I was curious to read an intelligent right-wing piece on Brexit, and I was pleasantly surprised that Tyler Cowen, of all people, supplied one.
One way to understand the English vote is to compare it to other areas, especially with regard to immigration. If you read Frank Fukuyama, he correctly portrays Japan and Denmark, as, along with England, being the two other truly developed, mature nation states in earlier times, well before the Industrial Revolution. And what do we see about these countries? Relative to their other demographics, they are especially opposed to very high levels of immigration. England, in a sense, was the region “out on a limb,” when it comes to taking in foreigners, and now it has decided to pull back and be more like Denmark and Japan.
The regularity here is that the coherent, longstanding nation states are most protective of their core identities. Should that come as a huge surprise? The contrast with Belgium, where I am writing this, is noteworthy. The actual practical problems with immigration are much greater here in Brussels, but the country is much further from “doing anything about it,” whether prudently or not, and indeed to this day Belgium is not actually a mature nation-state and it may splinter yet. That England did something is one reflection of the fact that England is a better-run region than Belgium, even if you feel as I do that the vote was a big mistake.
Why do advanced economies (other than Japan) have high immigration? Mostly it is because their populations have low birth-rates, which means – short of large productivity gains – low or negative economic growth, unless you increase productivity (hard) or grow the population through migration (very easy). Finance Ministers can’t really admit that, though. They like to posture about their economic credibility and it’s a bit embarrassing that they have no idea how to grow the economy short of just letting more people into it. So any objections are met with accusations of racism instead of a good-faith justification of the policy. You can see the economic consequences of low-immigration in Japan.
I also thought this piece by John Quiggin (who is not on the right) was very interesting:
But just as the economic ideology of neoliberalism lumbers on in zombie form, so, until recently has the political system it supported. Insurgents of various kinds have gained support nearly everywhere, but the alternation between different versions of neoliberalism has continued.
In 2016, all of this has broken down. Hardly anyone now believes in the assurances of the policy elite that they know what is best. It is clear that things have gone substantially wrong in the global economy. What is less clear is why things have gone wrong and what can be done to fix it.
On the left, the answer to the first question is relatively straightforward: the excesses of financialised capitalism have finally come home to roost. This perception was crystalised most dramatically by the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, and by the stream of research showing that the benefits of globalisation had gone overwhelmingly to the top 1 per cent, or even the top 0.1 per cent, of the population. On the other hand, the process of developing a coherent alternative has barely begun.
By contrast, the tribalists have a clear answer to both questions. The problem is not (or at least not primarily) to be located at the top of the class structure, among bankers and CEOs, but at the bottom, among immigrants and racial minorities who benefit from state protection at the expense of ordinary ‘people like us’. The natural response is to stop or restrict migration and, if possible, to force recent migrants, and particularly illegal migrants, to leave.
The Brexit referendum represents the first truly major victory for the tribalist opponents of neoliberalism.
Quiggin articulates what I’ve been thinking about recently – the growing irrelevance of left-wing political thought in the public sphere, which provides a scathing critique of the consequences of capitalism with no grasp of the deeper causes and no solutions other than mild attenuations to the status quo. I keep seeing various left-wing commentators cite the famous Gramsci quote about how we’re in an interregnum in which ‘the old is not dead so the new cannot be born’. It’s an optimistic thing to say because it implies that there will be a popular flourishing of left-wing ideas, perhaps brought on by an economic or environmental crisis. But it is very hard for me to see that happening. If there is a crisis it seems likely to benefit what Quiggin refers to as ‘tribalism’, but looks to me like fascism.