Chat Corner: The Unfettered Equality team discusses Brexit, globalization and what it means for Europe going forward.
SEBASTIAN: Really hoping the Brits don’t vote for exit. Would be pretty catastrophic. I don’t think an EU without Britain would survive, France and Germany are on the same page but they both have taken in way more refugees and would see a similar backlash.
The only winner in a divided Europe is Russia.
LUKE: I’m mostly worried about it as the beginning of the end of the EU. I’m not sure Britain leaving would kill the EU, but this nationalist backlash towards immigration is happening all over the place. The fact that it’s young people who want to stay in is getting a lot of attention, and I think that’s interesting.
SEBASTIAN: I think this an element that gets overlooked– the broader backlash against globalization across the Western world. Trump, Brexit, far right groups, etc. all have hit on a message of nationalism and closed borders, and the middle class in many developed countries could go for it.
LUKE: Which is crazy, because we in the West have been the primary beneficiaries of globalization. The US has just been terrible at distributing the wealth and Europe has been terrible at distributing the people.
SEBASTIAN: Right. But I sympathize. The whole premise of the American Empire (as it was sold postwar) was American leadership coupled with rising incomes and standards of living, but most of the gains of empire have accrued to the elites — defense, finance, corporate, etc.
So you’re left with a decaying order that has become infinitely more expensive to maintain and a middle class worse off than they were at the height of the postwar period. We spent a generation’s wealth on a disastrous series of Middle East interventions, and then the bottom came out of the housing market.
SEBASTIAN: So you have dysfunctional government that can’t fund the promises made to the middle class and that is beholden to the elites, and a dysfunctional international system that can no longer solve big problems because of the limits of our leadership. Essentially, empire doesn’t work and people don’t want it. But also, it’s too late.
LUKE: I’m not quite ready to give up the ghost on American hegemony just yet. We’re still a stabilizing force, overall. That said, you’re a million percent right about the empire benefiting a tiny number of elites who have mutilated the political system to the point where it primarily serves their own interest.
SEBASTIAN: American hegemony is the worst form of hegemony except all the others we’ve tried. So I’m a reluctant defender.
LUKE: It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. And I’m not being flippant, somebody really does have to do it.
SEBASTIAN: Yep. There is always a most powerful nation by default and barring a catastrophe that will be with us for the foreseeable future. The question is whether our Republic will survive in anything but name. Looking back, I think historians could see Trump as a “Rubicon” moment for the US, a formal end to a period that had essentially died a long time ago.
ANGIE: Brexit is huge, and I am surprised at the lack of conversation around it. I have very politically active FB friends, and zero talk about Brexit.
SEBASTIAN: What are your thoughts on Brexit?
ANGIE: I think the UK leaving the EU is economically catastrophic.
SEBASTIAN: Yeah I think it would have major ramifications for global markets. The American economy is soft, Chinese economy is a near disaster, and Europe is overwhelmed with a series of crises.
ANGIE: I think most of the EU countries are so intertwined at this point. A major nation like the UK leaving would have a drastic effect on 30+ nations, including several G7 nations.
LUKE: Okay that’s a point of my ignorance. I get why it’ll be bad for Britain and the EU. I don’t see how it will hurt global markets, other than just the damage that uncertainty does.
SEBASTIAN: I think some of the ramifications would be lesser than if Germany or France left since Britain isn’t a signatory to Schengen and isn’t in the currency union.
LUKE: Either France or Germany leaving would kill the EU dead.
ANGIE: If the UK votes to leave, Germany and France aren’t far behind. At that point there is no reason to stay in a bureaucratic organization with several failing economies. Then Eurozone is then next.
SEBASTIAN: A divided Europe is the worst case scenario. I don’t see a return to territorial aggression, but you could see a revival of a Warsaw/Axis style pact of authoritarian states (Russia, Hungary, Poland etc.)
ANGIE: Yeah, I don’t foresee a 19th century hegemonic power war, but maybe something closer to the Cold War.
ANGIE: British EU workers currently in the country? What about British citizens currently in other EU nations?
SEBASTIAN: Yeah, I have no idea how that would work. Not to mention that the UK would probably cease to be a political reality if Brexit passes. Scotland would definitely leave and then vote to rejoin the EU.
ANGIE: Scotland needs the EU, that was why they stayed in the UK.
