Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A limbo instead of a second referendum?

I agree with Polly Toynbee that a second referendum would be as bad an idea as the first one in the UK. She raises the possibility of a permanent limbo that could result from revoking article 50. But there does not seem to be any certainty that article 50 can be revoked. Total confusion and uncertainty remains. For this sorry state, not only brexiters should be blamed, but all those in favour of deciding these matters through a referendum. These are the arguments of Toynbee: "One solution is a long, perhaps never-ending compromise. Andrew Adonis, whose House of Lords speech fired up the anti-Brexit peers, says lawyers are taking a case to the ECJ to declare that article 50 can be revoked. That’s the view of Lord Kerr, article 50’s author. The UK could revoke it just before the March 2019 deadline, as a temporary measure to delay exit, in transition time. Even David Davis agrees the need for transition time, as the fiendish complexity of everything finally dawns. There we will sit in the transit lounge, inside the European Free Trade Association alongside Norway, which has lived frozen in a state of perpetual transition ever since Norwegians voted against joining the EU in 1994. (...)
Indefinite limbo is no visionary battle cry, and will satisfy no one: Brexiteers will always be implacable. But it could turn out to be the least worst option, and so long as we are no better off outside the club, the EU might accept a messy compromise, saving us from calamity. We will obey rules over which we have no power, but all alternatives look worse. Elections will come and go, but at some future date Britain may vote for a government that advocates returning, humbled, to an EU that may itself look changed. Not inspiring, but avoiding Armageddon.
But never try another referendum. Haven’t we learned that lesson the hard way? A crude question divides a nation, driven by emotions not on the ballot paper, paralysing politics for years to come. If your confirmation bias draws your eyes only to stories that tell you the tide is turning, cast your eyes occasionally at how Murdoch, the Mail and the Telegraph still ply their venom. They would still be there, poisoning the air, in a second referendum."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Almost full agreement with The Economist

The Economist has just published an article where it develops almost the same arguments that I developed in my contribution to an on-line debate at the blog of the London School of Economics on June 26th. I don't make any claim of plagiarism, I just express my happiness that we have reached the same conclusions, because as I said in that contribution, "The Economist supported this idea (of a self-determination referendum) until they saw it implemented in Britain. Since then, they have backpedaled." Here is a brief comparison between the words of The Economist just yesterday and my words two weeks ago:
-The Economist (July 13th): "In a regional election in 2015, parties campaigning for independence won, but only just: the ruling coalition got 48% of the vote but 53% of the seats in the parliament."
-Real Progress Author (June 26th): "That is precisely what the leaders of the Catalan pro-independence government want to do using their control of the autonomous executive and their majority in the Catalan Parliament, which was produced via a non-proportional electoral law that gives their coalition more than half of the seats with less than half of the votes."
-The Economist (July 13th):"Mr Puigdemont invokes “the legitimate right to self-determination of a thousand-year-old nation”. National and international law is against him. (...) And the Council of Europe, which Mr Puigdemont consulted, said in June that any referendum must be carried out “in full compliance with the constitution”.
-Real Progress Author (June 26th): "a yes/no self-determination referendum could be the cause of great division among Catalan citizens or in other similarly diverse societies. That is why the Commission of the Council of Europe for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) recommends to hold them only under very strict conditions, including a strong legal framework and a neutral democratic authority. Illegal self-determination referendums in otherwise democratic societies are not at the frontier of best practices."
-The Economist (July 13th): "Opinion polls show that around 40-44% of Catalans support independence, depending on how the question is framed. That is not enough to make a revolution. The march to illegality is prompting strains in Barcelona."
-Real Progress Author (June 26th): "One year later, the UK seems to know what 52% of voters did not want on the day of the referendum (EU membership), but they still do not know what the public or their leaders want for their future. It seems that yes or no answers in entirely legal self-determination referendums are decidedly inefficient tools for determining the real will of the people. Now imagine something similar, but without a legal framework, without a census, and without a neutral electoral authority."
-The Economist (July 13th):  Mr Rajoy’s approach may be unimaginative, but it is effective. It is politically profitable for him in the rest of Spain, where many are fed up with what they see as Catalan whining. But it ignores Catalonia’s unhappiness with Spain’s current constitutional arrangements. Keeping the country together may require revisiting them.
-Real Progress Author (June 26th): "Spain needs a broad agreement for a federal reform that can be supported by people who strongly believe in it and by people that may find a common ground around it. Such a detailed agreement could then be voted on in a referendum."
My only disagreement with The Economist is in the title of their article. This title ("Playing Chicken...") suggests that there is a game of Chicken between the Spanish government and the Catalan government. I don't think so, given the lack of cohesion of the pro-independence movement and the lack of international support (also acknowledged by The Economist). It is too unbalanced. The game of Chicken is being played inside the secessionist movement, between a more pragmatic wing that sees that this is going nowhere and a fanatic wing that has been living in the fringes of reality for some time.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The link between globalization and populisms: Rodrik and Boeri

Dani Rodrik has published a working paper where he presents a summary of research about the link between globalization and the diversity of populist movements that have surged in different parts of the globe in the recent past. This economist argues that we should not be surprised by the backlash against hyper-globalization, because economics predicts that global economic integration has very significant distributive effects, that are naturally channelled through the political process, as it has happened in the past. Although these distributive effects could be mitigated by compensatory mechanisms, many times these are not put in place because of a political commitment problem: although politicians may promise that they would compensate the losers to have their acquiescence to liberalize, once they approve liberalization, they don't have ex post the incentives to carry through the promise. I agree about the distributive effects of globalization and I agree that compensation does not always happen (although some societies have gone quite far in that), but I am not sure that the political commitment problem is a very good explanation: why would voters do not learn from history? Then the article has a second part where he explains that populism can be right wing or left wing, and that although demand for redistribution is strong, the supply can be nativist or truly redistributive depending on the supply of narratives, and this in turn depends on objective characteristics of each community. For example, in Spain we don't have right-wing racist populism presumably because our immigrants are mostly Latin American, therefore more or less culturally like us. However, most populism in central and northern Europe (UK, France, ...) is right wing according to Rodrik. Here I think the correlations and causal links are more complex. France and the UK also have a strong populist left wing, and part of the populism in Spain is expressed through nationalist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country that have significant right-wing components. Tito Boeri in a book in Italian where he collects previous research work of his and others provides a more complex perspective on populism, but I am afraid that some conclusions are still exaggerated. For example, he shows a negative correlation between support for populist parties and belonging to associations. First, in a lot of this empirical work support for populism is measured only as voting for parties that are pre-tagged as populist (in Spain, only Podemos!), and second, it is not clear which type of associations are considered. There is work by historians suggesting that those regions with more associations and civic movements supported nazism more than others, not less. OK, nazism and populism are not the same, but it doesn't look like associations are a guarantee of a better deliberative democracy, as Boeri seems to suggest. In Catalonia, civic movements (whose leadership is not a random selection of cultural traits and income distribution) are being used by leaders of national-populism to promote their populist cause: direct democracy, hispano-phobia, etc. There is much work to be done before we know better about the links between globalization and politics.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cohesion, clarity, stability

