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June 19th 2016 print

Nick Turner

Brexit, Part IV: A Question of Confidence

If the looming vote endorses the rejection of the EU, it will be Britain declaring, as it always has, that it is open to the world. More than that, it will be a statement of confidence, an affirmation of history and a declaration that it it is not scared nor has reason to be

brexit two flagsThe current government is in a unique position to change Britain. While there seems to be a rise in socialist movements in both the UK and America, they are in no way mainstream. Despite Senator Bernie Sanders success in the Democratic primaries, an analysis of his supporters shows they are not the poorest, who have been voting for Mrs Clinton.[1]. Similarly in the UK, the movement that has recently taken control of theLabour opposition is an unholy alliance of unreformed hard-leftists and younger affluent voters attracted by the fresh smell of musty old ideas, the sport for whom its but a short step from social media to socialism. However the left is intellectually bankrupt, their ideas disproven by the history the right forgot to teach.

The old New Labour faction is reduced to clinging to the Big Government statists on the Continent while the new Old Labour group see the EU as corporate menace and wish to rewind the European clock to the 1970s. In the 2015 General Election the public revolted at the thought of a socialist-light party, never mind a socialist one. This is not to assume that the opposition is  unelectable. There are political cycles, just as there are economic ones, and for all their faults Labour is still the alternative government. The Conservative Party made itself electable, but that is not to say it is particularly loved. A vote to leave would unquestionably be a vote for self-determination, and you cannot have political freedoms without economic ones. A radical move by the government could entrench lower tax rates for good, to paraphrase Milton Friedman “the important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically unprofitable for the wrong people to do the wrong thing.”

The reason the left can get any traction is due to the perceived failures of capitalism. One can make an argument for nationalised utilities or railways on the basis that no one is offering to build a new pipe into your home or introduce new tracks for mag-lev trains. The competition principle underpinning the free market gets no suction here. However this is to forget that nationalisation stymies innovation. It is an acceptance of the status quo. An acquiescence to the idea that this is as good as it gets. A surrender to managed decline.

 

The Answers

In recent times, putting one’s trust in the free market has been given a bad name. Whether it is for the 2008 crash or the behaviour leading up to it, capitalism has been under attack. Yet it was not the free market that crashed the world economy but government interventions. In both Britain and the US, the economic gains of the free market governments of Lady Thatcher and President Reagan were squandered by those that followed. While President Clinton governed as a centrist and was moderated by a Republican-controlled House, the Bush Administration that succeeded ended up spending in a most un-Republican way. The size of Mr Blair majorities effectively made him an elected dictator. After following the economic plans of Conservative Chancellor Kenneth Clarke in their first term, New Labour went on a very Old Labour spending spree in their subsequent ones. The results were to entrench crony capitalism in oligopolistic markets while government spending and regulations grew. By interfering in the markets they created bubbles. Addicted to high tax receipts, assured that all their regulators had everything in check and convinced they could manipulate the markets to solve domestic housing policy, they allowed firms to become too big to fail, then encouraged them to lend and spend like it was 1999 and we were all at the end of history. When the market tried to correct itself the systemic risk panicked policy makers into the biggest transfers of debt ever, yet seemed to absolve anyone of responsibility.

Hence free market capitalism, the force that has raised more people out of poverty than any other ism, has one of the worst reputations imaginable. Ask yourself why key sectors are dominated by the Big Three, Four, Five or Six? Big Government and Big Business go hand in hand; just look at the biggest lobbyists in Brussels and then check their kickbacks or not-so-big tax filings. Big Government passes big laws that make it impossible for all but the biggest firms to navigate. Big Government says you cannot care for your elderly parent because it has taken all your money, meaning you cannot afford the big prices that Big Care home providers charge. Big Government says ‘don’t worry, we’ll look after you’, and then proceeds to do so in the most inefficient manner while trapping its dependents in the morass it creates.

The Brexit Countdown: Part I
Brexit, Part II: Faith in Oneself

Brexit, Part III: The Road Ahead

Government’s role should be to protect its people. It should have firm, clearly understood and limited laws. It must be willing and able to prosecute those laws if they are broken[2]. It should not have a legal and regulatory system so complex that its own agents can’t understand them. If sectors are mastered by too few players then its regulators should look at barriers to entry or too much inorganic growth, otherwise it must trust the free market as “the best path to prosperity”[3].

