Thursday, 30 June 2016

If The Premier League Had Fewer English Players, The England National Team Would Probably Be Better


In response to yesterday's blog about the England football team being over-achievers, a reader asks whether the problem of England's poor performances is also in no small part down to the hundreds of foreign players playing in the Premier League, making it hard for home-grown talent to flourish.

It's a popular argument, and one which has been made before by professionals like Steven Gerrard, Michel Platini and Alex Ferguson. For surely the sheer number of foreign players in our league is bound to make it harder for English players to get good enough to be top international players.

At first glance, the argument seems impeccable - the more English players that get regular match time for their teams each week the better the squad of players the England manager will have. Unfortunately, while attractive, the argument is probably the opposite of the truth.

The problem for the England team (well one of their problems) is not that there are too many foreigners; it is that there are not enough foreigners. Yes, paradoxically, the fewer English players in the Premier League the better I'd expect their international team to be.

Here's why. Foreigners playing in the Premier League are there because they are good players. Therefore, more and more good foreign players in the Premier League means it's harder for English players to break into their club teams, which means at the top clubs you need to be a really good English player to be playing regular football (a point I developed more fully here).

The book Soccernomics seems to back this up, showing that since foreigners started to populate the Premier League in greater numbers (from 1995 onwards) England's overall win ratio is up by six percentage points (although naturally other factors could be at play too).

I also remember reading about how in the 1980s and early 1990s discrimination against black players proved to be costly for a team's success. Basically, when team's wage budgets were similar (a factor that is perhaps the biggest indicator of a team's likely success) the teams with the fewest black players finished lower in the league than teams with more black players.

When all clubs were deliberately slow in signing black players (which was sadly the case in the 1970s and early 1980s) discrimination costs were not very high. But when some clubs started to sign talented black players, the clubs that still discriminated paid increasing costs, as results suffered as a consequence (I've blogged before about similar discrimination penalties in the market here).

The upshot of all this is that, as you'd expect, increasing the pool of talented players occurs more fruitfully when there are no discriminatory barriers to that pool being increased. And when the pool is open to footballing quality from all over the world, the standard increases, meaning the standard required by English players increases too. As long as the ratio of English players to foreigners doesn't drop below a prohibitively low threshold, more foreign talent in the pool will probably increase the home-grown talent too.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Our EU Money Should Be Given To Scientific Research


Regarding the money we give to the EU that can now be spent in the UK, and the bickering over who promised what, and to where, my advice would be to give a significant proportion of the money to our UK scientific research.

Britain's science sector has been well funded by the EU's European Research Council in recent years, and while there is always a danger on any kind of research funding being overly-reliant on EU grants, there's no denying that Brexit will hurt some parts of our science industry.

It is important, then, that the post-Brexit government spends a significant proportion of that extra money on our science industry. In a world in which a global market is pretty well established for most countries, the developing countries' progression race is likely to be decided in no small part by how scientific the country is - particularly in terms of money put into research, and the extent to which that research can bring them into closer competition with the bigger players in the global market.

The primary European nations (England, Scotland, Germany, France and the Netherlands) that dominated the market for trade in the late 19th century were also all the biggest players in terms of scientific endeavours too (joined by America shortly after). They remained the nations that lead the way in the global market, and were later joined by the likes of Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Belgium and Finland.

Excluding China, which is an exception all of its own, the other recently developed countries that have the biggest edge on the developing world nations are the smaller countries like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Israel and Singapore, which, unlike India, Brazil and Russia (prior to its own internal problems) are able to advance scientifically with a great degree of rapidity, and become big players in the global market without having a large proportion of the population still at the subsistence level.

Alas, when it comes to popular opinion and issues that our citizens are most concerned about, science funding will be way down on the list. But this is a big mistake, and the government needs to shape up and act on the fact that a healthy, progressive country is one in which economic development and scientific development are coterminous.

Finally, even if the government steps up and matches the EU funding it has lost, it is important that our scientific institutions retain the international relations they have, as the global pursuit of discovery, knowledge and research is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before.  

The most prodigious collaborative science project in Europe - the Large Hadron Collider, built near Geneva in Switzerland - was designed and commissioned by engineers and particle physicists whose provenance spans 100 universities across the globe.

Moreover, let's never forget that the UK, with 99 Nobel laureates in the sciences, more than three times that of the EU per million people (minus the UK's contributions, of course), one and a half times that of the United States, and over four hundred times that of China, is a leading player in the now global scientific community. Consequently, although the EU has lost us in terms of a political union, it would be mad to lose us in terms of the scientific union - and both agents must ensure that doesn't happen.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

You've Probably Got It Wrong About England: They Are Overachieving, Not Underachieving


England's 2-1 defeat at the hands of Iceland last night was perhaps their biggest ever tournament low (although I have to say, congratulations Iceland - well played!). For years England's supporters have lived in the past glory of 1966. Ever since, we find that before each new tournament there is half-hearted confidence that this might be the year we emulate our World Cup win at Wembley.

But then, surprise surprise, every two years you can pretty much guarantee that England loses to a nation with whom we've been in conflict during a war - it's usually Germany or Argentina. Then once we get knocked out everyone laments how close we were this time around; losing on penalties (Stuart Pearce , Chris Waddle, Gareth Southgate and David Batty, look away now), or by some incident on which the game turned (David Beckham's sending off for lunging at Diego Simeone, Rolandinho's freak lob over David Seaman, Wayne Rooney's sending off followed by Cristiano Ronaldo's wink, and Lampard's shot that went over the goal line but wasn't given).

In the past a scapegoat, an instance of injustice or a narrow margin has been identified to cushion the blow of our elimination. But in recent tournaments, things have changed. To my memory, the last four tournaments (including this one from which we've just been eliminated) have been entered without very much hope or expectation, and the team has been pretty sub-standard in each of them.

However, all that said, it's actually quite probable that we are expecting too much of our football team - after all, it's no use considering whether a team is better or worse than expected without first asking how well they should be expected to do. When we ask such a question, things change a bit. After reading a book called Soccernomics a while back - a book full of interesting statistics - we find that, in actual fact, from 1972 England only tend to win about two thirds of their matches (England's record during that period is P402, W208, D113 and L81, so if we treat a draw as half a win, then England's overall win ratio is 66%).

The reality is, winning only 66% of your games makes it highly unlikely that you'll win a tournament outright because you're going to come up against teams whose win percentage is in the 70-80% range (Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands).

