I have recently engaged in a sort of correspondence via postings with The Paradoxical Millennial regarding the current political landscape in the western world. Yesterday I offered some analysis and commentary on the 100 day fixation on the Trump presidency. At the conclusion I had offered that some further thoughts might be shared with regard to the EU and its future. I will attempt to do this here in the form of a general address, but with your kind indulgence I may at times write in a voice of a more conversational character with my esteemed colleague from the Mother country.
TPM, as I will address him, is very close to the heart of this topic. As a resident of the UK in the wake of Brexit questions surrounding the EU are more front and center. Those who follow such things here in the US have at least a reasonably good idea of what is happening with Brexit and the general direction of the EU. For the great majority of Americans, however, these subjects are vague at best. I would hazard a guess that if one were to ask the average American millennial on the street to say what is the EU it would most likely elicit a response something like ” Uhh…I don’t know. Eastern University?” The EU falls into the category of topics typified by an attitude of ” I can’t see it from my house so I don’t care.” This leaves the question then: should we?
Now in the case of the average Briton the answer is certainly yes. Even though as a nation the divorce papers have been filed it is still in the best interest of both parties that they manage to make it an amicable split. Divorces will by their nature tend to turn rather ugly, yet we should all hope that this does not occur in this instance. As with the husband and wife divorcing so too will the tone and course of this dissolution be determined largely by the counsel representing the two parties in the court.
I was intrigued by earlier thoughts shared by TPM in the posting of 31 March, Thoughts on Brexit, nine months on. I will shift to my conversational voice here. TPM one of the things about this post that leapt off the page at me was your expression of disappointment in the vitriolic posture that many of your countrymen took in the debate. Each generation seems to lament the ugly turn that the politics of their time may seem to have taken. Having witnessed more election cycles in this country than I am inclined to admit I can assure that with each there has come a mantra from media sources stating that ” this has been the ugliest campaign ever.” Without fail this phrase will enter the conversation in every election. It is the nature of the beast. It is like making sausage. If you witness it being made you may lose your appetite for it and when you get the finished product you can never be entirely certain just what is contained in the casing.
I appreciated your very sober examination of the subject. For all of the fears that have been fanned from the “stay” crowd in the wake of this momentous vote we should hope that most share your cautiously optimistic view of how this will proceed. I unfortunately am unable to put my finger on that pulse so I will rely on you to keep us informed of prevailing sentiments. You have expressed, both in the posting and in conversation since, that the general concept of the EU is good, at least on paper. The concern is what it has become in actuality. English voter participation tends to be somewhat higher than it is in most US elections, yet I noted that the participation rate in the Brexit vote was at about the average level, 76% if I recall correctly? The figures that I consulted were very shortly after the election so a more accurate measure may have been taken since. For the gravity of the question I must say I was a bit surprised that participation was not higher, but I have a theory on this.
This is based on nothing more than a suspicion, but bear with me if you would. I suspect that many Britons, like many Americans, have their lives so consumed just in trying to live day to day that they do not find the time, or frankly, have the desire to dive that deeply into these questions. Often voters in these circumstances will form their opinion or make their decision based on those of family members, friends, co-workers. In their own experience or through anecdotal accounts many Britons may have developed some reservations about the impact of one EU rule or another. Their sense may be that there is indeed something wrong there, but this is tempered by a caution. There is a lingering fear of the unknown. Maybe leaving the Union could go badly for us, they may think. Certainly that is the message that was carried in your media narrative. In light of these factors I believe there are two categories of British voters who were quite significant in the final outcome. These were the voters who had a sense that it was time for Brexit, but erring to the side of caution may have opted for the “stay” ballot to be safe, on the one hand. The second were those who found that they could not be firmly convinced one way or another and listening to the prevailing media narrative concluded that their vote wouldn’t matter anyway and chose to sit this one out. My conclusion is that the overall sentiment to leave was in fact higher than that reflected in the final tally.
I have always found striking parallels between American and British politics. I could cite countless examples of it, but will refrain from that now. The concerns surrounding the EU, in Britain and indeed on the continent, actually mirror many of the concerns in this country. The blueprint that was written for our self government was pretty clear. Much care was taken ensure that checks and balances were written in to prevent abuses. The design was for a representative republic of sovereign states united and under the protection of a federal authority with well defined limitations on it’s powers. For those of you familiar with the EU and its original charter I would ask you: is any of this sounding familiar?
