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Understanding the Brexit Disaster:

Ask the Psychologists!

By Shlomo Maital

I’ve been glued to our TV, for weeks, watching the British debate in Parliament what to do next about Brexit. I’ve watched how the world’s oldest elected Parliament cannot find a majority for anything – except, maybe, NOT to crash out of the EU. I’ve watched how the Trump-like PM Boris Johnson tries to circumvent Parliament, in the name of democracy but instead mortally wounding it. I studied for a year in Manchester, and feel deeply sorry for the people of Britain – and am trying to understand how they got into this pickle.

     Enter the psychologists. In the excellent podcast Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedanta, the Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert was recently interviewed. He spoke about this – we humans are incorrigibly bad at predicting the future,, specifically, in predicting how we will feel in future about a decision made in the present.

   The British people voted narrowly (52 for, 48 against) to leave the EU, in 2016. Mainly they voted for “take our country back”, a slogan pushed by pro-Brexit politicians, driven by anger at the flood of migrants crossing the English Channel that under EU rules could not be stopped.

     But what about other aspects of leaving the EU? What about the Ireland-Northern Ireland border? What about all the EU citizens living in Britain? What about trade, tariffs, customs? Then-PM David Cameron, who initiated the referendum, never believed it would pass, and never developed realistic future scenarios about how leaving the EU would be done. Former PM Theresa May stubbornly pushed the same leave-EU proposal to Parliament three times – despite zero chance of it passing.

       Professor Gilbert explains, basically, that when we make a decision, we are pretty hopeless about predicting how we will feel about it. As the Brits learn more about what leaving the EU means – crashing out with no deal, in particular, as Johnson obsessively wants — I believe they regret their initial vote in 2016. In particular — if only 1.5 per cent of those who voted “leave” now change their mind and would vote ‘stay’ – the referendum would be reversed.   Yet — cynics, in the name of democracy, say “the result of a referendum is set in stone” – even though Parliament, elected by the people, can change its mind a dozen times a day, also in the name of democracy.

     Basically – people are flawed in how they predict how they will feel about a decision in the future. We know this from the work of psychologists, and from our own introspection.

     Conclusion: Do another referendum on “leave or stay”. Take into account that humans are flawed. Give the British people another chance.

       But Johnson and pro-Brexit politicians insist this is undemocratic. Wrong.

       The 2016 referendum was terribly flawed. The British people were not told the full story. They voted on the basis of a narrow idea, ‘take our country back’. They weren’t told, how precisely this would be done.

       So – do it again. Offer clear precise scenarios. And offer a clear ‘leave’ plan, including Ireland.

Why Britain (and the World) Deserves Crackpot Boris Johnson, UK’s Next PM

 By   Shlomo Maital  

 

   In a few days, rank-and-file Conservative voters in Britain will choose Boris Johnson as their new leader (and automatically, as Britain’s new Prime Minister), over the solid, stable, experienced Jeremy Hunt.

   Johnson follows in the footsteps of Donald Trump. Trump, once a Democrat, now leads Republicans, with hurtful racist words that fire up his “base”, white males, and sow discord, violence, dissent and hatred. Trump got elected, because — well, here’s my explanation.

     As author Yuval Noah-Harari writes, four ‘global’ ideologies exist: fascism, communism, socialism, liberalism. The first three were tried, disastrously, and mostly failed, except for the social democracy version now prevalent in Scandinavia, which isn’t really socialism (state ownership of property and businesses).

     Liberalism?   The United States built a powerful, beautiful vision of a world driven by liberalism (democratic nations trading openly, based on dynamic competitive economies) at Bretton Woods, NH, on July 2, 1944. That’s 75 years ago.   By exporting, many nations grew wealthy – mainly, in Asia (China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, India). The US offered a huge market.  

       At the end of World War II, the world was largely destroyed, except for the US, whose economy doubled twice during the war, and whose GDP comprised a startling 75% of world GDP. By opening its market, and building a global trading system, the US helped the rest of the world (Europe, Asia) grow wealthy. And Europe wisely joined once-hostile countries into a powerful open economic bloc, of 28 nations.     This was an enormous success for liberalism.

       But now, 75 years later, it is failing. It is falling apart. Trump’s trade wars are spreading. Japan and Korea are now in a trade war. And there will be others.