Averaged out over a few knockout matches in a single tournament England's chances with a 2/3 ratio are quite slim (66% then 44% then 30% then 20% in respective rounds). As an average that's only a 20% chance of winning the tournament, but in reality it's slimmer than that, because in knockout stages when they're playing better teams their win probability will sometimes be less than 66%  

But the story doesn't end there, because the authors of Soccernomics (Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski) have worked out a way to determine whether fans are being too hard on England or not. And it turns out they are, because England, believe it or not, are not under-achieving, they are actually over-achieving.

Using three key data points relating to countries: income per head, total population and international experience, and a whole chapter's worth of explanation that space here doesn't permit, Kuper and Szymanski have a formula which maps how well a nation's football team is expected to do, where the more average income per person, the better; the larger the population of the country, the better; and the more games played against other countries, the better - with all three combined constituting the better chance a team has of being successful.

Plugging England's vital statistics into the equation, it turns out that on average our football team is doing slightly better than they should have been doing. When Kuper and Szymanski analysed England's income per head, total population and international experience, they found that after running the numbers England should score on average 0.63 goals per game more than their opponents.

In the period from 1980 to 2001 England's win ratio was 65% (taking a draw as half a win), and during that period it emerges that England outscored their opponents by 0.84 goals per game on average, which is 0.21 more than expected. In other words, in the period when England fans had frustration after frustration because their team was 'under-achieving' they were actually over-achieving.

Finally, in recent times, I wonder if England's poor performances have been in some part down to fatigue. The English teams play a greater number of competitive games than their continental neighbours, in a very fast-paced and no doubt energy zapping league.

An interesting statistic is that prior to Euro 2016 in the past six tournaments England scored 25 of their 38 goals in the first halves of matches, but even more significantly in the matches in which they went out of the tournament they scored 8 out of their 9 goals in the first half.

The England team is badly under-performing in the 2nd half of their big matches. This could be because their players suffer from fatigue after such a demanding season, or because they play at the Premier League pace in the first half of internationals and then run out of juice in the second half - but either way it seems highly possible that these things are a factor in England's tournament results.  

All in all, (the Iceland defeat excepted) the next time you feel like declaring that England should be doing better in tournaments than they are, just remember that not only are they doing slightly better than they are expected to do, they are also doing so while being tired bunnies too.



Monday, 27 June 2016

The Best Way To Improve Outcomes Is To Have Better, Fewer Voters!


It's been a funny week for the word 'democracy' - the recent EU Referendum, despite having the largest voting turnout for nearly 25 years, has called some to question the democratic process if it throws up outcomes that are unsettling.

Some have asked whether democracy itself is a sufficient system when the results bring about a sense of foreboding, and whether potential costs ought to allow a mechanism by which democracy can be overruled.
 
This is slightly ironic in that people are always calling for more UK citizens to engage in politics and get up and vote, yet when this does happen there are widespread complaints that too many ignorant and ill-informed people voting does not a good outcome make.

Of course, given that politically and economically the majority of the electorate are abjectly uninformed, it is not in the least bit surprising that big decisions put in the hands of the public can be a dangerous thing.

All this makes a blog post I wrote over three years ago seem quite prescient. It was there that I addressed the problem of the voting public and came up with an idea for a solution:

"The only way to vastly improve the quality of our MPs is to improve the quality of the voters – and the only way to improve the quality of the voters is to drastically reduce the number of them, and then give a randomly selected few the time and resources to rigorously research and analyse the candidates before them. 

Here’s what I’d suggest. Reduce the number of voters in each constituency to 200 people chosen at random (to ensure a proportional representation of sexes, ages, ethnic backgrounds, income groups, religious beliefs, political views, education, and so forth) and have each of them accompany the political candidates to a location in which they stay for a week, ensuring the time, resources and intellectual and emotional capacity to question the MPs, give and solicit feedback, and test the candidates’ political calibre before casting their votes at the end of the week (the benefits of the outcome would probably more than pay for the financial costs of this, and some of the offsetting savings will occur by not having to employ polling clerks throughout the country on election day).

You may worry that this will disenfranchise most of the other citizens that don’t get to vote, but there’s no reason to think this. At the start of play, everyone has exactly the same chance of being selected, and everyone in the country (both those selected and those not) will be secure in the knowledge that the people who are going to represent them in Parliament will have been chosen with the utmost rigour and analytical scrutiny by the most conscientious citizens in the country. That cannot be as disenfranchising as the current system in which every single person that votes knows that that vote will have the same use as if they’d stayed at home. 

All that said, the bottom line is, even if the system I proposed is a superior system for improving the calibre of our MPs (which seems logically unimpeachable to me), it might still instinctively be the case that our present less effective voting system is a pearl of great electoral price from which it is too emotionally and psychologically costly to depart."

As would always be the case, you'd have to decide whether you prefer including everybody in the voting process and therefore giving some of the craziest cats and bigoted individuals a voice, or whether for the good of the country you'd be happier with far fewer but possibly better informed voters.

Or suppose, if we could find a workable method for this, we somehow only allowed the smartest, knowledgeable and best-informed 1000 people in the UK to vote on who ran our country, how would that sit with you?
 
If allowing everyone to vote is not as good for the country as allowing a selection of only smart and informed people to vote, which seems like a sine qua non to me, then there will always be a trade off between better outcomes and a better spirit of total inclusivity in the country.

Of course, rather amusingly, I'd like to leave you with the following thought, which perhaps kills two birds with one stone. The whole country gets to vote on whether the smartest, knowledgeable and best-informed 1000 people get to vote for our political outcomes.
 


Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Psychopath Might Be The Closest Present-Day Similarity We Have To Our Palaeolithic Past


The title of this blog post is based on a kind of half-awake, half-asleep dream I had last night (possibly brought about by the recent mass shooting in Orlando, and the killing of MP Jo Cox in West Yorkshire, although one can't be sure).

Psychopaths have always been a bit of an enigma to psychologists: their morals, their empathy levels, what their inner-self is like, and how they perceive the outside world have been topics of study for many years (which is also one of several reasons why I think we are best not putting people to death, even for heinous crimes).

Psychopaths are certainly different to most other humans, and this plays out with a complex combination of genetic factors (as evidenced by studies of monozygotic twins and their genetic predispositions for genetic personality disorders) and, of course environment and the concomitant socialisation.

It’s worth considering just how similar to each other we are as a species – phenotypically, genotypically – we are so alike in our mental composition that if we had a shared existence in exactly the same culture, the same environment, the same health and well-being, and with the same access to knowledge, we would reach the same conclusions about a great many more things than we do.

It may surprise you to hear this but biologically (that’s genotypically) we are almost identical to Paleolithic man – and those primitive traits that helped those distant ancestors reproduce are not all that absent in modern humans.

