Together with Paul Levine and Simon Wren Lewis, I coordinated a letter to try to gauge the extent of feeling towards the idea that on economic grounds alone, the UK should Remain in the EU.
Simon reproduces the letter on his blog. The letter appears in today’s Times, signed by 196 [214 at 21.5.16] economists in academia and the private sector, and with a follow up news story by Philip Aldrick.
We did not start the letter lightly. Many people we approached, vociferous in their advocacy for Remain, were equally vigorous in dismissing letters as ridiculous or futile. Aren’t the papers full of them these days? What about the letter of 364! How wrong that turned out to be! [I happen to disagree with that]. Others pointed out that if economists spoke out, we’d cause a backlash with those resentful at being told how to vote.
Speaking for myself, it seems like a fair way to convey opinion from those whose voice is not that often heard, and whose advice can’t usually be sought [though social media is eating away at that barrier]. There seems little harm in offering advice: it can be taken or left. Bending to worries about economist fury would seem to me to lead to a nihilist world in which no-one who knows anything can impart what they know, and the mass of those who don’t are left to vote on instinct, or their experience of the University of Life.
Canvassing colleagues unearthed a large constituency of those who wanted to sign but could not; there are many in think tanks, or with responsible positions on funding bodies, or working as economists in the private sector, whose roles constrain them from putting their names to these letters: or constrain them, in other words, from giving advice of this sort. Perhaps this silencing achieves other, greater benefits, but the extent of it took me by surprise. I’d guess that our list of signatories would be about 10% longer in a world without these constraints.
Mervyn King went on the record as saying that he thought that both sides of the debate had been prone to “exaggerate”. But our signatories seem to differ on that, feeling that the analysis of the net benefits of Remaining in the EU are about right.
A full list of signatories of the Times letter, updated to include those who added their names after the date of publication is here.
The list includes 18 new names that arrived after the publication deadline.