       Why?

       Because of us.   Because those who saw what was happening, who knew enough to see it, who saw how many countries and people (nearly all of Africa, the underclass in the US, UK, Europe, and elsewhere) were left behind, how wealth became obscenely concentrated among the 0.001%, how these wealthy people controlled democratic systems with their wealth — those who saw it, simply sat on their hands and elected liberals who did nothing about those left behind.   

         And now – the bill for this neglect has been presented. And it’s huge. The US underclass elects billionaire Trump, who has rewarded fellow millionaires with an obscene tax cut – yet, the underclass still loves him Why? Because he twists the tails of the educated elite, the liberals. And that’s worth everything – because if you are humiliated and downtrodden for 70 years, and you think you have a leader who speaks for you (he doesn’t, really) – that’s worth everything.

         And now, Johnson. He was a left-leaning Mayor of London. Now he’s turned far right, for the Brexit crowd. Why? It’s in his interest. Votes, you know. He was once pro-immigration. Now he attacks Muslims and immigrants. He once strongly supported oil companies. Now he’s an eco-warrior. He beat up his girl friend, police were called – and he refused to explain, not a single word. He says he will take Britain out of the EU, deal or no deal, by October 30 — when a no-deal exit will drive Britain into recession. He wrote a crackpot novel, “Seventy-Two Virgins”, — compare it with John F. Kennedy’s non-fiction book Profiles in Courage.

         Like Trump, Johnson says dumb hateful things – and gets away with it. And by the way – Trump strongly endorses him.

         In the disastrous referendum on Brexit, initiated by the hapless David Cameron (an ego trip, he was sure it would be defeated – and ended up throwing Britain into endless chaos), Johnson supported “leave” using false data and false claims. Totally false. And he got away with it.

     There is an alternative. Wise Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Minister, long-time Health Minister, who ran London’s amazing 2012 Olympics –   perfect for UK PM, but about to lose when rank-and-file Conservatives choose their idol, Boris.

         Johnson once wrote about Churchill:  he became Prime Minister “despite members of the Conservative Party having been conditioned to think of him as an opportunist, a turncoat, a blowhard, an egotist, a rotter, a bounder, a cad and on several well-attested occasions a downright drunk.”

         All of those words, each of them, describes Johnson. And Johnson is no Churchill. Britain will pay heavily during his likely-short tenure.  Britain will get anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn, in the next election, as their leader, and things will get much worse, if that is possible.

         Good luck, Britain. Bull in the China Shop Boris.   He’s your choice for Prime Minister.

         And we liberals are all to blame. We saw the huge gaps in income and wealth emerging, within countries and between countries – and ignored them.

         Now, with Trump, Johnson, and others – we are paying for it. In spades.

         Ouch.

        

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.

Distraction – Our Greatest Threat
By   Shlomo Maital
 
      It is easy to identify a lot of things that have gone wrong in the world.  Britain is in a deadly stalemate, facing an urgent decision and with no majority for anything.  Right wing governments threaten democracy in Venezuela, Poland, Hungary and even Italy.  America is stuck in a stupid conflict between a stubborn President and stubborn Democrats.   Israel goes to elections on April 9 that according to polls will change absolutely nothing.
        But underlying all this is a little-noted problem. Distraction.  Small children are easy to distract; parents do it all the time.  Apparently world leaders are also easy to distract.
Trump obsesses over a wall, while America’s economy slows, and its infrastructure crumble.  Israel faces threats on its borders, but its Prime Minister obsesses about his impending indictment for bribery.  Europe struggles with migrants, and debt, but is totally distracted by Brexit and will be for months.  China and the US grapple over Huawei and cell phone technology, while their trade war causes the entire world economy to slow.
       
        The world has lost focus.  The 30-second news cycle has led to massive myopia, neglecting longer term problems.  Elections focus on personalities.  Try to find a comprehensive well-designed political platform for any political party anywhere. 
      I think the distraction of non-news and personalities is a major threat – if it continues, we will never even begin to grapple with the real major problems the world faces.
     So, let’s decide – Just because our leaders are distracted, and purposely try to distract all of us with pipsqueak inconsequential matters,  we don’t have to play.  Where possible, let’s find ways to refocus the political system on the things that really matter – saving, education, investment, schools, roads, corruption, equality, and overall creating a better world.
      Make America Make the World Great Again.

