Should Britain leave the European Union?

Actually, the appropriate question is this: Why shouldn't it?

Prime Minister David Cameron just got re-elected on a promise to put forth an in-or-out referendum on Britain's membership in the EU. Cue panic from elites everywhere. What a troglodyte that Cameron is! Look at all the risk he's creating! Doesn't he understand the world-historical significance of the European project!? What is it with this Little England parochialism? Isn't he a citizen of the world?

We often like to define ourselves by what we're against, rather than what we're for, and elites are no exception. And what many elites are against is nation-states and tradition. Therefore, European and global elites love the European Union and hate anything that stands in the way of its multi-decade project to build a federal European state, including that pesky European tradition, democracy. As countless polls have made clear, Europeans don't want a federal Europe. But that has never stopped Europe's federalists — if Europe must be either federalist or democratic, they've made their choice.

Meanwhile, Europe's business elites have a slightly different calculus, although it is similarly wrong-headed. Europe's leadership is bureaucratic, undemocratic, and unaccountable — that is a fantastic recipe for regulatory capture, in which watchdog agencies promote the interests of the industries they're overseeing. So, the more power that accrues to Brussels and away from national democracies, the better off business elites are.

There is also the fact that business elites tend to be incredibly short-term-focused and risk-averse. Ending the euro would clearly be the best course for Europe's economy over the long run, but it would create disruption in the short run — so business elites are all-in for the euro, even though over the long term it promises Europe-wide economic stagnation, and therefore crappy results for Europe's businesses. Leaving the EU is something daring for Britain, so European business elites will always hate it.

But other than that, what's the reason for Britain staying in the EU?

Free trade? Well, Britain had a free trade consensus anyway. It's going to keep having free trade with the EU, as do Norway and Sweden.

Immigration? This is probably the best reason for staying in the EU — and, for many British voters, the best reason for leaving. The EU has the free movement of peoples, and immigration from other EU countries into Britain has been great for its economy. British voters are quite anti-immigrant, and the possibility is that once Britain leaves the EU it will hurt itself with a much too restrictive anti-immigration policy.

But, even as someone who thinks immigration is wonderful, the simple fact of the matter is that if Britain's people democratically want to restrict immigration, that should be their right and their prerogative.

Plus, much of the British public's hostility to immigration might be due to the EU. It doesn't take a doctorate in psychology to understand that a lack of control over their country's immigration policy might make the British public more hostile to immigration. It's also easy to see how unchecked intra-EU immigration might make the British more zealous to have the government clamp down on other sources of immigration.

And it's quite possible that a post-EU Britain might still have a relatively generous immigration policy. Switzerland and Australia are two countries whose voters are very hostile to immigration, but still have relatively open immigration systems. The reason is simple: Most people agree with the commonsense argument that foreigners should be welcomed if they are willing to work, learn the language, uphold the law, and boast productive education levels and occupations.

What makes people hate immigration is the sense that an unchecked wave of foreigners, with different lifestyles and culture, is going to change their communities. They hate that their elites don't care, may even welcome this change, and certainly don't intend to do anything to stop it. This sentiment is powerful and easy to sympathize with, and should prompt a policy response. But when it is adequately addressed, over time, openness to immigration grows.

What else is there in favor of Europe?

Well, there's a bunch of red tape. So there's that.

And, um, Britain spends more money than it takes in from Europe.


You see what I mean?

Other than a vague affiliation with modernity and internationalism, why should Britain stay in the EU?

It shouldn't.