There's probably a pretty good evolutionary truth in that – and we know that post-social contract humans are behaviorally enormously different from the more primitive homo-sapiens, and this is so much truer regarding our distant ancestors, whose comparable absence of conscience and empathy would violate even the basic social norms and expectations for modern social harmony.

Picture in your head two things:

1) A modern day psychopath.

2) A primitive man alive long before we began to develop any formal, communicable sense of morality.

While it's obviously a lot more complex than what I'm now going to say, there may well be a kernel of truth in the fact that when one considers those well known tendencies we observe in modern day psychopathy, such as cunningness, lack of remorse or guilt, emotional shallowness, lacking in empathy, failure to accept responsibility for their own actions, revocation of conditional release, a parasitic lifestyle, poor behavioural control, lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsiveness, and irresponsibility, we can see that these all bear quite a close resemblance to traits of our primitive-human past, in that they might well have qualified as being in some way comparable (stress the word 'comparable', not the same) to a modern day psychopath if they were brought into modern day social surroundings.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

You Voted For Them To Be Rich, Silly!


It was Matt Ridley in his excellent book The Evolution of Everything who talked of the Internet as being a living example of the phenomenon of evolutionary emergence - a thing of complexity and order spontaneously created in a decentralised fashion without a designer. What he means is, nobody sat down one day and planned the Internet as a fait accompli phenomenon - it is a global system of interconnected computer networks that evolved over time, and is still evolving, in a cumulative step by step process of trial and error that tailors to our tastes and needs. 

The emergence of the Internet - like cities, cars, houses, clothes, supermarkets, science and medicine - was driven by consumer demand, be it for global communication, widespread knowledge, online shopping, social networking and the countless other benefits it brings to human beings all across the world. It provides a microcosmic example of markets in general - where the complex emergence of order occurs not from being designed top down, but by a long natural selection-type process of good and useful ideas surviving, and bad ones being weeded out.

Given the foregoing, I find the irony of people on Facebook bemoaning the mega-rich's wealth quite amusing. Because it ought to be remembered that making people rich is rather like how an electorate votes people into power in government - in a way that slightly resembles a democracy. Most of the mega rich - Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, etc - get rich by people voting with their wallets.

The same is true of film stars, musicians, authors and painters - it is democratic in the sense that when a lot of people buy what they have on offer, be it computer products, films, or whatever, they are voting to make those pioneers and innovators richer than the average person. They are doing so because they recognise that value is being provided in the shape of consumer surplus and producer surplus.

Mark Zuckerberg is the most obvious case here as we discuss this matter on Facebook. Zuckerberg is one of the mega-rich people - richer than most people in the UK and USA, yet the benefits of Facebook and the enjoyment and connectivity it brings to hundreds of millions of us is very evident. That one meets so many people on Facebook who are blind to this irony is, as I say, amusing to say the least.


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Are The Poorest Countries Poor Because Of Islam, Or Are They Islamic Because They Are Poor?


I recently made the following observation: if you look at the top, say, 40 countries in which Islam is the predominant religion of influence, you'll see that they are 40 of the world's poorest, most oppressed and least-developed nations (see bottom of the page*). Further, this is also very likely due to how those countries treat women, and in too many cases their backward attitudes to the female sex in general. It stands to reason that if countries are starved of nigh-on 50% of their human potential it is inevitable that they will remain in a worse state than countries where men and women contribute more equally.

In response, a friend asked a 'chicken and egg' type of question: "Do you think many of the poorest countries are poor because of Islam, or are they Islamic because they're poor?

It's a bit of both, but primarily the former. Let me first say, I wouldn't wish to deny that there is an awful lot of cultural richness and beauty in those 40 countries. Moreover, despite being conceived as an organised response to sectarian feudalism, Islamic scholars contributed a lot to human progression, with their mathematical and scientific innovations.

Islam also helped foster societies that, while cruel in some parts, were quite forward thinking when it came to looking after the poor (particularly children and the elderly), taking inspiration from the Qur'an, which itself took inspiration from Jesus' words about helping those in poverty. If you follow the old Great Silk Road from the Middle East to China and look at Islam's history and influence, their comparative prosperity gave no indication that a few centuries later they'd end up being so far behind the world's most economically advanced counties.

So why have the Muslim countries done so comparably bad? I think first off, given that poverty is the natural default state of humans, and has been for almost the entirety of our evolution, you also have to say that relatively speaking the nations that have prospered have done considerably well. Put it this way, if you'd have asked two of the brightest minds, Erasmus and Spinoza, in what was Europe's most industrially advanced nation at the time, to foretell what human progression would be like in the 21st century, and then placed them in a time machine and showed them the results, they'd have been astonished at how far beyond their imaginations our progress has taken humankind.

And this is the clue to the principal point. The Islamic countries that haven't experienced this great acceleration are largely countries that haven't embraced the qualities that engender progression-explosions, namely liberalism, free trade and competition (and also, oddly, scientific investment, which is a peculiar retrogression given their origins in the medieval period). Their hardship is as much about what they haven't done as what they have. As I mentioned above, the Islamic influence is evident in its subjugation of women, which starves the nations of an awful lot of ideas, views and talent. Also when you're in an country under the thrall of oppressive rulers you lack a lot of the basic freedoms that can engender innovation, particularly if you're not permitted to think and express yourself too openly.

Islam is a pretty scientifically unfriendly religion too, as most deny evolution, and of course it's very antithetical to other human rights too (as anyone who is homosexual knows too well). I suppose add to that other factors such as being hostile to Jews which is bound to negatively affect outside investment, and the fact that nations with theocratic regimes and social unrest are lower down in the aspiration-list of foreign investors, and that historically many Arab countries have had a Soviet alliance, which meant a lot of those countries in the Middle East and Africa had a top-down Marxism and high levels of corruption with little democratic accountability, and there are plenty of things that retard the progress of those nations.

What about that chicken and that egg?
Well, technically speaking Chickens evolved from what one might call proto-chickens through small changes caused by genetic mixing of DNA (the male and female), or by mutations that produced the zygote, with the effect being apparent with the creation of a new zygote. In other words, two of these proto-chickens copulated and the resultant DNA in the new zygote contained the mutation(s) that one might call the first unique chicken. Given that the zygote cell is where DNA mutations can engender a new species we might call a chicken, then if we can say that the zygote cell is encased in the egg, I'm rooting for the egg in this biological race for the prize.

 

* See this link for a list of the countries.

