How Everyone Can Be Better Than Average:

Why “No Child Left Behind” Leaves Kids Behind 

By   Shlomo Maital

   In Garrison Keillor’s wonderful radio program Prairie Home Companion, that aired live from 1974 to 2016 – an incredible 42 years! — Keillor did regular segments on “Lake Wobegone” where “all the children are above average”.

    He always ended the segment with these words: “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

   Now, all the children cannot be above average, if you understand what an average is.

   But in fact – it turns out, in one sense, they CAN!! Let me explain.

   In his excellent New York Times Op-Ed (Tuesday June 18, international edition), Alfie Kohn asks, Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s?   he makes the distressing point that America’s educational system has for two decades been built on the wrong belief that “excellence is a zero-sum game”.


   When George W. Bush was elected President in 2000 (actually, he lost, but Florida’s Republican Supreme Court screwed Democrat candidate Al Gore), the first thing he did was initiate No Child Left Behind legislation. That law mandated widespread standardized testing in US schools. The idea, based on free-market economics, was – you promote excellence only by measuring it.

     But – how do you measure it?

     My wife Sharone, an experienced school psychologist, explained the two alternate ways of assessment: a) norm-reference tests, and b) criterion-reference tests. Please take a moment to understand the difference:

   Norm-referenced tests report whether test takers performed better or worse than a hypothetical average student, which is determined by comparing scores against the performance results of a statistically selected group of test takers, typically of the same age or grade level, who have already taken the exam.

   A criterion-referenced test is a style of test which uses test scores to generate a statement about the behavior that can be expected of a person with that score. Most tests and quizzes that are written by school teachers can be considered criterion-referenced tests.

     Let’s simplify. Norm reference tests are tests ‘on a curve’. There are always those who excel, and always those who flunk. It’s the nature of a curve. Zero sum.

     No Child Left Behind was based on norm reference tests. And as a result a great many kids were and are being left behind.

       There is a better way. Define a criterion for excellence, or anything else you want to measure. For instance: Answering 80% or more math questions correctly.

       Test kids. See how many meet the criterion.   The goal: Let every kid be ‘above average’, like in Lake Wobegone, where ‘average’ means ‘meeting the criterion’.  

       With norm reference tests, 20% of kids, for instance, will get A’s. No matter how hard the rest study, or learn, only 20% can get an A. It’s zero sum.

       With criterion reference tests, EVERYONE can potentially get an A.

       When schools report a high number of A’s, experts say, “grade inflation”. Why? Isn’t the goal of education to be inclusive, to help EVERYONE get an A, to make sure that truly, no child is left behind?  

           But norm reference tests BY DEFINITION leave 80%, say, behind.

           Everyone CAN get A’s.   Everyone can be above ‘average’, as in Lake Wobegone. America has sold a dangerous, false educational ideology to the world, including my country Israel.

           It’s time to rethink how we assess our kids.


St. Louis Blues Ain’t Blue No Mo’!

 By   Shlomo Maital  

    I grew up in Canada, dreamed of being a hockey goalie — and then went to live in Israel, where ice is what we put into our cups of water. But I still have a deep love for hockey – and so, celebrate the incredible Stanley Cup championship won yesterday (Wednesday) by the St. Louis Blues. This, despite my years of summers teaching in Boston, rooting for Boston’s exceptional sports teams, the Patriots (football), Red Sox (baseball) and Bruins (hockey), all of whom have won championships repeatedly and recently.

   Why was this win incredible?

     As late as early January, the St. Louis Blues were at the bottom of the league – not a great place for a championship bid.   The Blues won 30 of their last 49 games, made the playoffs – and beat Boston in the seventh game of a best-of-seven championship series.

     And they did it in Boston Garden, away from home, in an arena known for its incredibly loud partisan fans. They won the final game 4-1, scoring two goals in the first period, to zero for Boston. They did it despite being outshot 12 shots (Boston) to two (St. Louis) in the first period. Yes – those two shots were both goals. Credit St. Louis’ amazing goalie.   Jordan Binnington starred, stopping 32 shots in all. Nearly all Stanley Cup champions have a hot goalie like Binnington.

