As Martin Wolf at the FT continues his quest to blame Brexit for any number of 'bad' things that have happened since June 2016…as he projects every conceivable calamity that might occur over the next decade…likewise onto the follies of Brexit…an unfortunate presupposition continues to underpin his arguments: the referendum should never have happened. Mr Wolf is not a great fan of democracy. He thinks that he is, but just as the FT claims that it stands for small government and free markets - the notion is merely an echo of something that may have been true at some point, but is clearly no longer the case.
Let’s take the FT on free markets and small government first…but briefly:
If failing to challenge a bunch of clueless academics at the Fed as they held interest rates at zero for 8 years is a belief in free markets, then Robert Mugabe is a compassionate humanitarian of the highest order and should definitely be the next Santa at Hamleys.
If consistently pleading for more government intervention, if making the case for a cashless society, if failing to criticise legions of bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington for negotiating a ‘free trade’ agreement in secrecy, without the involvement or oversight of the people's elected representatives...is standing for small government, then the late, great Orson Welles would have been the champion jockey had Hollywood not scooped him up first.
It terms of Mr Wolf’s belief in democracy:
From the day the plebiscite was announced, through the campaign, and following the vote, Mr Wolf has repeatedly referred to the UK referendum on membership of the EU as being ‘unnecessary’. What he means by this, of course, is that David Cameron did not have to call one; he could have carried on governing without the pesky business of giving the people a choice. That way, we wouldn’t have made what Mr Wolf considers to be the wrong choice. For the umpteenth time here he is again today in an article called ‘Sleepwalking towards a chaotic Brexit’:
“David Cameron launched an unnecessary referendum on EU membership”
Mr Wolf does not champion the autonomy of the individual, he promotes the idea that decision making belongs in the domain of elites - people who know better than we do what's good for us.
Alas, and tongue in cheek for a moment, it seems we’re a bit too thick to make up our own minds. What elitists like Mr Wolf fail to consider however, is that if our rights and freedoms were dependent on not being thick, then there would not be enough cages to go round – the Palace of Westminster would be one big metal box for a start.
Clearly a significant number of us are not spending days researching every question that a modern society is faced with…but that’s not the point here…the source, scale and scope of government is the choice of the governed…in a democracy.
The principle of personal autonomy is the essence of a functioning democracy – a principle that is largely missing from our political parties and our media, who have an elitist mindset in one form or another. Why do I say that? Because they compete on who is the strongest or most compassionate ‘parental figure’. Sometimes Dad wins (Tories/Reps), sometimes Mum wins (Labour/Dems). Whoever wins, parental government is anathema to a genuine liberal democracy, which requires adults in order to function.
There is a very good article on the subject of autonomy in May's edition of ‘Spiked’: ‘The ideal of autonomy’, by Frank Furedi. Here is a snippet:
“What critics of autonomy fail to grasp is that, whatever the obstacles that stand in the way of freely determined action, humanity can only act responsibly through striving for autonomy. It is difficult to hold ourselves or others to account for choices that we assume are not of our own making. From this perspective, the right to choose is not simply important for the flourishing of the individual concerned. Freely determined action develops our capacity to make judgements and to act on them, and, in turn, we become accountable for our actions to others. The corollary of the right to choose is the willingness to be held responsible for the consequences of our choices.
Moral independence, accomplished through the right to choose, is integral to a genuinely human vision of freedom. Autonomy, which is realised through an independent exercise of judgement, can only flourish in a society that trusts its citizens. That is why, in the end, how we view choice is determined by whether or not we trust each other as members of a common moral universe”
In conclusion: I get that Mr Wolf and the other senior journalists at the FT think Brexit is a really bad idea, I really do. And that’s their prerogative. As someone who does believe in free markets and small government, I think it’s a great idea. But that’s not the point...the bigger concern, I believe, is this:
Who gets to choose?
Call me bloody-minded if you like (and you’d be right)…I get to choose…you get to choose…but Mr Wolf and his pals on behalf of the rest of us…not so much.