British ex-pat Felix Salmon is one of the really bright economic voices in the world today, and even more unusual, he doesn’t come off sounding like a crank and a bore like most economists. So when he rants like he does here, I’m inclined to take him more seriously than I otherwise might.
He does not mince words, and the picture he paints is not a pretty one. You really need to read the whole thing, but here’s a taste.
I’m sitting here looking at my burgundy-red British passport, with EUROPEAN UNION emblazoned in gold letters across the top. I’ve fastened the shirt I’m wearing with cufflinks which have the UK flag on one side, and the German flag on the other—my proud European heritage. I’m thinking about everything I loved about growing up in London: the food, the culture, the fact that in one teeming, vibrant city you could find the entire world. I’m thinking about the single happiest moment that I ever saw my (German) mother, when I ran into the kitchen and told her to come, watch the TV, the Berlin Wall was coming down, the unthinkable was happening. Europe was really, truly, coming together.
And I’m grieving. Because that world—the world of hope, the world of ever-closer union among countries which for centuries would kill each other by the million—came to a shattering end on Thursday.
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Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU; Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. England drove this result, and specifically Little England—the older, whiter areas outside the big cities. The Leave campaign might have paid superficial lip service to the idea of a global Britain with more room for Bangladeshi immigrants, but make no mistake: this was a racist campaign that ended up causing both death and disaster.
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Make no mistake, the forces set in motion by this vote will not end here. France and Spain will want their own referendums; so will Scotland. Northern Ireland—the only part of the UK which has a land border with another EU country—will request and probably receive a referendum on whether it should just rejoin the Republic of Ireland, and Europe.
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This vote is also the grimmest of reminders of the power still held by the older generation, not only in the UK but around the world. Young Britons—the multicultural generation which grew up in and of Europe, the people who have only ever known European passports—voted overwhelmingly to remain. They’re the generation that just lost its future. Meanwhile, Britons over the age of 65, fed a diet of lies by a sensationalist UK press, voted by a large margin to leave. Most of them did so out of a misplaced belief that doing so might reduce immigration, or make them better off, or save them from meddling bureaucrats. In a couple of decades, most of those voters will be dead. But the consequences of their actions will resonate far beyond the grave.
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The result is that we are now entering a world in retreat from progress, a world of atavistic nationalisms and mutual distrust, a world in which we demonize foreigners and prefer walls to bridges.
In November, the U.S. will have its own plebiscite, and will likely vote along similar lines to Britain. The cities, and the young, will vote for progress, inclusion, and unity. Meanwhile, the white, rural areas and the old will vote for a sepia-tinged dream of a past in which equality was something only straight white men really qualified for.
Before the Brexit vote, I didn’t believe it could happen here. But Britain is significantly more cosmopolitan than America, and we managed to shoot ourselves (and all of Europe) straight through the heart.
So, be afraid. The arc of the moral universe might bend towards justice, but it gets there in a very, very messy way. And after taking many steps forward, the world has now taken a giant step back.
Salmon’s assessment about who voted for Brexit is buttressed by a remarkable chart. It doesn’t take a data geek like me to see what happened here.
Maryland Dems can relate to these kinds of numbers. We’re just lucky that our “England” counties don’t have the kind of population that the ones in Europe do, or else we’d be looking at a secession referendum here.
We’ll see if Salmon’s gloomy assessment proves out, but for right now, the early economic signs are not good. As my personal Brexitologist Matt Weiss noted last night, you can be forgiven for thinking pictures like these look like the white cliffs of Dover, but they’re not.