Monday, 13 June 2016

The Desert Island Test


We all know that the price of things is based on laws of supply and demand. There is a greater supply of coal than diamond necklaces, and both are desired, so naturally a diamond necklace is more expensive than a sack of coal. But that begs the question: even though expensive things are expensive due to high desire, to what extent is there high desire for them because they are expensive?

Quite a lot, actually, given how much people value status - it's probably at a level way beyond the expectation of the average casual observer. A good way to show you have lots of disposable income is to pay high amounts for things that come in cheaper varieties (houses, cars, jewellery, clothes, hotel rooms, dining out). So while it's true that some things like diamond necklaces and Ferraris are, in terms of social status, obvious peacock's tails, it's also the higher prices of everyday things that signal status.

A good illustration – one that I didn’t invent - is something called the desert island test. The desert island test is a great way of illustrating just how much of our lives are governed by what people think of us. Imagine yourself to be completely alone on the island but yet fantastically rich, living in a huge mansion, with expensive furnishings, a fast car, fine artworks and a stunning garden.

In this scenario any pleasure you had in your opulent situation could only be derived from its intrinsic rewards – there would be no sense of pleasure from others’ reactions, because there is no one else there to react. It is difficult to say just how much contentment a life of such solitary richness would bring, but I suspect with the loss of that all important component of status gravitas one's possessions would lose a lot of their meaning and joy.

When I think of what I believe human excellence to be – it seems a quite natural observation that as long as people have the necessary things for a comfortable life, you'll find that their happiness, fulfilment and contentment have almost nothing to do with wealth, fame, or anything to do with material acquisition of status goods. 

What gives humans excellence of life is excellence of mind, but not merely at an academic or logical level; excellence of mind is about pursuing love, grace, kindness, generosity, solicitude – and dovetailing them through knowledge, wisdom and intelligence. When you see people courting fame or material wealth or career success for the sake of status, or people looking to build themselves up at the expense of the feelings of others, or people desperate for admiration, kudos, or the opportunity to control others, you know that all these things give exhibition to the fact that such people haven’t developed their minds to a level that will free them from the burden of what will turn out to be mediocre pursuits.  

Friday, 10 June 2016

Gross Domestic Whopper

I've been rather fed up with many of the false assertions made by both sides in the EU Referendum debate. I ended up saying this:

"While the Leave campaigners have also been pretty sub-standard, the Remain gang have been absolutely pathetic with their silly scare stories, facile post-Brexit predictions, and their making of outrageous economic claims that treat the UK voters like children. As for Cameron and Osborne, well, they, like the atrocious Hillary Clinton, will say absolutely anything to anyone to keep people on side and try to win support for their agendas, and have spent the last few years slowly draining themselves of any credibility as thinkers and as having even the remotest consistency in what they claim!"

Asking what the biggest whopper has been is a tough one. If pressed though I'd have to say George Osborne and the Treasury's claim that "Families would be £4300 worse off if we left the EU" -


Even if we overlook the fact that it's impossible to know what the future economy will look like if we leave the EU, when pressed on how they came up with this figure, it turns out to have been a little sleight of hand trick based on projected post-Brexit GDP (the size of our economy) in 2030, and dividing it per head.

If you're paying attention, you should already be able to spot the anomaly - families are not the same as individuals. A quick Google search tells me that the average household size is 2.4 people, which means the figure of £4300 per household is down to £1791 per head. But then you'd have to reduce the number further still because there will be far more households in the UK in 2030, which would make the number even smaller.

Even aside from that, trying to measure our nation's future well-being (let alone present well-being) by our GDP is a bit like trying to count the number of ants in an ant colony - you're just never going to capture all the data, and you are bound to miss loads. The crux of the matter is that we are a lot better off than mere GDP numbers suggest, just as all the things in a happy marriage amount to more than the sum of the couple's joint bank account.

Because GDP only factors in monetised exchanges, it doesn't factor in all the consumer surplus, and nor does it by equal measure factor in the proportion of profligate government expenditure that robs the nation of value. GDP only factors in the cost of what the government provides (education, health, social services, roads, defence, wars in other countries, etc) not the efficacy or desirability of those provisions.

If there are no affordable competitive providers for most of the country on many of the things the public sector provides, it is fairly safe to assume that the costs of those provisions are more than we'd pay for them. In a free market we know how much people in the UK value fruit, paint, Nike trainers, and cars by the prices, which are set in accordance with prices of competitive suppliers.

Not only that but in the absence of free market benefits, the government is bound to provide things that we don't even want. Naturally a full cost-benefit analysis would be too time consuming, but there are a few indicators - and we can arrive at them by asking if we'd pay for these things - many high-level public sector wages, extra police officers, renewable energy quotas, and so on - out of our own pockets or go without.

If the government wastes £500 million on a failed highways project then there is an awful lot of value lost in opportunity costs. On the other hand If you buy a laptop for £250 you are signalling that you value it more than the £250, otherwise you'd buy something else, which means value is not being recorded.

Suppose you value the laptop at £350, then the £100 difference between what you would maximally pay and what it costs is what is known in economics as your consumer surplus. That's £100 of value that's not being recorded. GDP only measures the equilibrium price in the market (as illustrated by the chart below).



Nor does it measure things like all the value Google and Facebook brings to our lives, and the access to all the world's news and knowledge we have, which also keeps adding more onto our net consumer surpluses.

The other point to factor in is that if John's cleaner becomes his wife, and Rita's gardener becomes her husband, then cleaning and gardening in those respective households may no longer show up on the GDP statistics, but that doesn't mean the two households are worse off (quite the opposite).

One of the many problems with Communism is that it erodes away almost all value for services, skills, products and human ambition. To keep the matter simple, suppose there was an island nation that was entirely self-sufficient because the government had closed itself off from all outside trading. If the ruling powers set the prices of everything; apples, wood, clothes, cars, paint, and so on, the nation would be robbed of something vital (this did happen to some extent in the old Soviet Union, in Japan, in Zimbabwe and in Cuba, to name but four places) - there would be no consideration of preference for the citizens.

In a supply and demand free market, prices are dictated by consumer value - so that if apples are too overpriced people will buy oranges until the price of apples come down, and if Jaguars are too expensive people will but BMWs until they come down. This happens in wages too - if a hotel porter earns as much as a heart surgeon then either the incentive to be a heart surgeon diminishes, or the proper value placed on specialised skills is diluted.

Given the foregoing, just like above, it is clear that the GDP of the old Soviet Union or Zimbabwe or Cuba only tells a bit of the story of the plight- it is an unreliable statistic in measuring human qualities, well-being and standard of living because it fails to factor in the value of lots of the economic output. Even though the UK is not a Communist regime, it still has the same issue.

