2 August 2017

Brexit, Euratom and the problem with stifling bureaucracy


Apparently Brexit is going to be such a disaster that even the import of radioisotopes for cancer treatment will be put at risk. This is, we are told, because we have decided to leave Euratom at the same time as leaving the European Union.

Oh please. Let’s not make the same old mistake that those embedded in a bureaucracy are so fond of – assuming that the process is reality. There are, in fact, many processes by which one can achieve one’s aim. Thus, if we decide to leave one or other process, there are others available. Why, it’s even possible to write a new one.

Nonetheless, over at The Guardian, they’re fretting. It was rather hard for us to get in to Euratom, worries their article, and that many agreements made since then have been made in the name of that organisation. Our leaving, therefore, is going to cause all sorts of snafus.

Well, no one said that unpicking 50 years of bureaucratic accretion was going to be simple. But that is rather the point, the difficulty comes from the 50 years of bureaucratic accretion, not the underlying reality. It’s a perfect example of an underlying problem we’re seeing with Brexit discussions.

Here’s another: a load of people running around shouting that we need a WTO schedule before anyone will be allowed to trade with us on any terms whatsoever. This isn’t the case either. For while we may ponder the intellectual capacity of those who rule us, they are not, all at least, complete idiots. It is not even true that WTO terms mean that we must impose import tariffs on the things we desire to import. Or that the lack of EU oversight of product standards will mean we’re left in terror at having no product standards at all.

All of these instances share a commonality: the assertion that the way we’ve got the paperwork organised today is the underlying reality of the world and that any dissent from those scribbled agreements means that the real world will stop working.

But this simply isn’t how it all works, as the Soviets found out. Reality has its manner of impinging upon even the most ludicrous bureaucratic plans.

There is a deeper philosophical point to be made about governance here. The state takes some 40 per cent of everything we do each year. We do not institute this system so that we get told what to do by those we pay. We do it so that we may hire those who know how to do the things collectively which are difficult or impossible to do individually. The point of the system is that it does the things we cannot, not that it imposes upon us. And the answer to a bureaucracy threatening us with the terrors of paperwork is obvious.

We will most certainly have more than the occasional codpiece waving subclauses, insisting that we “Respect Mah Authoritah” in this Brexit process. Our reaction must be: “Get on with it then, that’s what we pay you for.” We are  a democracy and we get to decide. And it is the duty of the civil servants to implement for us.

Euratom, or any other bureaucracy, is just a set of rules, not reality. There are many sets of rules, an infinite number even, which can be applied to that management. If the current set don’t fit the peoples’ desires, then change them. So where’s the problem?

Tim Worstall is senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute