LONDON – Richard Thaler, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics, once called for Britain to hold a second referendum on leaving the EU, saying that voters were not properly informed of the consequences of leaving the bloc.
Thaler, who won the prize for his work on behavioural economics, wrote in an article for the Financial Times last August that British voters “were given a choice that was impossible to evaluate sensibly,” and should be given the chance to change their minds on Brexit “if the facts change.”
Thaler said that could happen “either via a vote of parliament or a second referendum. In short, Brexit should not mean (an immediate) Brexit.”
Thaler argued in his article – which was written more than six months before the UK triggered Article 50 in March this year – that the vote, which saw Leave beat Remain by 52-48, should not have been treated as a “mandate to hastily invoke Article 50.” “Certainly a majority of just four percentage points in a non-binding referendum should not be considered a mandate to hastily invoke Article 50,” Thaler wrote.
“The vote was more like a straw poll of voter sentiments about a range of issues than a considered evaluation of the costs and benefits of membership of the single market.”
Thaler tied his analysis of the vote for Brexit to the work he has done on “choice architecture” – which is essentially the framework in which Brits were given the choice of leaving or staying in the EU. Effectively, he argued, the choice was too complicated to be offered in the guise of a simple binary question.
Article 50, Thaler notes, was written with the intention that it would never be used. As such it is incredibly short and pretty vague.
“Rather than stating the terms under which a country can leave, it only prescribes a process,” Thaler wrote.
That vagueness allowed those on the Leave side of the argument to offer Brexit voter all sorts of promises without actually knowing whether or not they were actually possible. “Making the rules so vague has had unintended consequences. First, it allowed proponents of Brexit to offer voters the apparently unrealistic hope that the UK could negotiate an associate status similar to that of Norway, but with some modifications of the rules on free movement of people,” Thaler wrote.