Brexit and Trump

Who’s to blame for calling this idiotic up or down Brexit vote in the first place?

David Cameron.

He thought remain would be a slam dunk. Against the advice of professional economists everywhere, he wagered Britain’s long-term economic growth rate for short-term political gain (appeasing Trump-like conservative populists within his own party)–and he lost. He lost.

This is exactly what Republicans like Paul Ryan are doing, as we speak, with Donald Trump: by supporting him, they are recklessly exposing the United States to a needless hazard in the name of short-term political gain, appeasing the most extreme, right-wing elements within their own party.

So now the question has become the following: is Brexit the foreshadowing of an equivalent populist electoral folly in the United States in November?

The British leader promised an in-or-out referendum on the European Union to solve a short-term political problem. The consequences could be enormous.
NYTIMES.COM|BY STEVEN ERLANGER AND STEPHEN CASTLE

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Brexit and Trump

  1. andrewclunn says:

    Does anyone trust the predictions of professional economists these days? I mean macro-economics has pretty much been shown to be a pseudo-science with no predictive power. Basically the “remain” push did nothing to deal with the real concerns put forth by the other side. apocalyptic rhetoric gets pulled out so frequently that people are numb to it. I mean here you are assuming this is a huge blunder. Is it? Looks like the people of the UK disagree.

    • andrewclunn says:

      Oh, and I don’t think this foreshadows a Trump victory at all, so you can rest a little easier there. As someone with my ear to the ground with regards to the Trump situation, he’s collapsing legitimately.

  2. Santi Tafarella says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I do trust the CONSENSUS opinions of professional economists, yes. Economics as a discipline does discover things; it’s not a pseudoscience. And the very strong and wide-ranging view of economists is that economic integration is far more advantageous, on balance, to the participants, than disadvantageous.

    So it feels like I’ve woken up this morning in a very different world. My British wife is very depressed.

    The Brexit is akin to waking up and learning that Texans (a future “Texit?”) just voted, with almost no sustained debate, negotiation, or discussion, to divorce the United States. That would be an enormous tragedy for the US and Texas, however civilly the divorce was worked out.

    Surely such a divorce would be bad for the economic situation of both sides, and bad for the children.

    What drove this vote was xenophobia, suspicion, and life as a zero-sum game. But life (especially economic life) progresses and is dependent for growth on trust. Trust. And inclusion. And openness. Economic life can be arranged in such a way that it’s win-win.

    But what Britons have said is they don’t trust their fellow Europeans to cut a square deal with them; they don’t want to share their fate; they do not want to be thought of as a part of the European family.

    These are disastrous and tragic attitudes to bring to the continent of Europe after two world wars, and so much post-war progress. Imagine how it will now feel for English people travelling in Europe. Right now, borders are crossed freely. It’s a very, very sad day.

  3. Santi Tafarella says:

    Andrew:

    I also worry about the corruption of civic discourse surrounding the fallout from the Brexit, and the defaming of economics as a profession (much like science is defamed by creationists and global warming denialists).

    I can already see one aspect of this coming: the conservative’s global warming playbook will simply be troped to the Brexit debates. Just as global warming denialists cherry-pick climate data, running headlines on Drudge anytime there is a cold snap anywhere in the world, so it will be with British economic numbers. If Britain, for example, has a better economic year than the European Union (or even quarter, or even a good figure coming out of a single industry), the news will be touted as “proof” that Brexit is not, on balance, a tragedy; that old school nationalism and protectionism are good things, etc.

    Now, I could be wrong about all of this. It may prove that greater local control and autonomy constitute a better model, and is more in keeping with economic vitality. But if it is, it will only be because the British recognized the errors of their ways, and quickly moved to re-establish trade relations even more intensively via yet other routes through the global economic network. I suspect this is what will happen, and it will cover over the worser aspects of Brexit (much as if Texas divorced the United States and quickly established deeper ties with China and South America).