     St. Louis Blues have never won a Stanley Cup, in their 52-year history. This is their first.   Who would have believed it?

      Certainly the sports bettors didn’t!   One fan reportedly won $100,000 from a $250 bet at the start of the season, that St. Louis would win the Cup.   By my calculation that puts the initial odds at 400 to 1!

   How did St. Louis do it? They are a strong physical team, that won games by grinding out faith, forechecking and hard blue-collar work. Credit their coach for gluing this team together.  

   And as usual, there was a human interest story too. According to the BBC, “the Blues celebrated with Laila Anderson, an 11-year-old diagnosed with a life-threatening immune disease. A video of Laila bursting into tears after being told she had been cleared by her doctor to attend the most important fixture in her team’s history went viral on Wednesday.  Forward Alexander Steen had told Laila she was the team’s “lucky charm”, while defenseman Colton Parayko has been wearing a bracelet sporting the words “Laila strong”. “

   Blues were last in a Stanley Cup final in 1970 – 49 years ago. Do their faithful fans deserve it? You bet.






Saving 5,000 Children’s Hearts – and Lives

By   Shlomo Maital   

Fatma – at Wolfson Hospital, Holon, Israel

   Once every two weeks, I get to pretend I am a real person, rather than just an over-the-hill economics professor, and I get to interview interesting people for a column in a fortnightly magazine, Jerusalem Report. Today, my interview subjects were rather young – about a year old.  

True, they could not speak sentences, or even words, to me – but their eyes and their smiles spoke volumes.

   These are children from Wolfson Hospital’s Save a Child’s Heart program. They come to Israel from 59 countries, mainly Africa and Asia, and they all have life-threatening defects in their hearts that require surgery. Many undergo open-heart surgery lasting for hours, to repair faulty heart valves or gaping holes in their hearts. I will never forget the little ones I saw, and hugged, today. *

Babies born with heart defects are distressingly numerous. According to US data, “congenital heart defects (CHD) affect nearly 1% of―or about 40,000―births per year in the United States. The most common type of heart defect is a ventricular septal defect (VSD). About 25% of babies with a CHD have a critical CHD. Infants with critical CHDs generally need surgery or other procedures in their first year of life.”

In the US, Europe and Israel, babies born with heart defects generally get remedial surgery, or their births may be aborted if prenatal ultrasound reveals serious heart defects. Babies and children who contract rheumatic fever get antibiotics, which prevents rheumatic heart abscesses. But in poor countries in Africa and Asia, doctors can diagnose heart defects but often surgery to fix them is not available; and often, rheumatic fever is not treated with antibiotics, resulting in damaged hearts.

And here, begins the story of one man – the late Dr. Ami Cohen. Very often, world-changing projects are born in the heart and mind of one passionate compassionate person. Dr. Cohen studied and practiced cardiac surgery in the US, in Washington DC. He served as a doctor with the US armed forces in Korea in 1988, where he joined a program that helped poor local children with heart disease. That planted the seed of an idea.    In 1992 he and his family emigrated to Israel. In 1996 a friend in Ethiopia asked if he could do surgery on a small child with a heart defect. Dr. Cohen brought three Ethiopian children to Israel for remedial heart surgery in 1996, and then established a network of professionals to scale up heart surgery for children from other countries, along with a supporting foundation. The program, called Save a Child’s Heart, was based at Israel’s Wolfson Hospital, in Holon, a southern suburb of Tel Aviv. The cost of treating each baby or child is $15,000, including flights, and hospital stays. Israeli cardiac surgeons volunteer their services. The Israeli government supports the program, both financially and indirectly. And donors support the Save a Child’s Heart Foundation.  

Recently, Save a Child’s Heart celebrated its 5,000th patient — a beautiful little one-year-old girl named Fatma, from Zanzibar (see photo). Fatma’s mother, Balkis, had been treated for the same heart defect by Dr. Cohen, and Save a Child’s Heart, in 1997, as a small child. Today I asked Balkis what her dream was, for her little girl.

