Why Brexit Won

originofwealthEric Beinhocker is the author of the excellent book The Origin of Wealth, which greatly influences our thinking here at Civic Ventures. It dismantles our concept of economics and then reassembles it with a better understanding of human behavior. When you abandon the weirdly idealized economic thinking that argues the market is a kind of conscious organism which decides the best outcomes, you start to realize that a lot of our assumptions are completely wrong. Beinhocker basically explodes the idea of trickle-down economics that has dominated thinking in the field for decades. I highly recommend the book; it literally changes the way you think about markets and money and jobs and society.

Basically, all this is a long way of saying that when Beinhocker talks, we listen. So his new essay for the Atlantic, “The Psychology of Voting to Leave the EU,” deserves highest priority in your to-be-read queue. Beinhocker explains, using economics and behavioral research, why British voters went for the Brexit, a decision that flew in the face of their own self-interest.

“Humans are wired for reciprocal cooperation,” Beinhocker writes.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine, etc. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in small groups, for whom cooperation was essential for survival. A key step in human development was when people expanded this circle of cooperation from close kin to strangers through trade, customs, religions, alliances in warfare, and eventually through laws and institutions. Modern society is a vast intricate web of cooperation.

“But cooperation also creates the potential for cheaters,” he continues. “Humans are thus also wired to be altruistic punishers—not altruistic in a nice sense, but altruistic in the sense that they will punish people, even to their own harm, to enforce fairness.”

Beinhocker’s thesis explains why people often say one thing and then vote against their previously stated beliefs, and it also establishes why American voters might possibly vote for Trump. Please go read the whole thing.

Daily Clips: June 30, 2016

NATE SILVER HAS SPOKEN: The good news is that Hillary Clinton has an 80 percent chance of winning the presidency in the new Five Thirty Eight model. The bad news is that means Donald Trump has a 20 percent chance of winning the presidency. That’s one in five, people!

TODAY’S MUST-READ REPORT: Nell Abernathy, Mike Konczal, and Kathryn Milani have written a report for the Roosevelt Institute titled Untamed: How to Check Corporate, Financial, and Monopoly Power, which presents “a specific set of solutions to curb rising economic inequality and spur productive growth. We start from the assumption that inequality is not inevitable: It is a choice, and, contrary to many opinions on both the left and the right, we can choose differently without sacrificing economic efficiency.”

WHICH REPUBLICANS HAVE GONE ALL-IN FOR TRUMP? The Atlantic’s David A. Graham has built a handy chart identifying the Yeas, Nays, Abstentions, and Undecideds. This is vitally important; those Republicans who do endorse Trump should be forced to wear that endorsement for the rest of their political lives.


Go Read #SeaHomeless


Today, media in Seattle and San Francisco are focusing on homeless issues. Homeless populations in both cities are growing at a rapid clip, and there are so many complicated reasons why this is the case—the skyrocketing cost of housing, a lack of public assistance for the poor, very little mental health care coverage, etc.

In an ideal world, newspapers would have dedicated homeless issues reporters. Instead, we have an ever-shrinking array of city beat reporters who are stretched too thin to adequately cover all the stories out on the streets. But they’re trying, and today is a day for them to share the coverage that they’ve given the topic, as well as to debut new stories.

You’ll find the Seattle portion of the coverage on Twitter under the hashtag #SeaHomeless. Some highlights so far:

There is so much more for you to read, and there will be updates all day long on Twitter and in social media. Go be a part of the conversation, or perhaps most importantly you should go be a witness. Your reading these stories is so important; it reminds editors and publishers that Seattle cares about homelessness, and wants our media to keep covering the issue.

Daily Clips: June 29, 2016

CRISIS AVERTED FOR PUERTO RICO? Russell Berman at The Atlantic writes:

Puerto Rico appears likely to be able to stave off a default on $2 billion in bond payments due Friday after the U.S. Senate advanced legislation allowing the island territory to restructure its debt.

An unusual, bipartisan coalition of senators pushed the PROMESA Act past the needed 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster, allowing for a final vote on the measure in advance of the July 1 deadline.

WATER IS WET: In case anyone ever doubted, Reuters has confirmed that Donald Trump is encouraging racism with his campaign:

Supporters of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump are more likely to describe African Americans as “criminal,” “unintelligent,” “lazy” and “violent” than voters who backed some Republican rivals in the primaries or who support Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.

