Tuesday, June 28, 2016
BREXIT: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
Free trade agreements are meant to be a boon to the economies of those nations who participate. In Canada, the Free Trade election of 1988 was supposed to bring in "jobs, jobs, jobs" according to the Prime Minister of the day, Brian Mulroney. In theory, it did. Canadian firms had access to the huge U.S. market and all seemed to go just as the auto industry had shown before the FTA came into effect. But then, along came Mexico and everything changed. Over time the FTA became NAFTA and many good-paying industrial jobs went south because Mexican workers were willing to work for less money and the Mexican government was willing to stifle any efforts of trade unions to establish chapters in that country. Subsequent trade agreements with other "developing" nations has shown a similar trend.
It has become obvious that free trade benefits only one group of people: investors. Those who seek to invest in economies that crank out product, often cheaply made, environmentally irresponsible, and completely uncaring for the conditions or safety or well-being of the workers, see their investments gain huge returns. Investors love free trade agreements. Other people ... not so much.
Thus, in its most positive form, the Brexit vote may be construed as a repudiation of large-scale free-trade agreements. So, that's the good news. However .....
The vote has badly divided the "United" Kingdom. Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the City of London ( the financial centre of Europe ) voted to remain, seeing advantages in doing so. The rest of England and Wales voted to leave. This sets up a troubling disunity. In terms of Scotland and Northern Ireland, those countries saw advantages of being able to count on the larger planning and location of economic activities of the EU. They are small markets, and saw their products being available to the large markets on the continent. Voting to remain was their way of telling the larger English electorate that they wanted more opportunity and control of their own economic future. And in terms of London, the economic powerhouse was able to exert influence on EU decision makers. But the English vote is obviously an anti-London vote. Smaller cities and towns have seen their factories close down and their young leave to go to London. And rural voters just do not trust their urban counterparts, in England and elsewhere.
More troubling in the disunity is the fact that younger British voters wanted to remain in the EU. They are more adaptable to new economic realities and were not frightened by the larger markets or opportunities of the EU. But older British voters wanted to get out. Why? Perhaps it's an unwillingness to embrace newer economic realities. Or perhaps it's because they still recall the older days of Great Britain being a world power, and having great influence in world affairs. It could be a type of nostalgia where "Britannia ruled the waves" at work here. Those days, of course, are long gone forever, but older British voters could've seen this as their last act of British defiance in the face of those Europeans that the British either fought against ( ie the Germans ) or traditionally distrusted ( ie the French ).
Whatever the case, the result of the vote has badly fractured the once United Kingdom. Scotland is openly musing about holding another referendum on their membership in the UK: presumably, the vote would be different a second time, with EU membership being linked with leaving the UK. And what of Northern Ireland? Gerry Adams and Sinn Feinn have long advocated continuing membership in the EU, as the Republic of Ireland has. Could this be the spark to have Northern Ireland finally renouncing its links to England and possibly joining the Republic to the south and maintaining membership in the EU?
All the result has really done is prove to the world that the UK in general, and England in particular, is a nation that no longer knows what it is, what it wants, what it's place in the world is, and where it's going. It is grimly trying to hold on to the notion that it is still a "great" nation, that its voice is still heard, and that it matters. Well, it has been heard all right ... but as for the rest ?
How the world might view the UK falls under this category .....
They have absolutely no idea what they have done. According to Google, the second most googled question on the day after the Brexit result was made known was "what is the EU?" It's almost like these people got drunk and angry, said many bad things in their choler, and then wanted to find out what they'd actually said. Many Britons have petitioned their government to have a second referendum, a type of mea culpa and apology in one. They're not going to get it.
What's done is done. There is no second chance, no sending the world in general and Europe in particular a bouquet of flowers with cute teddy bears on it, shedding tears and saying " I'm sorry, I won't do it again, please take me back."
England needs to take a long look in the mirror. And when it does, it needs to tell the world what it sees. For the rest of us, it's not a pretty image.