Tuesday, June 28, 2016

UK Referendum and the weaknesses of democracy

Last Thursday the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. This is one of the stupidest decisions ever made by a country and is going to isolate the United Kingdom from the rest of Europe. Membership in the European Union provides many benefits for the British economy, such as cheaper imports from the rest of Europe (which lowers prices) and no tariffs on European goods. Other benefits include allowing British citizens to freely live in Europe (and vice versa) along with being able to sort out continent wide issues in the Parliament of the European Union. There is no real disadvantage with the European Union being a democracy where the Parliament is directly elected by the people, but the advantages of closer trade links given the lack of war over the last 70 years is a major advantage for all Europeans in favor of union except the military industrial complex.

Vote Leave made the European Union out to be a gigantic force which destroys the United Kingdom's sovereignty. the issue however is that the voting patterns in Parliament do not demonstrate a huge division over votes by nationality. While it is true that UK MPs are on the winning side less than any other country (winning 71% of the time) the division between countries is most of the time along partisan lines, not among national lines. Guardian

This is yet another example of the problem with highly technocratic issues being put onto the ballot. Most people can vote for a candidate who represents their viewpoint who then is hired by the people to make decisions, talk to scientists, understand the issues, and then make the best decision following their conscience. While there are some issues that people can understand at a fairly good level, most of the time the reality of the situation is very complicated, and the European Union is no exception. In order for people to fully understand the costs and benefits of an initiative they need to be well informed and the media usually does a very poor job at this. Occasionally you will get a publication like the Economist or The Guardian which include scientific analyses using large sample sizes and graphs to demonstrate the difference between groups without biasing their results, but this is rare. Most other news outlets (even NPR at times) try to show all sides of the story by giving treating all voices as if they have equal validity, but all this does is confuse people and feed the false narrative that scientists can't know anything and don't know anything. I find this narrative in conversations with people when I talk about my field which I have a degree in and they say "you are so certain you are right and don't give any room for being wrong" to which I always respond that 1. I am practicing my trade, 2. (for most issues) the evidence is clear, and 3. Provide me with better evidence than I have seen and I will change my views. They never provide me with better evidence. This is a pathology on our society and we need to recognize that our world is measurable and that there are trends in economics just as much as there are trends in physics, and ignoring this is irresponsible and dangerous. The media practices this without giving a clear insight into the issues which people are required to vote on, meaning people are essentially voting blind creating a major risk for society. We have seen this before with the Alternative Vote referendum which is a better system in every single way from what Britain currently uses to elect parliament, but given the poor analysis in the media of the difference and impact of the two systems for people, and it was explained poorly by the Vote Yes campaign. Excellent blog I cannot find research testing whether people actually If people do not usually understand the Alternative Vote, (of which I am not certain) there is absolutely no way they are going to understand the complexities of international trade and the costs and benefits of the European Union which is far more complicated.

This is the problem with pure democracy. In a perfect world where people were taught how to reason and use science to find answers to questions this wouldn't be an issue. If people were willing to study and learn about issues they could learn about any subject they wanted to. People would be able to tell which news sources are actually describing the issues in a neutral manner or just acting as the mouthpiece for a political party. in that type of world referendum would be acceptable, and a perfect democracy would work for large multinational trade issues which effect everybody. In a world where many people who go to public school don't even learn calculus (which is vital to many scientific fields) this is not going to be possible. We obviously do not live in this perfect world where science education is of high quality and news outlets are fair by not by giving every fascist, communist, and fraudster a free talking stage to spread their message but instead focus on the scientific reality and are willing to call the rich and powerful out on their lies or demonstrate the evidence behind their claims. To be clear, these media outlets are outside of the norm and the majority of people do not listen to Planet Money or read the Economist which are unusual in their unbiased focusing on evidence even if it means they have to take a hard stance on an issue. The difference however is that they are very clear about why the author makes the stance using evidence, science, and reason. The difference is that with science the conclusion easily changes given new and better evidence but is impervious to public opinion, bribes, or anecdotes.

This is why the Brexit is going to happen and why Britain is about to go into a deep depression with many people losing their jobs in the near future. It is heartbreaking and scary, and we are already seeing the damage with the collapse of the Pound. I can't leave this article on an uplifting note because at this point in time there is nothing good that can possibly come from this if Cameron goes through on his decision, only less cooperation and more risk of conflict in Europe.

No comments:

Post a Comment