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July 28, 2018



"Yes, I know that we Brits tend to under-estimate the extent to which the EU is a rules-based organization"

Its a rules based organisation, until the rules go against what those in charge want, at which point they ignore the rules.

Steven Clarke

This is a bit of a tangent, but it reminds me Nozick's discussion of process and pattern theories of justice.

Many have a 'patterned' view of politics: they want a to create and preserve a certain distribution (or 'pattern') of income (for the socialist Left) or of demographics in a nation (nativist Right).

Nozick, a libertarian, cared more about justice in the 'process' - does some transaction occur freely? But he was aware that processes upset patterns. When poor people pay to watch Wilt Chamberlain (a process), they may upset a desirable pattern of income. When people migrate, they may upset a desirable pattern of demographics.

This may map onto your thoughts. Politics as imposition is imposing a pattern. Politics as discovery is approving of just processes, even if they lead to unknown patterns.

And if pattern maps onto authoritarian, and process on libertarian, this may explain the lack of enthusiasm for politics as discovery. Chris is a relatively libertarian Lefty, and libertarians are quite rare on either side of politics.


«to rethink democracy.»

That's a pretty dangerous activity, as the purposes of democracy as it evolved have been to turn physical conflicts into popularity contests, and to ensure that the participants in those popularity contests are accountable for their choices.

Losing either property would be a big deal.

«He’s asking: what institutions and practices do we need to discover what people really want?»

That is such a breathtakingly stupid foundation for a political system... Who are “people”? How can they themselves even figure out what they “really want”?
Suppose for example that the new “processes and institutions” figure out that "people" "really want" something, but "people" (whoever they are) think otherwise; what happens?

Also the contrast between “politics of discovery” and “politics of imposition” seems quite absurd to me: eventually all politics become “politics of imposition” in the sense that laws are made and enforced.
The “politics of discovery” are just whatever arguments are made before the laws are made, and they already happen.

Somewhat less stupid questions that occur to me could be:

* How to improve “discovery”? In which sense, in particular?

* If we assume that “discovery” is going to be flawed in most cases, should then be “imposition” be mild and flexible?

«Which brings me to Brexit. ... political discourse is dominated by those who believe they know the answers, and so don’t need to discover them»

Ahhhh so this is really all about "Brexiters are wrong and I am right" :-).

Well, I think that "Leave" was a big mistake, but also that majority rule is a big deal, and that "Leave" voters will be accountable (unfortunately "Remain" voters too, but that's the deal) for making that mistake, and that many "Leave" voters have thought about the issues for decades and published many articles, books, pamphlets over the decades, so they have done quite a bit of "discovery".

This said I wish that the "Leave" majority were more cautious in the policies after the vote, as the "Flexcit" people keep arguing, and more mindful that while majorities rule some compromise with the minorities often brings about a better outcome.

Without asking really stupid (and quite dangerous) questions like “what people really want?”...


In one sense, much of politics is about discovery but instead of using this word we call these instances pilots. So, for example, the Poll Tax was first piloted in Scotland (and had the then Conservative Government taken more notice of its problems they might not have rolled it out countrywide). Similarly Universal Credit is being piloted in a limited number of areas.

We tend to notice the examples of pilots that go horribly wrong (as above), but those that work well then get rolled out across the rest of the country without much fanfare. So our view of discovery in politics may well be biased because the failures are more prominent than the successes.

I am not sure though that the OP is right to link the discovery process with socialism; for me it is equally compatible with liberalism (in the sense that someone like John Stuart Mill would have used the term, as opposed to what claims these days to be neoliberalism).

My real concern with Leave is its consequences for both the economy and democracy in the UK. Over a decade ago Dani Rodrik created what he called his trilemma:


Here one can have any two of: globalisation, the nation state and democracy, but not all three at once. By leaving the EU, we are making the nation state a priority and if we also want free trade (the Conservative position) then democracy must suffer. If we take the Labour (Corbynite) position then we keep the nation state and democracy but at the cost of protectionism.


«By leaving the EU, we are making the nation state a priority»

That's a common view but it is a mistake: the EU is an aspiring nation-state too, and the UK is also an actually-existing supranational, multinational, multiethnic, multilanguage entity with free movement of people and capital and free trade.

Plus many, many "Leavers" wanted more globalization, instead of being inside "Fortress EU", going back to the edwardian-style globalization of the English Empire well described by JM Keynes.

Many "Leavers" object to the EU not because it is an aspiring nation state, but because the english elites don't have unilateral supremacy in it while they had it in the English Empire and have it in the UK (the English Union).

The tendency in the USA and the UK is not anti-globalist, but as Trump says "USA first" (or "UK second"), that is a rejection of multilateralism, as that gives too much influence to the smaller players, and a switch to unilateral policy making within bilateral relationships.


Are you not over confident in your support for a borderless world??


When the Blair government said that Academy schools were an attempt to discover how to improve secondary education, those who were paying attention doubted whether this was really true. The schools were handed to their private managers for an indefinite period with no method of evaluating performance against alternatives. There was nothing in the contracts to force the schools to innovate or evaluate any innovations.

But the casual observer would have been fooled by the claims that this was all about innovation and discovery.


«over confident in your support for a borderless world??»

There was a pretty much “borderless world” before WW1 (before some form of wider fiscal democracy was born out of mass/national industrialized war instead of dynastic war) as JM Keynes famously described:

“What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914! ...
The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend.
He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference.
But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable.”

Note the “sipping his morning tea in bed ... adventure his wealth ... without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages ... transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality ... bearing coined wealth upon his person”.
In practice all those rights were exercised almost only by "fine City gentlemen", rather than common people, but they were available to everybody.

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