Whatever the Brexit mitigation, a bad decision is still bad

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2016, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2016, 8:44pm

Hong Kong has a small coincidence in hosting, in Frank Dikotter and Jake van der Kamp, two Dutchmen who are, respectively, very good and very bad historians.

In last week’s Sunday Morning Post, Frank Dikotter, on China, describes how he found great historical truths in the small experiences of individuals (“What drives Frank Dikötter, chronicler of China’s insanity?”, June 26), while Jake van der Kamp, on Brexit, tells us that economies mitigate decisions (“Brexit will recede into the past... just like 1066 and all that”, June 26).

Van der Kamp is perceptive on economics and self-interest, but does not take a sufficiently long-term and broad view to put a giant national decision in its proper historical context. He asks “Who has ever heard of a village decision being wrong after long and open discussion?”

Well, I have! Many village decisions have been wrong. How about: “Drown the witches!” and “Lynch the niggers!”?

“Leave the EU!” is a similarly bad village decision.

Van der Kamp argues that any political decision is, essentially, right, if made after a period of consideration and moderated by economic factors.

It is a seductive idea that holds up to seconds of examination – van der Kamp may not be able to find anyone in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club bar who feels personally affected by the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066, but, if he were to return to his native Holland and ask his countrymen if anyone was not affected by the choice of about one in three German voters to support the National Socialist party in the 1930s, the answer would be “No, we all sufferred...”

Van der Kamp is correct that a free economy will limit the economic consequences of a bad decision, but that does not mean that a bad decision will not have a bad outcome.

The bad decision of old, uneducated and xenophobic English and Welsh voters to believe the lies of amoral politicians propagated by self-interested newspaper proprietors will be mitigated – though not corrected – by the workings of a free economy.

Bad decisions are bad decisions. Decisions have consequences, even if the market will do its best to mitigate them. Ask the German women raped by Russian soldiers in 1945 if Germany’s subsequent economic renaissance makes everything OK? What about the families of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis?

When Russia invades the Baltic states, and a weakened EU shuffles its feet, van der Kamp will see no connection to the British vote, but Dikotter probably will.

Jason Brockwell, Central