   “She will be a doctor!” she said emphatically. “She will be a doctor.” And I believe she will. And then, perhaps little Fatma will return to Israel to do her cardiac surgery specialty, like other African doctors I met at Wolfson.

   To date, babies and children from 59 countries have been treated, and half of them were Palestinians, including many from Gaza.

Tragically, Dr. Cohen did not live to see the thriving Balkis and her little girl Fatma. On August 16, 2001, Dr. Cohen died while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, with his daughter. He was only 47. The cause: Altitude sickness. He died as he lived – living his dreams.

   Kilimanjaro is 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level. I climbed it in 2008. Our guides took their time, spreading the climb over a full week to enable us to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen. And despite this, many in our group felt ill at the summit.   I know that other groups, with people who do not have a full week to spare, make the climb in 3 days….and this can result in severe illness or worse.    At sea level, the air is 20% oxygen.  At 19,348 feet, it is only 10% — half.  The result can be pulmonary edema (bleeding in the lungs) and cerebral edema (bleeding in the brain), which in extreme cases can be fatal.

On a plaque, in the building that houses recovering children and their mothers and fathers after surgery, are these words:   Our dear Dr. Ami Cohen, We love you very much. We will miss you, but never forget you as you will always play a special place in the new hearts you gave us. We pray that your dream will continue to grow and touch many more children all over the world. God bless and reward you for bringing joy to our families and countries.   Love from Save a Child’s Heart children.

   Why isn’t the story of saving children’s hearts and lives by Israeli surgeons known more widely? The answer is simple. The dominant media narrative is the Israel-Palestine conflict, featuring missiles, rockets, bombs and death. Other stories just don’t fit – even those about saving children’s lives, including Palestinians.

   Bad news drives out good news. I find this very sad.

 – – – – – –

From the Web: “ventricular septal defect (VSD), a hole in the heart, is a common heart defect that’s present at birth (congenital). The hole (defect) occurs in the wall (septum) that separates the heart’s lower chambers (ventricles) and allows blood to pass from the left to the right side of the heart. The oxygen-rich blood then gets pumped back to the lungs instead of out to the body, causing the heart to work harder.   A small ventricular septal defect may cause no problems, and many small VSDs close on their own. Medium or larger VSDs may need surgical repair early in life to prevent complications”.  

How We Economists Missed the Boat
By   Shlomo Maital   

As an economics student, many years ago, I was taught that production (both industrial and agricultural) was ruled by a Law. The Law of Diminishing Returns.  (See diagram). The more effort you invest in something, the less and less additional output you get. This law originated in agriculture. For a given plot of land, the output of food it produces rises by less than the labor and resources invested in it. Here is the proof: If there WERE increasing returns, you could grow all the world’s wheat in a flowerpot. The same “law” translated as well into industrial production.

   Some 23 years ago, in 1996, a brilliant and convention-breaking economists named W. Brian Arthur published an article in Harvard Business Review. The title: Increasing Returns and the New World of Business. I wish I had paid closer attention to it. Here in his words is why the ‘law’ of diminishing returns has been repealed forever.

     The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things. As the economy shifts steadily away from the brute force of things into the powers of mind, from resource-based bulk processing into knowledge-based design and reproduction, so it is hsifting from a base of diminishing returns to one of increasing returns. A new economics – one very different from that in the textbooks – now applies, and nowhere is this more true than in high technology. Success will strongly favor those who understand this new way of thinking.

   What does this mean for us ordinary people, in simple language? Mainly, this. If you live in a world of increasing returns, then follow what a brilliant Israeli manager once decreed: first to imagine, first to move, first to scale. Think of a great idea. Get it rolling. And then scale it up fast! Because – winner takes all. The farther ahead you are of competitors, the more efficient and more profitable you become. And in the end, you, the winner, rule the market and can eliminate or buy up all your competitors.  And basically, do whatever you want to make piles of profit.  Including —   hire armies of lobbyists.

