2 Things About Human Behavior We Can Learn from the Brexit Vote

In the last few days since England’s historic vote, we’ve learned several interesting things. Two in particular were things I already knew, but that this Brexit vote highlighted.

1. Democracy is a crappy way to run a country.

I have said several times that I don’t support democracy, and neither did the founding fathers of the United States.The founding fathers were wisely terrified of democracy and made sure to install safeguards into the US Constitution to defend against it.

The first problem with democracy is that people eventually start voting for other’s people’s stuff. This, of course, is the opposite of freedom. As Ben Franklin said, democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for dinner.

The second and even more serious problem is that in a democracy, you have complete idoits voting for things they are not qualified to vote for in any way. The day after the Brexit vote, the second most popular question on Google for England was, and I shit you not, “What is the EU?” I promse you a sizaeble percenatge of people asking that question actually voted in the election.

There are stories all over the place now about people complaining that they “didn’t actually think the UK would leave the EU” if they voted that way.

In this one case, the morons happened to vote in a way I thought was best, but that still doesn’t change my criticism of democracy. Letting all the idiots who don’t know anything vote for major governmental policy decisions and representatives is utterly insane.

Why the hell do you want most people voting when 29% of Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean on a map, or when 41% of Americans don’t know who the vice president is?

Even if people weren’t morons, is someone correct just because they happen to be in the opinion majority? The vast majority of people still think lifetime marriage still works and that the crash in 2008 was caused by too much capitalism.  77% of Americans believe in angels. Since when does being in the majority make you right?

If 51% of the population said that everyone with a blue car should pay double in taxes, would that make it right? Would that make it a good idea? In my country, the majority once thought slavery was a great idea.

Most people don’t realize that at the founding of the United States, most white men couldn’t vote. The founding fathers knew what would happen if you allowed any moron to vote in major elections. Over 200 years later, now you know.

Democracy is a horrible idea guaranteed to cause major problems in your society. When left-wingers and neoconservatives sing democracy’s praises, they’re talking out of their asses. (By the way, leftists always praise democracy until democracy does something like leave the EU. Then suddenly they hate democracy. Until they don’t any more.)

The least bad type of government is not democracy, but a representative republic, with a government bound down by an enforceable constitution.

2. Political polls and betting pools can no longer be trusted.

Pretty much all the polls said Brexit would be defeated. They were wrong.

Pretty much all the betting pools, which most experts say are more accurate than polls, said Brexit would be defated. They were wrong too.

Since around 2011-12, when the incumbent US president was re-elected in the middle of relatively high unemployment and a stagnant economy (something that has never happened in my lifetime, or perhaps ever), the Western world has turned a corner. We’re in a new environment now where Western voters are so emotional and irrational that much of the predictive models aren’t working any more. A poll might be right, and it might be wrong. As just one example, we’re now hearing stories about how people who want to vote for Donald Trump are telling posters they don’t, since they’re embarrassed to admit it.

This is new. Historically, things like polls and betting polls have been pretty accurate. No longer. This is one of the many reasons why those saying “Hillary will definitely win” or “Trump will win in a landslide” are full of shit. You don’t know, since there’s no way to know any more. You might be right, but even if you are, you’ll be right by accident, not because the data was predictive.

I think polls are accurate if they show one side winning by a massive margin, but if the polls show something somewhat close, like with this Brexit vote, I think there’s no way to tell what all the irrational, moronic voters will actually do on election day.

It’s a whole new world, folks. Enjoy the decline!

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  • somerandomreader
    Posted at 04:08 pm, 27th June 2016

    It was actually the UK that voted to leave the EU, not just England.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 04:17 pm, 27th June 2016

    I know. I’m an American so I sometimes use those two terms synonymously, though I realize I probably shouldn’t.

    However, it’s entirely possible that Ireland and/or Scotland may secede from the UK so that they can stay in the EU. (That would be hilarious.)

  • Paul Murray
    Posted at 07:06 pm, 27th June 2016

    The thing that puzzles me most about the brexit vote was how close it was.

    I mean – I get why two-party elections are close. Each party ‘tracks’ public opinion closely. People cite that lack of difference between parties as an indication that two-party democracy doesn’t work. They are wrong: the lack of difference shows that it does work, that politicians very carefully follow the tenor of what the public wants . (Often at the expense of what is best, but that’s a side issue.)

    But why would the vote over a concrete issue like Brexit be so nearly 50/50? The only explanation I can think of is that the vote is overwhelmingly random noise.