An example of the free market at work is now so entrenched in modern life we take it for granted, so ubiquitous we carry it in our pockets without a thought. It’s called the internet[4]. In the future, connectivity and technological changes will render trading blocks like the EU completely obsolete. Imagine the impact of 3D printing. A firm in Northern Ireland designs and sells a product, let us say tables. It finds a partner in Thailand, sends them the file, they print out the model, modify the design a bit, perhaps to suit Thai table tastes, and send it back. They to-and-fro until everyone is happy. Before you know it, bespoke Northern Irish tables are competing in the Thai market. Where is the EU needed in that?

In leaving the EU, Britain would have to spend more on its border service; investment should also be made in the military, with new naval spending a priority; many and smaller ships will be needed in the future. Strategic interests in the Mediterranean and a commitment to the EU’s defence will be the price tag of free trade. As the government seems ready to nationalise the steel industry it may as well give them something to do. Shipbuilding and naval expansion should help the whole country, from Scotland to Cornwall. If government spending can ever be a good thing, then defence of the realm is surely it.

 

The World Outlook

Should the US is cripple itself with the pseudo-socialism of Senator Sanders, the trillion dollar stimulus of Secretary Clinton or the threatened protectionism of Mr Trump[5], then who will guarantee the trade links the world economy depends upon? Certainly the UK cannot do so alone, but it can show the way. This is not some kind of 21st century gun-boat diplomacy, it is an inheritance and duty to the world. If Britain will not stand up for trade, justice, the rule of law and the values underpinning the global system who will? If America continues as the West’s sugar daddy then, while they may heave a sigh of a relief, Britons still have a duty to help them. If you believe it is impossible to cut taxes and achieve such ambitions then recall that President Kennedy set the US the task of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth by the end of the 1960s, while simultaneous setting out a plan to cut the top rate of tax by 21 percentage points. They did it in two years and it remained unchanged for the next seventeen[6].

Great Britain has a unique opportunity to shape the 21st century. The challenges ahead are the same problems all advanced nations in this world will have to solve, with a queue of developing countries to follow. If it can find the solutions then they can be exported around the globe. One of the biggest is healthcare. How can a modern, civilised country guarantee healthcare free at the point of use and pay for it? If an answer to this question is not found then aging populations will cause the social contract between the generations to break down.

As technology leads to cutbacks from large employers, governments will be faced with choices: they can either try regulating those technologies and taxing the ever-decreasing productive classes to shower ‘helicopter money’ on the rest, or they can deliver economic freedoms and allow their populations to use those innovations to the best of their abilities by trusting their dynamism. The EU is heading in the former direction. A vote to leave would be the latter, a vote for the 21st century.

It is often said that the two greatest challenges facing us are global climate change and Islamic terrorism. These two problems are in many ways entwined. The world buys oil from the Middle East to keep Western civilisation working and creates large carbon dioxide emissions in the process. In return, the vast wealth in the region has led to a mosaic of oligarchies of varying stability. Of these, some promote a more fundamental Islamic message to keep their populations repressed and then export that message around the globe. Others have gone even further, as the world witnessed on September 11, 2001[7]. Unless a way is found to power our countries and run our transport that does not have oil as its core element we will never reduce CO2 emissions nor have a chance of defeating Fundamentalist Islamic Terrorism. These are challenges shared by partners around the world and only technological innovation and the free market can solve them. Big governments such as the ‘Coalition of the Defeated’ that is the EU will only stifle the free market and will potentially allow either the ‘medieval thugs’ or the ‘eco-loon fringe’ to destroy or de-industrialise our civilisation.

 

Cultural Problems

It is a real concern that so many young people in Britain and across Europe are so willing to give up the lives their parents and grandparents have built for them in the West and embrace a medieval death cult. Why do so many second- and third-generation children of migrants in modern Britain side in effect with the theocratic despotism their migrant forebears left behind?

While the UK today is welcoming and tolerant there have been many problems along the road. Why does it let the legacy of these problems poison today’s Britain, which can boast a tolerance to minorities that surpasses all others? Yes, it is never perfect, but it’s a long way from the ‘No Blacks, No Jews, No Irish’ signs of yesteryear. At the time of writing the winner of the Mayoralty of London is a man named Sadiq Khan. The British stars of the London Olympics in 2012 were a woman of mixed race heritage and a man born in Somalia. A key figure in the current England cricket team, and one of the few to play all three formats, is a devout Muslim with whiskers so voluminous the fans have has fondly endowed him with the sobriquet ‘the beard that is feared’. In the European football championships the current England manager could pick an outfield team of completely non-white English players on merit and no one would bat an eyelid.

