Worldwide popular revolt confirmed by Brexit vote
Britain is leaving the European Union. But that reality doesn't begin to tell the story of the larger historical forces at work that are reshaping global politics, the global economy, and global culture and have been for much of the last decade.
The survival of the EU is actually of little consequence. The union is dead and will probably be in its death throes for years. Germany, France, and a few other northern European countries will keep the dream of a united Europe alive, but on the periphery – especially the southern European nations of Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal – the writing is already on the wall.
If this scenario plays out – and most sober-minded observers believe it will – this third attempt to unite the continent of Europe under a single currency and government will have failed. The first two efforts – Napoleon's conquests and Hitler's Blitzkreig – ended in the brutal Russian winter as two great armies perished in the snow and bitter cold. This latest effort at European unification will end because the cold logic of fiscal and monetary policy. Rich countries could not sustain the economies of poorer countries who benefited from the common market and currency but failed to discipline themselves in restraining their deficits. This led to massive debt in countries like Greece and Portugal that required severe medicine to save their economies.
Avik Roy writing in Forbes:
There has been a euroskeptic movement in Britain for as long as there has been a European Union. But the tipping point in favor of leaving has been the utter economic incompetence of EU elites.
Margaret Thatcher, the legendary UK prime minister, famously pointed out the central flaw in the creation of the Euro: its mismatch of Europeam monetary union without European fiscal union. “It just won’t do—it’s not big enough minded,” Thatcher told Robert Lenzner in a 1992 Forbes interview.
To put it simply, creating a unified currency meant that fiscally irresponsible countries, like Greece and Portugal, could create large deficits in their countries, knowing that their currency would enjoy the stability created by more disciplined Germans. Inevitably, this forced the more stable EU countries to bail out their black sheep, creating even more instability and resentment among member nations.
The EU’s fiscal incompetence led directly to its current immigration crisis. The Union’s open internal borders have meant that illegal immigrants could enter Europe by way of Greece and travel freely within the continent. One can have sympathy for the oppressed peoples of Syria and still express concern that European welfare states are not equipped to absorb them en masse.
The last straw for pro-Leave Britons was that European law, in some cases, required the UK to let illegal immigrants remain in the country at taxpayers’ expense, even if British law prescribed something else. This on top of the cartoonish need for EU bureaucrats to regulate everything down to the curvature of bananas.
If the issue were only incompetence, there might have been a fix found for the EU. But again, larger cultural forces are at work. The diversity freaks are all atwitter today, claiming that the white hetero-patriarchy is pushing back to re-establish white male supremacy. I suppose that if your worldview is skewed by racialism and extreme political correctness, that would be true.
But for the 90% of the rest of us, Brexit was a referendum on the popular notion of nationalism. It was a rejection of the idea that homogeneity and cultural tradition are evil and wrong and that hanging on to a national identity is tantamount to racism and sexism.
And of course, the vote was a rejection of the political class and its massive failures.
A big driver of the divide between Trump sympathizers and opponents—and Brexit leavers and remainers—is the same economic phenomenon. Economic elites of both liberal and conservative persuasions are well served by global economic and cultural integration. They’re the ones whose businesses prosper through free trade; they’re the ones whose vacations are made more convenient by a common currency and open borders.
Those in the bottom half of the economic spectrum often feel differently. For them, Polish plumbers and Mexican construction workers represent economic competition.
David Cameron, who announced today he would resign as Britain’s Prime Minister, is at home with elite conservative opinion, whatever its merits on the substance. Educated at Eton and Oxford, the son of a wealthy stockbroker, married to the daughter of a Baronet, Cameron comes from a different part of British society than did Margaret Thatcher, daughter of a greengrocer.
Did darker, more xenophobic sentiments also play a role in the ‘Leave’ victory? Absolutely. But those sentiments alone do not account for the legitimate policy concerns that nationalists express.
That's the problem with populist revolutions. The leaders it throws up are more likely to take advantage of a crisis to push noxious ideas that are usually buried deep in the national psyche. Across Europe and in the U.S., there are men and women riding the wave of discontent, hoping it carries them to power. Will they be good leaders who work to change things? Or will their darker impulses propel them toward authoritarianism?
This is a moment – a "hinge of history" – where the world pivots toward an unknown future. In some places, the populist pushback may get bloody. In others – like the U.S. – there may be a wholesale turnover of the political elites who have run America into the ground over the last few decades.
Change is coming. And as the old American adage adopted at the turn of the 19th century puts it, "it's good to be shifty in a new country."