Its the economy stupid… except when it isn’t

Bill Clinton’s now famous saying ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ is used to highlight that voters generally consider the economy to be the most important issue at elections.  But is there ever a time when that is not true?

Recent stats about the Brexit vote published by the BBC broke down the issues deemed most important to Remain and Leave voters.  Remain voters thought it was the economy but Leave voters thought sovereignty was, closely followed by immigration.


It certainly makes sense that the economy is often the most important issue.  People have families to care for, mortgages to pay down and a well paying secure job in a vibrant economy is the best way to get on.  So the fact that Remain voters rated the economy as the defining issue in the EU referendum stands to reason.  Telling a person that the economy, for once, is not the most important issue is akin to saying that there is something more important than providing for your family.  Obviously that is a hard sell.

I am going to argue that one of the issues more important than the economy is liberty and sovereignty.  Whilst a good economy allows you to provide for your family, liberty and sovereignty is a means of protecting your family and that is more important.  Moreover it is no coincidence that those societies around the world which are most free are also the most prosperous, a vote for liberty is normally also a vote for a better economy.

Don’t be confused, ‘a decision about liberty’ is not an oxymoron.  It is true that the very fact you have a vote means liberty cannot seriously be compromised, but that assumes that nothing can change and it ignores that the structures for further removal of sovereignty and liberty by the EU are in fact already in place (see here).  UK voters were faced with a decision about short term economic uncertainty on the one hand from a vote to Leave, and the prospect of continued removal of sovereignty and liberty by choosing to Remain.  The saying goes ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.  Vigilance is ‘the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties’ and that perfectly sums up the mentality behind a vote to Leave.

Leave voters looked at the EU now and correctly judged that it posed a threat to the sovereignty and liberty of the people of Europe.  For the EU, in their push for a political union on the European continent, are deliberately creating a structure of government which is undemocratic, unaccountable and without adequate checks on power.  The intentions of EU leaders may be well placed, however it ignores the important lessons from history.  It must be remembered that well meaning governments can and indeed do, go bad, that not everyone believes that the people should be free, and that it only takes one person to change the entire history of a continent.  The structure of government shouldn’t be idealistic, it needs to define with precision how government intends to protect the rights of people, and be structured in a way which is democratic, transparent, accountable and has power distributed in the hands of the many.

Liberty unfortunately has become an abstract concept to those who live in Western democracies.  We are a generation that don’t know anything but liberty and we take our sovereignty and liberty for granted because we have never had to fight for it.  However when your rights of free speech, of equality, of justice under the law, of self determination, of democratic accountability, of protection against enemies foreign and domestic are eroded such that the will of others can be imposed upon you against your will – that is when you know liberty, and its value.   It is why the founder fathers took such care when writing the US constitution for they paid for their liberty with blood.  It is why it is with great alarm we see the EU with reckless abandon create a system of government that is undemocratic, unaccountable and with a concentration of power in the hands of un-elected bureaucrats.  It is why the economy wasn’t the most important thing in the British EU referendum.

So why is it that the Leave voters got it right?

Lets not pretend that most Leave voters have an in depth understanding of the EU institutions and how it works.  The Leave voters got it right because the inability of the UK government to control immigration was a perfect demonstration of how the EU works.  Leave voters correctly identified that immigration was caused by the EU’s policy of free movement of labour.  So when the people of the UK voted for a Conservative party that pledged to put a cap on migration, only to find out the EU could over rule their elected UK government, the penny dropped.  Leave voters realised that the issue of migration was actually a much bigger issue about sovereignty.


Brexit – was Leave the right decision?

If you haven’t noticed, Britain has decided to Leave the European Union.  On balance I believe it was the right decision, for although there are good reasons to stay in the European Union, there is a very strong case to be made to leave.

The Remain campaign spelled out very specific arguments during the referendum, mostly around the economy and the uncertainty that a vote to Leave would create.  Whilst it is true that Brexit would cause significant uncertainty and potentially some economic shock, at least in the short term, the longer term economic prospects of the UK economy are unknown.  In my view it is unlikely that Brexit will make much of difference to the long term performance of the UK economy – many of the greatest financiers of our time agree on that point.

In addition the Remain campaign highlighted that if the UK left Europe its national security would be put at risk because an exit would undermine cooperation with members of the European Union on issues such as security and intelligence sharing.  This argument doesn’t really pass the laugh test, hopefully I don’t need to explain why mutual self interest would mean intelligence sharing would be unchanged.  In addition UK military security primarily comes from NATO, not the European Union.