What is the problem then? Why does a small minority of British minorities so reject modern Britain and all the opportunities it offers? What can a so-called post-modern country offer? This is a failing of the collective British people. They have moved away from their Christian heritage and as society has secularised it has also lost its self-confidence. A new puritanism stalks the land, the spawn of big governments’ favourite top down, politically correct ideologies. Free Speech and the free press, the foundations of British liberty, are its targets. Those employed by government are now paid to act as lords and masters, rather than public servants; the view increasingly becomes ‘what can I get out of the state?’ instead of ‘how can we do better?’ Cynicism has set into the national psyche to an alarming extent[8]. Britons have post-colonial guilt drilled into them. They worry that to even ask questions about immigration numbers somehow makes them racist, rather than rational.

Immigration is a good thing. Any modern dynamic economy needs migrants to grow. Migrants are generally driven by the attraction of opportunities denied them in the locales they leave. They bring energy and evolution with them. Many also do not remain indefinitely, but in returning to their homes they create long lasting relationships with the countries they have worked in. If some are attracted by welfare benefits it is the duty of the host nation to eliminate those incentives. However, membership of the EU prohibits such actions. Emigration is also a good thing. It fosters links with friends around the globe while skills and innovations learnt abroad are applied back at home. Uncontrolled immigration poses serious risks to societal cohesion and places strains on creaking public services. Too much emigration represents a loss of skills, experience and potential. While Britain should be welcoming those who have the urge to seek a better job and life, it must also be mindful not to steal the human capital of friendly nations nor deny opportunities to its own people.  21st Century Britain must find the right balance to this policy. This can only be done outside the EU.

 

Cultural Solutions

For those that say the Union of the Kingdom itself may not survive, a reaffirmation of British values is the antidote. It is the idea of Britain as a shared heritage that has been undermined by the UK’s membership of the EU. Understanding science and technology is the key to the future, but the past must not be ignored. While greater use of the internet and the government’s tendency to liberalise education will bear long-term fruits, the government should insist that English and history be mandatory till A-Level, even if not tested beyond GCSE. All school children should know their Shakespeare and British history; both teach more about life than any citizenship class can. It is a curious inanity that Her Majesty’s Department for Education preaches citizenship to Her Majesty’s subjects. Is there something wrong with choosing one of the many examples Shakespeare provides? Coriolanus tells of a national hero who turns in frustrated pride against his homeland. Written as one of many biographies by the Greek Plutarch in the time of the Roman Empire, thesetales  inspired some of Shakespeare’s finest works[9]. Are there not universal truths in a tale recorded by a Greek fifteen centuries before Shakespeare’s birth about a Roman five centuries before his? While Shakespeare is considered a national treasure, few seem willing to use the lessons he teaches instead of the diversity studies some have wasted tens of thousands of pounds on. As Spiro Agnew might say were alive today: “Education has been redefined, at the demand of the uneducated, to suit the ideas of the uneducated”. How can young people be expected to appreciate parliamentary democracy if they do not know about the Civil War? Shared British history is the core of the Union, yet few Scots realise how many of their forebears built the modern world under the British Empire. Worse still, few Britons seem to know that it was Britain which first outlawed the slave trade, at the height of her death struggle with Napoleon, and policed the policy at considerable expense. The story of Britain might be long and complex and there were faults along the way, but instead of an honest appraisal of the Empire, which essentially explains how we all got here, the preference is to keep quiet on the matter and allow it all to be labelled as a fascist enterprise.

A vote to leave would be a vote for British values. These cannot be spelled out by any politician giving a speech. They are intangible, which is perhaps why there is no single written British constitution; try describing why one can hear a piece of music by Vaughan Williams for the first time, blind so to speak, and instinctively know it is English? Or why one can sit and listen to the fiddle player in an Edinburgh pub and feel Celtic roots? They are the reason that men from all over the world travelled vast distances to defend a particular idea of liberty, no matter if they had ever even been to Britain or even still wanted to be ruled by her. They are the reason the Royal Family is still held in high regard, an otherwise absurdity in a modern democracy. They are based on a shared history, a feeling that something special has been handed down by our ancestors, and that it is a duty to pass it on to our children.

