This week, as we are in London visiting family, the question for any American is "what's up with this Trump thing?" When people will listen, I like to first ask about the upcoming British vote to continue or exit the European Union.
Brexit: A Brief Explanation
- As part of his campaign for reelection as Prime Minister in 2015, Conservative leader David Cameron outflanked Neil Farage's small but rapidly growing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) by promising that he would support a referendum on continuing membership in the European Union after he renegotiated the terms of British participation. The Conservatives won a surprisingly large victory; Cameron negotiated the ability to deny government benefits to newly arrived immigrants and eliminate the commitment to an ever increasing integration of the 28 EU countries; and the referendum - which is a toss-up - was set for June 23.
- What motivates so many Britons to consider scrapping the structure which has successfully fostered peace and prosperity for nearly 70 years? (There are parallel "Euroskeptic" movements in several other countries, particularly France, Holland, and Denmark.)
- Since its inception in 1992, the EU has witnessed a relentless transfer of regulatory and oversight responsibilities from the capitals of the member countries to the parliament and bureaucracy in Brussels. The European Commission takes direction from the 728 member legislature and oversees 34 Directorates, each engaged in aspects of government throughout the Union. For example, the Directorate General of Economic and Financial Affairs " strives to improve the economic wellbeing of the citizens of the EU - through policies designed to promote sustainable economic growth, a high level of employment, stable public finances and financial stability", while the Environmental Directorate ensures that member states apply environmental laws correctly "to enable EU citizens to live well, within the planet's ecological limits, in an innovative, circular economy, where biodiversity is protected, valued and restored and environment-related health risks are minimized in ways to enhance our society's resilience, and where growth has been decoupled from resource use." The reality is that every area is a push and pull between the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels and those in the local capitals, with the most powerful politicians in the major countries remaining national amidst the inexorable movement of what affects people to the central government.
- Migration provides two distinct policy issues for the UK. Citizens of the EU have a right to travel and work anywhere in the Union and are eligible for government benefits wherever they live; as the EU has expanded to central Europe, the number of unskilled workers living in the UK has swelled. Secondly, the UK (and Ireland) opted out of the Shengen Agreement which eliminates internal borders on most of the European continent; with over 1,000,000 illegal Middle Eastern migrants, Europe is overrun and faces a major security threat, as efforts by the central Brussels government to stem the tide and require resettlement quotas have thus far fallen flat.
- Britain also dodged a problem by remaining out of the common currency which is an eventual goal of the European Union. The Greek drama of 2014 and 2015 highlighted the problem of leaving fiscal policy (taxing and spending) to the individual countries while centralizing monetary policy (control of the currency). Many believe that the European Central Bank policy of printing money and taking on debt to support the weaker economies of southern Europe will not end well.
- In sum, the policies which have governed Britain's relation with Europe for 70 years are being called into question. The political establishment has not been responsive to the fact that low skilled immigrants are taking the jobs of Britons in a post-industrial nation. The central government in Brussels has no cohesive plan to defeat Islamic terrorists. More and more decisions affecting daily life - education; agriculture; healthcare; transportation; housing - are subject to the wisdom of distant bureaucrats. The economic system is fragile and disconnected from British values of work and responsibility. Neil Farage and UKIP gave voice to these concerns - often with offensive rhetoric - and the Conservative Party leadership is attempting to respond.
The conversation about Donald Trump becomes much shorter. The American political establishment has been less responsive to the public than has the British. If Trump is elected, unquestioned bipartisan support for "free trade" is over; the Democratic and business "open borders" policy (Latino and high skilled visas) is over; the American role as the world's unpaid policeman is over. Neither major political party has been willing to address these issues; it would be nice if the advocate of the fundamental policy shifts had some relevant experience or a presidential temperament, but at least with Trump - like with Farage - the policy choice is clear.
This week's video is a short sample of United Kingdom Independent Party leader,Neil Farage, more articulately paralleling Donald Trump's call to "make Britain great again".
bill bowen - 3/31/16