Tag Archives: Scapegoat

Economists for and against Brexit. Why don’t we believe the numbers? Lies?

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Economics

Economics can be studied as a BA or a BSc, with the latter having more Maths and Econometric elements. The point I’m making is that Economics is a dark art and an arcane weird science akin to alchemy, it is not a perfect predictor of the future, but on balance it makes sense. People are the irrational unpredictable factor. Nonetheless, a group of 200 Economists is in favour of Remain and 27 Economists for Britain, and a further smaller ensemble of 8 in favour of Brexit (3 are in both lists). No doubt there are other groups that would bolster both camps, you can add my BSc (Econ/Stats) to the 200 camp. In addition, ten international winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics have warned against Brexit and nearly every international economic policy thinktank and institute. Even the Brexit economists accept they are the minority:

“I do not deny for a moment that there are more economists who write on blogs and in newspapers arguing against Brexit than in favour. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that most economists believe Brexit would be damaging.”

The verdict, then? People trust economists about as much as they trust politicians and journalists! The polls are roughly 50:50 at the moment with less than 48 hours to go, but with a consistent 15% of voters undecided, who may or may not vote, or who might change their vote.

£350 million a week or £60 a year?

Polls show that the majority of people actually believe the £350m/week claim (around £252/year each) of the cost of the EU which is a blatant half-truth in that it totally ignores the UK rebate, inbound EU benefits and investment, EU jobs creation etc, which by other counts brings the cost down to about £1.15 a week. Less than a cup of coffee – the cost of reciprocal EU health and travel benefits, improved worker rights, gender equality and human rights agendas, and multicultural diversity benefits – cited by a CEBR study as a cause of UK economic growth and investment attraction. £350m a week has been consistently debunked by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The IndependentInFacts, the New Statesman, and the head of the UK Statistics Authority who says it is closer to £110m, yet people still believe it.

Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim
Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim

One thing, for sure, is that we don’t send £350m a week to the EU. What the net contribution of the UK to the EU budget is, after our rebate, grants, subsidies and other receipts, sources cannot be sure but vary from £83m – £164m, minus just the rebate it is around £248m but that ignores other benefits:

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£4,300  a year cost or £3,000 a year gain?

The figure on the cost of Brexit ranges from £300-£4,300 to Armageddon per family, so it is not as if either side are clean of the putting a spin on the figures. The CBI actually says that we gain around £3,000 per household from EU investment, trade, jobs and lower prices across Europe. That £3,000 a year gain (or rather, status quo) more than offsets the £200-£300 a year cost per household.

Fear, Hate and Scapegoats

Few believe, however, neither the allegedly independent academic facts nor the financial fearmongering of Vote Remain, instead preferring the demonising of the EU. They quote ‘figures’ alleging that the EU sucks us dry financially, that we are supporting the sick economies of Europe, and financing the health and benefits of millions of migrants. Neglecting the costs that 2 million Brits living in Europe run up! You see, Vote Leave‘s fearmongering is combined with scapegoating – someone to blame, that is its increased ‘sell’ factor, its USP.

The irrational human factor, always the bane of economic theory, is that we seem to need someone to hate, someone to blame. In this case, it is the EU, some kind of nine-headed Hydra, the Beast of Revelation, the government of the AntiChrist, German federal dominion redivivus, or fresh French neo-Napoleonic invasion, not to mention an influx of ‘begging and thieving gypsies’ – as some have erroneously and xenophobically characterised Romanians and Bulgarians, not to mention an entire nation of millions of Islamic terrorist Turks – Turks who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of ISIL violence.

This may partially explain why people are predisposed to believe only the figures that reinforce their preexisting views and beliefs – much like religious argument!

It has not gone unnoticed that some of the poster campaigns and political assertions would not have been out of place in the 1930s Nazi Germany.

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

Bigger Lies more likely to be believed

A “big lie” or famously the große Lüge was a Nazi propaganda tool first put forward by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925) suggesting that if a lie were so “colossal” nobody would believe that someone would have the “impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”  — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X (tr. James Murphy)

Goebbels took the theory further, and even cited the English in his development of it!

“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” – Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (“From Churchill’s Lie Factory”), Die Zeit ohne Beispiel, 12 January 1941

When even opposite minds agree

It should either be seen as really worrying or oddly reassuring that the leaders of all the parties except UKIP and other further far Right political entities are in agreement that we should not leave. For Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron to agree is a sign of institutional panic, and Corbyn is normally anti-institution. The dilemma is that people see Vote Leave as, as much a vote against the EU as against Politicians of all hues. Cameron is seen as dodgy Dave but Farage as normal Nigel, the honest speaking man of the people. It’s not just the Sun readers who believe its barely researched economic claims that Brexit fears are “nonsense” but also the entrenched traditionalist views of 75% of the Daily Telegraph readership.