The final thing to mention is that even our free market spending on consumption isn't always a measure of a positive action; if I have to pay to have the wing mirror on my car replaced after a vandal broke it, or buy a burglar alarm, or paint to cover up some graffiti, then these are not examples of good voluntary spending on my part.

The upshot is, GDP is in itself an inadequate measure of value in our country, so projecting a cost per head by dividing a future GDP projection by the current household numbers is about as misleading as it gets.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Sounds Like Backwards Logic To Me


Assisted dying is about to be made legal in Canada. Professor Boer, one of the most vociferous objectors to assisted dying, was on television yesterday asserting (as he often does) that assisted death is not something the Canadians should get into because the most up to date results in the Netherlands have "seen deaths double in just six years" as a consequence of legalisation.

His facts are right, but his reasoning is peculiar, because he mistakenly assumes that an increased number of assisted deaths is a failure and not a success of the policy. The professor is looking at the situation the wrong way. If the issue is that the law prohibits people who want to die from dying, then those opposed to such a law are opposed because it is a law that forces people to stay alive and suffer against their will.

Contrary to Professor Boer's thinking, rather than the increased deaths being indication of a failed policy, they may actually be indication of a successful policy, as it can now mean people are able to die at their own volition. Or to put it another way, if deaths have doubled in six years since the assisted suicide law was passed in the Netherlands, then it may well suggest that before the law was passed an awful lot of people were staying alive when they'd rather be dead.

It is sloppy thinking to simply presume that an increase in assisted deaths is a bad thing, particularly if in endorsing the bill we are endorsing giving everyone who wants to die the chance to do so. Perhaps it's simply the case that there are more people in the Netherlands that want to die than Professor Boer first thought, and perhaps that is true of Canada (and the UK and US) too.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Immigration (But Were Afraid To Ask)



You’ve probably heard of Schrodinger’s immigrant – the person who migrates to Britain to simultaneously steal your job and cause a drain on the economy by being a benefit claimant. Although in reality few people actually believe in the existence of Schrodinger’s immigrant (for obvious reasons), there is an awful lot of nonsense spoken about immigration. It’s quite easy to see why. Unless you think about immigration by considering the whole picture, your analysis will be partial, and skewed in an unhelpful way. Let me try to help.

First, are immigrants a net gain on our society? It's tempting to say yes, as many people do, because, so the narrative goes, most immigrants work, and therefore bring gains to our economy. True, but that's not the best way to look at the net contribution question. Over a lifetime some UK citizens will pay more in tax than they get out of the system in terms of public services, and some will pay less. Long term welfare claimants tend be net beneficiaries, lower earners will tend to be a mixture, but most are not net beneficiaries, and higher earners will all tend to be net contributors. When you consider that the poorest 50% of the population pay only 5% of the total tax collected, it's clear that most people do not get much more out of the system than they put in.

Further, given that most immigrants tend to be among the poorest 50% of the population, then on those figures alone (stress 'alone') technically immigration may not constitute much of a net gain on our society, but it is a gain nonetheless. The graph below shows the fiscal impact of migration on countries in Europe – and as you can see, migrants in the UK are net contributors.



But that's only one corner of the picture, because we have to also factor in the people who gain most from immigration - the immigrants themselves. I think it’s a shame that whenever the subject of immigration comes up (recent Middle East crisis excepted) most people seem to primarily think of the matter in terms of how it affects ‘our country’ by which they usually seem to mean the people already here, by which they usually mean Brits. It’s rare that they think of the effects of immigration from the perspective of the individual immigrants themselves, not the immigrants already here. But, still, there are plenty of people around that are able to think beyond how immigration affects Brits to how it affects immigrants (of which more in a moment). 

What you hardly ever find, however, or at least find too infrequently, is a Brit thinking of the effects of immigration from the perspective of the people left in the immigrants’ country of origin. Given that in most cases when it comes to the poorest countries it is often the poorest people that cannot leave, how much of a negative impact does it have on them when they lose many of their brightest people with the most potential to countries already much more advanced and developed than them (this is what they call the ‘brain drain’)?  

It's quite easy to see why immigrants gain so much from immigration by seeing the situation in reverse - when investment is made in their countries. Developing countries don't have much material prosperity compared to wealthy countries like ours, but they do often have resources and labour to sell. Depending on the nature of their government and the internal civil set-up, what most people in developing nations have as their only genuine chance of working their way to prosperity is their opportunity to sell labour. Because those countries are usually rich in labour (and often in natural resources) but poor in capital they often only get the chance to increase their prosperity with outside investment from large corporations. 


That is why it is important to see that corporate investors are about as attractive to impoverished nations as impoverished nations are to corporate investors, as long as the nation is question has the requisite stability, basic human rights and rule of law to facilitate economic growth. So, far from being the capitalist bogeys that lefties love to excoriate, foreign investors are actually the main drivers of increased capital in developing countries, as well as, along the line, higher wages and increased human rights. In calling for less foreign investment by corporations lefties are also calling for fewer opportunities for many of their citizens by holding down their earning potential. 

The situation works in reverse regarding the subject of immigration, where instead of capital-rich investors coming into labour-rich countries, we have labour-rich immigrants coming into capital-rich countries like ours. Increased immigration to the UK increases the ratio of labour to capital. This would bring almost endless benefits both to the UK and to migrants themselves, but those benefits are reduced slightly by the fact that as our nation has a limited infrastructure (land, housing, schools and hospitals) immigrants also decrease some of the ratio of these things to labour and capital.

This usually would have a knock on effect of decreasing the marginal value of labour and increasing the marginal value of land, housing, schools and hospitals. Given that numerous government regulations impede the natural process of supply and demand curves being in equilibrium, it is obvious that the full benefits of immigration are not being enjoyed.

Take the most obvious example of those four - land, which is obviously also tied in with housing as houses are built on land. A country that has political and special interest group restriction on the supply of land being closely matched to demand naturally is a country in which the benefits of the relationship between labour-rich immigration and capital-rich employers are not being fully realised.

Immigrants aren't a threat to my job, but they might be a threat to some jobs. That's not an argument for reducing immigration, it is simply a point to understand how things work in a competitive market economy. Generally immigrants make the country better off, but more so for highly skilled people, and less so for low-skilled people who are competing for the same jobs. Skills are a resource just as a chocolate cheesecake is a resource. If chocolate cheesecakes are a scarce resource, I'll be paid well for a slice of it in my patisserie, and if skills are a scarce resource then people that have them will be paid well (assuming a demand for those skills).