In addition to  criteria such as transitivity, independence of irrelevant alternatives and neutrality that are desirable for voting rules according to Kenneth Arrow, one could think of other criteria that are especially applicable to sovereignty referendums such as the Brexit one. These criteria could be those of cohesion, clarity and stability.
Cohesion. A yes/no self-determination referendum can be a cause of great division in internally diverse societies. Taking the Quebec referendum of 1995, the Scottish referendum of 2014 and the Brexit of 2016 as examples, all produced a very close result: it seems that these referendums with two options tend to divide the electorate into two halves and produce very crisp and emotional campaigns. The winning option defines a model of society for which almost half of the population has explicitly voted against. In what situation this immense minority remains in terms of risk of discrimination and discomfort, should be a cause for concern.
Stability. Several observers have pointed out the risk of contagion or domino effect, both internal and external. Some might argue that this should not be a problem, since holding more referendums can only be even more democratic. However, it is difficult to find advocates of the secession of a territory that admit the right to become independent of important parts of this territory. The existence of waves of independence and referendum processes suggests that there are imitation effects, which can alert leaders of powerful powers on the international scene, even when some referendum might be desirable to address a serious problem of coexistence or human rights. Partitions and reunifications are not like playing with lego blocks, and have consequences for long term investments made by ordinary individuals and families (personal bonds, labour contracts, social security, homes, professional degrees…).
Clarity. Following the last referendum in Quebec in 1995, the Supreme Court of Canada asserted that it was necessary to take into account the principle that the options presented to the electorate should be clear and avoid confusion, and that the consequences of whatever is decided must be clear and what is decided must also be approved by a clear majority. The Clarity Act subsequently approved by Parliament applied these principles to the specific case of Canada. Note that there is some conflict between posing a clear question and presenting clearly the consequences of what is approved. Making a referendum with two or even three or more discrete options on something that is actually a continuum (the degree of sovereignty) and that does not depend only on the electoral body can induce a sense of "false clarity." There is a risk of "approving" something that is actually pending negotiation.
The solution is not simply to increase a number of seemingly simple options to three or more, because then the question still gives the false impression of simplicity (it would have been difficult to know exactly what devolution max  in Scotland meant without a detailed prior agreement).
By expanding the number of "reasonable criteria" we also increase the number of trade-offs that are typical of social choice. For example, it is difficult to achieve clarity without undermining cohesion. After all, a brief and dichotomous question is very clear, but it facilitates polarization in two opposing blocks, and if we look at the British case, it does not seem to have led to stability.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Alaska First

The Alaskan Independence Party is proud to be "the only Alaskan political party that is entirely composed of Alaskans, staffed by Alaskans and financed by Alaskans. We are not affiliated with any political party on a National level. We believe and hold a firm footing in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and following the Constitution of the United States and Alaska. We are a States' Rights party, as is reflected in the AIP Platform. We stand on a firm Constitutional foundation. The continual growth of membership of the Alaskan Independence Party has created one of the largest third parties in the United States. Join us as we lead Alaska to the Prosperity, Freedom and Liberty that Alaskans expect, deserve and should enjoy. We look forward to your membership!
There is a commonly held belief across Alaska, that the US Constitution has been set aside, and other than ourselves, there are no protections to the liberty and freedoms we are to have as our continued inheritance since the formation of the Union of the "several States". Our main "goal" is a legal vote and ballot." The party is in favor of minimal government and privatization and also in favor of gun rights and home schooling. Of course they want to hold a referendum: "It is the AIP's wish to get a true plebiscite according to international law, where only legal Alaskan citizens vote. The question on the ballot is in the language of the people. (Federal military and their dependents are not legal citizens and will not be allowed to vote in this plebiscite.)" This party is the main challenge to the US tradition against internal secession that has been preserved since the Civil War. Will the New York Times write an editorial supporting this referendum?

Friday, July 7, 2017

The language of the tribe

After Branko Milanovic linked to my blog post about his blog post criticizing Alesina and Spolaore, there was a comment on Twitter presumably about my post, saying "The Catalan bourgeoisie in my opinion is unionist and the independence movement is not lead by the bourgeoisie but by cross class alliance." As a matter of fact, I didn't say whether the bourgeoisie was pro-independence or not, I only made a claim about a group of neo-liberal pro-secession economists who I believe are very proud of being bourgeois. There is little doubt that the pro-secession movement is a cross class alliance. That is the whole point of nationalist movements especially in rich regions, to try to distract the working and popular classes from the class struggle. I'm not a marxist, but I still find some marxist concepts useful simplifications (like economic models). But the current drive, which started in 2012 with the Catalan center-right president Artur Mas changing from pro-autonomy to pro-independence, has been led by an important part of the Catalan bourgeoisie (namely, the party of Mr. Mas). In many ways, they have created a monster that now they don't know how to tame. According to Catalan government surveys, those supporting independence come disproportionately from mid and upper income groups. The reason is simple: the best predictor of pro-independence feelings is linguistic identity, and most people having Spanish as first language, although a majority of the population, are among the poorest. But there is complexity and exceptions. For example, I'm among an exceptional 10-20% of people who have Catalan as first language but do not support independence. What I mostly object about that comment is the use of the word "unionist." I don't know about the bourgeoisie, but I will never accept that those like me opposing independence are called "unionist." This was a term that was absent in Catalonia before 2012. It has been coined by the secessionist groups to insult those that oppose them to compare them with the very unpopular Northern Irish fundamentalists of Reverend Paisley. I am certainly not a unionist, I'm a federalist, which in many ways is the opposite of being a unionist. They claim that they want to expand their social base (understandably, since they don't have a majority), but I don't know how they are going to do that if they keep insulting the other (very diverse and heterogeneous) at least half of the voting population.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The thin line between patriotism and tyranny