     Does this sound familiar?   Apple? Google? Facebook?  Amazon?

     Problem is, our political and regulatory systems still do not fully understand this. Only now are government bodies beginning to investigate the monopolistic practices of Facebook and Google.   These huge winner-take-all operations operate globally, so checking their power locally, in individual countries, is very difficult.

       The dominant economic idea of free markets and open competition does not hold when the law of diminishing returns has been repealed and replaced by increasing returns. In this new world, little fish grow bigger, swallow the smaller fish and become predatory whales.   Despite Arthur’s seminar article written in 1996, I believe it has not fully dawned on us that the old economics is gone forever. 

     We need to rethink how we regulate economies dominated by predatory whales rather than vigorous little minnows.


Why Economists (Don’t) Tell (True) Stories

by Shlomo Maital

   After decades of researching and teaching economics, I became increasingly troubled by my discipline. I did not find truth in the math and numbers economists love. Instead, in teaching managers and future entrepreneurs, I found truth in what economists largely despire – N ≤ 1, that is, stories about real people. Often, when I tried to make my seminar talks interesting and meaningful with narratives, I got the devastating criticism: Stories! A word worse than Nazi, Fascist, or pedophile, for economists.

       This is why I was so delighted to read the article by Carmine Gallo in Forbes, published way back in January. Gallo reported a speech by Nobel Economics Laureate Robert Shiller at the World Economic Forum, in Davos. Shiller is a behavioral economist who writes wonderful insightful books about how people behave. Here is an excerpt of what he said in Davos, according to Gallo.  Warning – it’s rather long, but I think worth the time.

   “This week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Shiller banged the drum on a topic that’s near to my heart — the power of narrative to drive human behavior. Shiller didn’t mince words.   “Most people think in narratives, but economists are terrible with narrative,” he said. In a follow-up interview on CNBC, Shiller said, “Last year I chastised the [economics] profession for neglecting what you media people know. Narratives drive human behavior.” To study narrative is to examine ourselves. We think in story, process our world through the lens of story, and use storytelling to communicate ideas. One prominent economist believes that stories are the heart of human behavior. He says to understand the power of narrative is to understand financial booms and busts — and to prevent crises from getting worse.

   Robert Shiller is a Nobel prize-winning economist at Yale. He’s written books and papers warning of bubbles in the stock and housing markets before they happened. “The human brain has always been highly tuned towards narratives, whether factual or not, to justify ongoing actions, even such basic actions as spending and investing,” Shiller said in his speech. “Narratives ‘go viral’ and spread far, even worldwide, with economic impact.” Shiller says that the same epidemic models that trace how disease or viruses spread can be used to describe the word-of-mouth transmission of an idea. Stories spread ideas like a contagion—infecting one person and another, and another. Some ideas, of course, are great ones and should catch on. But some stories—once they go viral—can have a damaging impact on world economies.

   Stories continue to impact our economies today. Shiller says the financial crisis of 2007-2009 also followed “a narrative-based chronology.” Financial busts are “driven by a cadence of stories.” Stock market and housing bubbles are formed when people hear stories of easy money being made. Panics make declines worse as stories of losses go viral.”

   Another narrative that Shiller and several other economists brought up in their panel at Davos is today’s prevailing storyline that humans will be replaced by machines. “

   For decades, we have heard, every 15 years or so, the story of how very soon machines will replace humans. They never have, and never will.   Economists preached the story how unbridled uncontrolled greed would make human society happy healthy and wise. It didn’t.  So – economists DO use stories, they weave stories based on numbers – and very often, distressingly often, get it wrong. But no matter—people believe the stories, and economists continue to build false ones.  

   There is hope. Modern economics is dominated, among the young, by the effort to understand and research human behavior. And this work, pioneered by, for instance, Dan Ariely, is based on great narratives built on real people and real dilemmas.  One day, mainstream economics will be as behavioral as anthropology or psychology.