In other words, if the nation is short of consultants and overflowing with factory labourers then wages for consultants will rise to attract more consultants and wages for factory labourers will be kept low. New people entering the labour market with assets that are in short supply are good for the market, whereas new people entering the labour market with assets in abundant supply are bad for it, but particularly bad for others with similar skills. That's why, in actual fact, the people who are worst affected by immigration in the UK are other immigrants already here, as well as indigenous people who are low-skilled or un-skilled.

For balance, the gains for immigrants have to be measured against the losses felt by their countries of provenance, because if the most skilled people from Africa, Europe and Asia are flocking to more prosperous countries, then our gain is their countries' loss. Given the intrinsic gains by those going to better themselves, all the inward investment in their countries of origin by entrepreneurs, and the benefit of experience they can offer their country by benefiting their own lives (called the 'reverse brain drain'), it's probable that the overall the economic gains outweigh the losses, particularly when you consider that according to the World Bank, migrants will send back well over $400 billion in remittances to developing countries this year, which is triple what the developed world gives in development aid and, because it goes straight to immigrants’ families, avoids some of the corruption problems that bedevil aid money.

Nigeria, Kenya, and Ethiopia are thought to be three of the countries worst affected an exodus of skills and intelligence through human capital flight, which has been very damaging to their nations. But on the other hand, China and India have recently topped the list of those nations experiencing the biggest exodus of human talent, yet not only are they two of the world's fastest growing economies, they are two of Africa's biggest investors too, so to the largest extent it probably plays out that when skills and intelligence leave a country to become more prosperous, some of that prosperity finds its way back into those nations still ripe for overseas investment.

Besides, even if we could enumerate all the cases in which the human capital flight has drained a developing country of important skills and talent, we really just have to take that as a given that humans are naturally primed to look after themselves and their family first, and that the drive to better their situation will always come first. It's not as though we'd ever want any restrictions on people's ability to move upwards on the economic ladder.

Returning to the economic benefits of immigration to a place like the UK, on top of all the intrinsic benefits we've talked about, there is also the additional benefits immigrants bring in terms of job creation. As we’ve seen, in terms of the economy immigrants bring net benefits to the UK, but a lot of people don’t seem to understand why. This lack of understanding is down to something called ‘the lump of labour fallacy’, which is the mistaken belief that allowing immigrants in to work reduces the availability of work for native born workers. But, of course, this isn’t the case.

Not only do immigrants brings many skills not available in the indigenous workforce, not to mention a work ethic, they also bring with them additional job-creation and also consumer needs too, as well as a rich diversity of culture to enrich indigenous folk. In other words, when immigrants work they create jobs for other people, both in the people they employ directly, but also in the consumer demands they bring with their wants and needs (clothes, groceries, cuisine, mobile phone contacts, haircuts, books).

The lump of labour fallacy mistakenly asserts that jobs are zero sum, in that there is a fixed amount of work to be done and once the right quotient of people have those jobs there are no more to go round. But a simple look at the history of the UK would tell anyone that this isn’t so, so quite why they fall for it with the immigration issue is beyond me. If you think about it carefully, then by the same logic all school leavers who get work must be stealing jobs – but of course we know that isn’t true.  In reality, of course, the opposite happens – when school-leavers get jobs they make the economy larger and the nation more prosperous.

An even further benefit can be seen by looking at the chart below. 
This chart shows the projected UK government debt over the next fifty years under high, low and no net migration projections. Because Britons are getting older and living longer, immigration is probably going to carry on being a vital vehicle to generate the tax to pay for all those pensions and healthcare bills.

One final point and then I'm done. The economic analysis may well look at all those benefits for the UK – the jobs, the taxes, the consumer goods, the diversity and the cultural enrichment - but you may argue that what it doesn't do is factor in the negative effects on the home nation, namely the two biggies: increased security threat and increased friction with locals when integration is a problem. I have to say in response that I don't have much sympathy with these views because usually (although not always) the problem is with the people having those views.


On the issue of increased security threat, well yes, immigration may ever so slightly increase threats, but by a similar measure going out in your car increases the risk of car accidents, but no one seriously thinks we should stop driving our cars (while we await driverless cars, that is). Even if we ignore the fact that a lot of the atrocities committed on British soil were not perpetrated by immigrants, it is ludicrous to claim increased security threat as a problem with immigration, because it's not as though a government can stop would-be terrorists in a way that they are not already trying to do.

And on the issue of friction with locals and lack of integration - it may have escaped your notice, or perhaps not, that those indigenous folk that complain about immigrants not assimilating and integrating are almost always the least accepting and most unwelcoming toads in the land. When did they ever extend out a hand to welcome people from a different culture into our own culture of acceptance? When was the last time someone who has issues with immigrants 'not integrating' actually went out of their way to make them feel welcomed and accepted, or perish the thought, stopped and talked to a family from another community and found out about them in a bid to develop a friendship?

I'm not saying the problem is all one-way - far from it - but what I do know is this: the people I know as being the most tolerant, kind and accepting of human beings generally (irrespective of ethnicity), of which I hope I'm one, are never the people bemoaning the lack of integration and assimilation. They are usually the ones who are far and away the least xenophobic, the ones with the most diverse range of friends from a multitude of cultures, ethnicities and nationalities, and the ones doing the most to ensure immigrants get all the help they need in integrating and feeling welcome in our tremendously tolerant nation. 
 


Note: Regarding what politicians could do to help the situation; a good start would be lessening some of the restrictive measures that affect planning and building. Britain has a lot more capacity for people, jobs, transport, education and increasing city sizes, but the recipe for its fruition needs to be better in place. Clearly open borders that allow any number in, is problematical, because there's the danger that immigration moves too fast for the more-slowly changing infrastructure. More market forces would improve the balance of supply and demand, but with anything on this scale there are trade offs.
As far as the majority of the general public is concerned, the narrative we have with immigration is the irresistible force of not curbing people's freedom of movement coming smack bang up against the immovable object of not overfilling the UK at the expense of all its countryside and of the infrastructure - and something has got to give. As my blog on big cities argues, places like London are wonderful social and economic metropolises, and there is plenty of scope for many more cities like London, as long as market forces and state governance can see this happening at the optimum rate. You may not know this, but cities currently only cover 2% of the entire planet's land.

Providing options are not retarded, people will still be able to choose the urban or rural settings commensurate with their preferences, even when the UK has hundreds of millions of people. Immigration is currently so high here because so many jobs are being created. What would help the rest of Europe (and us) would be if they enjoyed a similar success - but for that to happen there'd need to be a serous reduction in legislation and interferences in the market.