    Whatever the case, local autonomy will quickly be balanced by a desire to trade. Integration will be sought. Greece, for instance, had it left the EU, would have cast its fate in quick alliance with Russia.

    So the Brexit is essentially a nostalgic mass delusion; the whimsical jumping out of one frying pan into (what it imagines) were the “good old days” when Britain was more sovereign, ethnically monochrome, and happy. This nostalgia will be indulged in even as its political, banking, and business leaders are casting about for ways to throw the country back into the global fire.

    There is no escaping global economic integration, multiculturalism, and the movement of humans to cities. And that’s a good thing. (Or at least, given the viable options, it’s a good thing.) Over the next century, the world is going to become a global civilization: a United States of the World. It already is, as the British will rather quickly discover when they try to thrive independent of it.

    • andrewclunn says:

      Multiculturalism is not inevitable (as evidenced by the rising disdain for acceptance of Islamic society based on its incompatibility with such values). Macro-economics is a pseudo-science with no predictive power. And YOU have already cast two narratives (one for each sort of outcome) to reinforce your worldview, while proactively criticising those who support the Brexit for doing that very thing (likening them to climate deniers).

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Disdain for Islamic society, and its bad reputation with contemporary outsiders, is not because of religion per se, but precisely because it fails, in numerous instances where majority power is exercised (the Middle East, Pakistan, etc.), to sufficiently integrate in a peaceful way with others. In other words, peaceful Muslims in Los Angeles County who are tolerant toward gays, Jews, Christians, etc., are no more despised than other religiously eccentric or exotic groups (Mormons, Hindus, etc.). The details of their monotheism are a matter of indifference so long as that monotheism is not translated into violence or intolerance for the diversity around it.

        Hyper-nationalism of the Brexit variety plays out, in secular form, religious fundamentalism. Brexit is populist nationalism that is nostalgic for simplicity (simple answers to complex problems) and separating from others as a city set upon a hill (in this case, away from the global market). But this sort of nationalism, if actually set in motion, will cripple its economy.

        It’s akin to the fantasy of Ayn Rand at the end of Atlas Shrugged, where the rich have established a base and become masters of their own fate, even as the rest of the world goes to hell. The flaw in this way of thinking is that the spectacular success of modern economic existence is grounded in complex systems of global trade integration. The reason our species is so successful at present is precisely because we have been organizing ourselves into ever larger cooperative units, extending to people on the other side of the globe from one another. Even if you have the knowledge for making, say, contemporary cars, you still need the global networks to parts, labor, etc. for doing so efficiently. If those cooperative units and networks are starting to break down in such a way that ever narrower slices of the human population are headed for wildly divergent fates, that is the recipe for future suspicions, economic contraction–and wars.

        Imagine, for instance, a British car company, trying to make a car exclusively in Britain, and sold to Britains (with no broader markets because those markets are closed to British cars, or the company’s cars receive a duty tax at the border that makes them noncompetitive to sell in that foreign market). It’s simply a fantasy to imagine that such a car company is economically sustainable. It will either have to severely curtail its production, or go out of business. Current living standards simply cannot be maintained (let alone, improved) in England absent the sort of economic integration that was rejected on a simplistic up or down vote yesterday. It’s why the very cords that England voted to snap in total, and all at once, in a fit of nationalist nostalgia, will be retied, quietly, one-by-one, in side agreements (if not with Europe, then elsewhere within the global network).

        As for macroeconomics, think of evolutionary biology and climate science, for they are all analogous in that they cannot predict precisely how an organic system will evolve, but can nevertheless speak to: (1) the mechanisms for evolution (whether economic, biological, or in atmospheric dynamics); and (2) the future (in probability terms). If macroeconomics is not a science, discovering the genuine economic mechanisms by which the future is determined, and weighing the influence of those mechanisms reasonably accurately, then it’s hard to argue that evolutionary biology and climate science are sciences–and I doubt you would want to go there.

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