Programming note: This evening I'll be checking in with Tucker Carlson, coast to coast at 8pm Eastern - with a rerun for West Coasters at 9pm Pacific. If you're in the presence of the receiving apparatus, I hope you'll dial us up.
~Twelve years ago, Bryan Caplan, economics professor at George Mason University, read America Alone and proposed a wager:
If any current EU member with a population over 10 million people in 2007 officially withdraws from the EU before January 1, 2020, I will pay you $100. Otherwise, you owe me $100.
Throwing caution and my children's college fees to the wind, I've recklessly taken this guy's bet.
Eight years later, on June 23rd 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum: Residents of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Gibraltar who were citizens of the UK or any other Commonwealth country were asked whether they wished the nation to "leave the European Union" or "remain a member of the European Union". At 10pm the insufferable BBC results coverage began and, never mind the smirky Beeb types, within the first few minutes up popped my old chum Nigel Farage to hint that we may have come up a bit short. So, as I had an early flight to Dublin, I thought I'd turn in for the night.
In consequence, I woke up rather early and switched on the telly just before 5am in time to see an ashen-faced David Dimbleby announce that UK electors had voted to overturn the central policy objective of post-war British foreign policy and the bipartisan consensus at Westminster for a third of a century - and leave the EU.
He did not look happy about it. But, on the ride to Heathrow, my cabbie was in celebratory mood and jeered "Good riddance!" at the radio as David Cameron emerged from Number Ten to announce his resignation. I don't usually start drinking till, oh, ten in the morning, but on the shuttle to Dublin the delightful barristerial colleen in the adjoining seat struck up conversation with a giggly "Isn't it marvelous news?", and we shared a bottle of champers. May have been a magnum.
And at some point in the course of the day someone back in New Hampshire at Steyn Global HQ remembered Mr Caplan's bet and permitted SteynOnline a small gloat:
On this historic day when for the first time a 'current EU member' has voted to leave, 'winning Mark Steyn's money' appears to be trickier than the experts think.
The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Mr Cameron's successor promised to honor that pledge. On March 29th 2017 Her Majesty's Government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, under which provision its membership would cease on March 29th 2019. March 29th 2019 came and went. So did April 12th 2019. So did Theresa May. Mr Cameron's successor's successor announced he would rather "die in a ditch" than remain in the EU beyond October 31st. But October 31st likewise came and went.
So here we are on January 1st 2020. Bryan Caplan has now announced:
Since the UK remains in the EU today, it has clearly not officially withdrawn yet. End of story.
He is quite right. As of today, the United Kingdom is a (non-participatory) member of the EU. It will supposedly "officially withdraw" from the EU on January 31st - although, after the last three-and-a-half years, one would be unwise to discount yet another desperate rearguard action from the obstructionists . (El stinko floppo loser Corbyn has, I see, tabled a motion to delay Brexit until the summer of 2022. Why not 2122?)
After the invocation of Article 50, I chanced to be on Stuart Varney's Fox Business show and, contemplating my C-note, I sang, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas". Instead, Professor Caplan has cleaned me out. On the next Heathrow-Dublin shuttle I shall eschew the bubbly. I have contacted him to arrange delivery of the hundred dollars he won fair and square.
Mr Caplan won in a larger sense, too. As he puts it:
Yes, I did foresee that any attempt to leave the EU would be subject to a long series of obstacles, each of which could delay or even derail the exit process.
These "obstacles" were entirely of the Remoaners' making. Britain, over the last century-and-a-half, has written more constitutions of more countries than anybody on the planet. About fifteen years ago, in the wake of the new Iraqi constitution, I received an email from a retired Colonial Office civil servant in Wales beginning with the enviable line, "Having written the constitutions of three sovereign states, I would like to comment on..." Britain has also created and/or dissolved more federations than anybody else in history, all over the map from the West Indies Federation to the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Landmark legislation like the 1935 Government of India Act, the longest bill in the history of Westminster for the next two-thirds of a century (although obviously little more than a note to the milkman by comparison with Obamacare et al), was enacted in nothing flat. Even the United Kingdom's partition of its own territory with the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, and the dissolution of economic, political and military ties going back a millennium, was swiftly and decisively accomplished.
