A two-pence on Brexit (and democratic system failure)

Hmm… What a noise. Even the normally apathetic or delightfully uniformed are having their voices heard, and quite adamantly.  In all (but a few of) the pieces I have read over the past two days, delivered from across the spectrum of august analysts to plumbers down the street, the message has been overwhelmingly negative; pointing to the most dire consequences. However, in one (satirically dark) piece I thought the last sentence cuts through all the lamenting and cheap blaming and finger pointing and character assassination and misrepresentation of actual events and blatant lying (in it and in others of its ilk): “Tomorrow – well. Tomorrow, we get to work”

And to me, that’s it. “Tomorrow, we get to work.” None of the issues raised by this piece or any other that I have seen are insurmountable if competent minds are put to them. A lot of what was and is claimed to be immediate or future victims of catastrophic change will in fact change very little in practice. A new reality with its own opportunities and options has arrived. People, and the companies and institutions they run are resilient, and innovative – especially the Brits, and especially when they perceive themselves to be with their backs against a wall. They will put alternative measures in place faster than it takes all the doom-sayers to dream up the next “insurmountable catastrophe.”

So yes, there will be an over-hysterical reaction for a relatively short time, especially from the markets, which are greatly influenced by minds mainly capable of the imbecilic kind of arguments put forward by some of the proponents of exit (and now nervous on top of it), but as far as I can see, in history this will be observed as merely a blip in the history of a country that has lived through events many orders of magnitude more serious than little Brexit.

Of the remainder of the EU I am less certain. The reigning hysteria, coupled with all the other real problems and logic-defying idiosyncrasies that is the EU might just be enough to tatter it to the point where it simply becomes to light not be blown away.

But what I find most amazing is that the outcome of the practice of democracy – the people put in power to represent the best interests of their electors, don’t seem to get the message. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Hollande nor Merkel nor Cameron – for that matter, neither the vast political establishments behind them, seem to get the message: People are fed-up with what they perceive as a crop of “leaders” that are incapable of fundamentally addressing the flaws that plague our times and that touch their lives.

As one (more sober analyst) put it:

“When people feel that they have fallen behind economically and that it will take too long to catch up in a globalized world; that leaving domestic decisions to foreign leaders with completely different priorities, customs and interests is unfair; that national culture is being eroded by outsiders; that the will of the ordinary should prevail over that of a privileged elite — these are all valid, deep-seated “emotions” that easily transcend demographic divides. Emotion, in other words, becomes synonymous with nationalism, and some level of nationalism resides in every one of us.

A sense of embattlement enlivens the innate sense of nationalism. As more and more election cycles and referendums worldwide reveal, a substantial number of people apparently do not believe that the elites have their nations’ best interests at heart. Globalization supposes that there will be winners and losers in every country. But it also promises that even the losers, with enough time and a bit of assistance, will eventually come out ahead.

Many people have grown tired of waiting for the benefits of a vastly interconnected world to trickle down. As the world whizzes by them, their wages remain flat and jobs become scarcer. Then it becomes convenient to blame their straits on the immigrant speaking a strange tongue and taking their employment opportunities. These people are not studying demographic charts and complex economic models to understand why their country needs immigrants in the long run, nor are they lying awake at night fretting over a Moody’s downgrade. The more sophisticated rhetoric they hear about the benefits to come — and the fewer benefits they actually see — the more distrustful they become.” (Reva Goujon: The Global Order after Brexit, Geopolitical Weekly, Stratfor, June 28th 2016.)

The way they (the people) express their frustration is twisted – Trump, Le Pen, Beppe (the clown) Grillo, Chaves, De Kirchner, etc,  and it’s taking on bizarrely nationalistic, no, I dare say, Tyleresquely1 populist tones in some cases, but if one looks carefully I think they are all trying to say: “It’s not working. You have to change what you are doing, or how you are doing, or both.”

But as far as I can see, the establishment is not getting the message. Instead they are indulging in exemplary complex-speak, leaning a little bit this way and that to create some illusion of change, trying to dodge as much of the flack as they can, taking some aspirin for the headaches they’re developing, pandering to their own interests and that of powerful entities in their societies, and mostly concerning themselves much more with getting elected (or re-elected) than solving any difficult problems properly. And in the process the whole system of what we have come to refer to as liberal western democracy is slowly drifting towards the rocks – despite Fukuyama’s recent assertion that it is the end-point of humanity’s sociocultural evolution…2

  1. “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy…” Alexander Tyler, Scottish historian 1887
  2. Francis Fukuyama:  The End of History and the Last Man (1992).

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