Brexit

Why this is the wrong way, and why the populists have a point

The Brexit will be an historic milestone. It will be a marker, pointing out what not to do as humanity moves forward. It will bring the limitations of both democracy and capitalism into sharp focus. It will signal the death of the nation state.

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the populists are reacting to something real. The nation state already has less sovereignty. And the market system is rightly losing the peoples’ trust as greed and malfeasance at the top distort the market to the advantage of the one percent.

What next?

Stocks tank. The United Kingdom becomes England as the Scots, Irish, and possibly the Welsh vote to remain in the European Union. The great London financial hub goes the way of Jersey as a money magnet. If you can find a way to short London real estate, go for it.

Pretty bleak, right?

Yes – in the short term. Boris Johnson, in his clever and cynical ploy to become England’s next prime minister, was orating on the radio yesterday morning. It reminded me of Henry V’s famous speech before the Battle of Agincourt. Only . . . well, 600 years have gone by, and Boris will lose the battle for England in one way or another.

The Long View

But what is really going on here? For that we have to look at the larger and longer picture.

We have all heard of globalization and global warming. Global means global. All of us. All of humanity.

The Brexit is the result of English voters voting parochially because politicians pander to their (very real) fears in order to get or keep power. Democracy, thus bent, ceases to look good. But the idea, even after all this time, still has merit. True, England has voted what it perceives as English interests, and will suffer as a result. But the new democracy cannot be that of nation states. The new job of political leaders is to make democracy a global concern, voting humanity’s interests.

Ditto capitalism. The MBA culture has separated “management” from entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs make stuff and do stuff. They put together teams that expand the world’s knowledge and hands-on ability. The MBA culture has led to the loss of knowledge and ability. Andy Grove (the last of the great managers) called it “breaking the chain of experience.”

What do we do?

The great challenge facing humanity is no less than learning to manage our Earth as a closed system for the benefit of all the people of the Earth. It will be a damn close thing. So the challenge includes our moving into space, and managing habitats other than the Earth as closed systems.

The good news is that these two systems management problems are essentially the same. Solve one, and you are most of the way to solving the other.

For examples of the new political and entrepreneurial leadership, look no further than President Barack Obama and Elon Musk. The president draws criticism because he is acting in the larger interests of humanity and not protecting temporary parochial interests. Elon Musk is sometimes condescended to because he does not take the money and run. Instead he re-invests – in electric cars, land-able rocket boosters, and now habitats on Mars.

Post-Election Campaigns

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 and Justin Trudeau in 2015 have this in common: their election has motivated certain media to wage personal campaigns against them after their election to office. These campaigns are not directed at government policy or at the office of president or prime minister, but personally at the duly elected holder of the office.

In the USA it has been Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. In Canada it is the National Post. (Although it must be noted that, as noted in Ryan Lizza’s A House Divided, in the December 14 issue of The New Yorker, in the USA the Freedom Caucus (a group of republican representatives) has played an important role in campaigning against the president.)

Perhaps my history is weak, but I cannot remember the president being openly and consistently disrespected before President Obama came to office. And here in Canada the same thing is occurring since Prime Minister Trudeau’s election in October.

Montreal’s English language newspaper, The Gazette, was bought by Postmedia Network, Inc. Then a few weeks ago, the political section was replaced by a piece of the National Post, Canada’s right-leaning national newspaper. Even the page design and typeface are identical to the Post.

On the front page of this section on December 1, the headline is All Show and No Tell at Summit, and John Ivison’s comment piece touts Brad Wall, Saskatchewan’s premier, as a future leader of the Conservative Party who could take on Trudeau in the 2019 elections, saying that he has emerged as the national voice of the new conservatism – reasoned, market-based argument that doesn’t necessarily provoke two-thirds of the population to reach for their revolvers.

On the front page of this section on December 10, there is a charming photo (shot for Vogue Magazine) with the Prime Minister embracing his equally charming wife, Sophie. His hands are clasped over her rear end. She is wearing an Oscar de la Renta dress valued at $5700 provided by Vogue). The headline is A hands-on politician.

My point is that in a democracy, there are elections. People are elected to office to lead, and once in office are expected to do so. And the voters, having elected the leader, are then expected to respect the office, and save their misgivings until the next election.

But (especially since the infamous Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court), rich people and corporations expect that they will have, in effect, more than one vote. They feel that they know better than the rest of us what is good for the country. They tilt the playing field, just as the banking industry preys on poor people by charging 21% interest on credit cards. That rate used to be called usury. Any economics textbook will explain the relationship between loan interest and risk. And yet the default rate on credit cards in no way justifies 21%. It’s just how banks make money. In each case the tilting of the playing field undermines the public confidence in capitalism. For more on how the distortion of democracy and capitalism works, and what results, check out The fall of Jersey: how a tax haven goes bust, in Tuesday’s Guardian.

The media (and elected officials who have been bought by the rich) undermine both democracy and capitalism by waging campaigns against the elected.