The Leave campaign focused on immigration, but more importantly on sovereignty.

Tackling the issue of immigration first, the charge is that mass immigration has been disruptive, costing British workers jobs and placed a burden on the NHS and other services – quite frankly it is hard to argue this isn’t the case.  As a result the Remain side countered with the label of racists or xenophobes, which is of course true for at least some Leave voters but unlikely to be true of the vast majority of Leave voters.

Sovereignty is the issue that concerns me most about the Brexit debate, for it is true that the European Union has morphed from a economic union to a currently failing attempt at a political union.

Britain initially joined the EU common market in 1973, over time the relationship it has with the EU changed, but it wasn’t Britain that was doing the changing, it was the EU.  The EU was expanding its borders, and with ambitions of a political union began the slow removal of sovereignty from member states, without the approval of the people.  As an example of this slow undemocratic removal of sovereignty, the ‘Treaty establishing a Constitution for the Europe’ which was designed to assume more powers for the EU was put to the public for vote in 2005 and was rejected by the peoples of the Netherlands and France.  As a result voting was suspended in the other EU member states.  Instead of accepting the people of France and the Netherlands didn’t want this Constitution leading to ever closer union, the EU instead amended the existing ‘Treaty of Rome’ and the ‘Maastricht Treaty’ in the new Treaty of Lisbon, got it signed by the heads of member states, and bypassed the people of Europe altogether.  The end result was the EU got its Constitution, giving it more powers but the people never got to vote on it because it was passed by stealth under the guise of the  ‘reform’ of existing treaties.

Likewise the European court in Strasbourg was initially set up to deal with trade disputes, instead it has evolved into the most powerful court in Europe and by slow creep has assumed the right to rule over important decisions taken by member states.  What this means is that laws passed in a sovereign country can be overruled by a non sovereign court of a quasi political union.  It isn’t that any of the laws the EU courts hand down are particularly bad, the problem is that it is process is undemocratic with the potential of going bad.

The EU court in Strasbourg is not the only undemocratic structure in Europe, in fact it is just one of several undemocratic institutions in the EU.  To demonstrate how, consider a comparison between the Government of the USA and the EU.

The USA has a written constitution which outlines the scope of government, its structure, the limits of its power and the rights of individuals.  In part the purpose of the constitution is to protect against an overbearing government  via the US Supreme court, the democratic vote of the people and depending on who you ask, the right to bear arms.  The USA has three arms of its government, the President (executive) and the two houses of Congress, the Upper House called the Senate, the Lower House called the House of Representatives.  The President is elected by the people and serves a 4 year term, the Senate is elected by the people and serves a 6 year term, and the Representatives are elected by the people and serve a 2 year term.  Most of the power of the USA lies with the Houses of Congress, not the Presidency, and all three bodies must agree on any legislation that must be passed.

Now consider the European Union.  There are 4 Presidents, which preside over 4 different branches of the European Union.  Those branches of the EU are the EU parliament, the EU commission (executive), the Council of Europe and the Council of the European Union.  None of the 4 presidents are elected by the people, the 27 (formerly 28) EU Commissioners are not elected by the people, the EU parliament is elected by the people, the Council of Europe is composed of heads of member states, and the Council of the European Union is national department heads of member states.  The EU parliament does have a say on who the Commissioners and Presidents are but the point to take away is that there is only one EU institution, the EU parliament, which is elected directly by the people with the explicit purpose of going to the EU and deciding on legislation.

The way the EU votes is also a challenge to the sovereignty of member states.  When the EU was first formed all legislation required unanimous agreement from members states before any legislation was passed into law.  This clause prevented member states from imposing laws on other member states against their sovereign wishes. The Lisbon treaty changed that however, now much of the legislation in the EU requires only a qualified majority, meaning that if enough member states agree on a piece of legislation they can impose it on other member states against their will.

The EU commission, created by the Lisbon a Treaty, is perhaps the most interesting EU institution of all.  Formed with one member from each country it is tasked with the sole objective of fostering closer EU integration, not as you might think protecting the best interest of member states.  The EU commission creates legislation to be approved by the EU parliament, which is dominated by a voting block of Eurozone members who want further integration often against the will of those members who wish only for an economic union.  The EU is also curious in another way because there is a definite pecking order of member countries.  Although in theory every member state is equal it is an open secret that France and particular Germany run the European Union and dictate its direction.

So why is the structure of the EU a problem?

In the American system every single member of the US government is accountable to the people through elections, that is not the case for the European Union, the people cannot force out EU Presidents or Commissioners because none of these positions are ever up for election.  Because they are not elected by the people, they are not accountable to the people and the EU can summon the EU courts to enforce many EU directives even if the member state objects.

