When the economics profession as we know it today first came into being in the 18th century through early pioneers like Smith, Malthus and Ricardo it was all about trying to understand the world through the a priori method of pure reason. It is using this approach that the economics profession is at its best. Early classical economists made major breakthroughs in the way we understand the world and how humans interact with each other through deductive logic. And again in recent years it is through the a priori method that economists continue to make breakthroughs, most notably in recent times in the field of behavioural economics through the work of the geniuses Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.
What we have also seen in the past few years are the areas where the profession has made false turns. Most notably in forecasting the future.
Economists are not gods. The majority of people instinctively know this which is why, when the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney published his list of Brexit scenarios with all of them showing the U.K worse off compared with remaining in the European Union, most of us dismissed them as nonsense.
It should go without saying that the future is always uncertain. Just look at where the world was fifteen years ago. Prime Minister Tony Blair had just taken us into war in Iraq. Neither Facebook nor Twitter nor Uber existed. It would be another four years before the first iPhone was released. The Arab spring was yet to occur. There was no war in Syria and thus no subsequent refugee crisis into Europe. The great recession had yet to happen. And most importantly with regards to the current debate, the Lisbon treaty had yet to be ratified, with its egregious transferring of more power away from Europe’s national governments towards the European Union.
It seems logical then that when we attempt to forecast the future we should do so with utmost humility. When politicians, economists, Europhiles, and other vested interests say with certainty that leaving the European Union will leave Britain worse off economically they are speaking with a level of hubris which would have the great ancient Greek philosophers turning in their graves. What Carney and his ilk are really doing is making an appeal for authority; they are telling us that they know better than Brexiteers and that we should do what we are told or else there will be “consequences”. Attempting to scare us into submission using futures that do not exist is a level charlatanry that takes a certain kind of arrogance; we must stand firm and not allow the elites to get away with it.
I do not know where Britain will be fifteen years from now. In response to this never ending projection of fear, I would encourage everyone to take account of our history. The United Kingdom has existed as a successful nation for centuries before the European Union came into being; does anyone seriously believe that this nation – the nation of William Shakespeare, John Locke, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Charles Dickens, David Hume, Winston Churchill; the nation that defeated the Corsican ogre; the nation that defeated fascism; the nation that gave the world the idea of individual liberty and free trade – cannot exist successfully again as an independent self-governing democracy?
And surely if the answer to this is ‘no’ then we have nothing to fear, and we can walk away from the EU on WTO terms. Our future will be in our hands. And it’s a future that is bright.
Idreece Khan is a data scientist working in London. Follow him on twitter: @IdreeceKhan