British Elections: The REAL Problem

By Shlomo Maital

The press are moaning about Britain’s “hung” parliament, because Teresa May did not get a majority, leaving Brexit negotiations with the EU in limbo.

   I see a different, much bigger problem. This, I believe, is the first election in which a generational war between the millennials and their parents has broken out.

   According to Bloomberg, the Boomers voted for the Conservatives, and before that, for Brexit. The millennials, first, registered to vote in very very large numbers (which they did NOT do for the Brexit referendum), and then,   voted massively in support of 68 year old Jeremy Corbyn. Their support for Corbyn was exuberant and high-energy.  Many of the young people voted for the first time.

“Brexit, along with spending cuts and paying for pensions, pitted the generations against each other. Young once apathetic Britons rallied behind Corbyn’s leftist battle cry and propelled the anti-May anthem “Liar, Liar” to the top of the pop charts with 2.6 million YouTube views.  “I wanted to see Theresa May get a bit of a kicking,” said George Hames, 20, who voted for Labour in London. “The way Corbyn has been able to paint a contrast between himself and May: He’s given people something to vote for, not just pragmatically, but because they think it can change the world.”

     Why is this a big problem?   In normal times, the older generation, which has wealth and power, acts to create a better world for the younger generation. So both generations have a common interest.

     Today? In many countries, young people no longer believe at all that this is the case.

       Civilized society is based on trust, on faith, on values, and on an orderly transition in which power and wealth are handed from one generation to another.

       In societies where this is not the case — young people may leave (in droves),   or create social unrest and hung parliaments, as in Britain.

       Brexit is a problem. But finding common ground between old and young is a far more pressing problem, and a far tougher one.   Brexit means bargaining with the EU, an external force.     Millenial wars mean finding internal agreement between young and old – and that is far harder.  

       I wish Britain well.   Other countries may soon experience similar Millenial wars.  France, in contrast, may have cracked the problem by electing a 39-year-old inexpericnced President. So far it seems to be working.

 

 

How Trump Used Psychometrics to Win

By Shlomo Maital

 

   My friend Einar Tangen drew my attention to this article:

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/how-our-likes-helped-trump-win

     Here is the jist of it.

  • A psychologist named Michael Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail, based on their Facebook activity. The technique is known in general as psychometrics: Measuring psychological characteristics from available data.
  • The company behind Trump’s online campaign (a key part of his win) was Cambridge Analytica, a Big Data company, which also worked on the LeaveEU campaign for the pro-Brexit group.   Cambridge Analytica apparently used Kosinski’s findings…
  • How does it work?       Cambridge Analytica “buys personal data from a range of sources”… aggregates it with the electoral rolls of the Republican party, and calculates a Big Five personality profile… digital footprints “suddenly become real people with fears, needs, interests and residential addresses.” Motherboard was told: “We (Cambridge Analytica) have profiled the personality of every adult in the U.S. – 220 million people!”.  
  • An example:   Design an ad based on gun rights.   An image on the left: an intruder smashing a window.       On the right: a man and a child standing in a field, at sunset, both holding guns, clearly shooting ducks.       Tradition, habits, security, family.
  •    “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven”.         E.g., on the day of the 3rd presidential debate (the one Trump did well at),   Trump’s team tested 175,000 different ad variations for his arguments, to find the right versions above all, via Facebook.       They found what resonated most.       “We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way. Even individuals”.
  • One goal was to “suppress” Hillary voters. How?       Keep left winters, blacks, etc. away from the polls, by (in Miami’s Little Haiti) stressing how the Clinton Foundation failed in its efforts to help, after the Haiti earthquake. These dark posts “can only be seen by users with specific profiles…”.  

 

   Amazing that Trump, who lacks even a computer on his desk, was elected by some very very advanced Big Data methods. Thank Steve Bannon, who is not to be underestimated…ever!

Dealing with the Trump Presidency: a Survival Guide for 4 to 8 Years

By Shlomo Maital

  trump1

OK, so counting four years from Jan. 20, or possibly eight – how do we survive?

Mark Blyth, a political science professor at Brown University, has some sage advice, published in the Washington Post.

   The basic problem: In democracy, we vote for what we want. And increasingly, Blyth notes, we are simply NOT getting it.