I hope that at some point Tymothy Snyder's book "On Tyranny" becomes required reading material in all the schools of the world, including my daughter's. I went yesterday to buy it to my favourite book store in Barcelona, the one that has a greater variety of books in Catalan, Spanish and English (La Central, in C/ Mallorca). I was happy to find the English edition, although it surprised me that the Catalan edition came with a label with the endorsement of a nationalist journalist, Jordi Barbeta. This journalist became famous for supporting the change of gear of the moderate Catalan nationalists toward secessionism in 2012 as chief political editor of center-right newspaper La Vanguardia. When the paper decided to stop supporting secessionism some time later, they sent him to Washington as US correspondent, where he interviewed Timothy Snyder recently, with a questionnaire that avoided any parallelism between the strong criticism of nationalist populism in the book and what is happening in Catalonia, although some of the questions transpired some skepticism that warnings about fascism could apply to Donald Trump (the main example used in the book). But at least in my modest opinion, many of the sentences in the book (please buy it yourself and read it to check that I am not quoting out of context) resonate also in Western Europe's regions with secessionist movements:
"Be alive to the fatal notions of emergency and exception. Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary"
"You might one day be offered the opportunity to display symbols of loyalty. Make sure that such symbols include your fellow citizens rather than exclude them"
"In the politics of eternity, the seduction of a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures."
"A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best."
"A nationalist will say it can't happen here, which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it."
Perhaps Albert Einstein would disagree about the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, but the main point of the book, I believe, is the thin line between the manipulation of feelings toward your mother land (whichever you believe that is) and tyranny.
The New York Times (NYT) recently ran an editorial where it accepted one of the post-truths of Catalan secessionism: that we contribute 19% of Spanish public revenues to receive only 10% in expenditures. In fact, we receive 15% which is only 1% less than our population percentage. The Spanish ambassador and reputable economists have already replied to the newspaper. The NYT was right that the current situation in Catalonia has been aggravated by a right wing Spanish nationalist government that has also been exploiting nationalist feelings. But as Snyder says, post-truth is pre-fascism. Not only in the USA. Catalan, Spanish and other European citizens should ask themselves:  For whom the bells toll? They toll for you.

Working on the complexity of sovereign conflicts

Branko Milanovic has a very interesting post criticizing the excessive simplicity of views in what he calls civil conflicts, by which what he means are basically secessionist movements. In particular, he mentions the much quoted article by Alesina and Spolaore "On the number and size of nations." This article and related work were widely publicized and translated into Catalan some years ago by nationalist leaders in Catalonia. Their idea that the benefits of small independent nations increase and their costs decrease in a globalized economy is one of the cornerstones of the Wilson Group of neo-liberal pro-secession economists. My conjecture is that Alesina and Spolaore came up with their ideas in the heyday of the Northern League, when it was becoming mainstream in economic circles around Milan that sharing a state with Southern Italy was a drag on the potential of the "really productive Italians." That was before the Northern League lost its initial reputation by tainting its programs with racism and blatant populism. The ideas of Spolaore and Alesina, as well as those of Sala-i-Martín and other neo-liberal Catalan secessionists amount to a coherent way of solving Rodrik's trilemma, by choosing (among democracy, globalization and the nation-state) a world with an internationally integrated economy where small nation-states compete by lowering taxes and regulatory standards, of course making impossible to fulfill the will of the majority of expanding the welfare state and protecting the weak. It is the world that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK candidly described as a B Plan in case the negotiations for a reasonable Brexit failed. Milanovic points to a basic weakness in the analysis of Alesina and Spolaore, namely that similar societies do not have necessarily similar preferences, as the endless conflicts between very similar communities illustrate. There are other weaknesses in the analysis of the Italian authors, for example the fact that they do not consider other ways of organizing jurisdictions beyond the nation state, an error that Milanovic himself avoided in an old paper that he links in his post. And for example the fact that they asume that humans are organized in sets of lots of homogeneous communities that are heterogeneous among themselves but uniform inside. Anyone who is familar with the current social division in Catalonia (despite mixed marriages, etc.) would take issue with that. The old paper by Milanovic shows a much richer way of analyzing the complexity of these issues, explaining why there may be a trade-off between sovereignty (something that is not a discrete variable, but a continuous one) and income, which may explain why jurisdictions that want to secede, after a short while also want to become integrated in an even larger jurisdiction. It is the same paradox as secessionist Catalans willing to secede from the rest of Spain but willing to join a more integrated Europe (with a common currency and increasingly a common fiscal policy) where Spain is a key member. Perhaps it would be more productive for Catalan elites (including economists in the bourgeoisie) to work for a European Union where member states gradually lose their sovereignty and regions that are efficient, defeat corruption and contribute to solving collective problems (local and global ones) acquire more power.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The role of the status quo in a referendum