The entire structure of the US government is designed through thoughtful consideration to ensure that ‘we the people’ can directly hold the government accountable and get rid of an elected officials via the ballot box or if necessary with the gun (right to bear arms).  This was borne out of the US war of independence, where the British government turned on its own citizens.  As a result the founding fathers wrote a constitution that ensured government could never do that again.  The EU has barely any such considerations, and as a result is politically dangerous.  For on the one hand you have an undemocratic, unaccountable institution lacking in transparency that is attempting to create a political union through the removal of sovereignty from members states.  And on the other you have a European Court in Strasbourg that can rule on laws created in other countries.  Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

The reasons for leaving Europe are strong, and on balance the UK made the right decision to Leave.  The economy is important but you cannot put a price on liberty, certainly it is worth more than a few % points of GDP.

Europe needs fundamental restructuring.  The protection of liberty in Europe requires it.

Brexit – the second referendum petition

The Brexit vote on Friday scared the pants out of the entire country, whether or not those fears are well founded remains to be seen.

In the aftermath of vote Leave there has been a petition going around, that was created in May, and which has been signed by over 3 million people.  It has become the spur for a second referendum.  There are two particular clauses to this petition that would need to be met in any subsequent referendum for that result to be valid: i) there is a 75% turnout and ii) a 60% majority is required for either side to win.  The argument is that because these two clauses were not met in the first referendum we should have another referendum.

The irony of this petition seeking a second vote is it anti-democratic.  Re-running a referendum until you get the result you want is not something done in a free society, you cannot retrospectively change the rules of a referendum thereby fixing the result in your favour.

How is the petition for a second referendum based on the recommended guidelines a fix you might ask?

Firstly if the vote falls short of a 75% turnout then the referendum result would not stand even should Leave win again.  In the event of a 75% turnout a 60% majority for either side would be required to claim victory.  The most important point is that in each scenario, a failure to achieve a 75% turnout, or a failure for Leave to garner a 60% majority, the Remain vote would win through default because we would remain in the EU.

In other words technically there are now three ways which the Remain vote could win compared to only one way a Leave vote could win.  The reality however, is that Leave could never win under these conditions as we already know that Leave’s victory was too small and the turnout of the referendum too low.

This kind of retrospective re-run is the stuff of tyrants, you either believe in democracy, and liberty, or you do not.  Unfortunately there is no in between, you cannot actively choose which referendum results to enact and those to ignore.

Hopefully common sense prevails and this petition gets chucked out.

On a side note.  There are many politicians who said that referendum should not have been run in the first place (cough… Tim Farron), in effect saying that people should not be given a choice on how they are governed.  Those politicians who promote that view do not believe in self determination.  Politicians should remember they are to be instructed by we the people, not the other way around.



6. A Constitution.

Murder, deliberate harm, theft and slavery all infringe on freedom and or property rights.

Having decided that our government will protect freedom and property rights to ensure that these offences should not happen we have decided to constitute a government.

A constitution gives government its power, defines the nature of that power and just as importantly provides limits of that power.  The contradiction at the heart of government means that there is a balancing act between government on the one hand, and freedom and property rights of you the people on the other.

A constitution protecting freedom and property rights would give the government the ability to raise an army for defence; a justice system which would administer common law, provide courts and a police service; and a treasury to raise taxes and pay for the government.

The minimal government would be therefore be small and have the following departments.

  1. Department of Defence
  2. Department of Justice
  3. Department of Environment*
  4. Department of Treasury

*I personally would also argue for a department of the environment.

You will appreciate that this is obviously a very simplistic overview of how a government is created by the people.  However it is sufficient to demonstrate why government exists at all in a free society and the role that government should take.

The final part in this series will discuss the balancing act between expanding the influence of government and the impact this has on maximal permissible freedom.

5. Contradiction of Government.

The question ‘’What is the worst thing that could happen to you?’’ gave rise to four worst case scenarios: death, debilitating injury, loss of wealth and slavery.  From this we identified two principles these undermine, a persons freedom and persons property both of which are worth protecting.

A very simple question has established a basic role for government.  Now it is incumbent upon you the people to GIVE mission to government to protect your freedom and property if you so desire.

So far I am going to assume that you agree with me and that your freedom and property are worth protecting.

As a result you and other likeminded people have decided to create a government, but there is a problem, a contradiction at the heart of what government is.  For although the government you will create will act to protect your freedom and property on your behalf, it does so at a COST to both your freedom and property rights.