   Alas. I was born too soon.







The Creativity of Nature:

How One Creative Scientist Harnessed It

By   Shlomo Maital

Prof. Frances Arnold, Caltech

   Frances Arnold is a professor of chemical engineering at California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, CA. She won the 2018 Nobel Prize for chemistry, along with two others. She is only the fifth woman in history to win the Chemistry Nobel.

   Prof. Arnold has had numerous personal tragedies. She has overcome all the grief – and not a small amount of gender discrimination. UK border police interrogated her for over two hours, when she told them she was “coming to meet the Queen” (she was – but a lot of nutty people say that, apparently).

     Prof. Arnold won the Nobel for finding a creative way to leverage the powerful creative force of evolution. Instead of designing new chemicals from scratch, to fight crop-eating pests, remove laundry stains or clean up oil spills, Arnold figured out how to get Nature to do it.

     “You start with a protein that already has some features you’re interested in”, she said, “ and use standard lab techniques to randomly mutate the gene that encodes the protein. Then you look for slight improvement in the resulting protein, in the direction you seek. You mutate the improved version again and again and screen the output. You do this with a bacterial workhorse, like E. coli….. you encourage the microbes to rise to the challenge, adapt, survive.”

       In Dr. Arnold’s lab, organisms have been ‘mutated’ to stitch together carbon and silicon, or carbon and boron. “We’re discovering that nature can do chemistry, in the lab, we never dreamed was possible”, Dr. Arnold said.    Arnold has invented the new field of evolutionary chemistry – using Nature’s incredibly creative system known as evolution and ‘survival of the fittest’, to create random mutations, select the ones that work, perfect them – and change the world. Nature is creative, in much the same way that humans are – try things, fail, try again, find something that does work and run with it. That is how we humans were created – and according to Darwin, all the millions of species on earth.    

   Arnold has launched a number of startups, including one that synthesizes insect pheromones and fends off agricultural pests by simply driving them crazy and confusing them.

   Much of Dr. Arnold’s pioneering research was done while she fought breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. She underwent surgery, radiation and chemo, all while raising three young boys and working day and night in her lab.   And in 2010 her husband Andrew Lange killed himself; her middle son William, 20, died in an accident in 2016.  

     “Why would I give up?” said Arnold. “First you learn you have no control. Then you straighten up, fetch your invitation and go to meet the Queen.”    

       [This is based on an excellent New York Times article, by Natalie Angier, who writes for the Science Times].









Jacob, age 12, Comforts the Bereaved

By   Shlomo Maital


   When a close relative dies, there is a wise, tried and tested Jewish ritual of mourning known as shiva, from the Hebrew word “shiv’ah” which means the number 7.

       For 7 days, the mourners sit at home, on low benches, and receive visits of comfort from friends and family. They reminisce about the departed, prepare no food (food is brought to them) and grieve.   They then “rise” from the shiva and resume their lives, with some other limitations during the “shloshim” (the next 30 days).   In synagogue, mourners say the kaddish prayer, for 11 months, which has not a single word about death but simply praises God and his creation and greatness.

     This mourning ritual has proven itself over the ages to comfort and strengthen. I experienced it myself, after the deaths of my mother and father.

   I recently was privileged to meet Jacob, age 12. Jacob is the son of relatives. He will be bar mitzvah soon, at age 13. Like many other young men about to celebrate their bar mitzvah (the equivalent of confirmation), Jacob is doing a public service project.   But his is very special – his idea. He told me about it.

     Jacob, together with his mother and stepfather, visits the homes of mourners and pays “shiva calls”. Some think exposing children to death is wrong. I disagree. This is not exposure to death, but to comforting the grieving. Jacob brings his youth, his hope, and the future, to the home of the bereaved. I know that his presence brings hope and comfort to the bereaved.

