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A gloomy view from the continent on the Brexit

By Kristof Decoster
on June 28, 2016

Just a day after it turns out England should as soon as possible “strategically purchase”  Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne ànd Antonio Conte if “Albion” ever wants to play a decent football tournament, like many people I’m still wondering about the global ramifications of the Brexit, both in the short term and medium to long term.

But first a few quick remarks. It’s stunning how many of the self-proclaimed fans of ‘disruptive change’  (philantrocapitalists, among others 🙂 ) now seem to be shell-shocked when such a change actually takes place, wiping off trillions from global stocks in the process. Looks like they prefer disruptive change to happen to others, rather than to themselves. (and yes, I’m well aware that a few people have made tons of money on Friday, and not the ones one would like to)

Second remark: David Cameron didn’t get much right in his political life, but for once I support a decision by David: the Brexit referendum will not be redone, he declared yesterday. We’ve had far too many referendums “redone” in the EU in recent years, if results weren’t considered “appropriate” by EU elites. So good that at least in this respect Cameron shows the UK is different.  By the way, the ones now so vigorously in favour of a second referendum should probably have “fixed” UK democracy when masses of people felt left behind in recent decades. A proportional system should have been introduced a long time ago.

Anyway, the huge-fall out of the Brexit has already wiped off a few trillion from balance sheets, and it’s very tricky to predict how things will further evolve in the coming days and months. Not even the smartest social scientists, economists, know.

It’s my conviction that people around the world are not necessarily against globalization, but most of us, ordinary citizens, are (by now) against neoliberal globalization (even if many perhaps don’t know the term). Neoliberal globalization “leaves (structurally) far too many people behind” and will most probably destroy the planet, at least as a more or less viable habitat for the human species, if left unchecked.

If you believe that neoliberal globalization has to go, as it’s not fit for the 21st century, that implies that the very core of it has to go (or at least be fundamentally reformed). The global financial sector, that is, which is strangling ‘political choice’ all over the world on a daily basis, as well as the planet. In that case, The City is a nice start, I’d say, at least if you agree with the Tax Justice Network that “Britain, in partnership with Her Majesty’s overseas territories and crown dependencies, remains “by far the most important part of the global offshore system of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions”.

As structural/transformative reform of the global financial sector- my preferred option – is rather unlikely, unfortunately, due to the very close links between our political and financial elites, or at least from a distance seems to go very slowly (even if the elites assure us otherwise about reforms like BEPS etc), the world needs “shocks” like the Brexit to move towards a more just and hopefully ecologically more sustainable world.  Even if in the short term they seem to trigger exactly the opposite.  Sadly, in the absence of a strong ideological competitor (like the Soviet Union for a big part of the 20st century), the only way to keep global capitalism a bit in check is by utterly disrupting it, via a cascade of shocks. Only then, elites might begin to understand that neoliberal globalization should be sent to the dustbin of history.

Unfortunately,  global capitalism is incredibly resilient, so chances are even a Brexit won’t suffice for that to happen. But it’s a start. The Euro has to go too. I don’t particularly like that prospect, as it might also destroy my own family’s life and the social fabric of societies all over Europe, but from a ‘Grand’ perspective, that’s exactly what should happen. The (preferred) alternative, a great leap forward that would make the European union and the Eurozone in particular a real “union”, has become politically unfeasible, I’m afraid.

True, as others have noted, in the short and medium term, the Brexit and a possible Eurozone break-up will destroy (or at least severely disrupt) multilateralism and global development, as it’s usually understood, so yes, the Brexit is certainly bad news in the short term for the UK, Europe, Africa  and the world, including for global health and development financing. And many people will, unfortunately, needlessly die due to it. People who certainly didn’t ask for the Brexit.

Also, the fall-out of the Brexit is already clear with a huge increase in racism, xenophobia or worse across the Channel. But, if it’s true that, in the words of a tweet by Trisha Greenhalgh this morning, there are multiple “Things to add to the core curriculum at Eton: 1. Ethics 2. Basic economics 3. Logic 4. Strategic planning 5. Reality checking 6. Teamwork” , at the very least you hope Johnson, Cameron & co got some thorough history classes in school.  After the WW II massacre, we have the benefit of hindsight now, all over Europe, and unlike in the 30s, we know where these ugly demons can lead us, if unchecked. So I hope that at least that part of that sorry decade can be avoided now. But yes, it’s very well possible that things again go horribly wrong. When systems are shaken, by no means you can be sure that the new ‘equilibrium’ that is reached is a fair/better one.

But the system that is ruling the world now, neoliberal globalization, is also a way to hell, even if perhaps one in slow motion. In the long term, global capitalism will only fundamentally change if it’s shaken to its core. Again and again, if need be.

It’s a bit a gloomy view, I admit.

In sum, I think multilateralism, global solidarity and all other things worth fighting for, might be forced to (hopefully temporarily) retreat, to then (hopefully) come back stronger , wiser and more effective.  As it’s obvious that to tackle global challenges, the world has to work together.  But in my Theory of Change, first neoliberal globalization has to go. Until that is the case, nothing will be possible. Its legitimacy has already gone, now the system itself has to go.

Let me ask the EU fans among you a simple question to finish this piece: what exactly is a ‘European Union’ for, if it punishes recalcitrant people (Greek ordinary citizens) again and again (for the sake of the stability of a currency), and implements clearly inhuman policies on migrants and refugees?



(PS: I wrote this viewpoint, fully aware that my very own colleague Rachel Hammonds, who unlike me suffers some of the immediate harmful implications of the Brexit, will be really angry about my wishy-washy views)

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