From Emrullah Efendi to Boris Johnson

From Emrullah Efendi to Boris Johnson

The Brexit process started like a tragedy. With Boris Johnson as the British prime minister, it has turned into a comedy. I have to confess that it is getting funnier every day to watch the things happening in Great Britain. At the same time, the job of explaining to my foreign friends what is happening in Turkey is getting easier and easier.

When I first heard the idea of sending the British parliament to recess, just to clear the ground for a no-deal Brexit, I recalled the late Emrullah Efendi, a 1910 education minister of the Ottoman Empire, who used to say that he could have managed his ministry better if there were no schools at all. Just the same way, Johnson will surely have an easier time managing British democracy without its pesky parliament.

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian last week criticized the idea of a parliamentary recess for Brexit’s sake. She quoted the former head of civil service, Lord Kerslake, as saying, “We are reaching the point where the civil service must consider putting its stewardship of the country ahead of service to the government of the day.”

This sounds like something you might hear in the 1980s satirical TV show,  “Yes Minister.” I recall a particularly telling chat between Sir Humphrey Appleby, the permanent secretary, and Bernard, the private secretary:

Sir Humphrey: “Bernard, ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then, they can’t tell anyone. Like secret agents; they could be captured and tortured.

Bernard: [shocked] |” You mean by terrorists?”

Sir Humphrey: [seriously] “By the BBC, Bernard.”

Yet Emrullah Efendi later noted that he was joking; surprisingly, Johnson is not. And Sir Humphrey was a fictional character, a joke. Sir Thomas Kerslake is not.

Disregard for institutions is all-encompassing. It is not only in politics and public administration but also in economic policy, not just in developed countries but in developing ones, too. It was after all, U.S. President Donald Trump who tweeted, “Who is our bigger enemy, Fed’s Powell or President Xi of China?”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has changed governors of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), frequently. Raghuram Rajan left quietly. Then came Urjit Patel, seen as a yes-man to Modi for lowering interest rates. Both Rajan and Patel are distinguished economists. Then, when Patel refused Modi, he left his place to a man holding a history degree, Shaktikanta Das. Interest rate cuts increased their pace after Vice Governor Viral Acharya, another economist, left his office. Economists are bad for economic policymaking in this new world, I presume.

Ankara of course is a world leader in cutting-edge trends such as placing non-economists in positions of economic policymaking. Still, I see great potential in our friends around the globe.

Güven Sak,