The EU Referendum is not about those who have already made up their minds, but those who have yet to decide, for they will determine the UK’s fate on Thursday. Whether they will listen to 9 out of 10 economists, Richard Branson, and David Beckham, in favour of Remain or the 1 out of 10 economists, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage, we will see then.

More EU Referendum fact checking sites

BBC Reality Check & Live updates
BBC EU Referendum key claims round-up
Channel 4 Fact Check
Full Fact, independent fact checking charity
Katy Jon analysis

Kristallnacht – European Xenophobia still a risk 77 years on

Kristallnacht Anniversary, Europe remembers

Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples, New York Times, Nov 11 1938
Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples, New York Times, Nov 11 1938

Tonight (9 Nov), around 10:30pm, begins the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of crystal/broken glass”. People have termed the current “migrant crisis” the worst in Europe since the Holocaust. Hungary and other countries are reacting to the influx of mostly Syrian and Afghan refugees. How will Europe integrate and accept them all? Will far-Right groups grow stronger in response? 1930s Nazi Germany emerging from a background of economic austerity saw blame and scapegoating of Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies and more besides. Kristallnacht is a demonstration of orchestrated violence by a people that a decade before had been one of the most forward thinking nations on Earth, who had allowed Berlin to become a popular city of jazz and queer expression, a place where Jews were once proud to be German.

A British diplomat in Germany, Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, at the time, wired home a prophetic warning the year before the outbreak of World War 2:

“I can find no words strong enough in condemnation of the disgusting treatment of so many innocent people, and the civilized world is faced with the appalling sight of 500,000 people about to rot away in starvation.”

This underestimate might have been an upper limit had nations reacted differently and earlier to Hitler’s atrocities. How we react to the modern European refugee crisis is the moral barometer of our generation. Germany is of course now leading the nations of Europe in taking in asylum seekers.

Nazi Mob Rule

Back in 1938, however, Germany witnessed an “orgy of destruction” as the then Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hugh Greene, wrote of what transpired in Berlin that night:

“Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the ‘fun’.” – Hugh Carleton Greene, Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1938

The downward rush to mob mentality was not universal and many were deeply ashamed of the pogrom, and some tried to help. The son of a US consular official heard the janitor of his apartment block cry:

“They must have emptied the insane asylums and penitentiaries to find people who’d do things like that!”

Sadly, the majority were quite sane. Inured by scapegoating hatred to a point of passive and then active involvement.

Kristallnacht destruction of Jewish property

Diplomat Shot - Nazis Aroused, The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1938
Diplomat Shot – Nazis Aroused, The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1938

Although it was the killing of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew in Paris that sparked the raids and riots on Jewish interests, that was just an excuse that the various Nazi factions had been waiting for.

All across Austria and Germany thousands of shops, businesses, and half of all synagogues were torched and trashed. Around a 100 people were killed. Jews were arrested, 30,000 shipped to concentration camps, and even blamed and fined for setting it off, being charged a billion Reichsmark (circa £250 million then) for “property damaged in the rioting.”

The sacrilege of the attack, including the destruction of 18 of Vienna’s 21 synagogues and nearly all the 200 or so in Germany, meant that it was an all out assault on not only the commercial but also the spiritual lives of Jews. Their national identity as Germans had already been stripped in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws when their German citizenship had been removed.

Anti-Semitism and European History

Kristallnacht synagogue desctructionThis level of anti-Semitism had not been seen since 12th-13th century UK and Europe when the blood libel allegations first triggered anti-Jewish violence, theft, murder and expulsion – mostly initiated in Norwich, England.

A less well-known massacre of about 100,000 Jews took place in 1648-49, in the Ukraine, when Cossacks rose up against the Jews blaming them for their Polish oppression.

A 2008 study on current anti-Semitic feeling in Europe, published in 2011, concluded that:

“The significantly strongest agreement with anti-Semitic prejudices is found in Poland and Hungary. In Portugal, followed closely by Germany, anti-Semitism is significantly more prominent than in the other western European countries. In Italy and France, anti-Semitic attitudes as a whole are less widespread than the European average, while the extent of anti-Semitism is least in Great Britain and the Netherlands”.

In all the countries studied apart from Italy, a majority answered that “Jews enrich our culture”. In Germany, nearly 70% said so, about the same as in Britain.

But nearly half of German respondents said that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. That’s compared to 22% for Britain, 32% for France, 40% for Italy, 68% for Hungary and 72% for Poland.

A separate study published by the German parliament in 2012 concluded that 20% of Germans held at least “latent anti-Semitism” – some sort of quiet, unspoken antipathy towards Jews.

History Repeats Itself as we do not learn

Sadly, as Churchill said, “history does nothing but repeat itself” and never learns from it. Similarly, as Santayana never said (he actually said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”), we are condemned to repeat it unless we teach and learn, and so tonight we remember. Something Judaism is good at doing.