SEBASTIAN: I think the material fact of nuclear weapons makes great power war very unlikely, especially among powers in the West, but the demise of Western unity would be a global disaster– especially since we face global crises (climate change, terrorism etc).
ANGIE: At least there is NATO, unless Trump becomes President. You are right Sebastian, the only country that benefits from this is Russia. You know Putin wants a #Brexit.
LUKE: I have a related question that might be a derail so feel free to ignore, but: do we think that states federating together into larger economic blocs is a generally good phenomenon? Or is the breakdown a bad thing just in Europe’s case? i.e., south Asia banding together in the face of China’s ambition.
SEBASTIAN: Luke, I’m agnostic on supranational organizations. Looking back, one could make a case that the EU and common currency have been disasters. Not to mention our own system of federalism is looking worse for the wear these days, But I think that untangling the EU requires too much risk.
ANGIE: I agree. I am not necessarily a fan of the EU, but the UK is in deep. They are in a polyamorous marriage with an economic organization and they can’t afford a divorce.
LUKE: Agreed. But am I right to believe that these organizations, whatever their foibles, are generally good for our economic and social progress? I don’t know that nationalism is any more sustainable.
ANGIE: The EU made sense when it was created. The Cold War was scary and Europe had just fought two World Wars in one century. Banding togethering economically and politically made absolute sense. It saved these nations and with our current state of globalization made them important factors in the global economy.
SEBASTIAN: Definitely. Without a countervailing force, institutions suffer from mission drift. And ironically the success of postwar international institutions enabled the globalization that has undermined them.
ANGIE: Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but I feel comfortable saying without the EU, UK, France, and especially Germany would not be as economically and politically powerful as they are today.
LUKE: Or worse, they’d be at each other’s throats again.
ANGIE: Wud up 19th Century!
SEBASTIAN: The difference between now and the turn of the last century is that global elites are, to a large part, a single entity. Russian elites buy up properties in Miami and London, driving up prices for ordinary people. That was beginning to happen before WWI, but today the interconnectedness is so much higher.
ANGIE: Yeah, before WWI the interconnectedness was just Queen Victoria’s children. WWI, or as I like to call it: the craziest family reunion.
LUKE: And how do you strike the balance between protecting your citizens from global market forces while still reaping the benefits?
SEBASTIAN: I think the broader question is this: how do we distribute the gains of a global market? What should redistribution look like in a system with state actors but global capital? What kind of international tax system is right? What are our international obligations as consumers? And how do we answer those questions when the very idea of internationalism is under assault? The world is small, but it’s also profoundly big. We are all very different in important ways.
LUKE: And this is where the daunting nature of the problem makes even the most determined policy maker hide under their desk.
ANGIE: What are the actual arguments for leaving the EU that aren’t the xenophobic responses? The amount of money the UK gives to the EU? Taxation?
LUKE: Sovereignty for its own sake?
ANGIE: I haven’t actually come across a well developed non-strawman argument. Most of the economists and politicians I respect have stated they don’t want to leave. Then there is Boris Johnson. But there has to be convincing evidence seeing how likely a ‘yes’ vote may happen.
SEBASTIAN: Yeah Boris just wants to be Prime Minister. London would definitely be worse off under Brexit.
SEBASTIAN: We didn’t talk about Jo Cox’s assassination.
ANGIE: Well it is an example of this dark Brexit camp that wants to leave the EU for pure racist and nationalist reasons. It is messed up. But half the country aren’t UKIP supporters and racists. Right? However Britain may say the same thing about us. One of our major political parties nominated (almost) Donald Trump.
SEBASTIAN: Yeah. Right-wing populism is a major threat, and one that I think her assassination really highlights. We’ve been hearing about the rise of white supremacist hate groups since Obama’s election, but it gets reported and then forgotten.
I think we understand the connection between economic desperation and terror in the middle east, but we fail to see it happening in our own country.
ANGIE: It will be really interesting when this vote is all over to see what areas of the UK vote for which side; if particular countries (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) are more in favor of staying. Right now the polls are a mess.
ANGIE: Fun Fact: did you know Last Week Tonight’s Brexit segment was not aired in the UK. Sky, the channel that airs the show, is waiting until after the vote to air the episode because of potential Ofcom broadcasting rules concerning political segments. Since the LWT segment on Brexit was one-sided, Sky decided not to air it before the referendum vote. However the segment is going viral in Britain because Ofcom has no restrictions on Youtube.