Any system is only as good as the parties operating it. The problem in the EU is the same as the problems we have here in the states. On paper there is actually a sound plan. In practice what is done is so far removed from the original as to be barely recognizable. There is another glaring case of this very same problem in the United Nations. On paper, in it’s original charter, it was a fine and noble thing. Crafted out of the very best intentions in the wake of the greatest human catastrophe the world had just endured, a suffering not the least of which was borne by Britain. What has occurred since, however, is a grotesque perversion of that charter. The United Nations has been hijacked by the membership of nations whose interests are far from being united. It has been co-opted by parties who manipulate the workings as an instrument the thwart their foes or to enrich themselves.
The federal government here and the EU both have assumed powers that are well outside their charter. They have injected themselves as an authority over matters in which they have no legitimate place whatsoever. There is a hubris present in the individuals who populate these institutions, a smugness in the knowledge that as long as one is in position to write the rules then one is in position to break the rules with impunity. This is done under the cover of a legitimacy that is imparted by the institution. Simply being a member of the institution bestows authority. There is no accountability. The growing realization of this among the electorate is the driver behind both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. It is not so much a whole hearted vote for either as it is a rejection of the status quo.
The momentum for similar sentiments is growing on the continent. Le Pen’s growing following in the volatile stew of French politics is a sign. There is discontent, rumblings among the populations of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and growing now in the Scandinavian countries as well. There is an American parallel to this. In places like Massachusetts, Maryland, California there is a satisfaction with the status quo. Demographically and politically these states are positioned to benefit from things remaining as they are. Worth noting in each of these cases are the oceans of red ink present in their debts and unfunded liabilities. Other states, the traditionally “red” states are balking at federal abuses and carry budgets and balance sheets that are solvent. This leads me to the other key component in determining the fate of the EU.
Thus far we have accounted for the following:
- Federal overreach, the infringement of state sovereignty
- A bureaucratic organism with no accountability
- Arrogance and condescension
Now we add to these the final and what I believe to be the key component: debt. Not manageable, with a little self discipline and austerity we can work our way out of this kind of debt. Spiralling out of control, astronomical, incomprehensible debt. In both instances those holding the levers of power have ignored it, denied it, added to it and simply “kicked the can down the road” for next administration to deal with. We’ll take care of it later, tomorrow. Next year. But tomorrow never comes. Next year never comes.
This kind of fiscal mismanagement is unconscionable in running a household or business budget. We all know that it is not sustainable. We all know that were our household budget or our company’s budget saddled with these levels of debt the banks would have cut us off long ago. The very mention of our names would set off all the alarms and engage the auto-locks on all of the doors.
I have to confess that I do not know how this operates with the Euro, it may be similar, but in the US the solution is just print more currency, or more properly in today’s technology just add another set of zeros to the account. They do it because they can. It is tantamount to pouring gas on a bonfire.
There has been the suggestion that the EU is good in principle, it simply needs to be reformed. The same may be said for the US federal government. The problem in either case is that it may already be too late. As long as the fiscal shell game can be continued we can all hold hands as we skip along and whistle past the graveyard, but there is a point where the sidewalk ends. There will be more Brexits to come. They may begin as only one per year. For a time. And then there will be more. The first couple of boulders on the slope will be dislodged and then there will be nothing to hold back the avalanche to follow. When the final debt bell rings, and rest assured it will, the EU will disintegrate. As for the United States? There may be a similar fate in store. If California can suggest secession in protest of a Trump presidency ( they have, that we should be so lucky!) is it any less plausible that in a meltdown that a state like Texas, perhaps, might not bail on the ship as she goes down hard by the bow?
I don’t have a crystal ball and I do not mean to suggest that I wish for these things to happen. Wishing that they won’t will have about as much impact. You would have a hard time convincing me that the EU can or will be salvaged. It’s demise is only a matter of time. If the Russian bear wanders into Europe to pick at the carcass I feel relatively confident in saying that Uncle Sam can not be counted on to save the day. Not this time, for I am afraid there is neither the will nor the wherewithal. I don’t think the world is going to end, but it’s a pretty sure bet that the geopolitical map by the end of the 21st century will look much, much different.