Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Left Wing Intellectuals: Really?

On Newsnight last night, the Daily Mail's Stephen Glover and a philosophy professor called Barry Smith were discussing Labour MP Barry Sheerman's statement that most of those who voted Remain in June's EU referendum "were the better educated people in our country".

They discussed the fact that a high proportion of Remainers were university educated students, and that among the 'intellectual' demographic a high proportion of them are left wing - by which I assume they mean economically left wing (they never said).

Both contributors spent their time analysing why so many students are left wing, whether they are being coerced or compelled by university lecturers, whether those lecturers suffered heavily from confirmation bias, and why young people begin as lefties but end up much further to the right when they have grown up, had some more life experience, become smarter and more worldly lived a few more years.

Yet both failed to arrive at the primary and most obvious reason why young people start as lefties and undergo a gradual metamorphosis into capitalists - it's because when they are young they have no capital, and do not feel the costs of the policies they support (they might feel differently if they understood why it is their older selves that will end up paying for socialist policies anyway, but we've covered that before).

Young people are generally more fancifully idealistic too, with less life experience; are more easily driven by social conformity than older people; and still at the stage when their economic awareness aptly comes under the maxim "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

Consequently, whether on average the young people in London and Bristol who voted Remain are better academically educated than the older people in Lincoln and Hull who voted Leave is neither here nor there - because both groups had obvious personal incentives for voting as they did, and turkeys are never going to have a very balanced view on the topic of Christmas.

Because both groups had numerous personal incentives for how they voted, it is fairly obvious that there will be good and bad reasons why young people voted Remain, and good and bad reasons why older people voted Leave. That's one good reason why on this occasion it doesn't really matter all that much whether Remainers "were the better educated people in our country" - because what makes them better educated academically is not primarily what is behind their reasons to vote to Remain.

If there were a statistic released today that said half of the doctors in the NHS never studied medicine, then it would matter, because studying medicine is a necessary requirement of being a doctor. Studying chemistry, biology and English literature (while all excellent subjects) has no real bearing on a person's understanding of the merits and demerits of being in the EU, so it's a largely unimportant statistic to bandy around.

The only really important consideration regarding how people voted in the EU referendum is the number of voters whose main personal interests in the result are to do with what's best for the UK as a whole, whether the EU is a net force for good or not, and more long term, what's best for the other nations of Europe and the rest of the world too.

Even if that proportion of the demographic that rigorously understands all this is in the tiny minority, it hardly matters at all. Good and reliable opinion is contingent on expertise not on consensus. In a room of 500 people where only 1% of them are particle physicists, if you're looking for advice on Fermi–Dirac statistics you will very likely learn more from the minority 5 than you will the other 495 people combined - and I fancy that something similar can be said about Brexit.

For further reading, my own contributions to the EU referendum debate can be found on the right hand side bar, most comprehensive is The EU Referendum: Remain or Leave? You Might Like To Ask The Question In Another Way

I also explained why I think One Day Remainers Will Be Relieved Brexiteers