After two rejections, Great Britain finally managed to join the Common Market (the precursor to the European Union) in 1973. Forty-three years later, it has decided to leave.
It’s hard to say how events in Great Britain affect my life here in Ohio. I know the stock market dropped by 611 points. However, my little bundle of stocks didn’t fall that much. In fact, I was far more worried about the fact that the freeway I take to get home from the job was completely blocked off due to two overturned trucks today. A vote like what happened yesterday has really no effect here in Cleveland, but in fact it should.
I have been reading about this from various writers (such as Canadian journalist Doug Saunder’s excellent article today in the Globe and Mail). The Washington Post’s James Hohmann wrote a very nice piece on the Brexit in The Big Idea Column he does. I will wait to see if the UK’s decision to leave the European Community is that “tsunami of repercussions that can meaningfully damage the global economy” as he writes, but he his definitely correct in his argument that those who voted to leave were doing so not on real facts (such as subsidies from Brussels to English farmers, free movement for Brits crossing the Channel, access to a market of 500 million people, etc) but the perception that it’s not their country anymore, their sick of ‘others’ reaping the benefits from a system skewered against them, and they just aren’t going to take it anymore no matter what the cost. As Hohmann wrote “Forced to choose between their heads and their hearts, the Brits went with their hearts.” Unfortunately, it’s the same thing that fuels in part the rise of Donald Trump.
It’s also the heavy hand of history that led to this vote to a degree. 150 years ago, Great Britain was the World’s premier economic power with an empire that spanned the globe. Many of the areas that voted to leave, such as the Midlands, were once the economic powerhouses whose products generated enormous wealth. Today, many of these same factories in Manchester and Birmingham are museums or empty lots. The country is still the 5th largest economy (and Greater London doing quite nicely until today thank you) in the world but still a far cry from the heights it attained before World War I. Even before yesterday’s vote, there was the risk of the United Kingdom itself falling apart. To paraphrase a book I read in college, from empire to welfare state to…what?
In my opinion (and just one of many let’s face it) the ones voting to leave the EU were willing to cut their noses off to spite those on the Continent because the tangible benefits the UK received from being a member couldn’t be seen in the everyday lives of those living in say Liverpool. They had a ‘thow the bums out’ mentality that too many, like David Cameron, underestimated and others, like Nigel Farage (which everyone agrees is more the heir of Oswald Mosley than Margaret Thatcher), took advantage of.
Yet, it’s still really hard to say how it will hit us here; despite Hohmann’s views. As Paul Krugman writes today in his blog, the effects of yesterday’s vote will be more a mixed bag than a global calamity.
Once again, here’s a little tune that seems so apt at this time.
Back across the pond, we still have an election in November to deal with.
Links to footage of France’s rejection of Britain’s application to join the Common Market in 1963 and “Would I Lie To You?” by Eurythmics courtesy of Youtube, easily removed on request.