I wrote a contribution for an interesting debate in the blog of the London School of Economics about whether a Catalan unilateral self-determination referendum should go ahead. I argued that such unilateral illegal referendum would not fulfill the conditions of the specialized Commission of the Council of Europe in charge of these issues and I developed a comparison with the Brexit legal referendum and other referendums in history (some good, some bad). In the comments section, one participant took issue with my argument that a yes/no self-determination referendum would be divisive, saying that the status quo is also divisive. Unless division should be taken as irreversible, I don't understand the validity of this counter-argument. I believe we should try to find ways to recover unity and cooperation instead of celebrating division with more division. Under much harder circumstances, Northern Ireland came about with a method for resolving their conflict that broke the division. And in my view when the status quo takes place in a democratic society, it should be taken as a starting point. At least when we talk about the status quo we know what we are talking about. Those that voted to leave the EU in the UK one year ago now it seems that they did not know what they where talking about. Voters where comparing something certain and known, although not perfect (the status quo), with something uncertain and unknown (although many were made to believe that is was certain). In these cases, the neutrality between options should be revised, as argued by economists Dasgupta and Maskin in an academic paper. This is what they say in footnote 4 of page 950 of their article in the Journal of the European Economic Association: "Neutrality is hard to quarrel with in the setting of political elections. But if instead the "candidates" are, say, various amendments to a nation's constitution, then one might want to give special treatment to the status-quo -namely, to no change- and so ensure the constitutional change ocuurs only with overwhelming support," as it happened by the way with the Irish Good Friday Agreement, where the overwhelming support took place at the referendum (North and South of Ireland) and prior to it, with the involvement and the consensus of the Republic of Ireland, the UK, the EU and the USA. Some nationalist leaders and commentators elsewhere should learn from that.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Justice and democracy or a self-determination referendum

In the book “The Morning After” Canadian journalist Chantal Hébert explains what would have happened if the secessionists had won the Quebec referendum of 1995 by a small margin (in fact, they lost). The political chaos and uncertainty that she describes has actually taken place more than twenty years later with the Brexit referendum of 2016. One year later, the UK seems to know what 52% of the electorate did not want on the day of the referendum, but they do not know what they or their leaders want for their future. It seems that a yes or no totally legal self-determination referendum has not been a good tool to find the real will of the people. Now imagine something similar but without a legal framework, without a census, and without a neutral electoral authority. That is precisely what the leaders of the Catalan pro-independence government want to do using their control of the autonomous executive and their majority of the Catalan Parliament, favoured by a non-proportional electoral law that gives their coalition more than half of the seats with less than half of the votes. Amartya Sen, a scholar that has devoted his life to think about justice and democratic choice, in an interview with The Guardian reflecting on the Brexit referendum, spoke of the disadvantages of this kind of plebiscites. The idea of a yes/no self-determination referendum is superficially appealing. The Economist supported this idea until they saw it implemented in Britain. Since then, they have backpedaled. It is very easy to suggest it for others. The last self-determination referendums of states in the USA took place just before the American Civil War. Referendums have been promoted recently by leaders such as Erdogan, Orban, Wilders, Putin, the leaders of the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina including the mayor of Srevrenica (as we could see in a recent scaring BBC documentary in Newsnight) and by dictators in the past. The first thing Marine Le Pen wanted to do had she been elected President of France was to have a referendum on the EU. Referendums can also be used for a good cause, like in the approval of the Spanish Constitution in 1978, or the Irish Good Friday agreement of 1997. These two cases have in common a democratic consensus (the unity of democratic forces) and international support. A yes/no self-determination referendum can be a cause of great division among Catalan citizens or in other similarly diverse societies. That is why the Commission of the Council of Europe for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) recommends to hold them only under very strict conditions, including a strong legal framework and a neutral democratic authority. Illegal self-determination referendums in otherwise democratic societies are not in the frontier of best practices. Spain needs a broad agreement for a federal reform that can be supported by people who strongly believe in it and by people that may find a common ground around it. Such a detailed agreement could then be voted in a referendum. That could be as legitimate as other legal referendums, and in addition it would be less divisive, and it would fit much better with a European Union that makes progress towards more unity and integration, and that wants to build more bridges than walls between its citizens and communities.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Availability bias in politics

Six months ago, nobody expected Macron to be French president and Corbyn to be the new star of British politics. Now everybody seems to believe that they should be imitated, anywhere. Some even think that a synthesis between both of them is possible, like Will Hutton in The Guardian. It is a good example of the availability bias combined with hindsight bias. Is it possible to replicate Macron in another country? Is it possible to replicate Corbyn? I doubt that I had voted for any of them, at least in a first round or in a primary election. I can't think of any politician that resembles either of them in Spanish politics. Macron is a uniquely French figure that can be explained by a combination of luck, skill, trial and error, and evolution, similarly to Corbyn in England. Both of them have good things, which could be seen even when their success was deemed unlikely. Macron is a bold pro-European leader full of energy. Corbyn is an honest egalitarian politician. But their bad things are as equally visible today as they were six months ago. Macron is an elitist individual whose professional experience was among the olygarchic banks. Corbyn is an old-fashioned trotskist, who has been lucky to receive some lessons from Bernie Sanders, who looks centrist compared to the British labour leader. I will be happy if both of them do well, hopefully eliminating their bad sides. I would be especially happy if the combination of both of them reinvigorate the space between the center and the left in Europe. But I do not count on it. Most likely, politics in Europe will keep evolving, and if there is any jump it will be in some unexpected direction.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Social choice and secessionist referendums

Reading about social choice (the theory about voting rules and in general how to go from individual preferences to collective choices) teaches several lessons about the dangers of many secessionist referendums, like the Brexit referendum or the aspiration of Catalan and other nationalists in rich European regions to secede from their states. Social choice does not present many problems when there are only two options. There is not much scope for strategic voting, there is little risk of indeterminacy and irrelevant alternatives do not have any influence (there are none at that stage), and there is no difference between plurality and majority. But the manipulation comes in the reduction of complex phenomena to only two options. Once there are only two options, the battle for framing is over. The solution is not simply to increase a number of apparently simple options to three or more, because then the question keeps giving the false impression of simplicity (it would have been hard to know precisely what devolution max meant in Scotland). And then the usual procedure of plurality voting may deliver a winner that is hated by a majority (as opposed to the Borda count, which however is vulnerable to comparisons being dependent of irrelevant alternatives), and to strategic voting. The best option for sovereignty issues in advanced democracies is to reach a broad agreement for a yes/no question on a detailed proposal (like the Irish referendum on the Good Friday agreement). That is the appropriate framing in a democracy that wants to preserve tolerance and reasoned debate, leveraging the best practices in representative and deliberative democracy. A second lesson is precisely about the need for reasoned and informed discussion, something that was dramatically absent in divisive plebiscites such as the Quebec referenda of 1985 and 1990, or the Scottish referendum of 2014 or the Brexit one last year. Finally, as Amartya Sen reminds us in the final pages of the expanded edition of his book on Social Choice, the view of outsiders should be welcomed in any debate to avoid the excesses of parochialism. It is very difficult to know about social choice and agree with secessionist referendums or at least not to have some serious doubts. For the main conclusions of social choice are i) that the will of the people is ill defined and ii) that there are many possible voting rules in democracy, none of them being perfect.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pragmatic but hard behavioral policies

