Brexit might feel like a world away, but we need to learn from it

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

If you have been following the ups and downs of the Brexit talks, you know that virtually nothing is certain.

The BBC and other international news services describe it as a “divorce”. And in many ways it is.

But more than that, I see it as yet another manifestation of a strange syndrome that seems to be sweeping across the globe.

I am not referring to political ‘populism’ that seems to emerge everywhere from South America to the Middle East to the USA. What I notice is the seemingly unstoppable impulse of self-destructiveness.

Great Britain “divorcing” from the European Union (Brexit) is only one example, but consider just a few of the unnecessary costs the UK has inflicted on itself.

One indicator of any economic decision is the number of jobs gained – or lost – by any government policy or decision.

As you might guess, there is a website dedicated to tracking the numbers of jobs lost thanks to Brexit.  (1*)

As of March 25, the number of jobs lost in the UK (many thousands of jobs have been lost across Europe and North America as well, but I have not seen those numbers) is 218,839. The vast majority of these are professional, trade related jobs. The ripple effect of these job losses will reverberate, for years, if not decades.

The loss (so far) in annual wages is £6,275,646,003.  (2*)

And about £1,879,579,721.93 in lost tax receipts.

Most cities have a skyline full of towering buildings. Tacoma's skyline is the profile of a city at work and always in motion.  Photo: Morf Morford

Most cities have a skyline full of towering buildings. Tacoma’s skyline is the profile of a city at work and always in motion. Photo: Morf Morford

Many international corporations are moving their headquarters (and manufacturing facilities) from London to continental European sites like Paris or other major cities in Germany, Belgium or elsewhere.

To add to this, the value of the GBP to the dollar has been erratic at best, and has, for the most part, been dropping steadily in relation to the US dollar.

To put it mildly, this the ideal recipe for a recession or even quasi-permanent stalling of the British economy.

The irony is that the whole purpose of Brexit was to stabilize and strengthen the domestic British economy. The promises of the promoters were glowing and idealistic.

They were also, to anyone with a knowledge of economic history, familiar and ridiculously naive.

Here are a few of the most common – and apparently – the most convincing (since 52% of voters supported this “divorce”);  (3*)

The European Union (EU) threatens British sovereignty

The EU is strangling the UK in burdensome regulations

The EU allows too many immigrants

The UK could have a more rational immigration system outside the EU

The UK could keep the money it sends to the EU

These are familiar arguments and issues for almost every nation – and its relationship – and power differential with larger – and smaller political entities – from cities and states to larger mega-government bodies like the United Nations or UNICEF.  (4*)

Ironies and contradictions abound in this conversation.

A key element in supporting Brexit was opposition to immigration. Be sure to note that Great Britain, the nation that “colonized” virtually every continent on the planet, now opposes immigration – even, or maybe especially from – its former colonies.

The Port of Tacoma does very little trade directly with Mexico or most of South America. But a visit to your local grocery store - especially the produce department - might tell a different story.  Graphic courtesy of Port of Tacoma

The Port of Tacoma does very little trade directly with Mexico or most of South America. But a visit to your local grocery store – especially the produce department – might tell a different story. Graphic courtesy of Port of Tacoma

Sovereignty, for almost all of us, is always an issue. What is the role, and what are the limits of government control and regulation of states, cites and individuals?

Agencies larger than nation-states make us all a bit nervous. The idea of a one-world globalist entity controlling us all is the stuff of too many sci-fi dystopian movies, stories and books.

Those fears may be real, at least in part, but the reality is that we live in a global economy – one that allows, for most of us, a standard of living and access to foods, materials and cultures inconceivable just a generation or two ago.

It is worth noting that Steve Bannon, one of President Trump’s senior advisors, has been an avid evangelist for Brexit.  (5*)

I’ll admit to being a bit biased here. I grew up in Pierce County, the most trade dependent county in the most trade dependent state in the United States.

Trade creates much more than jobs of course. The global contributions to Tacoma’s identity and culture are too many and too embedded to count or measure.

We take a high level of international exposure as a given in the Puget Sound area – from food to festivals to business opportunities -  we are poised on the world stage.

To limit trade is to limit not only the economy but the very character and history of our community.

Just in Pierce County, the Port of Tacoma is the host to over 40,000 jobs directly and well over 5,000 indirectly through industrial uses ranging from boat manufacturing to seafood processing.

I’d like to believe that the sheer (and to my mind, obvious) destructiveness of economic policy is limited to nations far away from us.

Unfortunately the premise of “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” has not been adhered to. In fact the premise, as with Brexit, seems to be “If it ain’t broke, fix it until it is”.

From tariffs to erratic and arbitrary immigration policies, America’s trade policy seems, like Brexit, designed to confuse, if not impede international trade and increasing opportunity and prosperity.

It seems simple; we can have (relatively) free trade that benefits almost all of us, or we can have arbitrary, unnecessary and onerous laws and policies that have historically driven economies into recession.

 

(1*)    You can see details here – https://smallbusinessprices.co.uk/brexit-index/?

(2*)    That’s a little over 8.25 billion US dollars.

(3*)    More than four million citizens requested a second vote on the issue. It was rejected by Theresa May, the Prime Minister https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/mar/23/more-than-4-million-people-sign-petition-to-revoke-article-50-brexit

(4*)    You could change a few words to these arguments and it would match Eastern Washington’s complaints about Seattle and the west side of the state.

(5*)    https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/03/trump-steve-bannon-destroy-eu-european-union-214889 or https://qz.com/1467877/read-the-emails-linking-trump-advisor-steve-bannon-to-brexit/