A quick one. The Brexiteers are forever talking about the cost of Brussels regulations, the burden of EU red tape.
It's always misleading, exaggeration or outright lies. Boris Johnson went on the Today programme last week to claim that Brussels is responsible for £600m in regulation. That is, £600m of economic activity that it's preventing through wasteful unnecessary regulation. So leaving Europe will cut regulation and the economy will grow.
What's the truth? That's an estimate derived from the right-wing Open Europe think tank. They in fact state that the cost of regulation is £33.3bn each year or £640m a week. But even they also admit there are benefits from being part of the EU system and they come to £58.6bn a year or £1.1bn a week. In other words the net 'cost' of EU regulation is a return to the UK of £487m a week. (And that's just the business benefits and says nothing about the benefits to us as EU citizens, to our culture, etc.) Leaving the EU will, on this measure, harm the economy.
And then various Brexiteers have claimed that half or more of all UK legislation is made in Brussels. So if we leave the EU we regain control of our economy.
Where to start? First, it all depends what you mean by legislation. Does one regulation equal a whole new piece of primary legislation? Probably not. It's true that our membership of the EU means that when there is a new regulation it is usually incorporated immediately in UK law without need for a vote. And there are lots of regulations coming from the EU. But two things:
(a) a lot of this regulation simply doesn't affect us, like the ones concerning the Mediterranean or how to grow tobacco and
(b) a lot of this regulation, if we left the EU, we'd want to incorporate into UK law anyway. Do we not want our beaches to be clean? Do we not want the electrical products we buy here to be as safe as they are on the continent?
Of course we do. It's like the ridiculous ongoing shambles of the British Bill of Rights which the Tories believe they can draw up to replace the European Convention of Human Rights which is currently incorporated into UK law. What they've discovered - obviously - is that there is no such thing as a meaningful set of British rights that are more fitting to us that the European set. So they're hoping, I imagine, that we'll all forget about it and they don't have to waste everyone's time with this nonsense. The same is true of Brexit; if we leave the EU we'll spend the next few years finding UK equivalents for most of the regulations we've supposedly left the EU to avoid.
And even then, if we want to do business with them, you think they'll trade with a country that doesn't abide by the same workplace standards as they do? Not if we want anything like the kind of deal we have at the moment (which the Brexiteers are convinced we can get just by demanding it). So we'll have to keep those regulations one way or another. At least in the EU we have a chance to change the regulations we don't like.
But still, is it true? Is 50% of our legislation made in Brussels? The House of Commons studied this and they said, given all the variables, it's simply not a claim you can make unambiguously. They reckoned the EU is responsible for anything between 15% and 50% of new legislation. The Brexiteers typically go for the upper figure. (Except Boris Johnson, who likes to claim it's 60%.)
And here's the thing. I know it's an article of faith among free-marketeers that regulation is a bad thing because it stops business doing what business does best, but take a minute to think about it and it's just obviously nonsense.
Murders cost the economy money but they also generate economic activity. A murder requires the work of police officers and pathologists and detectives and coroners and lab technicians and journalists and printers and manufacturers of crime scene tape and evidence tents and, I don't know, magnifying glasses and deerstalkers and so on. They make work for hospitals and mortuaries and undertakers and crematoriums. They drive investment in alarms and pepper sprays and guard dogs and street lighting and window bars. They shake up lazy businesses by forcing a sudden need to replace staff. They make us reflect on our society and its values in a way that can't fail to stimulate new business concepts. By creating sudden gaps in the employment market they give opportunities to the private sector which likes nothing more than spotting a gap and filling it with a brilliant new entrepreneurial idea. In fact, come on, now we're really cooking, what if murder were legal; that whole dormant homicide business would be liberated. Think how lucrative a free-market in murder would be! The innovations, the employment, it would open up a whole new thriving area of business. The economic dividends would be extraordinary. Yes, of course, there would be a cost- economic and emotional - but nothing that a healthy private sector can't fill and even fill better, because as Schumpeter says, capitalism thrives on creative destruction and why should murder be any different?
The laws against murder are a form of anti-business regulation!
Free the murderers!
Free the economy!
On second thoughts, let's not.
And let's stay in the EU.