won, much of the press began throwing a hissy fit. The brexit vote was never about protectionism. If you look at the leaders who supported brexit from the Conservatives to the UKIP, they are strong supporters of free trade. I will predict that within 10 years from the time the UK sucessfully brexits, UK's trade barriers to the world will be less restrictive than the EU's.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks, Dave. Good catch.

Rich Berger writes:

Regarding Mr. Friedman's failure to answer the question about any positive effects of Brexit, I also notice a complete lack of positive arguments for the EU (aside from its facilitating trade). The only arguments being offered are fear and derision.

Harold Cockerill writes:

A note on the senate actions on the proposed gun control laws. Reading news reports it seemed the Republicans had again blocked action on toughening access to weapons. Looking at the votes though it appears the Democrats in the senate voted against two Republican proposals that didn't go as far the Dems wanted but none the less did strengthen the government's ability to block sales to people that shouldn't be buying guns.

If the Democrats are truly for any measure to move forward with gun control why were the Republican proposals voted down? Also in none of the news reports I read was there mention of the Democrats voting against strengthening gun laws. The reports were that the measures failed along party lines which I believe left most readers believing the party in power had blocked passage.

David Friedman writes:

Brexit won 52% to 48%. Suppose three quarters of the supporters are isolationist, one quarter free traders. Further suppose that there are very few isolationists on the other side. That gives a substantial majority in favor of free trade.

So once the voters and politicians on the losing side accept the fact that they have lost and start thinking about what to do next, there should be a majority in favor of freer trade with the rest of the world as much free trade with the E.U. as the E.U. is willing to agree to. Whether the politics will actually produce that outcome I don't know.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

From http://www.fabians.org.uk/brexit-voters-not-the-left-behind/

"The graph below, restricted to White British respondents, shows almost no statistically significant difference in EU vote intention between rich and poor. By contrast, the probability of voting Brexit rises from around 20 per cent for those most opposed to the death penalty to 70 per cent for those most in favour. Wealthy people who back capital punishment back Brexit. Poor folk who oppose the death penalty support Remain."

"A similar pattern holds in the British Values Survey for the strongly worded question probing respondents’ desire to see those who commit sex crimes ‘publicly whipped, or worse.’ Political psychologists show a close relationship between feeling fearful of change, desiring certainty, and calling for harsh penalties for criminals and discipline for children. These are people who want a more stable, ordered world. By contrast, those who seek change and novelty are willing to embrace immigration and the EU."

I'm no fan of an anti-democratic EU or insane EU regulations. But we have to be honest, this was a referendum not on policies, but on feelings, as it is with the Trump vote.

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