Responding to an anonymous letter from a British ex-pat living in the EU

As part of my public exchanges on online platforms, I was passed on this anonymous message via a friend:

“Hi, I am a friend of Tim’s and for some reason your posts regularly appear in my newsfeed, and I read the comments.

I have spent the last 7 years working as an expat in various EU countries. I am one of > 1 million british citizens who follow this lifestyle.

I have seen both LEAVE and REMAIN present arguments that the economy will be stronger for leaving/remaining. I am not an economist, and neither side presents the arguments in a way that convinces me of their accuracy. Blanket statements of “the economy will shrink by 6% if we leave (remain)” or “we will save 7bn on fees” (leave) are, for me, nothing more than numbers plucked from thin air if I can’t see the raw data, the modelling procedure and assumptions that went into that modelling. I’m also aware that economic forecasting is extremely unreliable (e.g. why didn’t economists predict the last recession?), because it is such a chaotic and non-linear system. At the same time, maybe we save 7bn on fees to the EU, but then what are the government going to do with the saved money? Will they spend it on something that benefits me personally? Unlikely.

So, I have to look at my personal economic situation. I am a scientist and my funding comes DIRECTLY from the EU. Yes, that’s right – the EU pays me to do fundamental science. If I didn’t have this funding, I would either be unemployed or forced to work in a different sector. So on a personal level, I like how the EU spends their money. It benefits me personally in a great way and therefore I like being a part of the EU.

I have read the LEAVE propaganda delivered through my mother’s mailbox, and I saw nothing of substance in their arguments. Only scare-mongering, with speculative statements, and no evidence to back up those statements. This gives me the feeling that there is no strong case to leave.

Further, the arguments for leave/remain are NOT purely economical. There is the issue of national security and logically the country is safer if it is part of an international community than one which isolates itself and alienates its neighbours. (and the sustained peace in western Europe in the decades that the EU has existed would support this notion).

As an expat, I enjoy the freedom of movement that being part of the EU allows for me. I enjoy that I can be employed and set up residence in a number of countries without bureaucracy or impediment.

If I am already convinced the “remain” is the way forward, why would I want to spend time reading the “leave” articles which someone links to on facebook?

I can also assess something of the plausibility of those articles, based on the discussion in the comments underneath the post, and how logical the comments in that discussion are.

Treating people who plan to vote the opposite of you with contempt, or as if they are idiots, does not help to win them over.
Finally, as the grandchild of European migrants to the UK, I take offense at the notion that EU immigration is a bad thing. My family have been nothing but law-abiding, successful professionals. And for all those immigrants coming from the EU to the UK, remember the >1 million brits who are living and working outside the UK, THANKS TO the existence of the EU.”

I have decided to address this letter point by point, and for the ease of communication, I shall respond as if I am addressing the author directly…

1) “for some reason your posts regularly appear in my newsfeed, and I read the comments.”

Thank you for paying attention and taking the time to read the comments. The posts regularly appear in your newsfeed because you regularly click on them to read them.

2) “I am not an economist, and neither side presents the arguments in a way that convinces me…”

Given you are not an economist, I am not sure what economic argument would convince you. I have personally attempted to explain some basic economic concepts on my blog and on my social media page, so I hope they help.

3) “Blanket statements of “the economy will shrink by 6% if we leave (remain)” or “we will save 7bn on fees” (leave) are, for me, nothing more than numbers plucked from thin air if I can’t see the raw data, the modelling procedure and assumptions that went into that modelling.”

I agree that the claim that the economy will shrink by 6% is very difficult to verify especially without access to the raw data and modelling procedures.
However, the £9bn fee figure (not £7bn) is a readily available fact, acknowledged by both sides of the debate. It is the net contribution made by the UK to the EU this year. The only caveat is that this figure is linked to the performance of the UK economy – the better it performs, the more it pays in.

4) “I’m also aware that economic forecasting is extremely unreliable…”

Agreed. That’s why I put little faith in complex long-term projections. Instead, any numbers I use, or numbers used by the Leave campaigns, tend to be straightforward verifiable immediate benefits. Benefits such as how much money would be saved by not contributing to the EU funding pot. Or benefits such as being able to access the world market free from EU import tariffs.

5) “…maybe we save 7bn on fees to the EU, but then what are the government going to do with the saved money? Will they spend it on something that benefits me personally? Unlikely.”

Well, why should the government benefit you personally? That’s a very selfish approach isn’t it? However, I would take it with a pinch of salt and interpret it more charitably – I’ll take it to mean that you don’t think the government would spend it on things that benefit the people. In that case I would wonder at your cynicism. Sure, governments aren’t perfect, but surely that’s the whole point of the democratic process, the socio-political campaigns, the pressure groups that effect political change. The MP you vote for is supposed to represent you, so when you write to him/her expressing your concerns, they are obliged to take your views into account.

6) “I have to look at my personal economic situation.”

Or, you could consider the much more important principles of democracy, accountability, sovereignty. It’s more than just being about money.

7) “I am a scientist and my funding comes DIRECTLY from the EU.”