“Unsurprisingly, people are beginning to realize that they are no longer getting what they vote for. Instead, they are being asked to pay more and more for what they already receive through taxes, taken from stagnant or declining incomes, which also must service their debts. In such a world it’s great to be a creditor and lousy to be a debtor. The problem for democracy is that most people are debtors. In such a creditor-friendly world, however, democracy is reduced knowing that the menu of policy will never vary. Trump’s win in the Midwest, British voters deciding to leave the European Union, Italy’s referendum and Greece’s revolt against its creditors are all connected in this way.”

     In short: Most of us owe money. A few OWN money. The system has been rigged in their favor. And it may stay that way under Trump, the billionaire.

     So how do we respond? Blyth observes:

     “At the end of the day, when you no longer get what you vote for and when the role of voting is reduced to affirming the status quo, voters will vote for the most undemocratic of options if that is all that is “off the menu.” That’s democracy in action in a world devoid of choice. When you can’t get what you want and most people do not benefit from the economic outcomes of government, it’s also what makes democracy unstable.”

       Americans voted “off the menu” (a minority of them, true) because that was the only choice ‘off the menu’.   And it has made democracy unstable, and is doing so all over the Western democracies.

       We’ll survive this. Take a deep breath. Take a long view.  Watch how the brilliant, wise American Constitution protects its citizens from scoundrels. At some point, centrist politicians will begin to understand that voters want real change, want to unrig the system to help debtors not creditors, and want actions, not promises. It may take a few more ringing defeats, like Trump, Brexit, and Italy to wake these politicians up.

       For four years, or eight years, Americans must say clearly what they want, and vote that ticket in every election. Mid-term elections are only two years away.   How will Trump supporters vote, when they feel they are again, not getting what they want?

Pontypool: We Forgot Them & We Will Pay a Heavy Price

By Shlomo Maital

  wales

   Journalist Aditya Chakrabortty has been covering the “post industrial” depressed areas of Britain for The Guardian. These are the people who once had good jobs in factories and mines, who have been forgotten and neglected by governments in Britain, the rest of Europe and the U.S.   They became invisible.

       Now, after Trump and Brexit, perhaps we are waking up. Perhaps we are beginning to see them.   Here are parts of Chakrabortty’s vivid description of a once-wealthy Wales town.   If Brexit and Trump act to truncate globalization, it will be because we forgot those who lost because of it, and celebrated only those who gained. Post industrial? “Post” implies something came after ‘industrial’. But what? Poverty? Hardship?

     “The story of Pontypool is a story of riches squandered, of dynamism blocked, of an entire community slung on the slagheap. Sat atop vast deposits of iron ore and coal, it was probably the first industrial town in Wales. For a time, under Victoria, it was richer than Cardiff. Even now, to look along its skyline is to see traces of wealth: the park with its Italian gardens and bandstand; the covered market with its olde price list for snipes or a brace of pheasants; the 25 listed buildings that make this one of the most sumptuous small town centres in Britain.

       “Then look down. On a typical weekday, the indoor market is a desert. Those bits of the high street that aren’t to let are betting parlours, vaping dens and charity shops: the standard parade for hollowed-out towns across Britain. The reason isn’t hard to fathom: the mines shut down decades back; the factories have pretty much disappeared. Those big employers still left aren’t big employers any more. One of the staff at BAE tells me that when he joined in 1982, it had 2,500 workers on its shopfloor; now, he reckons, it has 120.

       “Swaths of Pontypool and the surrounding region of Torfaen now rank among the poorest in all Britain. On part of one of its housing estates in Trevethin, 75% of all children under four are raised in poverty. Over half – 53% – of all households who live on that stretch are below the poverty line. With that come all the usual problems: families that can’t pay the rent, that are more likely to fall prey to a whole range of sicknesses, from mental health to cancer. Those people can expect to die 20 years before their near-neighbours in some of the better-off areas in Pontypool. First the economy died out, now its people are too.

     “Pontypool is like the rest of south Wales, like many other parts of Britain I have reported from. It’s what politicians and economists call “post-industrial”. That term, though, implies something coming after; here, hardly anything has come after. A few years ago Pontypool town centre was declared on the verge of death by a local councillor, who bore a coffin lid in a mock funeral procession.”

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
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