  • London PUA
    Posted at 03:47 am, 28th June 2016

    Hi Caleb.

    Thought provoking article as always.
    Just a quick question. What do you mean by a representative republic?

    – and to the poster who wasn’t sure, why the vote was so close. I personally voted out, but there were good arguments on both sides. And it’s an issue which split the country 50/50. Hence the close vote.


    London PUA.

  • Netbug
    Posted at 06:35 am, 28th June 2016

    Hey, London PUA.

    A representative republic is what most democracies actually are; the populace elects officials to represent them in some form of governmental body (congress, parliament, etc.).

    The populace themselves don’t vote on every single issue/bill that is brought forth but trust that their representative will.

    An alternative would be a direct democracy where each citizen votes on every measure (I believe that Switzerland is the closest that the world has to a direct democracy at present).

    As Caleb states, one of the biggest problems with a DD is that you get a very uninformed majority voting on issues they either don’t understand or don’t care about (with a DD, there would likely still be racial segregation among other things that we now view as insane).

  • NTN
    Posted at 07:55 am, 28th June 2016

    Caleb, in your previous post, you praised the Brexit results. (I do too.) However, this post points to the fact that the British were not necessarily knowledgeable enough to vote, and that direct representation is a bad idea. I’d like to get clarification on your position. Thank you.

  • Johnny Caustic
    Posted at 11:39 am, 28th June 2016

    Rumor has it that some of the billionaire players who make bets on real markets (e.g., stuff like Brexit’s effect on currency markets) have taken to manipulating the online betting pools. Apparently they see it as a very cheap (for their level) way of influencing public opinion.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 11:47 am, 28th June 2016

    Caleb, in your previous post, you praised the Brexit results. (I do too.) However, this post points to the fact that the British were not necessarily knowledgeable enough to vote, and that direct representation is a bad idea. I’d like to get clarification on your position.

    I hold two positions:

    1. Membership in the EU is a bad idea for European countries (particularly the more prosperous, harder-working ones like the UK and Germany).

    2. Democracy, while less bad than authoritarianism, is still a destructive and hugely inefficient form of goverment.

    These two positions are not in conflict with each other.

    The UK should have never joined the EU in the first place. Once in the EU, the UK should have left the EU by whatever governmental process was available to them. Sadly, they chose democracy as this path. So, okay. They used the wrong weapon to win (or perhaps win) the battle, but the wrong weapon was still used.

    If the UK didn’t have a democracy (as flawed a democracy as it is), and instead had a true representative republic with a constitution similar to the US, and one that was actually enforced (unlike the US of today), the UK would have never joined the EU in the first place and would would never have incurred these problems.

    Rumor has it that some of the billionaire players who make bets on real markets (e.g., stuff like Brexit’s effect on currency markets) have taken to manipulating the online betting pools. Apparently they see it as a very cheap (for their level) way of influencing public opinion.

    Not only do I believe that, but I follow Scott Adams’ line of thinking in that there’s no way that can’t be true.

  • Makeshift
    Posted at 10:32 pm, 28th June 2016

    Churchill said, “The best argument against democracy is a 5 minute conversation with the average voter.”

    It gets harder and harder to argue with the anarchists. Centralization of power seems to always be corrupted by whomever can get the most votes. I follow politics somewhat, and at least 50% of the time I feel I’m not qualified to intelligently vote on an issue.

  • D
    Posted at 07:41 am, 30th June 2016

    Hopefully this outcome will serve as an education in how bookmaking actually works…

    “We made a small profit on the referendum in the end,” a Ladbrokes spokesperson told City A.M. “Generally, bookmakers win money when a favourite loses and lose money when a favourite wins.

    The truth is that bookies do not offer markets on political events to help people forecast the results,” it says. “We do it to turn a profit (or at least not lose too much) and in that respect, this vote worked out very well for us.”

  • Fraser Orr
    Posted at 10:24 pm, 30th June 2016

    In regards to democracy verses republicanism… one of the challenges of this is that you are subject to the whims of the people who got first say, which is to say the people who wrote the constitution. If you get good guys writing the constitution then you certainly want to put these foundational elements .outside of the popular vote (or as is more often the case subject them to a much higher democratic bar, as is the case with the US Constitution for example.)

    One of the complaints that was heard over and over again about the EU is that it was unaccountable. That is to say much of the EU was not subject to democratic review. The problem there was not the idea that some things shouldn’t be voted on, but rather than the constitution itself was bad, and so the non votable things were compounded in their badness by the inability to change them.

