Wake-up call for the world: Historic Brexit vote is evidence a new global order is needed

The reasons for the historic vote run far deeper than xenophobia — festerting income inequality tops the list

Published June 27, 2016 5:23PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Darren Staples)
(Reuters/Darren Staples)

By now, you have probably heard over and over the corporate news media narrative that the vote by the British people to exit from the Eurozone was just a xenophobic one, driven by fear of the mass of migrants from the Middle East, whose push west continues to strain the social safety net even in places like Germany.

Why the Brits, who voted for the Brexit, just didn’t understand, say the pundits with dripping condescension. The Eurozone project is about a greater global integration that will bring prosperity to all, while it spreads our democratic values, goes this song by the best politicians the bankers can buy.

Pay no attention to the misery of the Greeks or the growing army of tens of millions of young adults idle on the planet who can't find work. They all need to dig deeper, get meaner and leaner, so they can find their place in this grand planetary pyramid scheme we call the globally integrated market.

Why, even President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron warned the British people of the terrible consequences of attempting to tinker with the Eurozone, this marvelous neo-liberal trade machine that could make the blind see and the lame walk.

Why, if a British exit was to come to pass, the racist and the ignorant will have scuttled Britain’s best hope for the 21st century. Embrace your globalist future and trust the technocrats who can show you in flip charts how things will improve in the aggregate.

But there is only one problem, no one lives in the aggregate. Yet, for years the global elites have held sway with their construct. But now enough people are on to its self-serving nature and want to opt out. Its not clear just what they want as an alternative, but its clear they want local control back.

For decades, there was a kind of world order that came from the tension between the former Soviet Union and the United States over belief systems. Oddly enough, that battle of ideas created a dynamic tension that gave leverage even to the world's smallest nations, with the two super powers vying for their affections.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union western style global capitalism was the last system standing. It went on to co-opt the Chinese, who turned their country into a factory with borrowed money that left their water undrinkable and their air unhealthy to breath.

This current planetary trading system, of which the Euro is a part, runs on fear and coercion. It turns the nations of the world into wolves in the harness of a never ending global competition. This pack devours the natural resource base with reckless abandon, while at the same time feigning environmental consciousness.

Is it any wonder our planet is warming?

As Pope Francis has pointed out, this myopic, pathological pursuit of profits and massive wealth accumulation that organizes our entire lives around trade and only trade, has profound consequences. It fosters social dislocation, creates mountains of debt and sows ecological destruction. It crushes families, eradicates tribes and bankrupts nations and has wrought massive social instability.

In the process vast disparities in wealth and well being are showing up in places like Britain and America where once there was a thriving middle class. The fuel of this global trade machine is the debt and ecological destruction that encumbers the future to pay for past consumption.

What so surprising is just how surprised the elites and their media servants were by the British vote. It would have come as no shocker if they had just spent a couple of hours reviewing the dismal economic facts of life for the electorate.

Youth unemployment remains a chronic problem in Britain with 865,000 of 16 to 24 year olds who are not working, not in school nor in some kind of vocational training. It had been as high as 1.25 million in 2011, but after declining, it is now trending back up again to the million mark.

That is equivalent to the seating capacity of ten full Wembley Stadiums, or 20 Yankee Stadiums, filled with youth wasting in waiting for their lives to start. We know that for every year that passes in the life of a young person, disengaged from any productive activity, the likelihood increases of a lifetime of depressed earnings and often incarceration.

But 21st century Britain is not just letting down the young. Back in 2014 the BBC reported that wages in Britain had been dropping consistently since 2010 and marked the longest string of declines since 1962. Experts blamed the increase in part time work and the decline in the security of full time employment.

And as real wages fell the scarcity of affordable housing became more and more acute, so that by 2012, an average UK family was paying 40 percent of their household income to pay the rent or their mortgage.

Only families in Denmark and Greece were worse off in the Eurozone when it came the increasing bite taken out of their family income basic to pay for shelter.

By 2014 wealth inequality was becoming so pronounced that the trend was described in headlines as “a ticking time bomb." Citing a report from Credit Suisse, Danny Dorling wrote in that piece for the Guardian, "the UK as a country enjoyed stable income to wealth ratios for the first 70 years” of the 20th century with the average household managing to amass assets equivalent to a respectable four to five times their annual income.

“That stability ended during the 1980s,” wrote Dorling. “Apparent wealth grew rapidly and became more concentrated among a few households.” No surprise, as working class incomes dropped household debt for the middle class rose to record levels.

By last year the English press was reporting, that after decades of rising life expectancy, health officials were alarmed over seeing a “statistically significant” decline in longevity.

This year OxFam reported that Britian was the world’s sixth-biggest economy, yet one in five of its residents lived below the poverty line, meaning that their life was “a daily struggle.”

At the same time that this multifaceted decline was taking place, Britain saw the percentage of its foreign-born population jump from 3.8 million in 1993 to 8.3 million in 2014. Over the same window in time the presence of foreign citizens living in Britain went from two million to nearly five million.

Just as in the U.S., undocumented migrants looking for a better way of life find themselves caught in poor paying jobs where their rights are frequently violated and yet they have no recourse because of their ambiguous status. In the process their presence depresses wages.And just who benefits from this exploitive arrangement? Why it is the same capital interests whose only imperative is the accumulation of wealth.

The twenty-somethings are staying with their parents and delaying their own household formation. The notion of home ownership grows increasingly out of the reach of a larger and larger segment of the millennial population, whose parents took it for granted.

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar?

The misery index is nearly precisely the same for Britain and the US, two bookends on the shelf of rising wealth inequality. At the same time our multinationals and our wealthiest individuals became so rich they have dozens of offshore tax havens begging for their deposits.

The Brexit vote, despite the universal warning of financial calamity, represents pushback on the notion that our social organization can only be shaped by our lust for larger and larger markets that don’t produce broad-based prosperity. We need to model something else.

The Euro was flawed from the start. You can't create a union out of subsidiary states only using for glue the tension between debtor and creditor: see Germany and Greece, Portugal et al.

The Euro was always the invention of the bankers and corporatists. For them bigger is, by its very definition, better. And what have we gotten from this brave new world of integrated economic markets? Increasing wealth disparity, massive debt, corrupt politics, ecological destruction and the weakening of democracy as important decisions are made further and further away from the people they impact.

If President Obama and the other pro-Euro elites wanted to keep the Euro block intact they should have not let their neverending war on terror proliferate to the point that caused the collapse of an entire region of the planet and sent millions walking west. Neverending wars have collapsed agricultural systems that had sustained people for centuries.

The global elites let their world spin out of control, letting nation states collapse with a reckless disregard for what would come next. Instead of a new world order we got ecological destruction, massive migration and growing wealth inequality. Now, they seek sanctuary in gated communities.

Funny thing about instability, it's contagious.

Forget politics and economy.

It's just physics.

By Bob Hennelly

Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice, Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. His book, "Stuck Nation: Can the United States Change Course on Our History of Choosing Profits Over People?" was published in 2021 by Democracy@Work. He is now a reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Brexit Global Climate Change Global Warming Immgiration Wage Stagnation Wealth Inequality