ARE MEN THE PROBLEM WITH ECONOMICS? Malcolm Harris at The New Republic profiles a newly translated book by Swedish writer Katrine Marçal which argues that economics is too masculine: “Only a man, [Marçal] suggests, would imagine independence rather than dependence as the basis for the human condition. Individualists make the mistake of economic thinking: They forget about their mothers.”


If You’re a Human, You’re Political.

I once saw someone complain about Captain America being "too political." Uh, he was created by Jewish kids before World War II to make a statement against Hitler. He was literally created as a political act.

I once saw someone complain about Captain America being “too political.” Uh, he was created by Jewish kids before World War II to make a statement against Hitler. He was literally created as a political act.

Barry Petchetsky at Deadspin reports that sportscaster Adam Schefter was asked if politics belongs in sports reporting. Here’s part of his response:

No. Politics is not a normal day-to-day topic of discussion and reporting. It does not impact how we go about our jobs. Sports figures who publicize their political viewpoints only serve to divide the audience. People are drawn to sports as an escape from politics.

Petchetsky dismantles Schefter’s argument beautifully, pointing out that most of the major sports stories that Schefter has commented on are in some way or another political in nature, including stories about labor, the high cost of universities, and the Orlando shooting. Petchetsky concludes, “the truly baffling part here is that Schefter (and so many like him) don’t see anything political about this stuff. The only way to cover sports without introducing politics is to cover it dishonestly.”

I highlight this post for two reasons. First, it’s wonderfully written and well-argued. Second, it’s true for everyone. Everything is political. Yes, that “brainless” movie you just watched at the multiplex was political — if you didn’t detect an agenda, it very likely reinforced gender norms, political opinions, and other underlying societal premises. Politics is how we as humans navigate conflicts and other societal debates. Politics are hardwired into our brains and our lives. Avoiding politics would be like avoiding air, or avoiding sunlight.

It has been said many times before, but it always deserves repeating because people like Schefter never seem to learn: being apolitical is a thoroughly political position. If you decide not to see the political nature of things, or if you decide not to live in the world as a political person, you are ceding the conversation to literally anyone else.

One of the most common reasons why people complain about sports and movies getting “too political” is because they disagree with the statement being expressed. If you voice your opinion but you expect others (artists, sports stars, newscasters) to keep silent — well, that’s a political opinion, too, and a bad one. We need more discourse, not less, in the public space. This belief that political conversations are impolite is practically Victorian, and it silences important voices.

I get it. These conversations are uncomfortable. They force you to think about things you may not want to think about. Sometimes they lead to arguments, and those are never easy. But ignoring these conversations, or pretending they don’t exist, is a fool’s errand, like promoting abstinence-only education to teenagers and then being shocked when the teen birth rate soars. The rise of a liar like Donald Trump, someone who promotes an impossible agenda while employing dangerous rhetoric, is a direct result of a politically illiterate culture like the one Schefter encourages.

Daily Clips: June 28, 2016

OH, DONALD: The headline of this Washington Post story says it all: “Trump promised millions to charity. We found less than $10,000 over 7 years.” It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Trump is not worth anything near the billions that he claims.

THE FACE OF WASHINGTON IS CHANGING: The Seattle Times‘s delightful FYI Guy, Gene Balk, reports that Washington state is getting less white:

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that small-town Washington — from Ocean Shores to Spokane Valley and everywhere in between — is becoming less white.

Since the start of the decade, non-Hispanic whites have declined as a percentage of the population in all 39 counties in Washington. In King County and six others, the white population dropped by at least 3 percentage points in the past five years.

For God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t read the comments on that story.

SUPREME COURT CONTINUES TO DEFEND ABORTION RIGHTS: Hot on the heels of yesterday’s strong support of abortion clinics, the Supreme Court has blocked a pair of similar cases, thereby proving that yesterday’s decision was not a fluke:

The U.S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings on Tuesday that blocked restrictions on doctors who perform abortions in Mississippi and Wisconsin a day after the court struck down a similar measure in Texas.


The Dangers of I-Do-Me-ism


The Donald Trump quote in this tweet really hammered something home for me:

It strikes me that this could and should be the slogan for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign: “I don’t care. I do me.” Trump’s malignant brand of populism is founded and fostered on the idea that the individual comes first, at the expense of society. I’ve already written about Trump’s disastrous business style, which is predicated on an “I do me” platform, but in politics this philosophy is even more destructive.

