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The Dunning Kruger Effect explains Brexit, ISIS and Trump



As the Chinese premier Chou En Lai once said when asked what he thought the effect was of the French Revolution on Western civilisation… “It’s too early to tell”.

Brexit hasn’t happened yet and won’t for years of political confusion and indecision. During this time we will continue to trade as normal, perhaps even well, except for two things... foreign investment into the UK will dry up, and we'll have to pay for thousands more civil servants and highly paid consultants to start negotiating trade deals for corkscrews, bricks, cheese and every one of the millions of things people want to sell us and we want to sell them - and they'll have to negotiate these with every significant country or trading block on the planet. Whoopee Australia has recently said it will be keen to try to sell us stuff. Well that's a big surprise. So are we going to let their sheep farmers put our Welsh farmers out of business? One product to negotiate with just one country. But this time we're not a market of 500m calling the tune, we're just 60m.

All of this slow decay will go largely unnoticed until historians look back and see other trading nations gaining investment that should have come here. In my view it’s not going to be about what we lose, more about what we don’t win that will hurt the UK in the long run. Oh and the cost of all those billions we'll need to spend on jobs that have already been done for us in Brussels by experts negotiating for the world's largest customer over the past 43 years. But I suppose it will help the UK unemployment figures. Hurrah. Another victory for Brexit. And all the experts said it would be a bad idea. What did they know?


The people who voted for Brexit had no idea how intensely difficult trade negotiations are. Why would they? None of them have ever negotiated one. 'Just do it' is their only advice. 

It's all down to the Dunning Kruger Effect (Cornell 1999). The less someone knows about something, the more certain they are about it. The less we know about something, the less we know what we need to know about it. Perhaps some of the people who voted for Brexit did have a clear plan how our exit would work. Unfortunately I have yet to meet a Leaver who voted for anything other than a plan of 'we'll make it work', or 'they'll still want to sell us their BMWs'.

Explains beliefs in deities too, including Donald Trump - and why education is radical religion's biggest threat. The more people know, the more they can question what they are being told is fact. The less they know, the more certain they are that the little they are told is correct and makes sense.

But fighting ignorance with ignorance will make the whole world blind (to mix my metaphors - here's a wonderful collection of my wife's by the way). Bombs solve nothing except increasing resolve on the part of the people you're bombing. Education costs far less, is welcomed by families universally (if not by their priests), and has the long term effect of improving people's lives and encouraging them to reject dogma and lazy thinking. All those millions of refugees and their children are now outside the clutches of their priests back home. They're waiting for us to turn them into enlightened, grateful friends who will have the skills and determination to rebuild their shattered homes. We should bomb them with schools, books, online learning and secular teachers.

And we should be focusing our own budgets on education too. Better education makes for better democratic decisions where populations will become more capable of recognising the consequences of their votes.

Sadly that won't fix the UK and possibly the US's impending isolation from the rest of the world. But it would be a start.

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