And that funding isn’t going to stop. Leaving aside the selfishness of this attitude, collaboration and participation with EU scientific endeavours is not necessarily tied in to political union. Norway for example voluntarily contributes to the EU science fund. Heck, you don’t even have to be an EU citizen or to benefit from EU scientific funding. This argument is therefore invalid.

8) “If I didn’t have this funding, I would either be unemployed or forced to work in a different sector.”

Given you are a research scientist, I would assume that you are a scientist of some calibre, so I would say the latter is far more likely than the former. And what is so bad about working in a different sector? This is real life, you don’t necessarily get to choose exactly what you like working on. You have to do a job that people are willing to pay you for. And I’d wager that there are many jobs available to a professional scientist, whether in academia or industry.

9) “So on a personal level, I like how the EU spends their money. It benefits me personally in a great way and therefore I like being a part of the EU.”

I’m trying to be charitable, but these two sentences reek of selfishness. You would vote to reject sovereignty, liberty, and political accountability, all because the system currently works to your advantage?

10) “I have read the LEAVE propaganda delivered through my mother’s mailbox, and I saw nothing of substance in their arguments.”

I have no idea what “LEAVE propaganda” you are referring to. There is more than one Leave campaign, and the one you received may be the ones Britain First put out for all I know.

11) “Only scare-mongering, with speculative statements, and no evidence to back up those statements. This gives me the feeling that there is no strong case to leave. “

Given you have hand-waved these arguments away instead of describing what specific problems you find with these statements, there is no way I can respond to your criticisms. This tells me that you have already cast your judgement, and are unwilling to engage in discussion, despite your earlier confession to not understanding the economics.

12) “Further, the arguments for leave/remain are NOT purely economical.”

Great, I agree! 🙂

13) “There is the issue of national security and logically the country is safer if it is part of an international community than one which isolates itself and alienates its neighbours.”

I also agree with this completely. And this statement is very revealing. It reveals your belief that Brexit is all about isolating the UK. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Brexit is solely about rejecting the failed institute that is the European Union. Furthermore, Brexit comes with it the desire and willingness to engage on a global level, to work with ALL the international community, rather than being politically tied to one failing entity.

14) “and the sustained peace in western Europe in the decades that the EU has existed would support this notion”

Most countries in the world have sustained peace without supra-national political union, especially since the formation of the UN.

15) “As an expat, I enjoy the freedom of movement that being part of the EU allows for me.”

Great for you! Where does that leave those who are unable to take advantage of this freedom of movement? People who are unable to just go somewhere else because they for example cannot afford it, or that their work is geographically tied to where they grew up, as in farming, or if they value their familial ties more than the freedom of movement? What do you say to those lives and communities have been adversely affected by immigration?

16) “I enjoy that I can be employed and set up residence in a number of countries without bureaucracy or impediment.”

Bureaucratic impediments exist for a reason. I understand you are a scientist and not an economist or sociologist. Free movement of people benefit individuals who are affluent and/or mobile, and big businesses. Small businesses and static communities do not benefit from free movement of people. Already successful economies benefit from free movement, but unsuccessful economies don’t. The young and educated are most likely to be socially mobile. Representing high output for relatively low cost, they are also the greatest contributors to economic growth. But the socially mobile will be attracted to successful economies, abandoning less economically successful nations. Thus the countries which would benefit most from the affluent and mobile would be the ones most likely to lose out due to the free movement of people.

17) “If I am already convinced the “remain” is the way forward, why would I want to spend time reading the “leave” articles which someone links to on facebook?”

Because a person who is interested in what is true and what is good would want to understand both sides of the debate to come to the most balanced conclusion. Being convinced does not mean you have to close your mind to further information.

18) “Treating people who plan to vote the opposite of you with contempt, or as if they are idiots, does not help to win them over.”

I agree. I do not treat anyone who opposes me with contempt. But I will not shy away from declaring the stupidity of a position if it is demonstrably stupid. And if I have drawn that conclusion, I usually go to great lengths to explain why I found that position stupid. How would you respond to a person who thinks that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth?

19) “Finally, as the grandchild of European migrants to the UK, I take offense at the notion that EU immigration is a bad thing.”

There is a difference between immigration and immigrants. The Leave campaign does not argue against immigrants, or even immigration for that matter. They argue against open door immigration. Uncontrolled immigration has all sorts of implications, some of them positive, many of them negative. Taking offense does not make this any less true.

20) “My family have been nothing but law-abiding, successful professionals.”

And law-abiding successful professionals will not have very much difficulty migrating under standard international immigration procedures. Why make it personal? I always try to argue from principle.

21) “And for all those immigrants coming from the EU to the UK, remember the >1 million brits who are living and working outside the UK, THANKS TO the existence of the EU.”

Arguing in favour of immigration is a moot point. Leaving the EU isn’t going to stop migration, either inward or outward. Even expats like you are not going to lose your job or your right to work in the EU, unless the government under David Cameron really hated Europe. No government foolish enough to do that is going to get voted in, and I have more faith in the British public’s voting sanity than in the EU’s policy-making ability.

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Author: Hoong-Wai

I'm a sinner. I have an interest in economics, philosophy, politics, science, sociology, technology, theology (in alphabetical order). I care about truth and justice. I can be a contrarian.

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