    I think it is not nearly recognized how lucky the anglosphere really is. It is almost an accident of history that England (and later Scotland) had extremely weak kings that could be bullied into civil liberties, and perhaps most of all that our constitution was written by one of the most remarkable groups of people who ever lived (and that despite the fact that many of them were so morally derelict that they actually owned human beings.)

    America is, or was, a great nation not so much because of the specific form of government, but because of a remarkable group of people who set it up right, along with a tradition, born out of competitive power play in England. It was their choosing a system robust to change that allowed their initial ideas of freedom to last as long as it did, and to only be taken down by the grossest forms of dishonesty and chutzpah, accumulated over hundreds of years.

    China has a constitution, as does Russia. But they were both written by people with a totalitarian bent, and so you see the consequences of that in the way these countries are.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 10:36 am, 1st July 2016

    All good points. Yeah, that’s why I said that not only do you need a constitution, but one that holds down the government instead of empowering it. And it needs to be enforceable somehow (which is where America screwed up).

  • Makeshift
    Posted at 03:37 pm, 1st July 2016


    Kind of hard to enforce a piece of paper. Politicians rewrite inconvenient rules/laws all the time.

  • Fraser Orr
    Posted at 03:55 pm, 1st July 2016

    @Makeshift says
    > Kind of hard to enforce a piece of paper. Politicians rewrite inconvenient rules/laws all the time.

    Sure, but that is the genius of the American system. First of all, if you put in place a process to change things that is hard (constitutional amendment) it takes a lot of chutzpah to change it a different way. Now that has gone out the window now, but it was a significant barrier to the federal government before the three constitution busting events in our history (the civil war, and the administrations of Wilson and FDR.) One of the few wise things JFK ever said (if ever there was an overrated President it is him), was “If you make peaceful revolution impossible you make violent revolution inevitable.” And that is why the amendment process to the constitution is probably its most important part, and the one that is most often pushed aside. (We are told the constitution is a living document, which it is, but it lives in the sense it can be adapted and changed by a well defined mechanism, not at the whim or a legislator, president or judge. I am in favor of a woman’s right to an abortion, but to say that right is evident in the constitution is to live in a level of denial and intellectual dishonesty that makes me wonder how they get up in the morning.

    Second, and perhaps more importantly, the constitution recognizes that politicians are scum and will try to bypass the constraints on them, so they put in place a system of competing agencies, politicians and others who compete against each other for power, and so their different interests when not coincident prevent things from changing. We have separation of powers on multiple levels both within each level (executive, judicial legislative) and at different levels (federal, state, country, city, school board, etc. etc.)

    Gridlock is not a bug, it is a feature. Of course this has also been broken down over time both with the great sucking of power to the central government (something the 16th amendment and FDR are primarily responsible for) and by the strengthening of political parties to allow coordination over the branches.

    It was a great system until it broke down. But all systems eventually get broken down over time. America could be revived by small legislative changes, such as repealing the 16th amendment, or the elimination of the public school system (being replaced by schools paid for by customers with all that tax money returned to them.) But there is no appetite for that kind of liberalizing change, on the contrary, the American people want the feds to regulate the laws on bathroom signs now, apparently.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 06:03 pm, 1st July 2016

    Kind of hard to enforce a piece of paper.

    What Fraser said. The relative success of the United States over every other nation that has ever existed shows that indeed you can enforce a piece of paper, more or less, and for a pretty long time.

    And that’s with a constitution that didn’t have any enforcement written into it. Imagine a constitution 2.0 that actually had enforcement clauses in it, such as “Any politician or government employee who attempts to violate or modify this amendment, without ratification from the states (or whomever blah blah blah) shall be immediately removed from office and will serve no less than 10 years in a federal prison.”

    Would it work perfectly? Nope. Would it work forever? Nope. But it would be way better than any goverment anyone has right now.

  • Tony
    Posted at 11:05 am, 3rd July 2016

    You’re wrong about polls. Sure, they’re not 100% accurate, but the polls of the Brexit showed it being very close and it was. The betting markets believed Remain would win, but if you actually looked at the polls they gave a pretty close view.

    The 2012 presidential election is a good example of how accurate the polls are. If you looked at sites like fivethirtyeight and Princeton Election Consortium they hit it right on the nose, Obama winning all the swing states except North Carolina with Florida being a tossup. The polls were also accurate in predicting Trump winning the nomination.

