To start, I need to clarify that I support the globalized economy and stability that the EU stands for, and that I don’t believe Britain or any else will benefit from withdrawing. Yet, at the same time, the global elite has grossly underestimated the strength of those who either gain nothing from it, or who are not willing to set aside morals for the sake of economy. For global economics to work, a moral foundation will have to be re-introduced.
The Failure to Understand Brexit
In many of the analyses of the recent Brexit referendum in the UK, a good deal has been said about the lines along which the voting took place; wealthier people with better education tended to vote in favour of staying, while lower income people with less education tended to vote against.
The implication is that most commentators make was that these people are just too poorly educated, just too ignorant of the world around them to understand the benefits of being part of the new, global economy – or globalism in its wider implications. If only they had more education, this would not have happened. (For one example, see Brexit is terrifying — and no, not because of the economics.)
But commentators are missing one simple point. The main problem is not that these people are too uneducated to “get it,” but rather that they have gained no personal benefit from the new, global system.
Being less educated may be a small part of the reason they have failed to gain much advantage from international free-trade; but it is, in itself, not the reason they oppose it.
I don’t know the exact situations of these people in Britain, but I see parallels here. Let’s say that I used to own a small hardware store that has gone out of business because three goliath-sized multinational companies have moved in nearby. Sure, on the whole the local economy is much better, and there is significantly more cash flow. Yet, I’m still out of business. And I still don’t have qualifications to get any reasonable job in the new global economy that has been thriving.
It’s Not the 99%
As the results in Britain indicate, I’m not talking about the 99% that the (failed) Occupy movement has been going on about for the last few years. This is probably something more like a 50% (or, much to David Cameron’s chagrin, 52% in Britain.)
Where I live, there is a wide spectrum of people who benefit from the global economy that Canada is embracing. There are high-tech university-educated programmers, technicians, communications experts, etc. There are business owners who have taken advantage of the growing trend to make everything bigger, selling their product abroad and at home.
Even the (relatively low educated) farming community has got a slice of the pie. A retired farmer can pay for “custom farming” to have soy planted that meets the stringent requirements of the growing demands for food-grade soya in China. Even Mennonite farmers have adapted, raising ducks that will be shipped (frozen) to Europe to train hunting dogs and setting metal shops that can produce custom car-parts or light-rail components on demand that are bought by multinationals and shipped anywhere in the world they are needed.
This isn’t an elite 1% that’s hoarding the world’s wealth. This is a solid 50% of the population (or probably even more where I live) that has adapted urban, rural and even ultra-traditional ways of life to a burgeoning global economy and thrived in it.
Then there are the others. In addition to the shop owners whose business was ruthlessly replaced by the giants, there are factory workers, those who run unofficial business, and eager would-be entrepreneurs who never find that trendy niche that appeals to someone with money – to give a few examples of those who are swept aside for the “greater (global) good.”
Regardless of the great benefits globalism has brought for the local economy, their livelihood has either disappeared or been diminished to unskilled minimum-wage work. What do they care about exchange rates, international trade and international economic stability? None of that get’s them a job.
Everyone seems to be talking about an Elite of some sort – you know, those appointed bureaucrats who have been calling the shots in Europe. Many people like to call them a Liberal Elite, to contrast them to the xenophobic ultraconservatives who oppose the new Global order, or others because they distrust liberalism. Bein
g a small-c conservative myself, I would tend to call them the Liberal Elite.
Yet, we might just as easily call them a Conservative Elite; to grass-roots socialists, these same people represent everything they imagine they hate about capitalism – big corporations, big money, and big international economic bureaucracies that hold more power than elected officials. Those of us who don’t like them tend to associate them with the “other” end of the political spectrum.
And good points could be made in favour of either designation; after all, it has been “conservative” governments throughout the world that have advanced this cause as much as liberals and certainly more than socialists. I think of my own hometown (Elmira, Ont.) where mostly conservatives blocked a bid for the local race-track to build open a casino – an economic innovation of the Conservative government of the time.
I would, nevertheless, be inclined to argue that they are more accurately “Liberals” since through most of modern history, and even now through most of the world, Liberalism refers to just that – politics (or bureaucracy) that prefers the economic interest of the mobile, flexible and amoral middle class.
Yet, I will let this point slide; most accurately, they should be called an Economic Elite.
Economics vs. Morals
The people who call the shots and shape the direction of the new global economy are an economic elite, regardless of whether they style themselves liberal or conservative. What it comes right down to is that they prefer economic progress to morals of any kind. On one hand, they despise social conservatives who are more concerned about family values and religious tradition than economic growth. On the other hand, they loathe anything that has a hint of grass-roots social justice – concepts that place personal moral value on caring for others and are not content to let large-scale stability dictate personal principles.
To the economic elite, economic and political stability not only take precedent over personal morals, but they must replace them. People are permitted to hold personal “views” so long as they don’t act on them or speak of them publicly; and the must be willing even to act against them should the global good require it.
And this is where the vast majority of both “conservative” and liberal politics converge to the same end; while they offer different politic rhetoric, they general take very similar courses of action, enacting policies that favour global economic growth and stability, creating an environment where those will thrive who are willing either to abandon personal morals or at least keep them to themselves in favour of economic advancement.
The “moral” advancements of economic elitism are the ones that help prevent morals from getting in the way of smooth economic growth. For example, what does it matter to economic growth how we define marriage? It’s easier to get that out of the way, and let people decide that for themselves, while the government, nation and the world focuses on the important thing – economy. On the other hand, what does it matter if we feed all the poor and care for the elderly, war veterans, mentally ill, etc. or not? Having to care for all would be burdensome and impractical. Better to feed just enough to keep the engine running efficiently. (Another factor in that near 50-50 split.) Euthanasia becomes an appealing “right” since it allows more of those to remove themselves as a burden.
Now, it would be very inaccurate to claim that willingness to put morals aside is the only factor to thriving in the global economy. Yet, it is a requirement. While there are those who thrive in the new global economy and yet hold morals to be very important, it is nearly impossible for them to run their business or thrive in their career if they publicly show the importance of morals in their life. At some point, the only choices seem to be to put morals on the backburner or diminish into the insignificance of the other 50%.
The economic elite are – in addition to politicians – judges, bureaucrats, diplomats and multinational business owners, among others. They are not a greedy 1% hoarding the world’s wealth, so much as they are an unchecked power willing to share the wealth quite generously with anyone who is able to adapt to the global economy and willing at least to humour global morals (or, more accurately, global amorality.)
In Britain, that has turned out to be just under 50%. I suspect that in modern westernized nations, the divide would be similar (with most tipping slightly the other way.)
I want the global economy to succeed; as the Vox article above shows, quality of life, access to necessities and the like have thrived in it while deaths from war and disease have diminished in astonishing levels. But what the amoral global economy we have now will not do the trick.
My hope is that Brexit will be a wake up call for the economic elite; their global economy will fall to pieces before it fully takes hold if there are no morals behind it. If they continue to push for global economic growth without recognising that social moralism (such as family values and the sanctity of life) is necessary, and that we must care for those left behind, even when it is impractical, Brexit will just be the first step of a global unravelling of everything they’ve worked for.