The gist of The Undoing Project, the latest book from Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker, The Big Short) is that people don’t think the way they think they think. Instead, they create narratives — stories which make sense of the evidence before them. Except that, quite often, trying to make sense of things gets them wrong.
The reaction to last month’s triggering of Article 50 may have been an example of the theories developed by the Israeli psychologists who are the subject of the book.
This was a ready-made narrative, complete with diplomat in Savile Row suit, letter in briefcase, flags and an interview inside 10 Downing Street.
Suddenly, everyone was scared, despite the fact that there was nothing much we did not already know. Indeed, anything which was new tended to be cheering.
That, however, was not enough to compensate for the shock of the sight of the UK handing in its dinner pail.
Whether by accident or design, consultants PwC and employers’ group Ibec picked the right day to warn of what was coming and advise us to be prepared.
There are some, in business and elsewhere, who worry about too much doomsaying. Ireland has been through several wrenching changes — too many, alas, of its own making, but not all.
Those which were not self-inflicted wounds included free trade with Britain, membership of the EU and the creation of the single market which got rid of the border so far as commerce was concerned.
All of them had unpleasant consequences — mostly for manufacturing, although even in traded services, nearly all the local players ended up as part of international conglomerates. Yet, as we know, the country adapted and prospered mightily over those decades.
The major interruptions to that prosperity were almost entirely of our own making.
There is a danger, in all the transfrontier angst, that we forget the importance of what we get up to at home, something likely to be even more important as Brexit takes its unpredictable course.
There will be little point in companies going through radical readjustments if they are undermined by one of the periodic domestic crises.
It is not just business which will have to change.
Government, and the political process, has some serious thinking to do.