The Brexit Vote: The Painful Price of Inequality

By   /   June 27, 2016  /   38 Comments

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My Facebook home page is awash with post-Brexit expressions of disbelief and horror. So many people appear aghast at the stupidity of the Britons who voted for a possible mass economic suicide.

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My Facebook home page is awash with post-Brexit expressions of disbelief and horror. So many people appear aghast at the stupidity of the Britons who voted for a possible mass economic suicide.

But let’s pause for a moment and think about who the real idiots are.

The real idols are not the pensioners or the angry uneducated working class who voted to leave Europe; these people are just the victims of extreme inequality and its consequences.

The real idiots who should be held responsible for this self-inflicting harm are, in fact, the highly educated elites whose idiotic economic policies have divided the British society, undermined its democracy and damaged its economy.

A third of a century ago, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher re-wrote the economic rules of the US and the UK. The economic reforms they introduced were promised to bring a greater prosperity for all. The actual results were very different.

In the US, the outcome was a slower economic growth that benefited only the top 10% and resulted in stagnant income for 90% of people and a decline in income for the bottom 50%.

Today, the median income of a full-time male US worker, adjusted for inflation, is the same as it was 40 years ago. But things are even worse at the bottom. The minimum wage in the United States is now lower than it was 60 years ago. Isn’t that astonishing?

In the UK, the percentage of income going to the top 1% has more than doubled since 1980. The UK also has one of the highest levels of inequality in opportunity resulting in intergenerational transmission of inequality. Life is easy for the Britons born to rich parents, the rest must work longer hours to pay down debts or constantly struggle to make ends meet on benefits.

It is not surprising then that there are so many angry people in the UK who want to see a change.

Yes, they are barking at the wrong tree by imagining immigration and Brussels to be the prime sources of their misery but they are right to think that things were better in the past.

Many of the leave voters were baby boomers who had experienced the golden age of capitalism.

For the Brits, the best years came in 1960s but this 1957 speech by the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan captures what the golden age felt like in Britain:

“Let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good. Go round the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime – nor indeed in the history of this country.”

Free higher education helped intergenerational mobility, the growth in home ownership ensured stability and security and the improvements in the standard of living brought the first taste of exotic food and package holidays to Europe.

In fact, those were really the days. So when the Brits say they want their country back what they really mean is they want those golden days back.

But the golden days came to an end and the Regan-Thatcher economic policies did the opposite of what it had promised to do. Instead of trickling down money from the top to the bottom, it moved money from the bottom to the top.

A third of a century on, the policymakers still refuse to re-write the rules of the market economy despite the insidious forces that rising inequality has unleashed.

Amongst these dark forces are the rise of far-right nationalist groups in Europe: UK Independent Party in the UK, Golden Dawn in Greece, National Front in France, Party for Freedom in Netherlands, Alternative for Germany, etc.

Achieving perfect equality is neither possible nor desirable, but a wealth of data now irrefutably proves, in developed countries, rising inequality leads to poor outcomes in life expectancy, crime, education, health, incarceration rates, social mobility, violence, etc.

Various economic reports from conservative organisations such as OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and IMF (International Monetary Fund) also show rising inequality leads to less stable and slower economic growth.

It turns out that rising inequality is bad for the social fabric of our society as well as our economy. Policymakers have known all this for a long time but have failed to do anything about fair distribution of income and wealth.

So, who are the real idiots here?  

The real idiots are the lawmakers whose economic policies prepared the perfect conditions for the Brexit in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump in the US.

The real idiots are the well-dressed, gently spoken, highly educated, mostly men, who plan perpetual wars around the world that lead to terrorism and refugee crisis.

The real idiots are the politicians whose inability to act on climate change and the nuclear threat is pushing humanity to the precipice of extinction.

And the even bigger idiots are those who advocate and believe in the American and British economic model claiming that it is the best of bad alternatives.

Not so. The Nobel laureate economist, Joseph Stiglitz, believes tackling extreme inequality is an achievable goal.

Stiglitz writes:

“It’s time to rewrite the rules―to curb the runaway flow of wealth to the top one percent, to restore security and opportunity for the middle class, and to foster stronger growth rooted in broadly shared prosperity.

Inequality is a choice.”  

Stiglitz’s book “Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity” is a rescue plan for the American economy.

Professor of economics and former Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, has created an organization called DiEM25 to democratize Europe and bring a greater transparency to its operations.  Varoufakis writes: “ There must be another course. And there is!”

The Labour Party in the UK has established the Economic Advisory Council to advise the Labour Party on its future macroeconomic policies. Encouragingly, Joseph Stiglitz is a member of the council. The Labour Party has also commissioned a full review of the UK’s economic institutions.

The New Zealand Labour Party’s “The Future of Work” conference and commission has also been very impressive.