Whilst the socio-political and economic ingredients may have similarities with the 1930s we now have the EU, instant media, stronger safeguards, and hopefully memory – bad memories at that, to remind us never to go there again. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said “Memory is more significant than history” in an article in 2012 about the need for leaders to be great teachers.

Back in 2003, Sacks had delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge on “Power and Responsibility”, in the subsequent discussion he drew attention to:

“the distinction between memory and history is crucial to Judaism. Three-quarters of the Hebrew bible is historical. Jews were, in Baruch Halpern’s phrase, “the first historians”. They were as J.H. Plum says in The Death of the Past the first people to see meaning in history, history as a narrative. Yet it’s very interesting to ask what the biblical word for history is and there isn’t one. When Hebrew was revived for the modern state of Israel and they wanted a word for history, they came up with historic, they chose the Greek word. Instead the bible uses a quite different word which appears 169 times, zachor: remember. There is a difference between history and memory; to be very crude, history is his story – it happened some time else to someone else. Memory is my story.”

Shifts in Society grow slowly at first then explode

It is sobering to note that 10 years before Kristallnacht the Nazi NSDAP gained just 2.6% of the vote in the 1928 German Reichstag elections, 2 years later that was 18% and after 2 further years the Nazis were the largest party and Hitler had 37% of the vote in the Presidential election. By 1933 Hitler was in coalition with Hindenburg’s DNVP and it took just months to suspend civil liberties in the name of protecting the people, ban trade unions – who were heavily “associated” with Communism, open Dachau – at first for just political prisoners, and on April 1 to initiate a one-day boycott of Jewish shops and businesses. Within less than 6 months Hitler banned all democratic opposition and declared the Nazis “the only political party in Germany.” By 1934, in just 18 months, Hitler’s coup received 90% support in a public plebiscite.

It took only six-and-a-half years for Hitler’s support to rise 40-fold from a small far right protest group to absolute dictatorial control. One would hope that it should be impossible now? Yet far-right groups have grown in influence again, as in 1930s Germany, on the back of high unemployment, austerity and spreading fear about difference, security and xenophobia.

A 2013 Guardian article, argued that we do not need to fear a European lurch to the far-Right whilst a 2014 article elsewhere and on Al Jazeera said the opposite after the far-Right did gain significant seats. The Guardian had played down any extremist showings of 7-21% in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Greece, among far-right parties and then enumerates the more limited 1-5% polled elsewhere. Quoting another report the writer dismissed “the far right [being] on course to gain 34 to 50 seats in the European Parliament, which is roughly 4% to 7% of the total”. In fact, the National Front is leading the pre-European election polls in France with 24%, a four-fold increase in just 4 years. UKIP has made not insignificant gains in the UK polls and potentially in the European elections.

Left Foot Forward (LFF) quotes Le Nouvel Observateur columnist Jean-Gabriel Fredet’s comment that, “Fear of immigration, crises of identity and recession combined have created a climate propitious to ultranationalist, anti-European ideology”. LFF comments: “Ironically, France’s [Front Nationale] FN has grown in popularity as the party has combined  anti-immigrant sentiment with the sort of anti-globalisation, anti-market rhetoric that is usually the preserve of the left. This explains why the French Socialist Party is losing just as many voters to Len Pen as the centre-right UMP.”

Far-Left parties, for example the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, Syriza in Greece and in Germany, Die Linke, are also making gains at the expense of centrist parties of all flavours.

End Scapegoating of Migrants, Jews, Muslims…

Hermann Göring met with other Nazi leaders barely days after Kristallnacht on 12 November to build on what had happened:

“I have received a letter written on the Führer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another… I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today’s meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy…”

We should be careful of any “economic” arguments that are made to “solve” the current migrant crisis, especially when immigrants actually make a positive net contribution to the economy by some measures, and in others are a zero-sum cost. The Guardian writes that “There’s plenty more space for humanity on this ‘tiny’ island.”

German Jews Pouring into this country, Daily Mail, 1938
German Jews Pouring into this country, Daily Mail, 1938

It comes as no surprise that the Daily Mail, in 1938 was complaining about the “German Jews Pouring into this country by the back door” and reporting a magistrate as saying how the law would be enforced “to the fullest” to eject them. Echoes of attitudes to the Calais migrant crisis?

Similarly, in December 1938, the Netherlands closed their borders to Jewish refugees arguing that it would cause economic pressures and would only “further fan the flames of anti-Semitism“. Despite SDAP pressure the then Dutch government opposed letting in more “undesirable” Jews to its “already densely overcrowded territory” as that would change the character of the Dutch “tribe”.

Party politics and economics aside, what we should be aware of from the lessons of history is the scapegoating of any minority, race, nation, diversity, disability etc., in the name of blame for current economic troubles. What we need is more immigration, greater integration and further interfaith understanding. Only then can we learn from each other and hopefully consign extremism, fear and terror to history.

[An older version of this article was published here in 2013 and on facebook.]