Yet, when it came to recovering its own sovereignty, this uniquely nimble and inventive Midwife of Nations stood paralyzed. Not through necessity - by comparison with the above, withdrawal from the EU was simple, and could have been accomplished by December 31st 2016 - but because Mrs May (a deeply dishonest political leader), Mr Bercow (an actively obstructionist Speaker), Baroness Hale (a revoltingly interventionist judge), and Mrs Miller (on behalf of the Remainer business class) actively subverted the will of the electorate. Convinced that the frustrations of each missed deadline would wear down the citizenry, they demanded a "People's Vote" - to repudiate the last vote, which was presumably by non-people or (more to the point) Not Our Kind Of People. To paraphrase Barbra Streisand, people who need People's Votes are the unluckiest people in the world: After last month's election the Remoaners have fallen silent on that.
By comparison with Mr Caplan, I was naïve. I assumed the bet was about the disposition of the polity. It was not inconceivable in 2008 to imagine the UK or indeed other EU member states voting to leave the Union - if they were given the opportunity. Of course, precisely for that reason, no one wanted to give them that opportunity: in the 2016 election, every party other than Farage's was in favor of the EU; you could be a Tory, a socialist, a Scots nationalist, an Irish republican - and you were represented in Parliament by a Remain party. It's like illegal immigration in the US, where pre-Trump the electorate had a choice between a de facto open-borders party and a Chamber of Commerce "comprehensive immigration reform" party, both of which lead to the exact same destination. In self-governing societies, such a gulf becomes untenable. My view was that, by 2020, popular antipathy to the EU would find political expression.
Mr Caplan was savvier. He'd already galloped on to the next phase: So what if it did? He correctly saw that the PermaState would subject the will of the people to, as he puts it, "a long series of obstacles". In that sense, his bet of 2008 anticipated the defining feature of what's shaping up to be the Post-Democratic Age: as I put it to Tucker a while back re Trump, the elites are revolting against the masses. You can vote outside the acceptable parameters, but you'll just be walled up in the Hotel Brexifornia: You can check "Out" any time you like, but you can never leave.
Bryan Caplan is homo economicus, so he would probably prefer to characterize the above as the superior understanding of rational experts that the modern world is too complex and interconnected for anything so crude as the yes/no up/down votes of the masses. I don't myself think that the world is particularly more complex than it was when Westminster presumed to introduce responsible government to Nova Scotia or India, or dissolve its Central African federation, or partition the United Kingdom itself. What's changed, certainly by comparison with the chippy nationalism of the post-colonial era, is the rise of a globalist class ever more contemptuous of dissenting views.
How long can this go on? M Macron governs France thanks to a few densely populated urban centers. In last year's Euro-election, Marine Le Pen's anti-EU party won not just a narrow victory in the popular vote, but twice as many départements as Macron did. Geographically speaking, Marine Le Pen won the country while Macron held the cities. The situation is somewhat analogous to the 1919 election in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, except that, unlike the Southern Irish, the North-Eastern French will not get to do anything about it: Since 2016, the priority for the Eurocrats has been to ensure that Brexit fails - pour décourager les autres.
This tension - between mass opinion and elites that decline to recognize it - is the central feature of political discourse in Brexit Britain, Trump's America, France's fraying Fifth Republic, and much of the Continent. It was easy to foresee that Britons would vote to leave the EU. It was far sharper of Bryan Caplan to anticipate in 2008 the PermaState's reaction to that vote. I congratulate him on winning his bet, waged on the great fault-line of our times.
~We had a busy weekend at SteynOnline, starting with Mark's Friday column on the contrasting fates of General Soleimani and the one that got away. Kathy Shaidle's Saturday movie date was Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow, and our annual Twelfth Night music special rounded up some great live performances from various Steyn shows over the years - from rock to jazz, folk to Broadway. If you were still sleeping off the excesses of Hogmanay this weekend, we hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week commences.
Post-Brexit, we'd love to see many of our UK and European readers on next year's Third Annual Mark Steyn Cruise, sailing the Mediterranean with Conrad Black and Douglas Murray among our shipmates. If it's necessary, we'll install a backstop down the middle of the ship. But, as with most travel and accommodations, the price and the choices are more favorable the earlier you book. If you have any queries, do call or email Cindy, our super-helpful cruise manager: If you're dialing from almost anywhere but Australia (ie, the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America), it's 001 (770) 952-1959; if you're calling from North America, it's 1-800-707-1634. Or you can put it in writing here.)
If you've been thinking of joining The Mark Steyn Club, we'd be delighted to have you. It also makes a great gift.
Mark will see you on the telly with Tucker.
Comment on this item (members only)
Viewing and submission of reader comments is restricted to Mark Steyn Club members only. If you are not yet a member, please click here to join. If you are already a member, please log in here: