The Only Question You Need To Ask About The EU Referendum

Leicester City are still five points clear at the top of the Premier League. They are by no means a dead cert to win, there’s time left for a collapse in skill, confidence or pure luck, whatever has got them to where they are now.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a radio show in which Leicester’s success was being debated. The main discussion point was those people who had placed bets on Leicester at the start of the season when you could get 5000 to 1 on them topping the League. One gentleman had placed a bet of £20 and at the time of the radio programme had closed it out for just under £30,000. Not a bad return. But plenty of people were criticising him for his loss of nerve. He should have held on to win £100,000, they said. I was shouting at the radio, as I so often am these days (and my wife will testify to this).

It’s a classic mistake that some of the callers were making, one that is often seen in gambling, in finance, and any time a decision is to be made. The man had a piece of paper, his betting slip, worth £30,000. If it had been £30,000 in cash would he at that point in time have placed it on Leicester to win £100,000? Unlikely.

The gentleman who closed the bet early did the rational thing. The other callers had got caught up in the story, the “narrative” as my media friends always call it.

That’s where we are with the UK-Remain-or-Leave-EU situation. Do the following simple, Einsteinian, thought experiment of imagining a parallel universe in which everything is the same, as much as possible, but where the UK is currently not a member of the EU. (Just as we imagined the betting slip was £30k in cash.) And now ask should the UK join the EU or stay outside. If I estimated maybe 90% of people would vote to stay out then I think most people would agree with me. At least it would be nowhere near the 50-50 coin-toss situation we have now. It’s rather obvious that the EU is a club that’s close to collapse, why pay a membership fee just as the doors are about to be shut and bankruptcy declared?

Reframing situations like this can help the mind focus on what is important in many questions. Here it helps one to step back from the day-to-day throwing of randomly generated pro- and anti-EU statistics.

Of course, it’s not as simple as the Leicester City bet. The past does matter to some extent because of the irritation of disentangling the UK. And in that respect parallels with marriage and divorce that we hear are indeed apt. However, plenty of people have made that observation and I will resist adding to them, other than to say that, yes, divorce is not pleasant but I bet most people with experience of it come to think that in the long run it’s worth it.


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