Raj Chetty has an Ely Lecture at the American Economic Association where he defends a pragmatic contribution of behavioral economics to public policy. The video of the lecture can be watched here. Chetty sees behavioral economics as contributing to design new policy tools, such as nudges or frames. But also as contributing to making new predictions about the impact of traditional policy tools, or as contributing to analyzing welfare effects when there is a difference between experienced utility (real individual welfare) and decision utility (the objective function used to make decisions). In the lecture he gives useful examples with retirement savings, cash transfer programs and moving decisions. A good complement of Chetty's lecture, in my view, is a recent article by Loewenstein and Chater, in the new journal Behavioural Public Policy, entitled "Putting Nudges in Perspective." These authors regret that behavioral economics has been reduced to many to be seen as a synonym of nudges. They claim that behavioral insights can be used to help in the deployment of hard policies that have their origins in traditional economics but that would crucially benefit from the help of emotions, narratives and the management of perceptions. They argue that humanity has three key challenges: climate change, inequalities and automation. In the three of them, behavioral insights can be of help, but not as a soft excuse to avoid hard interventions. Instead, behavioral insights should be a key aid to develop deep interventions that make change possible.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Orwell on nationalism and Einstein on patriotism

After Theresa May's own goal and anticipating chaos among Brexiteers (with the UKIP replaced in influence by the heirs of Rev. Paisley) in the UK and similar movements in other places, I thought it could be of interest to remind the reader about what two of the brightest minds of the past century had to say about patriotism and nationalism:
-Albert Einstein said that "He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action!"
 -George Orwell, in a long article said among other things that "By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
And, "Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal News Chronicle published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians. It is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell's soldiers slashing Irishwomen's faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities — in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna — believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Tory delusion

At least Mrs. Thatcher knew where she was going. The current generation of leaders of the Conservative Party lack any sense of direction. Hopefully tomorrow the British people will punish them in proportion. This is what an article in The New York Times just said:
"First there was the Brexit drama. Now comes the farce. Almost a year after a narrow majority of Britons voted to pull out of the European Union, British voters face a general election on Thursday that was as unwanted as it was unexpected.
One thing on which all people agree about Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May: She knows how to keep a secret. Even senior party colleagues were taken unawares by the timing of the snap June 8 election. Most still appear to be in the dark about what their campaign message is supposed to be. The prime minister’s mantra, “Strong and stable leadership,” was fine as far as it went. But to what larger purpose?
“Brexit means Brexit” also has a clean ring to it, but Mrs. May has had trouble spelling out what a post-European Britain would look like. There is a world of difference between an amicable divorce and a messy one.
A more honest slogan would be: “Making the best of a bad job.” But no one, not even the party of Winston Churchill, is in the business these days of selling blood, sweat and tears. Brexiteers propose instead recapturing the spirit of an earlier Elizabethan age, when plucky English buccaneers forged pathways to the New World. This is a delusion based on a fantasy of how the 21st-century world works..."

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Paris, federal capital of the Planet

After the deplorable speech of Donald Trump announcing that the USA would leave the Paris agreement on climate change, for the first time a world leader has addressed all the international public opinion in the current lingua franca (English) to say clearly that it is everyone's obligation to "Make the Planet great again." Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election under what his rival Marine Le Pen called a radical federalist pro-European platform. It seems that Macron does not have enough, and actually he has global federalist ambitions. He will not be alone, and he deserves the support of all those who beleive that the nation-state is obsolete and that we should make progress towards shared sovereignty. France's environmental minister said that his country will redouble his efforts on climate change: "Hulot was speaking hours after U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed his plan to pull the world's second biggest carbon emitter out of the deal on the basis that it was bad for the American economy and would weaken its sovereignty.
"It's not dead. On the contrary France itself, rather than reduce its ambitions, will revise them upwards and we will pull along in our wake a number of other states," Hulot said on Europe 1 radio. "France intends to maintain and reinforce its diplomatic leadership on this subject."
Hulot is a well-known French environmentalist who was pulled into the new government of President Emmanuel Macron as a minister when it was formed less than three weeks ago." Perhaps Trump's announcement will have the unintended effect of uniting more people than before against climate change, similarly to the effect that the Brexit referendum had on many Europeans, who are now more determined to secure a more integrated Union.

Friday, June 2, 2017

National sovereignty or federalist hope

Donald Trump used the word "sovereignty" three times in the deplorable speech he gave yesterday to justify his decision to leave the Paris agreement on climate change:
“There are serious legal and constitutional issues as well. Foreign leaders in Europe, Asia, and across the world should not have more to say with respect to the US economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives. Thus, our withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty. [Applause.]
“The risks grow as historically these agreements only tend to become more and more ambitious over time. In other words, the Paris framework is a starting point – as bad as it is – not an end point. And exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability. Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.
“As president, I have one obligation, and that obligation is to the American people. The Paris accord would undermine our economy, hamstring our workers, weaken our sovereignty, impose unacceptable legal risks, and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world. It is time to exit the Paris accord –[applause] – and time to pursue a new deal that protects the environment, our companies, our citizens, and our country."
Luckily, the president of the US is less sovereign than he thinks. Not only the European Union and the other powers of the world are not going to give up on fighting climate change, but sub-national powers and business leaders in the US are committed to respecting the Paris agreements to the best of their possibilities, as an article today in the New York Times reports. The world is evolving towards global federalism and national sovereignty is no longer what it used to be.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Nationalism kills: a global community does exist