     I believe Jacob’s wonderful idea deserves scale-up – spreading widely. The idea of comforting those who have lost loved ones is brilliant – and who can comfort better than a sensitive caring young man or woman (this is for girls too, of course), who brings with him or her the perpetual idea of continuity of life, of hope, of renewal and of meaning.  

       Jacob – well done!


US GDP Growth: NOT What It Seems!

By   Shlomo Maital

I recently wrote a column titled: Why Can’t Economists Talk Straight?, in the Jerusalem Report. It was a book review of a book by a friend, an expert on behavioral economics. It explains why economists befuddle, use impenetrable jargon, and in general confuse and obfuscate.

     Here is a recent example.   US First Quarter GDP figures were headlined as: US economy growth surprises!   3.2% growth. Way above what was expected. It was predicted that a recession was on the way. But it’s not!   Yeeayyy!    This is what journalists wrote. I can understand that. They are not trained to read the economic X-Ray data. But economists?   Where ARE they?   Nowhere.

     The first quarter GDP news is BAD BAD BAD! Not good.   Here is why.

       A large part of that 3.2%   growth was “inventories”. Nearly a quarter. Without that, growth would have been 2.5%. Much worse ….. But what IS that inventory thing???

        Here is the straight talk.   GDP growth reflects what is PRODUCED   — not what is SOLD.   Some of GDP is sold. Some is NOT. So it is put into warehouses. This is then called ‘inventories’ or ‘inventory change’.  

       A whole lot of stuff was produced in the first quarter – but companies couldn’t sell it.   So cars, fridges, computers, motorcycles, appliances, etc. went into warehouses.  

       That is bad news. Because in the 2nd quarter, companies will sell off that inventory rather than produce new stuff. That will greatly reduce GDP growth rate.   In 2nd quarter, we will see numbers that begin to herald a recession. Trust me.   Set aside some money – we ARE heading for a slowdown.

      Now, is that bad news? Or good?     As we head toward elections in November 2020, a recession will help defeat Donald Trump.   People DO vote their pockets, to some degree. And the likely Democratic candidate Joe Biden is running a campaign to enlist support of working people.   Trump has not even begun to deliver on his promises to them. And they are beginning to get it. Moreover, Biden has pulled Trump’s chain, and got Trump to attack unions (dues-sucking!).  

       So bottom line:   NOT 3.2% growth, but 2.5% growth (subtracting inventories), to reflect what people actually BOUGHT. They are buying less. This is a slowdown signal.   I can find nowhere where this is widely and clearly reported. A great shame.



Make It Smaller, Cheaper, Better:

Democratizing Ultrasound  

By   Shlomo Maital

     Take a useful product. Make it smaller, cheaper. MUCH smaller and cheaper. In doing so you make it accessible to those in poorer countries.

     A lot of world-changing innovation works that way.   Take for instance Butterfly (New York Times, front page, April 18 2019).   “Hope in the palm of a hand”.   Butterfly Network is a Connecticut company that makes a hand-held ultrasound scanner called the Butterfly iQ.   It is about the size of an electric shaver. It is battery-powered, and is based not on piezoelectric crystals (used in nearly all ultrasound devices) but instead on microchips, far more durable. Butterly iQ won’t break if dropped. The target market: doctors and nurses who can afford a $2,000 device that “fits in a coat pocket and is as portable as a stethoscope”.

     The NYT article, by Donald McNeil Jr. and Esther Ruth Mbabazi, shows how this device has vast potential in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where conventional X-ray machines are miles and miles away and are often inaccessible. The article shows how Dr. Michael Cherniak counselled Rodgers Ssekawoko Muhumuza, a Ugandan clinical officer he was training, in using the device, to diagnose early-stage pneumonia in a six-year-old.   Rodgers prescribed antibiotics, and Dr. Cherniak approved.

       I was privileged to work with GE Ultrasound, in Haifa Israel, which began as an Israeli startup acquired by GE.   The entrepreneurs initially developed a PC-based ultrasound device, cheaper and smaller by far than the existing device.    They did this based on faith, that PC computing power would ultimately be sufficient – and it was. The key was image-processing software, that sharpened the ultrasound image a lot, developed by a genius software engineer.   Next, the development team converted the device to work on a laptop.   And now, in the US, Butterfly has slimmed it all down to the size of a mobile phone.