* In 2011 Michael Clemens looked at the economic estimates https://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.25.3.83 of the global GDP growth that would come if every country in the world abolished restrictions on the movement of goods, capital and labour across national borders. According to the papers Clemens looked at, removing all barriers to trade would increase global GDP by between 0.3% and 4.1%; removing all barriers to capital flows by between 0.1% and 1.7%. Those are big gains that would make the world a substantially richer place. Clemens also found that similar estimates suggest that removing all barriers to international migration would increase global GDP by between 67% and 147%.


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Thursday, 2 June 2016

The EU Referendum: Remain or Leave? You Might Like To Ask The Question In Another Way


First a quick intro
While immeasurably worse off than modern times, generally speaking, one good thing in its favour was that in the late 19th century Europe was pretty much borderless, barring a few exceptions - it was a world of free trade, mass immigration, low taxation and hardly any regulation.

Then two world wars interrupted the free flowing migration of widespread trade, and as well as mass murder on an unprecedented scale, socialistic tyrannies were spread across lots of Europe via the Russian, German and Italian dictatorships. Consequently, many of the resultant post-war government interventionist policies that followed the world wars set precedents for the economically stultifying State meddling that we’ve become so used to in the past six decades. Once upon a time, the idea that Europe would need a bunch of unelected socialist bureaucrats for its nations to enjoy the free movement of people, goods, services and capital in a “single market” would have been ludicrous.

The EU officials and their misguided desire to create a single homogenous European identity through stuffy centralised regulation rather than allowing the heterogeneity of individual nations to construct a Europe with their own strengths is bad – not wholly, of course, there are obviously some benefits to inter-relation cohesion – but given that by far the most successful vehicle for progression is the trial and error mechanism of competition and co-operation, the EU monolith is a project that does an awful lot to retard and in many cases jeopardise human progression, particularly in developing countries.

So what is this big question then? I'm glad you asked: The question is: Would you vote for the current EU if you didn’t have it?

With the above intro in mind I think the most helpful way to ask about Europe is not to think of us as currently in and deciding on whether to get out, but actually imagine there was no such thing as the EU in its current form and ask ourselves whether we would vote for such a thing if we had the chance. I think when the question is framed that way, there would be far more people in the UK saying ‘no’ to this EU proposition than ‘yes’, which rather suggests that if they applied their feeling of the proposition in prospect to the actual EU referendum question in retrospect the ‘leave’ contingent should be a lot more numerous than the ‘remain’ contingent.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wholly anti the EU – there are some good elements to it (which I mentioned in this Blog post), but the reason I’m voting to leave is because so much of the EU is inimical to free trade, as its unelected busybodies get about as much wrong with their analysis of markets as is possible to get wrong. When two countries, even slightly politically hostile countries, agree to trade, they sign up for a deal in which both have self-interest. Economic trade deals do not need to bear relation to political differences, they are largely transcendent of political borders. The idea of a single marketplace into which you have to pay to gain access to the benefits of trade with a fellow self-interested trader is quite bizarre, particularly when large chunks of the money actually goes towards paying for the bureaucratic centralised structure that we’d be better off without.

So although it is not without its positive elements, broadly I think if offered the chance to vote for it coming into existence, most people of today would not vote for a single currency (the euro) that’s so often inimical to successful free trade, nor for the imposition of a political monolith that tries to homogenise different and diverse countries within Europe as well as imposing stultifying restrictions on their economic well-being (both cases assume, of course, that the individual voting actually does understand these issues competently).

And then there are tariffs
The other big question just about everyone seems to be failing to mention is the one about import tariffs. For sure you’ll hear lots about to what extent we’ll be subject to tariffs if we leave, how many different ones, and what rates the tariffs will be, but I’ve heard no one actually stop and ask “Why the heck do we even entertain tariffs of this kind when it is so obvious (or should be) that tariffs harm both the importer and the exporter?" To me it beggars belief that their ubiquity is so lazily accepted without more pressure for a huge set of culture changes. Let me explain with a simple illustration how it is that import tariffs make both countries worse off.

Some people wish to trade pounds for dollars, or pounds for euros, or euros for yuan and so on. Let's simplify it and say x is one type of currency and y is another. If more x are supplied than demanded, the price falls; if fewer, the opposite. When supply equals demand, the price is at equilibrium, just as it is with bananas, blouses and laptops. To understand this in relation to pounds, dollars or euros you first have to understand why people want to trade currencies. Forget for a moment the incentive to invest in other countries (in land, shares, debt, and so on), and pretend that the only reason to buy British pounds or euros is to buy their goods.

For simplicity, suppose that with the present exchange rate most goods are cheaper in China than in Britain. In other words, Britain is uncompetitive compared to China. Many Brits want to trade pounds for Chinese yuan in order to buy Chinese goods, but not many Chinese want to sell yuan for pounds as very little in Britain is worth buying. Consequently the demand for yuan is greater than its supply, so the price of the yuan goes up. Yuan are now traded for more pounds than before, and pounds for fewer yuan.

The result? The fewer yuan you get for the pound, the more expensive Chinese goods are to the Brits, since Brits have pounds and Chinese goods are priced in yuan. The more pounds you get for the yuan, the less expensive british goods are to the Chinese. The exchange rate adjusts dynamically until pounds offered by Britain equals the quantity the Chinese wish to buy - or in other words, until the prices are on average the same in both countries. This means that by and large Brits export goods in which we have the comparative advantage, and import goods in which China has the comparative advantage - all of which is measured by production costs being low compared to the country with which we trade.

From all of the foregoing, it ought to be obvious that import tariffs make imported goods more expensive for the nation imposing the tariffs (something Donald Trump can't seem to grasp at the moment with his election rhetoric), which affects the goods we buy and the demand for the currency. A British import tariff against Chinese imports would mean the price of the yuan measured in pounds falls, making British goods more expensive to the Chinese, which reduces demand for things priced in yuan and reduces demand for yuan, making UK consumers worse off.

Obviously the reason the Chinese want pounds or dollars is not just to buy our goods, it is to invest; in shares, land, businesses, and government bonds, all of which require our currency. Therefore demand for pounds on the currency market consists in part of demand by the Chinese who want pounds or dollars to buy goods, and in part to invest.

Tariffs do have a bearing on our decision because the EU rather closely resembles a protectionist trade bloc, where a tariff wall has been erected around EU member states which raises the prices of protected goods, making it worse for both buyers and sellers. The economist Patrick Minford suggests consumers waste around 4% of GDP on excessive costs because of EU protectionism, because the EU marketplace has prices fixed significantly above world market prices, and because of this, it distorts the flow of our economy towards these EU-protected goods and away from better value in the marketplace outside the EU.

