I welcome Liam Fox’s claim that many British bosses are too “fat and lazy” to increase exports.
For one thing, it’s a good corrective to the ideology – too often promoted by the BBC – that bosses are infallible heroes to whom we owe deference and big pay-packets.
And for another, it contains some truth – and not just in the sense that businessmen are less assiduous in chasing a pound than Dr Fox. Most UK firms – more than 90% - don’t export at all. And the UK exports less as a share of GDP than comparable economies such as Italy, France or Germany (As a rule, smaller economies have higher export-GDP ratios that bigger ones.) This shouldn’t surprise us. In the real world, competition doesn’t grind so finely that it swiftly eliminates mediocrity, incompetence and laziness.
But here’s the thing. For many of us the fact that some businesses are “fat and lazy” was a key reason to favour remaining within the EU. When Brexiters told us that Brexit would allow us to reach free trade agreements with non-EU nations, our response was a fear that exporters would not quickly or sufficiently step up sales to non-EU countries. You can think of “fat and lazy” as micro-foundations for the gravity models of trade which underpinned the economic case (pdf) for Remain.
Which poses the question: what, then, is Fox doing?
I suspect it's another example of the (self?)-deception of Brexiters. He’s getting his excuses in early. If Brexit is followed by faltering exports, Fox will say it’s because businesses are too fat and lazy to take advantage of the opportunities he has created.
In this sense, what we’re seeing is an old trick of ideologues – that when your ideas fail, it is the fault not of their inadequacies but of the failure of reality to conform to the visions in your head.