Paul Krugman has posted a tuit where he expresses his embarrassment at some supporters of Trump who claim that a "global community" does not exist, but the world is an arena where nations compete. This is a notion common to all nationalists, for example Catalan otherwise neo-liberal nationalists who believe in the theory of competing small nations in a free trade world due to Alesina and Spolaore. The problem is that nations also compete to set (or eliminate) the rules of international trade, instead of cooperating to set them, which is achieved by basically giving up the monopoly of sovereignty. I find useful that Krugman has taken advantage of the opportunity to go back to an old idea of his: the criticism of the abuse of the word "competitiveness" in economics, by which some mean seeking advantage in a world of zero-sum competition between nations. As Trumpians try to kill the global agreements on climate change, it is a good time to remind everybody that nationalism and related philosophies kill. In the absence of global agreements and transnational cooperative action, climate change will intensify and human civilization as we know it today will disappear. As Krugman says in his old article on "competitiveness:"
"As for fear, it takes either a very courageous or very reckless economist to say publicly that a doctrine that many, perhaps most, of the world's opinion leaders have embraced is flatly wrong. The insult is all the greater when many of those men and women think that by using the rhetoric of competitiveness they are demonstrating their sophistication about economics. This article may influence people, but it will not make many friends.
Unfortunately, those economists who have hoped to appropriate the rhetoric of competitiveness for good economic policies have instead had their own credibility appropriated on behalf of bad ideas. And somebody has to point out when the emperor's intellectual wardrobe isn't all he thinks it is.
So let's start telling the truth: competitiveness is a meaningless word when applied to national economies. And the obsession with competitiveness is both wrong and dangerous."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Welcome to the real world -and to global organized crime in soccer

Former president of FC Barcelona Sandro Rosell is in jail. He was recently arrested as a result of judicial investigations about money laundering in the soccer industry. Some years ago, as part of his self-promotion to become the president of the club, he wrote a book entitled "Welcome to the real world," were presumably he told us about his personal experience after resigning from a previous position as vice-president. According to the officials dealing with the investigations, his experience in the real world in those years included very close contacts with organized crime in global soccer. As a former executive of Nike in Brazil, he had negotiated deals with the Brazilian soccer federation and became close of Mr. Teixeira, the historic president of Brazilian soccer, and also investigated in connection with the FBI probe on corruption in FIFA, soccer's international governing body. FC Barcelona has the legal structure of a charity, and its presidents are democratically elected by the members. However, since the club officials are personally liable for the debts of the entity, only members of wealthy families end up chairing the organization. Historically, this has meant that only individuals coming from the ranks of different branches of the Catalan upper bourgeoisie are presidents. That is why the profiles of the presidents have reflected the ups and downs of different sectors of this social class. In the XXth century many presidents came from the textile industry, then they were replaced at the end of the century by tycoons from construction and tourism, and with Laporta and Rosell they have been replaced by young well educated executives that try to find their way in the games played by global fortunes, be it in Uzbekistan (where Mr. Laporta made business) or in Brazil (the preferred source of contacts of Mr. Rosell). In this world, paying taxes or being transparent is a sign of weakness, apparently. The global unregulated nature of soccer facilitates corruption, and unfortunately Barça officials seem to have been an integral part of it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Independent regulators and the evolution of economic thought

Independent regulatory agencies first emerged in the USA in the Progressive Era, as a result of the replacement of litigation by regulation. Like other reforms in the same period, this one was meant to reduce the power of Robber Barons and achieve efficiency gains. The damages produced to the public interest by large corporations were too heavy to be left to litigation that was easy to capture by large interests. More or less at the same time, economic theory developed models of normative welfare economics, where benevolent planners were supposed to fix market imperfections, that is cases where markets are not guaranteed to deliver efficiency. An analogy to traditional welfare economics was the public interest theory of regulation. This traditional normative theory in economics in general was criticized by the public choice school of Buchanan, Tullock and Niskanen, under the reasonable argument that it was inconsistent to assume that market agents were selfish and instead planners had the interests of overall society in mind. The analogue of this theory in regulation was the capture theory of Stigler and other scholars of the Chicago School. The first criticisms of independent regulatory agencies were inspired at least in part by this school of thought. In the recent past, like in general economics, there is some consensus that neither the public interest theory nor the capture theory completely explain the facts, and that is why we have seen the development of the new economic theory of regulation (Laffont and Tirole and authors in the same tradition) and new institutional theories of regulation (Williamson and Spiller among others). But since departures from efficiency can hardly be explained only by information asymmetries or transaction costs, behavioral economics in general and in regulation in particular have contributed even more recently to explain phenomena that were difficult to capture only under the assumption that everybody is rational. And I will suggest in a presentation in Corsica this week  that it would be inconsistent to assume that only market agents, and not policy makers, are affected by bounded rationality.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Friends and politics

The president of the Spanish Second Republic (1931-1936) Manuel Azaña famously said that politicians should behave as if they had no friends. To Mr. Azaña, friends and politics were incompatible. The fact is, though, that politics is a very social experience. Those that are not willing to afford the luxury of being apolitical, share experiences with others through their life time. For some people, politics is a sporadic experience, perhaps an intermittent one, limited to voting when there are elections, and not even always. In the other extreme, there are professional career politicians who spend their adult lives in a professional public or political job (actually, in many of them). The attention is focused on many of them, for which their life is more complicated than lay citizens are prepared to accept. But in between the passive citizens and the career politicians, there are millions who are active in politics: members of political parties, activists in politicized organizations like unions or associations, journalists, and these days also just normal people with an account in Twitter, in Facebook or with a blog. What happens when you have shared experiences with people who have become your close friends from these experiences and all of a sudden you disagree on substantial issues? I remember that something like this happened to Stefan Zweig as he explains in "The World of Yesterday." Many of his friends who had shared with him a political and intellectual dialogue in a cosmopolitan Europe, suddenly became fascinated by nationalism in the first world war. I have to confess that something similar, at a much more modest scale, has happened to me. Friends with whom I shared many political experiences in my youth, with whom I campaigned in support of the left and the center-left and a federal and united Europe, suddenly have embraced nationalism, and in particular the campaign for the secession of Catalonia that has been ongoing since 2012. Has the same happened to people in the USA, the UK, and France, with other national-populisms? Some of my friends have attained positions of relevance in the media and have political jobs around the pro-secession majority that controls the Catalan government. Sometimes I feel anger. At other times, I feel a desire to respond to them with irony or sarcasm (I happen to know where they come from ideologically). Mostly, I feel personal pain and sadness. Can we still be friends? Political positions should not affect personal relationships in theory. But our friendship was born from politics. We were trained in values that I thought were common to us: fraternity, solidarity, internationalism. Is all that gone?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Politics after Piketty

