Monday, May 29, 2017

Reality Cheque

The UK's Office for National Statistics has just published a handy guide to the cost of running the kingdom, especially all those 'less-than-self-sufficient' regions outside of London and the South East of England.

It turns out that total public sector expenditure by the British Government in Northern Ireland was £26 billion in 2015/16. Fortunately (for the English taxpayer) a lot of that was then recouped by way of taxation on all those public sector wages etc. So total net public sector expenditure in Northern Ireland was 'just' £10 billion in the same period.

Which provides some useful context to the recent flurry of North-South Delusions about the prospect of a United Ireland post-Brexit.

£10 billion is about €11.5 billion in real money. It's also more than the Republic of Ireland will spend this year on Education, Defence and the Environment combined.  Only Health and Social Protection cost more that the UK Government's net subvention to Northern Ireland.

Now maybe we could afford it if the EU (and remainder of the UK) chipped in a few extra quid/euro to see us through the transition. Though by the time we had 'levelled up' UK social welfare payments to our own rates we might just need more than a few quid...

Would I like to see a United Ireland? Yes I would, and a pity it was ever partitioned in the first place. But that was then, this is now.

Would I be willing to pay a great deal more income tax to fund it? Hmmm. What was the first question again?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Blog Cuttings #6

John Milbank on how populism is essentially the rejection of liberalism:
And here one has to say that the vox populi may intuitively grasp the obvious, even though it has mostly eluded the educated. And this is that the conflict now between an economically liberal right and a culturally liberal left is in many ways a sham. For it is not an accident that the right have been winning the economic war and the left the cultural one. 
In deep reality it is liberalism - the cult of the unrelated, freely-choosing individual - that has been winning both wars in a cunning two-pronged assault of conscious enemies who are secret allies. This triumph involves above all the notion that that there is no common shared sense of the human good; the good is just whatever we happen diversely to prefer. But now the massed expression of a common view about, at least, a local good life is interrupting all this.
It's not the next Hitler we should fear, but the next Caesar.

Or as RR Reno puts it, we are witnessing the return of the strong gods, even as our elites double down on the post-war strategy of disenchantment.

Meanwhile Ben Hunt thinks the West's major political parties are going through a secular bear market (sell you shares now?). Which is one reason why political entrepreneurs are disrupting what are the equivalent of old style media companies: you just need a spare billion or two (or rich backers) to succeed. It's the politics (and economics) of Westworld.

Remind me how that ended?

Monday, May 1, 2017

North South Delusions

"The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know." Blaise Pascal

The list of Cognitive Biases is already very long, but I feel the urge to add another. I call it the 'Reasonable People Bias' which describes arguments based on the presupposition that 'reasonable people agree...' or 'reasonable people believe...' or 'any reasonable person would accept...' followed by whatever point the person wishes to make. The assumption is that everybody in a policy discussion sees the world the same way through logical, reasonable (liberal, agnostic) eyes. Breaking news: they don't.

We see this in the recent flurry of speculation about a United Ireland. It's there in Christopher Kissane's article in today's Irish Times, and in Kevin Meagher's book 'A United Ireland - Why Unification is Inevitable and How it Will Come About'. Both suffer from the Reasonable People Bias which involves the following set up:

- Brexit dooms the UK to turmoil and fragmentation
- Northern Ireland needs to jump into a United Ireland/European Union before it's too late
- The Unionists/Loyalists will see reason when they realise this is the best outcome once proper assurances are in place etc etc

All very reasonable... and all very wrong.

You would think after Brexit and Trump (and close scares in the Netherlands and France) that people might have realised that 'reason' doesn't have quite the same sway it used to have. I pointed this out in the run up to the Brexit referendum, drawing on Scott Adam's model of the Persuasion Stack, which looks like this:

Brexit was a vote driven by Identity. Right now, all the Reasonable People are trying to persuade Unionists at the level of Reason. That's if they're even trying - most of what I hear sounds more like talking over the heads of Unionists.

Now if the monologue/dialogue about a United Ireland continues at the level of Reason then there will only be one of two outcomes: either A) nothing will change (because its a lousy way of persuading people), or B) the people who feel strongest about their Identity will enter the fray and the Reasonable People won't know how to handle them.

Given the depressing group think that seems to perpetually grip Irish mainstream media (wrong on Brexit, wrong on Trump... wrong on a United Ireland?) I suspect we'll end up with option B, and it won't be pretty. But maybe I'm just not being reasonable?

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