A government protects you by imposing laws, and it funds itself by tax contributions paid for by you the people for its administration.  As a result enacting government requires that you give up some of your freedom and private property.

This is a necessary step, for absolute freedom allows people to do what they want, when they want and where they want without regard for your freedom or property.  In a society populated with moral ‘law abiding’ people that has no enemies foreign nor domestic absolute freedom may be possible and there would be no need for government at all.  It is self-evident however that the world around us does not work like that.

A government of you the people therefore protects your freedom and property but requires you to give up a little of each allowing you to enjoy maximal permissible freedom provided your actions do not infringe on another person’s freedom and property.

Maximal permissible freedom is achieved by minimal government, it is self-evident that the bigger government gets the more tax it requires from you for its running and, and depending on the role government assumes, it can also reduce your personal freedom.  Indeed governments can get so large and intrusive that it has at times it become the vehicle for restricting freedom and private property rather than the vehicle for protecting it.

When a government stops acting on behalf of the people and for the people, the consequences for the citizens can be disastrous.  Obvious examples that come to mind are the Soviet Union which sent millions of people to their death at forced labour camps.

A government of you the people must therefore be instructed on how to act, rules which constitute a role for government are often written down, outlining the scope of government, what it duty bound to protect and the limits of its powers.


Next: A Constitution.

4. Principles of Government.

When the ‘’What is the worst thing that could happen to you’’ question was asked, there were at least four answers that will likely come up time and time again.  It is when these ‘worst cases’ are inflicted by other people that there exists a role where you the people can form a government to protect against them.

Here once again are the four worst cases, in brackets are what we would call the modern day equivalent if they were committed on you:

  1. death (murder)
  2. debilitating injury (bodily harm)
  3. loss property (theft)
  4. slavery


Knowing these ‘worst cases’ is only the starting point.  Understanding what principles these ‘worst cases’ undermine is the basis which government is INSTRUCTED on how to act and often takes the form of a written constitution.  Note the emphasis on government being instructed rather than instructive.

When a person is murdered what do they lose?  Obviously they lose their life, but more precisely they lose the ability to live their future, it is therefore the ultimate form of restricting choice, or freedom.

Injury committed by another on you also limits your freedom by restricting your ability to work and therefore your ability to care for others and accumulate wealth.

Theft also reduces your freedom.  Freedom to buy food, or to spend your wealth as you wish.  Theft steals more than physical assets though, it takes time and effort to accumulate wealth and when a person steals your wealth they are also stealing your time and effort.

Slavery above all others is most obviously synonymous with inhibiting freedom, but it is also theft because it forces you to work for no reward.

From this list there are two fundamental things that the ‘worst four’ undermine.  Your ability to live your life according to how you choose, otherwise known as freedom, and your ability to work and to keep the efforts of that work, otherwise called property.

It is no mistake that the freedom to live your life as you choose and the freedom to reap what you sow are often what people choose to protect when they form a government.  Most agree these are the most important rights.

This is true of the written constitution of the United States of America, and of the semi- written but more scattered constitution of the United Kingdom, both of which aimed to protect individual liberty (freedom) and property rights.


Next: Contradiction of Government.


3. Why have a Government? – An answer.

Having identified a useful question:

  • ‘’What is the worst thing that could happen to you?’’

It is time to have a look at some potential answers.

Most people when they answer this question will probably come up with a few things.  Here is a list of answers that you may have come up with:

  1. death (to yourself or loved ones)
  2. debilitating injury
  3. loss of property
  4. slavery

There are probably others that you came up with, but the most IMPORTANT ones are covered above.  Despite the simplicity of the question and how obvious the answers are, those answers are sufficient to have an idea of what form government should take.

It is important to highlight, that death or injury by natural causes is often something government cannot prevent, nor is the loss of wealth or property from stupidity.  When those things are inflicted by OTHER people on you however, government can do something about it.

Remember we are attempting to build up a picture of the fundamental building blocks of a possible government and define the role it should have.  Hopefully some of you are already seeing a possible role for government in preventing these four ‘worse cases’ from being inflicted on you by others.  Indeed those governments around the world that were formed by the people and for the people were created with the purpose of protecting you and others against those kinds of infringements.

The relative luxury and safety which we live in now was not common place 300 year ago.  Yet despite the relative luxury and safety most people enjoy today the answers to the question of ’What is the worst thing that could happen to you?’’ remains same.  The basic premise of government 300 years ago is therefore the same basic premise of the government of today.


Next: Principles of Government.