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Brexit and the European Union: What’s Actually at Stake

2016 June 7
by Ian Welsh

European Union FlagThe EU is a trash fire. To see what the EU is about, you have only to see what they did to Greece, and what they are doing to the rest of the south.

Insane austerity policies have wrecked economies for no good reason other than a failed ideology and a deep-seated desire to give more money to the already-rich.

The EU may have been created to prevent a future European war, but the austerity policies it is pushing are fueling the rise of Catalonian independence, and of both the far left and the far (a.k.a. fascist) right. Now, I’m ok with the far left, in the European context, because so far all it has meant is Corbyn: A 1960s-style liberal, updated with social concerns.

The rise of the far right is rather more worrisome, however, since these lads tend to be nativists–not more than one step from neo-fascists and often less than that.

Austerity creates economic despair, and economic despair creates the breeding grounds for movements like fascism.

When I was about ten or so, I said to my father, who had grown up in the Great Depression, that I saw very little racism in Vancouver.

“Just wait till times are bad, “he said,” you’ll see plenty of racism then.”

Again, the EU is a trash fire. It started off liberal, in the best sense, and there is still plenty of good it does, but it is currently creating the conditions for a great deal of political violence and even war.

So, does that mean that Brits should vote leave?

Not necessarily. Depends on your pain tolerance.

While the EU is a trash fire, Britain isn’t in the Euro, which is the worst part about the EU. If Corbyn was Prime Minister, I’d say leave. Leave now!

But he isn’t. What the Conservatives will do under Cameron or Boris Johnson (or whomever, there are no “good” options for the next leader if Cameron steps down), is truly horrible. Even worse than what they are already doing.

As for the doomsayers: No, the world will not end if Britain leaves the EU. The fact that economists and pundits are screaming in unison that it will means nothing. Economists are trained seals who say what they are supposed to say. Most of them have been wrong about everything of significance related to the economy for their entire professional lives; why should we believe them now?

It’s all a trash fire. Of course, the people who benefit from the status quo want the status quo to continue and continue to trend the way it has been (which hasn’t been good for most ordinary Britons).

That doesn’t mean you should vote to leave. It doesn’t mean you should vote stay. It means they aren’t credible. What they say should not be listened to as anything but people squealing for the world to stay favorable to them.

If you leave the EU now, things will be worse than staying, not because of economic apocalypse but because the EU does have a fair number of good regulations and laws by which Conservatives will no longer be bound.

If you stay, and someone like Corbyn gets into power, he will be handicapped by the EU in the opposite direction.

International institutions in the age of neoliberalism exist mainly to further neo-liberal policies. This is true of the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and yes, it is true of the EU.

It’s all a trash fire, because, post-Bretton Woods, it was all changed or designed to be a trash fire (this is especially true of the Euro, which at least Britain dodged). Its purpose is to impoverish developed world workers and transfer money to the rich. I judge its purpose based on its results.

Vote as you will, but understand what is actually at stake.

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13 Responses
  1. Hugh permalink
    June 7, 2016

    I agree. Kleptocracy is the dominant, indeed the only current political economic system. It is where, not some, but all the elites of a country serve the rich and both loot the rest of us. It plays out one way in China and the developing world, now rechristened emerging markets. It plays out another in the US and Canada. And it plays out yet other ways in Britain and the EU.

    Kleptocracy is not feudalism although the two do look much alike. Feudalism had as a goal the maintenance of a certain social and economic order based on the theft of labor. In kleptocracy, there is no maintenance, just unfettered looting. In kleptocracy, the goose that lays the golden eggs is killed and eaten for lunch without a second thought.

    A Brexit would in some ways change the nature of British kleptocracy, but it would not eliminate it. A Brexit would simply give the British people a somewhat better chance of taking it on by returning some sovereignty to the UK and reducing the power of the autocratic European Commission and undemocratic EU bureaucracy. Of course, EU influence would persist in that British trade would continue with the EU and be subject to the Commission. But the essence of British kleptocracy is not to be found in the EU. It comes from a toxic class structure and a financial system that is the money launderer to the world.

  2. Carla permalink
    June 7, 2016

    Excellent post, followed by a very good comment by Hugh. Thank you, guys!

  3. Synoia permalink
    June 7, 2016

    Brexit = Reversal of a Sovereignectomy.

    To be prescribed wherever possible.

    Unfortunately many have prescribed TPP, TTIP and TISA. These, when taken are know Sovereignitfacts, and cause spontaneous expulsion of any Sovereignty from the body politic.

  4. Escher permalink
    June 7, 2016

    “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism?”

    That was a fine bit of unintended dark comedy, wasn’t it.

  5. June 8, 2016

    Clarify this for me Ian. Are you For or Against a Brexit?

  6. Mike permalink
    June 8, 2016

    I really think, apart from half of the Tory party, and some readers of the Telegraph and Daily Mail, no one really givers a sh*t about this. Which is why the polls are so even. If we stay, we eventually get drowned in EU neoliberalism and enforced austerity. If we leave, we face potentially an even quicker drowning in Tory-led US-style neoliberalism and worse austerity coupled with the removal of most of the remaining workers’ rights laws and Union safeguards. I also think a Leave vote would hasten the onset of the coming recession for the UK.

