by Gag Halfrunt
Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 03:12:34 PM EST
Drawing on the negotiating theory work of economist Thomas Schelling, Tim Harford argues that Theresa May is trying to play Chicken with the EU27 to compel them to offer a free trade agreement without any freedom of movement obligations. But, Schelling wrote, "compellence" (forcing someone to do something actively) doesn't work in the same way as deterrence.
Brexit as a game of Chicken | Tim Harford
It's easy to see why both sides are behaving like this -- it's the logic of Chicken. But the eventual result may be something no sane person wants: a car crash. In May's recent speech, she set out her willingness to risk such a crash by saying she might walk away without a deal. That does make some sense: it's how you act if you want to win a game of Chicken. But there are games of Chicken that nobody wins.
That leads to a second insight from Schelling: the difference between deterrence and what he called "compellence". Deterrence dissuades action, but compellence means persuading or threatening someone so that they do act. In his 1984 book Choice and Consequence Schelling pointed out that deterrence is easier. A deterred person does nothing, so need not admit that the deterrence worked, but a compelled person must visibly acquiesce.
Unfortunately, the process specified under Article 50 leaves the UK in the awkward position of trying to achieve compellence. The default option is the car crash, a disorderly fracture with the EU. Anything else requires all 28 countries involved to take prompt constructive action. May and her chancellor Philip Hammond have made some (faintly) threatening noises about how the EU should play along, but such threats can only work if they compel an energetic and active response. That's far from certain -- compellence is hard.