The consequences of which, as I illustrated above, means inside the EU bloc we produce more of the goods and services over which we do not have the comparative advantage, and fewer goods and services over which we do. Or to put it in even simpler terms, we produce an excessive amount of the things we are less good at producing, and insufficient amount of the things we are better at producing.


There is nothing unique about competition that comes from non-EU producers that necessitates politicians to treat it differently from competition that comes from EU producers or producers in one's own country. As long as suppliers adhere to the requisite standards (standards that can be enforced in their own country pre-export) then there is absolutely no need for any cross-border penalties (tariffs) from politicians.

What about a post-Brexit UK?
Although I’ve given several reasons why I think we should vote to leave the EU, some may feel that I haven’t answered sufficiently the question that everyone seems to be asking: what precisely will a post-Brexit United Kingdom will look like? The reason I’ve not gone into lengthy prose on this is that, truthfully, no one actually knows for sure – quite simply because we don’t know what our government’s policies are going to be if we do exit, nor whether the UK will begin the process of breaking up, particularly with Scotland being so pro-EU, and Wales starting to show more support for remaining in too.

We don’t know what the effects of Brexit will be because we don’t know who’ll be governing the UK if we leave, what economic policies they will adopt, to what extent we’ll remain under certain regulations, what policies will accompany any unilateral free trade we have, or whether immigration levels will drop to the detriment of our economy. Because the truth is, even if we leave there are still a lot of unknowns.

To compound this point, consider leaving the EU and being governed by someone like Jeremy Corbyn - someone even more economically illiterate than many of the EU regulators. Corbyn is a man who wants to renationalise most of our industry, impose further price controls, artificially subsidise our manufacturing industry and bail out any UK industries that lose out to foreign competition. If you are the sort of person that cares about economic growth then Corbyn is a very dangerous leader to contemplate having.

While this doesn't in any way endorse the overall structure of the EU, one tiny thing in its favour is that some of the EU regulations would keep the wolf of Corbyn's Anglo-centric economics quite far from the door, as EU competition law prevents member countries from granting the kind of Corbyn-esque special treatment like subsidising, bailing out ornationalising domestic firms over competitors from elsewhere in Europe (much of this is thanks to Margaret Thatcher and Leon Brittan in the 1980s, both of whom knew the dangers of this).

For me, despite some obvious interruptions to normalcy as we gradually extricate ourselves from much of the EU influence on our laws, regulations and trade, the post Brexit UK probably will go on to be in an even more prosperous nation, and this in spite of the fact that seemingly any party that runs our country is a country mile away from a proper endorsement of the free market (one might say they are all socialists).

It’s worth mentioning too that growth of non-EU economies has outpaced the growth of EU economies in recent years, and looks set to continue at an even greater extent, which means future indication is that leaving the EU would free up Britain's non-EU trade potential, enriching us along the way (since we've had a floating exchange rate the balance of trade is less important than it used to be, as a trade deficit simply means we are up on consumption, which is the primary benefit of trade). A situation in which we treat the most emerging countries like China, Brazil, India and Russia less distantly and patronisingly in deference to Brussels is highly likely to be beneficial to the future UK economy, particularly with our proficiency in exporting services such as in education, digital technology, neuroscience, financial and litigation expertise and the sciences as we are well poised to do.  

How do trade deficits fit into the equation?
Well currently the UK goods trade deficit with the EU is over £77 billion, last I heard, plus we have a service trade surplus of over £15 billion, which means an awful lot of trade to and from, which obviously all agents involved will want to retain, irrespective of whether we leave the EU or not. In other words, by themselves, the arguments that leaving the EU will be terrible for trade are almost certainly spurious.

The other thing you need to realise is that a trade deficit is a good thing, because it means we are consuming more than we are exporting. A lot of people think the net benefit is when the opposite occurs, but they have misunderstood the purpose of trade which is ultimately consumption. I'll explain it with an analogy about my life. I live in Norwich, and I like our market. I like it particularly for the food I often buy there when I visit the city centre. Given that I don't work on the market, but do spend money there, I have what's called a trade deficit with the market. A trade deficit is the amount you spend in a particular place minus the amount you earn there (a trade surplus is just the opposite).

In recent times many Brits have argued that we are worse off because of a trade deficit with China. But by that same logic I would be better off without Norwich market. When people are able to trade to acquire things they want, value is created in their lives, and it makes them better off. Whenever trade increases between James Knight and the Norwich market stalls both James Knight and the market stalls are better off. Similarly, whenever two countries are able to trade to acquire things they want, value is created for its citizens (note, I'm talking about open, mutually beneficial trade).

That's also why trade deficits are not the bogey so many on the left imagine. Recently I bought £750 worth of shirts for £330 in a sale. I earned nothing that Saturday so my trade deficit for that day was £330. By the logic some of the 'Remain' campaign use they would have to tell you that I had a bad day - but, in fact, I had a great day - I bought shirts that I value much more than the money, and the clothes store had a good day because it made a profit on the merchandise (albeit a limited one, it was a sale - but still a profit nonetheless).

Nations consist of millions of people all doing as I am doing. They work to earn money and they buy when they value the goods or services more than the money (the exact opposite is true for sellers). Hopefully you can see now, if you couldn't before, that there is no reason why coming out of the EU should have a negative effect on our trading or our economy, providing the British government's post-Brexit polices are favourable to its citizens. 

To compound the point, here's an exercise for you. Think about all the transactions you've ever undertaken in your life, and then consider whether any of them had the remotest positive bearing to whether we were in the EU or not. I'll bet, like me, you'll find it is virtually none of them. In reality, the reverse is true: when you consider the huge expense, subsidies, trading tariffs and countless regulations that hamper the process of free trade - not to mention the hugely excessive bureaucracy these things create - you'll find the balance sheet has an almost uncountable negative bearing on our transactions.

Note: I haven't mentioned immigration, but will do so in an imminent blog post.


EDIT TO ADD: Personally I suspect that even if we do leave the EU, the Brexiters won't exactly have many reasons to do cartwheels. If the politics of the present day socialist Tory and Labour parties are anything to go by, the post-Brexit UK government will probably actively mirror most of the annoying interferences that are currently present in the EU from which they are filing for divorce.


* To give you a microcosmic example of the cost of overly-bureaucratic political interference by looking just at America, Dan Mitchell of International Liberty (who is about as well researched as anyone on these matters) shows how Americans spend 8.8 billion hours every year filling out government forms, how the economy-wide cost of regulation is now $1.75 trillion, and how for every bureaucrat at a regulatory agency, 100 jobs are destroyed in the economy’s productive sector.


  
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