The EU can never inspire such quite pride, understated loyalty or the gentle patriotism that represent the sum of British values. It can only undermine them.

 

The Next Chapter…

The UK’s implausible membership of the European Union will be decided upon on June 23rd. If Britons vote Remain they will be closing the door on a unique history in exchange for a satellite status to a dying star. There is nothing to fear in Britain exiting the EU. If the UK votes to leave it will be the start of a new chapter, not a new book. It would be Britain declaring, as it always has, that it is open to the world. That it is confident of its own place in that world. That it does not need to be part of any big government project because it is scared of the modern world. A vote to leave would not be a step in the dark. It would not be Britain burying its head in the sand. It would be a signal that it is confident enough to build the future. A country willing to stand up and say ‘this is the place to be’. A nation whose government serves to help its people, whose social security acts as a trampoline rather than an ensnaring net. A society welcoming to migrants, that says ‘want to come and join us? Great, here are the rules’. A United Kingdom that is proud of its long history, optimistic about what lies ahead and willing to work with everybody else to make that possible.

This paper has attempted to point out the incompatibility of British membership of the European Union. It has also been the aim to do so without the acrimony that unfortunately has so characterised the debate. If it has failed then one would hope this is due to the author’s own shortcomings rather than the argument itself.

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[2] As Professor Niall Fergurson argued in his second BBC Reith Lecture “The Rule of Law and its Enemies” 26th June 2012.

[3] Larry Kudlow, ad infinitum

[4] Though some argue the Internet has become dominated by big players such as Google, Twitter and Facebook, you can still choose not to use them.

[5] A rational analysis of Mr Trump’s policies is unavailable due to the contradictory nature of his pronouncements. His fiscal plan is very pro-business, especially for SMEs, but some of his trade policies are reminiscent of those from the 1930’s that caused the Great Depression.

[6] From 91% in 1963 to 70% by 1965. (Source http://taxfoundation.org/article/us-federal-individual-income-tax-rates-history-1913-2013-nominal-and-inflation-adjusted-brackets). It remained until the Reagan cuts of the 1980’s.

[7] This is not an accusation against any government in the region. It is a fact that 15 of the 19 that day were Saudi nationals, no link to any official Saudi government has been proven nor would it be in their interests to carry out such an attack.

[8] Declaring an interest, the author is a self-confessed cynic.

[9] Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra etc.

Comments [6]

  1. Davidovich says:

    Thank you, Nick Turner, for your erudite and persuasive series on Brexit. Should the UK fail to leave the EU, It will certainly not be due to any failure of argument on your part.

  2. en passant says:

    I was against entering the EU, so BREXIT is truly the last chance to right a wrong decision. Unfortunately, brainwashing works as (sad to say) my relatives still in their prison are going to vote to stay, though they know not why.

  3. Jody says:

    I feel that the UK will vote “remain”, simply because the new demographic in Britain comprises huge migrant communities and – possibly more importantly – you need to be able to project imaginative, entrepreneurial and positive ideas towards going it alone. To be able to imagine is a skill which many in the western world don’t now possess because they have become so wedded to the nanny state ideology and this has infantilized and rendered dependent almost the entire electorate.

  4. Don A. Veitch says:

    So who controls the money with Brexit? With an exit from the EU, England is for the English, the Bank of England can become a true central bank again, for the English, rather than an agent of failed states of Europe through a German dominated (the biggest shareholder) European Central Bank, (aka Big Buba, the old Bundesbank).
    The 2008 crash was caused by ‘government intervention’? A bit hard to swallow. Clinton (s) abolished the Glass-Steagal, hence allowing Ponzii scheme operators to invent new markets to drain the economy. Remember Obama, bailed out these Ponzi scheme financiers with trillions of fiduciary e-money, is that the government intervention you condemn. If so, you might have a point.

  5. Jody says:

    Niall Ferguson argues in his book, “The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die” that, in fact, “excessively complex regulation is the disease which purports to be the cure” and that this merely contributed to the crisis of 2007/8. I notice a chapter from Ferguson’s book is cited here as a BBC Reith Lecture.