by Henry Oliner
Many Americans have become familiar with basic economic concepts because it affects them so regularly, but our understanding usually stops at our shore. The Brexit vote has us scratching our head to comprehend something we hardly knew was an issue a few days ago. Before 9/11 we knew who Muslims were but a few weeks later were reading and trying to comprehend the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. Taliban and Al Qaeda were soon correctable on our spell checks.
The economists and the financial community will absorb, comment and predict for the coming months but here are a few observations and thoughts.
The polling was very wrong. This appears to becoming common. This is because the media that governs so much of the polling is far too monolithic and dismissive. This is the price they pay for their lack of intellectual diversity. This may explain why even the betting services were so wrong. When so much of the coverage is one sided it affects even the odds makers.
The British national mood appears to be very similar to the mood in America that begat the Trump and Bernie Sanders campaign. They are increasingly at odds with the leaders. The critical issue may be the dual related fears of immigration and national security, but this is also representative of a lack of respect between the governing elite and the great unwashed and will influence other issues.
We have always had elites and commoners, but there was a sense that in spite of their credentials and power that they shared common goals and values. The attraction to Trump in spite of his elitist wealth is that he at least espouses concerns that the middle class also share.
The elites serve an important purpose; not just to exercise the technical skills to execute policy for the administrative state, but to adhere to principles that protect the long term interests of the people and their culture. The danger of the populist trend is the severing of commitments to principles to serve pragmatic ends. Problems created by the intelligent cannot by default be solved by the ignorant. A Populist movement that can restore or progress important values and principles can accomplish great ends, but such movements are hard to control. Witness the difference between the American and the French Revolution.
For the libertarian intellectuals Brexit was a rejection of centralization and bureaucratization from Brussels, but we like to see a cause that reflects our preferred view and narrative. I see another sign of the exhaustion of Progressivism.
Our own United States is an American form of the European Union with distinctive and important differences. It is governed by a clear constitution which every state adopts and respects, and it covers a common culture and language even if you often have to press ‘1’ for English.
Critics of the vote may express alarm at the seeming increase in nationalistic fervor, but Charles Cooke at National Review expressed an important distinction between patriotism and nationalism (The Brexit Vote Was Just the Beginning):
George Orwell contended that the difference between patriotism and nationalism was that patriotism involved “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people,” while nationalism “is inseparable from the desire for power.” By this definition at least, Britain’s decision to extricate itself from the EU was patriotic, not nationalistic. Indeed, if there is any group within the debate that seeks to impose “a particular way of life . . . on other people,” it is the one that wants ever-closer integration into Europe, and, eventually, a federal super-state.
While we debate where this will ultimately lead this vote signals an important shift. The Brexit vote has released a possibility that was inconceivable until last week. Now we consider who will be next and whether the European Union can survive.