As I write this, the Euros play in the background, serving as a metaphor for the current state of the continent in the wake of the UK referendum this week. Soccer finds itself with many 1-0 finals, but no fan of the sport would ever describe a game as simply that binary, yet that is how much of this “Brexit” debate has been framed by major news outlets.
The EU is largely a trade agreement. It is a vehicle for 28 nations (for now) to avoid the complexities and redundancies of transporting labor and capital across 28 different legal and regulatory systems spanning an area the size of the 8 largest US states. It is hamstrung by the Euro, a good idea betrayed by bad policymaking, as it serves as the primary example of the mess that follows when you are left without a political union to govern your currency union. The UK was smart to keep the pound.
But by completely removing themselves from this set of standards and practices, all the UK has guaranteed itself is more bureaucracy and red tape, as they will have to individually renegotiate all of their trade agreements with Europe, but without the leverage of the EU behind them. And before you laugh and joke about how Europe is insignificant relative to what is now the sixth-largest economy in the world (falling behind France overnight), don’t, because the coalition is far from it, as Joseph P. Quinlan, chief market strategist for US Trust noted last year:
“In nominal U.S. dollar terms, the European Union (plus Norway, Switzerland, Iceland) accounted for 25.4% of world output in 2014 according to data from the International Monetary Fund. That was greater than America’s share (22.5%) and well in excess of China’s—13.4%.”
Translated to English, that means the European Union (plus the rest of the Nordic countries) oversaw the world’s largest economy in 2014. The problem is that a shockingly large portion of the politically engaged populace does not care what Quinlan says because they believe that expert opinion is now a hindrance, not an aid to an argument. Michael Gove of Vote Leave summarized the feelings for many on each side of the Atlantic:
“I think people in this country have had enough of experts. There is only one expert that matters, and that’s you, the voter.”
This is basically the thesis of the entire Trump campaign. He can dispute any truth thrown at him simply by invalidating its origin. Despite it being a logical fallacy, it is reasonable for his voters to feel this way, as many were promised the American Dream by “experts” for decades and have only seen their situation further erode.
The global superrich have been selling a con for nearly a half century, promising that giving them more money and power will inevitably trickle all of it down to the rest of us. Many can now easily see the graft at work, but this disease has latched on to social politics, infinitely complicating the discussion. Major media, all owned by a handful of conglomerates, compound the confusion as they abdicate their journalistic responsibility in favor of sensationalized entertainment disguised as news.
We saw a near perfect example of its fraudulence this week, as deposed Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandoski – the same man who grabbed a reporter on video and still denies doing so, is being paid half a million dollars by CNN to give his “expert” opinion on the 2016 campaign. We are fed a constant stream of bullshit, at least partially by design—as Zach Weinersmith at SMBC brilliantly lays out in this comic:
Ignorance really has become a virtue, and as quickly as the internet expanded the conversation, social media compartmentalized it, so we all can surround ourselves with the voices we want to hear, instead of being tuned in to the voices we should hear. It almost seems as if we are nearing the end of the post-French Revolution enlightenment era and one where reasoned thought and the scientific method are regarded as nuisances.
Despite a near consensus among economists that this would at the very least, be a short term economic disaster, many in the UK did not seriously consider what Vote Leave meant until after the markets confirmed the opinion of those despised eggheads.
Referendums like the Brexit are referendums on representative democracy, as there was no policy to execute, simply one to rescind. If we do not trust our elected officials to negotiate nuanced international agreements, what do we trust our elected officials with? The democratic order established in the wake of the French Revolution is under attack. The widespread push to elect intelligent, personable individuals trusted to help us attain our hopes and dreams is slowly being replaced by a desire to just burn the whole damn thing down.
Which is understandable to a point, given that global elites have utterly failed us over the last half century. But just because a generation of old white men were so greedy that we probably have to invent a new word for what they have done does not mean we need to junk the entire system. This attitude is the equivalent of smashing your Xbox because you lost a game of Madden. You still suck at Madden, but now you don’t have a platform to do all the other things you enjoy.
Many are just now beginning to understand is that the Brexit changes the UK more than it does the EU. Leave voters have been unfairly painted as racist (though many clearly are), and in the same sense that Donald Trump does not represent all Republicans, Nigel Farage and the UKIP party do not represent all leave voters. This vote was mainly about expressing a general dissatisfaction with Europe, and can you blame them?
The Euro has completely fractured the relationship between rich and poor nations. Youth unemployment is above 20% in France and around 45% in Spain. Italy is still teetering from Silvio Berlusconi’s bunga bunga parties, and Greece would be a failed state if not for the support of Germany (they also may not be a near-failed state if not for creditors in Germany, but that’s a story for another day).
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to want to remove oneself from this complex and somewhat arcane mesh of a trade agreement, but the benefits outweigh the headaches. The prime reason to stay is that the most war torn continent in modern history has experienced no military hostilities since forming the European Union, despite dramatically escalated tensions on many other fronts. The best way to reform the EU is from the inside, and the UK leaving not only destabilizes their own neighborhood, but emboldens Europe’s clear existential threat.
Russia invaded the continent two years ago and is planning out its next moves in what has essentially become its forward operating base in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin funded groups pushing the UK to leave, knowing that a fractured Europe aids them more than anyone else. If the EU continues to disintegrate, Putin could very well test the unity of NATO. Poland senses a rising threat, as they increased their military spending by 18 percent last year.
This is not leadership, this is a retreat from the fight. Europe and all its dysfunction are not going anywhere regardless of what the United Kingdom does, and without their guidance at the helm, the world becomes a much more uncertain place. Given the complexities of executing this plan, it still may not happen, as the many implications of the Brexit vote are still to be determined, but there is one whose impact is already out in the open: This was yet another victory for simplicity over nuance in our so-called modern era.