Wednesday, 3 August 2016
John Lanchester's "Brexit Blues."
John Lanchester is a restaurant critic, journalist and novelist ( his novel "Capital" is the best page- turner that I've come across in years) who has turned his hand to explaining economics to the general reader, and does it very successfully..
His recent article on Brexit in the London Review of Books is, in my view, exceptionally perceptive. Read it at:
but here are a few mots justes to whet your appetite
"Billionaire James Goldsmith founded the Referendum party in 1994 and stood against David Mellor in Putney in the 1997 General Election, coming fourth with only 1518 votes.
What was self-evidently ridiculous in 1997 came to be a reality in 2016.
Boris Johnson was a man known not to be in favour of his own arguments. [Lanchester doesn't] think there's ever been a time in British politics when so many people in public life [have] spent so much time loudly declaring things they knew not to be true.
We're used to political analysis based on class . . . [but now] the primary reality in modern Britain is not so much class as geography. Geography is destiny. And for much of the country not a happy destiny.
In general there's no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been . . . .but it's unsatisfying, insecure and low paid. This new work doesn't do what the old work did: it doesn't offer a sense of identity or community or self worth.
The reality of the modern British economy is that the thriving sectors raise the taxes which pay for the rest
UK manufacturing is now a high skill, high value industry; we don't make cars and fridges and washing machines and phones and things that everybody notices, but we do make high-technology components and industrial devices of a sort that nobody ever thinks about.
The Labour government offered more social protection but did so largely by stealth and without explaining and arguing for its actions. . There was [under Labour, 1997 - 2010] no strategy to replace the lost industry: that was left to the free market. With these policies, parts of the country have simply been left behind. The the white working class is correct to feel abandoned: it has been.
. . . most people in the UK receive more from the state, in direct cash transfers and in benefits such as health and education, than they contribute to it. The numbers are eerily similar to the referendum outcome: 48% net contributors, 52% net recipients. It's a system bitterly resented both by the beneficiaries and by the suppliers of the largesse.
. . . young people in particular feel they are living in an economic system rather than a political one.
Whoever came up with [the slogan"take back control"] had spent more time listening than talking. The Remain campaign failed to do that.
. . . most of the people who appear as immigrants in the immigration statistics are students . . . Of the
330 000 net arrivals in the latest numbers, 169 000 are students. Do you consider students to be migrants? Personally I don't.*
. . . the referendum has exposed splits in society which aren't mapped by the political parties as they are currently constituted . . . To simplify, the Tories are a coalition of nationalists, who voted out, and business interests, who voted in; Labour is a coalition of urban liberals, who voted in, and the working class, who voted out.
Leave's arguments were based on lies . . . the fact that so many prominent Brexiters started rowing backwards on the day after the vote is a sign that they knew it all along.
. . . Continental elites feel just as strongly about the continued existence of the EU as the Leavers feel about Brexit. For the EU to survive, it will be important for the UK to be seen to pay a high price for leaving.
The mendacity of the Leave campaign may represent a recalibration of our system along American lines, where voters only listen to people whom they already believe, and there are no penalties for falsehood, especially not on the political right
The second toxic legacy of the campaign concerns the shamelessly xenophobic nature of the leave campaign.
. . . if we want to keep our healthcare system, pensions and welfare states [T]he Office of Budget Responsibility puts the necessary level of immigration at 140 000 a year.
The campaign's dual legacy is the end of the idea that politics is based on rational argument, and a new permission to hate immigrants.
. . . the weakened pound is a good thing.**
Nobody outside the City loves the City, but the tax revenues raised by London's global financial services are very important to the UK.
A reduction of the dominance of finance might be a net positive; we should have a smaller GDP, probably, but the country wouldn't be bent out of shape - or at least not to the same degree.
The City is creative, opportunistic, experienced and amoral; if any entity has the right 'skill set' to benefit from the post-Brexit world, it is the City of London.
* Neither do I. They provide me with my one remaining source of paid employment. I act as a tutor on a post-graduate course at a local university. Most of the students are from overseas, with richly varied backgrounds and great fun to teach. They are business-studies students and I believe most of them leave with an enhanced love and respect for our neck of Yorkshire (and sometimes promises to set up a branch here when they are successful tycoons in their own countries.)
** I don't agree. True the economy grew quickly after the depreciation which followed our expulsion from the ERM in 1992. But devaluation or depreciation of the currency is the cowards' way out. It means that future generations, about whom Tories in particular are so anxious not to "burden" with debt, have to work all the harder or longer to earn the foreign currencies necessary to pay for the imports they need. That's a real burden.