Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Phase transitions and the tsunami of bile

When does the slow accumulation of populist opportunism become a tsunami of bile? If things were linear, we would see it coming. We would be able to predict when are we really entering danger zone. I tend to be optimist, and I believe that checks and balances in Europe and its member states, as well as checks and balances in the US, do constrain a lot what brexiteers and a hypothetical president Trump would be able to do (and what other national-populists try to do). But when water slowly becomes cold, for most of the time it stays water, but then at zero degrees, it suddenly becomes ice. The problem with socio-political phenomena is that we do not know what is the threshold. The sad post-referendum thoughts of the great economist John Van Reenen are a bit scary. Are we already in ice territory? Here's what Van Reenen says among other things: "There are many other notable features of the Brexit vote – including the fact that Remain had a voting majority for those under 50 years of age and also in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is shocking that a constitutional rupture can be made based on 37 per cent of the eligible voters. We take decades debating and prevaricating on major infrastructure projects like Heathrow and Hinkley Point, yet are prepared to gamble with something even more important for our futures on a simple one-off in-out referendum. The referendum was won on a drumbeat of anti-foreigner sentiment. It’s the same tune being played by demagogues in every corner of the globe. It’s the same tune that was played in the 1930s. It’s the same old beat that rises in volume when people are afraid. In the UK, it’s echoed by a rabidly right-wing press and unchallenged by a flaccid establishment media. Mixed by a band of unscrupulous liars and political zealots, it has become a tsunami of bile that has downed and drowned a once great nation. The only question is which other countries will now be swept along in this poisonous flood."

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