         Innovation is often not just about new inventions, but about making existing inventions accessible to those with low income, and low accessibility to urban medical care and devices. Almost by definition, things that are smaller are often also cheaper, and of course easier to transport.

     Kudos to Butterfly and founder   Jonathan Rothberg. He pursued the goal initially, because one of his daughters had kidney cysts that required regular ultrasound scans. One of his backers was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.   “Two-thirds of the world gets no imaging at all,” Rothberg noted. “When you put something on a chip, the price goes down and you democratize it.”

When Democracy Breaks: Understanding Brakes-It (Brexit)
By   Shlomo Maital

    Are you puzzled by the Brexit fiasco? As are the Brits themselves – and the rest of the world?

   I spent a year in Manchester, UK, studying economics, many years ago, and came to like and understand the British people. Here is my ‘take’ on Brexit.

   British democracy is built around its Parliament. There are 650 members of Parliament, elected by parliamentary district. There are two main parties: Labor and Conservatives. Liberals were strong for a while, then disappeared – now there is DUP (Northern Ireland) and SNP Scottish Nationalists. So there has been fragmentation, as there is in nearly all democracies, and above all, splits WITHIN the two major parties, Labor and Conservatives.

     I love watching question session in the British Parliament. “The right honorable member from Dipsy-Doopsy has clearly failed to understand the essential elements of this issue”.   Polite debate, sometimes raucous, but real intelligent debate, unlike in many Parliaments, and strongly contrasting with, say, Israel’s Knesset.

     But here is the problem. British democracy is adversarial.   Labor vs. Conservative. Them against us.   Usually this works. People vote, and choose between them decisively.

     Until now.  The governing Conservatives had a bare majority, with the help of DUP — and then basically lost DUP support. So they lack a majority.

     The Brexit referendum was very close, 51% for. The slogan of the “for” was: Take Back Control. That made stopping migrants the key issue. People wanted to stop the flow of migrants across the English Channel. But what about the other stuff that came with leaving the EU?   Northern Ireland-Ireland border? Trade/ auto plants? Investment? Foreign workers? Foreign residents? British living in Spain?

     PM David Cameron, at the time, OK’d the referendum because he was sure it would be defeated. He opposed Brexit. He lost. And the chaos began.  Because Cameron had no plan for leaving the EU.  None.  People voted for leaving, without knowing how it would be done.

     What is needed now is compromise, collaboration. WITHIN the Conservative Party, the two wings – hard Brexit and soft Brexit – have to join together and agree. WITHIN the Labor Party, the two wings, ‘stay’ and ‘leave soft’ , have to agree.

     Finally, at the 12th hour, PM Theresa May has offered to sit down seriously with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. To bargain.   But in an adversarial system, them against us, and at a time when both of the major parties are internally divided, the chances of an agreement are slim.  The two leaders deeply despise each other. What are the odds they can agree on anything, even the time of day?

     We’ve had a dozen votes or more in Parliament – and not a SINGLE one has generated a majority for anything! Except, perhaps, not leaving without some kind of agreement.

     So the odds now are Britain will crash out of the EU in early May, or before, without any real orderly agreement. It will be less chaotic than many warn, but very very harmful to Britain’s economy and future. Because there is no Parliamentary majority for Anything. 

    And most of all, Britain’s image as a paragon of democracy, a good place to invest, and London above all as the world’s financial capital, all have suffered irreparable damage.

   Democracy is great. Until it breaks. British democracy broke, because an adversarial system seemed unable to adapt to become a collaborative one – let’s get together and solve this. Even when the cost is infinite – collaboration seems well beyond the current Parliament.

   Brexit? Or Breaks-It?   Very sad. And just watch the dictators – Putin, Trump and others – rub their hands in glee as the EU comes apart.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
June 2019
« May