    I’m voting Remain, but it’s totally a ‘lesser of 2 evils’ vote for me. A Brexit under Corbyn would probably be less painful, but, it would only put off the pain until the next time the Tories got in, anyway.

  7. Ian Welsh permalink
    June 8, 2016

    Not being a Brit, I have the luxury of being agnostic to the issue. If someone put a gun to my head I suppose I’d be more likely to go for Brexit but I’m not positive.

    Someone like Corbyn’s real job is to do what Thatcher did, change the politics so that the Conservatives change their politics. His success will be if he creates a Conservative “Blairite” reaction “we must become left wing-light to win.”

    In the American context, think Eisenhower.

  8. Tom permalink
    June 8, 2016

    And to think, Turkey wants in the EU and has the economic might to really stick it to the EU leadership.

    The real problem for the EU is it screwed its members like Greece and the Member States didn’t take a hardline against the EU leadership like Ian suggested. Erdogan would, the man does not tolerate bullshit that directly threatens Turkey’s internal interests. Israel found that out the hard way and wound up paying millions in compensation over the Mavi Marmarra incident and may now be forced to lift the Gazan Siege to get back lucrative trade deals with Turkey per a reconciliation deal.

    Even Putin found sanctioning Turkey a mistake and quietly dropped sanctions after Erdogan refused to back down over the Su-24 shootdown and Putin’s progress in Syria came unglued when the rebels refused to roll over and die and instead went on a series of successful counter-offensives.

    Overall the EU never really understood its mission and the Public of its Member States didn’t either and thus Bureaucrats took over and the Iron Law of Bureaucracy did the rest as there were no leaders able to reign in the bureaucracy and make it work for the people.

    Ah well.

    Looks like its Trump for President. California went for Hillary and Bernie is sunk.

  9. anonymous coward permalink
    June 8, 2016

    It is not enough for Britain to leave. The Eurozone must be destroyed. That means the EU too. Seriously, how many people does a sovereignty eating, neoliberal antidemocracy siege engine of hege-demonic capitalism have to destroy before you realize it’s evil?

    The Greeks were asked to fling the first harpoon into its scaly hide, but they chickened out. After all Greece is tiny, the punishment they faced was huge, and they were all alone at the .

    Britain is not so small. They are not part of the European Monetary Union, but their exit from the EU altogether will kick off the death spiral for that evil tyranny. France is spoiling for an exit – from the EU as well as the EMU. They are signalling clearly that they will even vote in the ultra right to achieve it. Therefore if you vote for Leave, Britain, you need not fear being alone for long. Witnessing Britain’s escape to freedom this summer will lift the odds of a Frexit from merely very good to an universally acknowledged truth. Brexit will so change the political math that even the decrepit French Left might rouse itself to put the revolver to the EU’s hideous stinking head. I hope we can all agree, no matter how loathsome we may find Hollande and his Parti, that this ought to be preferable to leaving the job to Le Pen? She is currently on course to win the Presidency next year. She is rising on core promises to restore national sovereignty over their borders and to reinstate use of the Franc. That will drive a stake into the heart of the EU. But wouldn’t it be better if the reasonable Left restored national sovereignty in Britain, France and elsewhere than to have the angry Right sweeping them aside to take charge of that process? It might not be a guaranteed success, but it’s the best chance we have to avoid guaranteed disasters.

  10. anonymous coward permalink
    June 8, 2016

    Greece was all alone at the time. They were cut off from support like sentries or scouts overrun by an invading army.

  11. markfromireland permalink
    June 9, 2016


    Mostly I agree with you but Arrrrrrggggh!!!!!

    Corbyn: A 1960s-style liberal, updated with social concerns.

    No he isn’t a liberal and certainly not a 1960s style one either in the American or the English sense of the word. He’s a principled socialist in the same mould as Michael Foot, Tony Benn, or Eric Heffer.

    There’s a long and very honourable tradition of English radicalism going right back to the Lollards it predates the Marxist school by and its various descendents and offshoots by several centuries. Corbyn is a radical – or socialist to use the more commonly understood term in that tradition – the tradition of the 1649 “Agreement of the People”.

    If you leave the EU now, things will be worse than staying, not because of economic apocalypse but because the EU does have a fair number of good regulations and laws by which Conservatives will no longer be bound.

    This sounds intuitively plausible but in reality we don’t know. It’s equally plausible that a very fucked off EU will turn around to the UK or whatever is left of it should the Scots break free and tell them that if they want access to the EU’s markets then they have to follow the EU’s rules.

  12. markfromireland permalink
    June 9, 2016


    In the beginning of Time, the great Creator, Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes and Man, the Lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, that one branch of mankind should rule over another … And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Storehouse for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, whereby the great Creator is mightily dishonoured…


    The relation of master and servant has no ground in the New Testament. In Christ there is neither bond nor free. Ranks such as those of the peerage and gentry are ethnical and heathenish distinctions. There is no ground in nature or scripture why one man should have £1,000 per annum, another not a pound. The common people have been kept under blindness and ignorance and have remained servants and slaves to the nobility and gentry. But God hath now opened their eyes and discovered unto them their Christian liberty.

  13. Mike permalink
    June 9, 2016

    I’m actually pretty scared of what the pro-Brexit side of the Tory party would do to Britain in the next 4 years if we do leave the EU.

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