Why average statistics turbocharged Brexit


A broad theme appears to be emerging in this blog, which amounts to an attitude to the so-called ‘populism’ that has so undermined many of the political certainties of our age.

I put the word in inverted commas because what they actually mean is ‘rabble-rousers’. As Thomas Frank explained in the Guardian over the weekend, populism was originally a left-wing reform movement which swept the Midwest of the USA in the 1880s and 1890s (and incidentally gave us the Wizard of Oz). It may actually be part of the answer.

Radix has been leaning towards a different approach which, instead of blind panic and refusal to accept the electoral verdict (like the Italian president), we advocate a broad attempt to understand why so many voters hate the centre left – and why, in particular, all those Cornish Liberals backed Brexit.

Because, let’s face it – there is one economics habit, above all others, which has contributed to the reaction against conventional expertise. Averages.

Thanks partly to the boneheaded refusal of UK institutions to contemplate the existence of regional, city or local economies, official economists have been staring exclusively at the national statistics, apparently unaware that there might be any other way of doing it. Because when you average out the prosperity statistics across a relatively equal nation, then it may mean something – but across an increasingly unequal nation, it becomes increasingly meaningless. One Abramovitch skews the whole thing.

The result has been an inevitable mismatch between what people’s lives have been like in, say, Hartlepool or Ipswich, and the economic experts who tell them with confidence that actually their lives must be improving because the national statistics say so.

It is no small step forward that the Bank of England is going to collect and publish regional and local statistics as well. But don’t let’s undermine the cynicism that this mismatch has caused – between the experts and their statistics and people’s lived experience.

It has certainly contributed to the sense that the so-called experts don’t understand, and are not on our side. Nor is it in the least bit surprising.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Peter Arnold says

    I’ve always believed that the “experts” are divorced from reality. In my time as a councillor, whenever a conflict arose between the “experts” and ordinary folk over local issues, nine times out of ten the ordinary folks were proved right about the impact of centralised decision-making, whereas the “experts” were right only once out of ten. And the reason for this? Simple. Ordinary folks used their local knowledge, experience, and common-sense, and the “experts”didn’t. The “experts” relied on the letter of the law, whereas the ordinary folk relied on its intention. What was the law or regulation trying to achieve? What was its purpose? Answering these questions usually led to the most effective solution to a problem. The strict adherence to the letter of the law rarely did. It is a step in the right direction if national statistics are now going to be collected at local and regional levels as well as at national and international levels, but it doesn’t deal with the core issue, which is that London doesn’t know what my problems are, because no body ever asks me, therefore London will always come up with the wrong solutions because its information gathering is faulty. I know what my problems are, and I know what will help me to solve them. London and “experts’ never can.

    • Stephen Gwynne says

      If there was a need for a “non-expert” definition of populism then you have just created one.

      The tarring of local concerns with local solutions by the social commentariat as left or right wing populism is not populism, it is anti-populism. Therefore the gulf between locals/populists and experts/elites is entirely political and in reality takes the form of populism versus anti-populism and is more about the experts protecting their jobs and the experts protecting their privilege than it is about good and effective governance.

      Of course this problem with self-interested tax payer funded elites is not new, its just that democracy helps to curb their excesses. Therefore the left or right label is solely dependent on the most effective means by which experts/elites can subvert the democratic power of locals/populists.

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