Trump’s I-do-me-ism is based on the idea that a very particular individual—white, male, Christian—comes first. Everybody else gets scraps, if they get anything at all. In Trump’s ideal America, for example, white women can work and vote but they’d better not get uppity about the pay gap, or sexual harassment. Immigrants get sent home. Muslims are profiled and harassed until they get the message that they’re not welcome.

“I don’t care. I do me” is also the message that the British people sent in last week’s Brexit vote. When leaders like Boris Johnson promise that Britain will have all the benefits of EU membership without any of the expenses, he’s promoting a me-first attitude that foregoes any ideas of community or responsibility.

The strains of populism and nationalism on the march today are rooted in racism. Racism is what happens when you throw empathy in the garbage. Trump’s rallies have emboldened white supremacists to a level that we haven’t seen in America’s public spaces since the 1960s. And racist incidents have skyrocketed in Britain, post-Brexit.

Let’s be clear: Trump and Brexit are not happening in a vacuum. It’s easy to convince people to promote a racist, harmful political ideology when they feel as though they’ve been left behind. Income inequality doesn’t create racism, but it does create an environment that encourages racist actions. People are likely to act more exclusionary when they feel as though they’ve been excluded.

But we’re at a real crossroads here. What Trump is proposing with his I-do-me-ism is a political ideology based solely on selfishness, a feral politicsthat urges citizens to grab whatever they can before it’s all gone. Looting is not a successful form of governance; it eventually ends with the biggest, loudest bully taking over, in the form of authoritarianism.

Progressives need to reject exclusionary politics in all its forms. That means we can’t leave anyone out—even Trump voters. Without policies and talking points that embrace America’s working class and the white male voters who flock to Trump, the election threatens to spin into a toxic game of us vs. them.

This is not to say that progressives should court racism, xenophobia, or nationalism; we should condemn them at any opportunity, but we should do so in a constructive way. We should call out racism by proving that equality is better for everyone. We should argue that hate is bad for nations. (We’re seeing this now in Britain.) We must spotlight and amplify the same people Trump and his I-do-me-ists are trying to silence and vilify.

Most religions and moral codes offer some variation of turning the other cheek, of welcoming those who don’t make us feel welcome. This is because we know as a species, on a DNA-deep level, that inclusion makes us stronger than exclusion. But the only way we can prove to Trump voters that inclusion is stronger is by continually offering meaningful, inclusive solutions for the problems they perceive.

Politics has never been easy, but never in my lifetime has it felt so actively distasteful as it does right now. For many, it would be easier to turn your back on the whole process, to give up on politics and to hide away from the hurtful words. We must not give in to the easy way. We have to keep making the case that we all do better when we all do better. We’ve come too far to fall prey to the vicious philosophy of I-do-me-ism.

Daily Clips: June 27, 2016


The Supreme Court has overturned a Texas law requiring clinics that provide abortions to have surgical facilities and doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law was predicted to close many clinics and further reduce availability of abortion in Texas; the court has ruled the law violated the Constitution.

The ruling could be the strongest defense of a woman’s right to choose since Roe V Wade. The New York Times published a compelling infographic demonstrating what this means for access to legal, safe abortions across the United States. They conclude that today’s “sweeping ruling means similar [obstructionist] laws in dozens of other states now are likely unconstitutional.”

SUPREME COURT HAS A VERY GOOD DAY INDEED: Also today in the Supreme Court upholding commonsense laws: they also determined that it is perfectly legal to ban people with records of domestic violence from owning guns. Brendan O’Connor at Gawker explains the amazing story behind this suit (emphasis mine):

The case, Voisine v. United States, involved two men from Maine who had both pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault. A few years after Stephen Voisine entered his guilty plea in 2004, he got in trouble again, this time for killing a bald eagle. While investigating that crime, law enforcement officers determined that Voisine illegally owned a gun.

Citing decades-old common law, Voisine and the other petitioner argued that because their assault conduct had been “reckless,” rather than “knowing or intentional,” it should not qualify as misdemeanor domestic violence—the kind of crime that would disqualify them from owning guns. The court rejected this argument.

HOW BREXIT WILL CHANGE THE WORLD: Politico asked 17 experts what they think Brexit will mean for Great Britian, the US elections, and the global economy. Basically, none of them have any idea. Meanwhile, Brexit supporter/former London Mayor Boris Johnson wrote a ridiculous editorial for the Telegraph in which he basically promised that nothing will change, except Britain will stop paying dues to the EU:

I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be. There will still be intense and intensifying European cooperation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment. EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU.

British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down.

That’s a lot of promises that Johnson might not be able to keep.