At the library of IESE in Barcelona I found the newly released book "After Piketty. The Agenda for Economics and Inequality," edited by Heather Boushey, Bradford Delong and Marshall Steinbaum. It is a long book with contributions from many authors that discuss the relevance of the famous book written by Thomas Piketty, "Capital in the XXIst Century." I had time to get an idea of the content of the different contributions, and if I am not wrong there is only one that addresses somehow in depth the policy proposals of the book (contained in its last part), namely the creation of a global tax on capital in the long run, but a European version in the short run, accompanied by a democratization of the Euro-zone and the abandonment of the nation-state, at least on Europe, as the locus of the social contract. Only the chapter written by Elisabeth Jacobs addresses the political challenges to introduce such policy innovations. But she ends up suggesting something that seems to come from her narrow (though interesting) research agenda, namely the need to expand the political rights of the poor in the USA, and presumably other democracies. Her criticism that politics is everywhere and at the same time nowhere in Piketty's book is in my view correct. It is not clear what is the political mechanism that will make possible to overcome the political inequalitites that give rise to (or are complementary of) the current income inequalities. But I miss in Jacobs chapter, as in all other chapters (after a superficial look), an analysis of the comments made by Piketty about the nation-state and the need to make progress towards new forms of international federalism. Perhaps it is an inconvenient topic in some places (or perhaps I'm too obsessed by the issue), but one without which I am afraid that the Piketty agenda will make no progress.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

From engineers to gardeners

There is a nice video explaining that one of the desirable features of the XXIst century economist should be changing our frame of mind from that of an engineer to that of a gardener. In a social reality characterized by complexity, attempts to design reality as if you designed a bridge are doomed to fail. It has much more promise to behave like a gardener: just try things, plant seeds, and help those plants that look more promising. In evolutionary game theory, players do not choose strategies, but they are of one type or another by genetics or socialization. Types that are fitter expand and types that are less successful decline in the overall population. Sometimes in a long run equilibrium only one type survives, put polyarchic equilibria with a diversity of types are also possible. What is then the role of the free will and collective action? Individuals willing to have an influence on reality should also be gardeners: they should try new types, introduce mutations, set up new games. Similarly in politics. In democracy, there is little that one individual or even a group of individuals can do to change or improve things. There are many unintended consequences. But it makes sense to pay attention to new ways of doing things: some of them will fail, others will succeed. Long periods of stability will be followed but short periods of big change (these are called punctuated equilibria in the analysis of complex systems), but this does not mean that one individual can predict and much less shape a sudden change. The result of big changes when they happen can be influenced by small steps taken in periods of stability. These ideas could perhaps be adapted to the attempts of a changing (declining?) left to influence the direction of Europe in the next few years. Those organizations that will prevail and be more successful will be those that are fitter to achieve the objectives of the left, which are the same as ever: equality, justice, freedom, solidarity, welfare... Adaptation to the environment is a desirable characteristic for a plant that any gardener should take into account. And today's social environment has as key ingredients integrated economies, globabilization and technological change. Those that adapt better to this reality will be better at achieving those objectives. Being reactive and short-termist may fool some into believing that they shape events, but what matters and can make a (small) difference is planting seeds for the long run.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why it matters that it doesn't matter who will replace Luis Enrique

In the next few weeks FC Barcelona officials will announce who will replace Luis Enrique Martínez as manager (head coach) of the soccer team, after he said recently that he would step down next season. Should fans be worried about this announcement? In other words, does it matter who will replace Luis Enrique? The best experts in the economics of soccer say no. Economist Stefan Szymanski usually argues that the identity of the manager does not significantly affect the performance of teams. Teams change their managers over time, but each team stays more or less constant in the rankings, basically depending on resources and fan base. Changes around the mean can be attributed more to randomness than to managers. It is just that managers provide a convenient narrative. When a manager is fired after a streak of bad results, the performance in the subsequent games is not statistically different to the performance of teams that experience a similar bad streak but that do not fire the manager. Of course some managers are better than others, but the difference does not have a significant statistical impact. It is just that as soccer consumers we also consume celebrity managers and managerial narratives. Last summer the narrative in England was that the English Premier League would be a big fight between the two biggest celebrity managers of the time, Guardiola and Mourinho. We all know now just some games before the end of the season, that the greatest national league in Europe will be won by Antonio Conte's Chelsea, and that the second will most probably be Pochettino's Tottenham. These two managers have a lower profile than Pep and the special one, but their teams have done better. Perhaps Guardiola and Mourinho achieved the status of celebrity managers because one of them managed the best set of players in history in Barcelona, and the other had access to the largest pay check in history when Abramovich arrived at Chelsea. Manchester City and Manchester United will not finish the season very differently from where they finished last season under much less glamorous managers. That includes performance in all competitions, with ManU perhaps replacing a victory in the FA Cup with a victory in the Europa League (to be seen). Whoever replaces Luis Enrique will have access to broadly the same set of players, the same amount of resources and the same fan base. Most probably Barça will be one of the two teams contesting the Spanish league and one of the best six to eight teams in Europe, as it has happened in last 30 years or so. Does it matter that this does not matter? Yes it does, because it shows the fallacy of great men. No doubt Obama is better than Trump and Macron better than Trump and Le Pen and Hollande, but leaders are endogenous, they are produced by social processes rather than being the engineers of these.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Beneath the paving stones, Europe (but not Juncker)

