Brexit, Trump and glob­al­i­sa­tion’s have-nots

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Two po­lit­i­cal events that are at­tract­ing global at­ten­tion these days – the vote in the United King­dom to leave the Euro­pean Union and Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the United States – have much in com­mon. Just over half of UK vot­ers chose “Brexit,” a re­sult that has cast a long shadow over their coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and eco­nomic prospects. Per­haps un­der­stand­ing the par­al­lels be­tween the two cam­paigns will help US vot­ers avoid tak­ing a sim­i­lar path in Novem­ber.

One par­al­lel is that both cam­paigns were thor­oughly un­der­es­ti­mated, es­pe­cially by ex­perts and es­tab­lish­ment fig­ures. Just as the pos­si­bil­ity of Brexit was ini­tially dis­missed, few po­lit­i­cal elites, Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic alike, took se­ri­ously Trump’s bid for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion.

Another sim­i­lar­ity is that both cam­paigns have been based largely on im­plau­si­ble, even ab­surd, prom­ises. In the UK, “Leave” cam­paign­ers as­sured vot­ers that the UK could main­tain ac­cess to the sin­gle mar­ket af­ter with­draw­ing from the EU, while lim­it­ing the en­try of Euro­pean work­ers to the UK. They also de­clared that the GBP 350 mil­lion sup­pos­edly sent to the EU each week would be re­al­lo­cated to the cash­strapped Na­tional Health Ser­vice.

Within hours of the ref­er­en­dum re­sult, the “Leave” cam­paign’s lead­ers be­gan to back­track, spurring anger among many vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly those whose sup­port for Brexit had been driven by the de­sire to cut im­mi­gra­tion. Yet Trump’s own im­plau­si­ble prom­ises – in­clud­ing his pledges to con­struct a wall be­tween the US and Mex­ico and bring back man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs from over­seas – still seem cred­i­ble to many vot­ers.

These par­al­lels point to one con­clu­sion: many workingand mid­dle-class vot­ers, who feel left be­hind by glob­al­i­sa­tion, are far an­grier than es­tab­lish­ment lead­ers re­alised. They can no longer be dis­missed; in­stead, lead­ers must fig­ure out how to ad­dress their con­cerns.

There are win­ners and losers in glob­al­iza­tion. But a fun­da­men­tal propo­si­tion in eco­nom­ics holds that when in­di­vid­u­als are free to en­gage in trade, the size of the eco­nomic pie in­creases enough that the win­ners could, in pro­pos­als were con­sis­tent with Repub­li­can ideas. None of this bodes well for the losers of glob­al­i­sa­tion; they need lead­ers – of both par­ties, in Congress and the ex­ec­u­tive branch – who can come to­gether to pro­tect their in­ter­ests.

Un­til re­cently, the Bri­tish elec­toral sys­tem seemed to rep­re­sent an ad­mirably bal­anced ap­proach. The two largest par­ties largely op­er­ated un­der com­pe­tent and con­sis­tent lead­er­ship and rep­re­sented rel­a­tively well-de­fined pol­icy stances – cen­tre-right for the Con­ser­va­tives, and cen­tre-left for Labour. In this en­vi­ron­ment, vot­ers could base their choices on the is­sues at hand. And, un­der the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem, vic­to­ri­ous prime min­is­ters could work to carry out the poli­cies on which they had cam­paigned.

Yet even Bri­tain’s “com­pe­tent” lead­ers some­times made fate­fully ill-ad­vised de­ci­sions. From Mar­garet Thatcher’s in­tro­duc­tion of a poll tax to Tony Blair’s sup­port for the USled in­va­sion of Iraq, to David Cameron’s de­ci­sion to hold the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, such de­ci­sions have un­der­mined the Bri­tish sys­tem.

What is left now, af­ter Cameron, is a mess. The new crop of politi­cians shows lit­tle clar­ity or con­sis­tency. When the next elec­tion is held, vot­ers could well be asked to choose be­tween par­ties that do not cor­re­spond in any clear way to the rel­e­vant pol­icy de­ci­sions that Bri­tain must make – mainly, whether to seek to ne­go­ti­ate a rel­a­tively close as­so­ci­a­tion with the EU or to sep­a­rate com­pletely.

In this sense, Amer­i­can vot­ers might still be bet­ter off than their Bri­tish coun­ter­parts. Though Trump’s ap­pear­ance in­di­cates that the US po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has also de­te­ri­o­rated markedly, the Democrats still favour poli­cies like wage in­sur­ance and univer­sal health in­sur­ance, and the Repub­li­cans still op­pose them. So, in Novem­ber, Amer­i­can vot­ers are still mak­ing a choice about one of the lead­ing is­sues on their minds: whether to ad­dress the re­al­ity of glob­al­i­sa­tion by help­ing those who have been left be­hind, or to tilt at wind­mills, like the Brex­it­ing Bri­tish.

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