I used to be in the English muffin business, so naturally I consider myself an expert in all things English. So, what about Brexit?
Ummm … well, maybe not so expert.
Commentators on all sides have certainly jumped aboard. Alan Greenspan is appalled; Donald Trump is all in. One is 90 years old; the other is running for president. Consider the sources.
On one hand, lots of things are going to be different.
The European Union is in for some big changes, if not eventual dissolution. Vladimir Putin is licking his chops. London bankers are quaking, but that business will go somewhere; New York?
Texans are muttering about Texit. Again. Right-leaning parties throughout the West see an opportunity to attack big-government welfare states, not least right here in the U.S.A.
On the other hand, what’s new? England is still there.
It has demonstrated its own socialist tendencies in the past. There will be tea and crumpets, and they will be less expensive for tourists. There are still 53 million English consumers who have to eat and bathe (by English standards). That doesn’t count the Scots and Northern Irish who remain in the United Kingdom for the present. Life will go on.
It will also go on here. Knee-jerk reaction in the financial markets is exactly that. Oh sure, exporters to England will be affected, as will importers, favorably. Understanding financial markets is above my pay grade, but money will continue to move; good deals will attract it. If American markets continue downward, it is because they presently overvalue our sluggish economy.
What is becoming more interesting about this as controversy and confusion continue is the nature of government itself. What we are witnessing are the consequences, for good or ill, of government by referendum.
Poorly informed voters are subjected to emotional campaigns, pro and con, and told various lies and half-truths about what each result will bring. In fact, nobody really knows, so the election becomes a giant experiment with all the usual unintended consequences. Does this sound familiar?
Brexit isn’t over. Reports are that Parliament, which actually has to approve it, is generally opposed. Will members vote their consciences or pander to their constituents? What is the purpose of representative government? How badly do politicians want to be re-elected? (That is obviously a rhetorical question).
There is also a movement for yet another referendum — a re-do. Buyer’s remorse has set in, and a lot of Britons are saying they never would have voted for Brexit if they thought it would actually happen.
A referendum represents pure democracy, a concept our own founders carefully avoided. The theory behind representative government is that citizens will elect wise people to attend to the business of government while they go on about their daily affairs. Oh.
We are finding in the 21st century, with incessant media and career politicians, that representative government has become divisive and inconclusive, that there is no leaving it alone.
Consensus has become nearly impossible. We do not trust the people we have elected. The Brexit referendum itself represented a failure of voters’ confidence in Parliament, and Parliament’s own inability to take and defend a position either way. It was a cop-out.
The ultimate result of Brexit lies somewhere in the future. If it stands, it will not amount to nothing, neither will it change the world. Politics and economies will accommodate because they will have to.
Will individual Britons be better or worse off? Yes. That will depend on where they stand in life and how well they adapt to changes, whatever they are. The whole episode has been a cumbersome and irrational process. Maybe it was the only way to approach such a monumental issue; that does not mean the result was well-considered. Neither does it mean it was wrong.
We will have to wait and see.
Longtime columnist Fred Wolferman recently moved from Southern Pines back to his native Kansas City. Contact him at email@example.com.