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the German revolutionary that led the May 68 revolution in Paris and who became the leader of the Euopean greens some years later, was one of the supporters of the new pro-European French President, Emmanuel Macron. The European left will have to decide whether it chooses the direction of Cohn-Bendit, and Varoufakis, and many others, or the direction of the national-trostkists, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (a europhobic) and Jeremy Corbin (a eurosceptic). That is, we have to decide whether to choose Europe as the natural space of a new social contract, or we remain fatally embraced to the myth of the nation-state. Of course, many will be tempted to run away from Europe if we are once and again exposed to the unbearable lightness of the European Commision's president, Jean-Claude Juncker. Last week in Florence he made some stupid remarks about how the English language will lose importance in Europe. He made these remarks in an event I believe (beacuse I've been there before) co-organized by the European University Institute, a European institution that does all its academic work in English in the middle of Italy (I did my PhD there), thanks to which it manages to attract some of the best scholars trained in the best American universities. He made those stupid remarks just days before that France elected a president who probably speaks better English than the US president, Donald Trump, as a twit pointed out. If this is the attitude that will preside the Brexit negotiations, Juncker will not have the support of the millions of anglophiles that populate Europe (myself included), or of the millions of europhiles still present in the United Kingdom. The English language is an asset for all of us, it is our lingua franca and will continue to be if Europe is to say anything in a globalized world.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Patriotic solidarity is an oxymoron

In her debate with Emmanuel Macron, National Front French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen argued that without clear borders, solidarity was impossible and would be diluted. This unethical vision is linked to the idea that some human beings are more worthy of solidarity than others. This is the same notion behind any nationalist movement, and it is based on the premise that our people are more important (and better) than the rest of the world. But universal human values are totally in contradicion with the idea that some humans (especially those living in rich nations) have priority over others. Beyond this ethical argument, there is also a very practical argument against patriotic solidarity, and it is based on the fact that most of the problems of the people that deserve more solidarity in the rich countries cannot be solved in the context of a nation-state with closed borders. The increasing concentration of wealth at the international level, the existence of tax havens, the mobility of capital and tax competition, the social problems associated to refugees and climate change, all these are international or global problems can only be addressed at a transnational level. Le Pen, Trump and other xenophobic nationalists, and also those in the far left (like Mélenchon) that cannot make up their minds between proto-fascism and pro-European candidates, all these try to sell the idea that the forces of globalization can be stopped. I always ask this to my students, especially those to which I teach an introduction to economics in the degree of sociology: do you believe that globalization can be stopped? None of them believes so, and they are the kind of people that could do it perhaps (the kind of people -strong, young, probably radical and educated- who could perhaps stop globalization). No, globalization will not be stopped, at most perhaps it can be de-accelerated, but I am not even sure about this. If it cannot be stopped, it must be governed. Re-distributive, even pre-distributive policies, must be designed and implemented at a supranational level, and therefore political action must be more and more international. One of the unintended consequences of the Le Pen danger in France has been the activation of a European demos opposed to her and supportive of a better, united, democratic Europe. A pro-European left is a redundancy (the left cannot be anti-European), patriotic solidarity is an oxymoron.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nobel Prize winners against divisive xenophobic nationalism in France

Today, Paul Krugman has made clear what he thinks about Marine Le Pen in the New York Times. A few days ago, other winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics (including Jean Tirole, Angus Deaton and Joseph Stiglitz) published a letter in Le Monde saying this:
"Some of us, winners of the Nobel Prize for Economics, were cited by candidates in the French presidential election, notably by Marine Le Pen and his teams, to justify a political program on the question of Europe. The signatories of this letter have different positions on the complex issues of monetary union and stimulus policies. However, our opinions converge to condemn this instrumentalisation of economic thought in the framework of the French election campaign.
 - European integration is essential not only to maintain peace on the continent but also for the economic progress of member states and their political power in the world.
 - The evolutions proposed by the anti-European programs would destabilize France and would call into question cooperation between European countries, which today ensures economic and political stability in Europe.
 - Isolationist and protectionist policies and competitive devaluations, all at the expense of other countries, are dangerous means of trying to generate growth. They lead to reprisals and trade wars. In the end, they will prove detrimental to France and its trading partners. 
- When they are well integrated into the labor market, migrants can be an economic opportunity for the host country. Several of the most prosperous countries in the world have been able to welcome and integrate emigrants. 
- There is a big difference between choosing not to join the euro first and getting out after adopting it. 
- The commitments to social justice must be renewed, thus guaranteeing and developing equity and social protection, in accordance with France's traditional values ​​of freedom, equality and fraternity. But we can and must achieve this social protection without economic protectionism.
- While Europe and the world are facing unprecedented hardships, more solidarity is needed, no less. The problems are too serious to be entrusted to divisive politicians."

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

NP Galaxy

Scientists have discovered a new galaxy in the universe, it is called NP (the galaxy of the national-populists). When Jean Claude Juncker told Angela Merkel that Theresa May was living in another galaxy, he was partially disclosing this so far well preserved scientific discovery. The British Prime Minister is trying to sell to the British public that it is possible to keep all the things that are popular about an integrated economy, and eliminate quickly all those that are unpopular. She is just not saying that cutting the ties with Europe and running away is not only impossible and bad for the Brits, but also just illegal, for example, and that there is nowhere to run away to (except NP Galaxy). Yesterday Marine Le Pen in her debate with Emmanuel Macron showed a similar reluctance to face reality. She lives in a parallel world (NP Galaxy) where the relevant words are liberty, independence and sovereignty (familiar words in Catalonia, Scotland or Northern Italy), as if you could be free in the world of 2017 by invoking cutting your ties with the rest of the world, starting with your immediate neighbours, clients, partners, friends and relatives. Someone has said that yesterday's was the typical  debate of a referendum about globalization. It was not: it was a debate on two visions about how to face globalization. One vision (Le Pen's) is just to turn your back on it (and go to NP Galaxy). The other vision is to accept that it is a fact of reality that must be governed (Macron's) and embraced, and that offers lots of opportunities for everybody (starting with the French) if it is managed wisely, democratically and fairly. As Simon Kuper has argued in the Financial Times, national-populists promise detail-free revolutions (that is the freedom that characterizes NP Galaxy: the freedom from inconvenient details): they may live in another galaxy, but they should be stopped if they want the rest of us to "leap into the dark without maps or parachutes."