Over the last decade or so, every time there’s a WTO meeting or G8 summit, a lot of protesters show up to bring attention to some very real concerns about free trade agreements. Most recently there have been a number of protests against the TPP.
Globalization has made the world richer, but the way it has been implemented has given much more power and wealth to corporations, and diminished the ability of nations to regulate activities within their borders. At this very moment, for example, a Canadian pipeline company is suing the US government for $15B for not approving a very unpopular pipeline proposal – and it’s suing based on the rules of NAFTA.
So now Britain has voted to leave the EU. Polls showed that “the top issue among those voting to go was Britain’s right to act independently” (link).
The deficiencies of the EU are widely recognized. As Paul Krugman wrote recently:
The E.U. is deeply dysfunctional and shows few signs of reforming.
…Today’s E.U. is the land of the euro, a major mistake compounded by Germany’s insistence on turning the crisis the single currency wrought into a morality play of sins (by other people, of course) that must be paid for with crippling budget cuts. Britain had the good sense to keep its pound, but it’s not insulated from other problems of European overreach, notably the establishment of free migration without a shared government.
…The most frustrating thing about the E.U.: Nobody ever seems to acknowledge or learn from mistakes. If there’s any soul-searching in Brussels or Berlin about Europe’s terrible economic performance since 2008, it’s very hard to find. And I feel some sympathy with Britons who just don’t want to be tied to a system that offers so little accountability, even if leaving is economically costly. (link)
Soon after England and Wales voted to leave the EU, Larry Elliott, Economics Editor at the Guardian, wrote an article in the Guardian titled “Brexit is a Rejection of Globalisation” (link). He talks about the free trade movements of the last 30 years resulting in “a much diminished role for nation states”. Elliott argues that the EU failed:
Jobs, living standards and welfare states were all better protected in the heyday of nation states… than they have been in the age of globalisation. Unemployment across the eurozone is more than 10%. Italy’s economy is barely any bigger now than it was when the euro was created. Greece’s economy has shrunk by almost a third. Austerity has eroded welfare provision. Labour market protections have been stripped away.
…Torsten Bell, the director of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, analysed the voting patterns in the referendum and found that those parts of Britain with the strongest support for Brexit were those that had been poor for a long time. The result was affected by “deeply entrenched national geographical inequality”, he said.
There has been much lazy thinking in the past quarter of a century about globalisation. As Bell notes, it is time to rethink the assumption that a “flexible globalised economy can generate prosperity that is widely shared”.
So do you see my problem? Brexit is such an enormous boon for anti-globalization that it is being heralded as a reversal of the entire globalization trend. Why aren’t the anti-globalization organizations marching in the streets?
I can answer that question, but it saddens me. Over the last week, “conventional wisdom” has decided that everyone who supports Brexit is racist. I have been practically spat on because of the sentiments I expressed in my last post (link), that “my head said Remain but my heart said Leave”. One supposed old friend wrote:
60+ year old citizens of the UK who voted to leave (and they are the majority of wanna-be leavers) are delusional. They want to restore that tiny little island to its imperial greatness, or at least to its completely diminished splendour during WWII. They want an England with white rulers and black slaves.And of course the slaves are all rapists, and none of the white rulers is. Foreigners are all murderers and rapists. So the tiny little island may be able to pull in tourists to see its nearly dead monarch until she dies. Then the itiny little island dies. And this is where your heart is? I pity your heart. Unbelievable.
with a followup email the next day:
Fuck your heart Dwarf.
Every day recently, there are articles about thousands of people protesting Brexit; none about people supporting it. I just googled “Brexit” and the first hundred articles were overwhelmingly negative, largely based on the personalities of its spokespeople. The stock market in Britain is soaring (the FTSE 100 is at a 5-year high), but even that is being spun as negative with repeated claims that panicked Britishers are buying up everything in sight – which is a totally ridiculous argument.
Not many people, apparently, have the courage to take on the anti-Brexit crowd.
Even while arguing against Brexit, people could be starting a discussion of the ways the EU needs to improve. Instead, we have vitriolic articles about one person who said he regretted his vote to leave, that is magically turned into a claim that most leave-voters regret their decision; claims that an uptick in google searches for “European Union” in England means that those who voted Leave somehow didn’t know what the EU is; and on and on.
I am confident that the economic shock of Brexit will soon subside. I am not so sure that the world community will ever regain its sanity about what just happened, and why.
Oh, and for those clinging to the notion that Brexit was purely motivated by ignorance and racism, read this article written by Larry Elliott a month before the vote, in which he argues for Leave: Brexit May Be the Best Answer to a Dying Eurozone.