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Brexiteers Must Stop Bashing Economists If They Want to Defeat Corbyn

December 28, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

One of the things I’m most uncomfortable about as a supporter of Brexit is my fellow travellers dismissing economists’ pronouncements out of hand. On everything from the impact of potential GDP benefits of non-EU trade deals, to immigration, right through to the short-term impact of voting to leave, Brexiteers have downplayed economic reports that are politically inconvenient.

To be clear, many have been worthy of challenge and critical analysis. Professions can be prone to groupthink, and on Brexit economists have not covered themselves in glory.

They were right to state that the uncertainty of voting to leave would prove a drag on economic growth. But they were hopelessly wrong in implying the effect would be so large it would result in recession and rising unemployment.

They are correct that net additional trade barriers would make the economy less productive. Yet the most dire long-term scenario analysis is often predicated on assumptions that EU exit only has costs and no gross benefits. This an absurd proposition given what we know about certain EU regulations and tariffs, as well as future global growth patterns.

So, yes, highlighting poor assumptions, or suggesting revisions to modeling methods, is perfectly legitimate. Let’s have those debates. It is reasonable too to use historical examples — such as the fact that the majority of UK academic economists favored joining the euro — to dismiss pure appeals to the authority of the majority.

But rather than doing this, my pro-Brexit comrades sometimes slip into a lazy “wrong then, wrong now” meme. The implication being that all uncomfortable economic opinions can be disregarded on the basis that a majority of economists once called something else incorrectly.

This is obviously absurd as a matter of logic. Economists, including Her Majesty’s Treasury, are regularly accused of “crying wolf” about the short-term economic impact of voting leave on the labour market, for example. But the political lesson of Aesop’s “Boy Who Cried Wolf” fable is not just that those who lie or mistakenly warn of impending danger are less likely to be trusted. The moral of the story comes from the fact that in the end the wolf turns up when the villagers no longer have faith in the boy’s warnings. There’s no happy ending: the sheep are eaten.

The lessons to heed are two-fold. First, government institutions and professional economists have a duty not to fall prey to motivated reasoning, or to “sex up” the likely outcomes …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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