    Now the polls show Clinton clearly winning, and if the election were held today she’d surely win. However, the election is several months away, and many people haven’t started paying attention yet, so things can change. But it’s hard to see a path for victory for Trump barring a huge October surprise against Clinton.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 11:55 am, 3rd July 2016

    Now the polls show Clinton clearly winning, and if the election were held today she’d surely win.

    You’re dead wrong. Dead wrong. It’s entirely possible that if the election were held today Donald Trump would win, and would win by margins that would surprise everyone. The fact that the polls are close is a strong indication that they aren’t accurate. Many polls in the primaries turned out to be absolutely wrong, on both sides.

    Based on past comments you’ve made here, you seem to worship numbers. If the numbers say it, it must be true. That’s simply not the case with polls any more. You and I have no idea who would win if the election were it held today no matter what the polls say today (unless the polls showed a huge margin of one over the other, which they do not).

    Just because you read a thing doesn’t mean it’s true, Tony. Like many millennials who went to college, you have a real blind spot about that. It’s going to burn you later in life if you don’t snap out of it.

  • Fraser Orr
    Posted at 12:40 pm, 3rd July 2016

    @Caleb Jones says
    > You’re dead wrong. Dead wrong.

    I agree with you entirely on this. I think you overstate the inaccuracy of polls, I think they can be predictive. But the nature of polls themselves mean that this particular election the polls are going to be WILDLY unreliable, especially now, months from the election.

    The majority of people in America want to vote “none of the above” and so their strength of conviction in predicting what they vote is very low. Moreover, it is usually the case that Republicans over perform polls. The reasons for this are complex (Republicans are more prone to saying “it is none of your business”, they tend to be less politically active — due to the nature of their beliefs — and the memetics that Republicans are heartless “leave the poor to die in the streets” discourages people from admitting their allegiance.

    This last point is PARTICULARLY important with regards to Trump. I think you will find that the number of people who vote for Trump is substantially higher than the number who say they are going to vote for him.

    So truthfully the margins of error on these polls is probably plus or minus 20 percentage points, especially now so far from the election. So if Hillary is consistently in the lead by that much you can be sure of your landslide, otherwise you have no useful data. (BTW, don’t confuse the “margin of error” they give with the polls. That is an entirely different thing entirely to do with sampling uncertainty. It does not deal with broader questions about randomness and reliability of responses.)

    It is a tough choice for us Americans: do I want to vote for a felon, with a known propensity for public corruption and a long record of public service in which she achieved exactly nothing, or an outsider who is a total narcissistic boob, with some troubling opinions, no record of work, and a real lack of class and good taste. Or maybe go for some minor candidates who won’t win a single state just to make you feel good?

    BTW, I am firmly of the opinion that the Republican opposition to Trump is based on his lack of class and good taste rather than anything substantive. The only exception would be the Bill Kristol types who hate him because he is not supportive of massive, military foreign intervention — and that is one point on which I will praise Trump.

    The whole thing kind of turns my stomach.

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 11:48 am, 4th July 2016

    truthfully the margins of error on these polls is probably plus or minus 20 percentage points, especially now so far from the election

    I thought about that, and I think you’re right. Around 20 points plus or minus is about what it likely is.

  • Qlue
    Posted at 03:21 am, 6th July 2016

    The solution to your predicament is to not allow everyone to vote. The only people who should have the right to vote are people who fund the police, the judiciary, and the military. Furthermore, I would even make it so that anyone who registers for the draft gets an extra vote.

    Anyone should be able to register for the draft, even if you’re an 80 year old women. It doesn’t mean the military will put you in the front lines, they may just make you peel potatoes or put you in a position that fits your ability. But by making it that in order to qualify as true citizen, you must fund the 3 (police, military, judiciary) and register for the draft, you weed out all the hypocrites who demand privileges and freedoms without responsibility. (Sjws, feminists, etc..) This is why you see feminists crying about the draft, because they’re hypocrites.

  • Check your sources
    Posted at 08:56 am, 21st July 2016

    Heads up: that 73% of Americans can’t locate a map statistic came off of a satire website. (That said, I agree with the overall point, but it does tend to tank credibility when you go around citing those types of thing).

  • Caleb Jones
    Posted at 10:49 am, 21st July 2016

    Thank you; fixed!

  • Brexit, Now Trump. It’s Official - Political Election Polls Are All Bogus - Caleb Jones
    Posted at 10:28 am, 21st November 2016

    […] I talked about how the polls and betting pools probably can’t be trusted anymore. I wasn’t sure about it going forward, but clearly that was the case with Brexit. […]

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