Sunday, July 3, 2016

Why Did Brexit Happen?

Popular Economics Weekly

The shortest answer is the Great Recession and austerity policies of EU policymakers. The result will be a Lessor, or Little Britain, which was inevitable given the austerity policies holding sway in the EU. What austerity policies? In the UK’s case, it was raising taxes in 2010 while cutting government spending in an attempt to pay down debt incurred during and by the Great Recession. In doing so it has kept the UK close to recession level growth ever since 2008.

But standard economic theory tells us the opposite is needed. A recession or economic downturn of any kind is when private business (and consumers) begin to hoard (i.e., save more, and spend less), which the Great Depression and (WWII) taught US means governments have to spend more to preserve jobs and productive capacity, which will ultimately bring a more robust recovery and the means to pay down that public debt.

Nobelist Paul Krugman has been one of austerity’s most vocal critics. “By late 2008 it was already clear in every major economy that conventional monetary policy, which involves pushing down the interest rate on short-term government debt, was going to be insufficient to fight the financial downdraft. Now what? The textbook answer was and is fiscal expansion: increase government spending both to create jobs directly and to put money in consumers’ pockets; cut taxes to put more money in those pockets.”

But the Brits did just the opposite, with predictable results—near zero GDP growth since 2008. “I don’t know how many Britons realise the extent to which their economic debate has diverged from the rest of the western world – the extent to which the UK seems stuck on obsessions that have been mainly laughed out of the discourse elsewhere,” said Krugman. “George Osborne and David Cameron boast that their policies saved Britain from a Greek-style crisis of soaring interest rates, apparently oblivious to the fact that interest rates are at historic lows all across the western world.”

This led to the scapegoating by demagogues quick to take advantage of diminishing economic prospects of working class whites in (formerly) Great Britain, and that Donald Trump is taking advantage of in the U.S. as well. Hence the Brits came to blame immigrants for taking away lower and mid-level jobs, when it was Cameron’s government that was downsizing itself at the same time of diminished private spending.

The scapegoating of Mexican and Muslim immigrants is really the only way Trump knows how to scare those people that don’t have another way to understand their predicament after his anti-Obama birther movement failed. I once wrote about the reason for the Tea Party supported by many of those same middle-aged US white voters who felt disenfranchised with a fast changing economy.

The Ted Cruz-led rebellion and 2011 government shutdown (while holding the confederate battle flag) brought in those still fighting the Civil War 150 years later. Big Government to them was the Northern Yankees bullying the Southern, more conservative states.

The EUs overall predicament has been the same, as ours—which is a poor growth record due to the austerity policies of political elites—both in Europe and unfortunately, the U.S. as well, where the Obama administration also allowed taxes to rise and government spending cut after the 2011 shutdown and consequent spending sequester that downgraded the U.S. sovereign debt rating.

Such policies have prevented the massive spending and investment programs that occurred during President Roosevelt’s New Deal, a New Deal that employed those many who could not otherwise have had the dignity of work during the Great Depression.

The result of our own austerity policies has been our failing schools, highlighted in Michael More’s latest film, Where To Invade Next, and Detroit’s toxic drinking water, the result of Michigan’s cutback in government services—which in Detroit’s case meant taking over control of Detroit’s government and replacing its elected officials with a state-appointed ‘manager’.

So can anyone blame the Brits wanting to become Little Britain again; or so many Americans that want to close our borders in order to Make America Great Again, because their predicament has been ignored for so long by those same Austerians?

Unfortunately, it is a lesson lost to European elites and even most American politicos, it seems, so a history of wall-building is on the cusp of repeating itself. Only this time, we have to find a better way than another World War to rescue our economies (and break down those walls).

Harlan Green © 2016 

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