The future is in a green, sustainable economy that aims towards a shared prosperity. “ There must be another course. And there is!”

 

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About the author

Donna Miles

Donna Miles is a British-born, Iranian-bred, New Zealand citizen with a strong interest in human rights, justice and equality issues.

38 Comments

  1. jay1 says:

    100% right!

  2. John W says:

    Lets do it

  3. Mike the Lefty says:

    The reasons why people voted the way they did are numerous and confusing, but underpinning the “leave” vote there was some kind of low-key, grumbling protest element.
    The “remain” camp had become dominated by the financial elites, currency speculators and shareholders. All they talked about was how leaving would cost everyone money. They argued for more of the same, but why would people who are suffering now from decades of neo-liberalism want more of the same?
    That’s part of the reason why the “leave” camp won. They tapped into the millions of Britons who were uncomfortable about more of the same. They reasoned that the dire warnings about financial bankruptcy, destitution and isolation were just bluff so they called it.

  4. maninthemiddle says:

    No-one gives a s&^t about your facebook page, Donna. Britains have voted from the standpoint of their own experience of a failed EU. Your commentary from the comfort of NZ is not particularly informed.

    • Aside from your ignorant abuse, maninthemiddle, you make no mention of the salient facts Donna has raised such as;

      “In the US, the outcome was a slower economic growth that benefited only the top 10% and resulted in stagnant income for 90% of people and a decline in income for the bottom 50%.

      Today, the median income of a full-time male US worker, adjusted for inflation, is the same as it was 40 years ago. But things are even worse at the bottom. The minimum wage in the United States is now lower than it was 60 years ago. Isn’t that astonishing?

      In the UK, the percentage of income going to the top 1% has more than doubled since 1980. The UK also has one of the highest levels of inequality in opportunity resulting in intergenerational transmission of inequality. Life is easy for the Britons born to rich parents, the rest must work longer hours to pay down debts or constantly struggle to make ends meet on benefits. “

      So, as a right-winger, you have no way to address the facts, so you resort to personal attack. Sad.

    • Sam Sam says:

      I’m guessing you have an inability to act on climate change

    • adam says:

      Oh look another radical centrist – abusing anything that looks like an intelligent response. Or a voice for rationality, or indeed a voice that might have the interests of working people at heart.

      thanks maninthemiddle, you have just convinced me it’s this faction in politics, that are the true parasites on the body politic.

  5. Well written, Donna. It is the push-back from people around the world that will ultimately see neo-liberalism consigned to the rubbish bin of history, along with other political fads.

    As others more insightful than me have pointed out, only the rising housing bubble, and runaway house prices which give New Zealand property-owning middle classes the illusion of “wealth”, have stopped people from seeing the inequality around us.

    “Jack is as good as his master” has been replaced by “I’m alright Jack!”

    But not for long. As economists have constantly warned, the “party” is about to end.

    From economist Shamubeel Eaqub, these two pieces are must-read;

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/304722/is-nz-facing-a-crisis-of-conscience

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/307085/nz-egalitarian-that's-a-pretty-little-lie

    • Donna Miles-Mojab says:

      Thank you for the links Frank. I’m a fan of Shamubeel Eaqub and wish we could see and hear from him more often in our media. Thank you also for your insightful comments as always.

    • Nitrium Nitrium says:

      “It is the push-back from people around the world that will ultimately see neo-liberalism consigned to the rubbish bin of history, along with other political fads.”

      Exactly. Brexit represents a deep discontentment from regular people. The elites are super rattled by this outcome (witness elite-in-chief David Cameron immediately resigning). It was the giant multinational corporations and political and financial leaders who led the charge for the “remain” campaign – and there is a reason for that! They’re seeing that their failed neoliberal policies are coming home to roost and they’re terrified as to what that means for THEM in the future. People are finally waking up imo, and the likes of Brexit, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump reflect this (even if you don’t necessarily like where some of the resentment is going).

  6. Mike in Auckland says:

    “Today, the median income of a full-time male US worker, adjusted for inflation, is the same as it was 40 years ago. But things are even worse at the bottom. The minimum wage in the United States is now lower than it was 60 years ago. Isn’t that astonishing?

    In the UK, the percentage of income going to the top 1% has more than doubled since 1980. The UK also has one of the highest levels of inequality in opportunity resulting in intergenerational transmission of inequality. Life is easy for the Britons born to rich parents, the rest must work longer hours to pay down debts or constantly struggle to make ends meet on benefits.

    It is not surprising then that there are so many angry people in the UK who want to see a change.”

    Yes, and this tells us something!

    I would though not so much talk about the “idiots” that are in charge, the well dressed, the business lobby and their political sock puppets, they are not idiots, they know exactly what they are doing.

    Politicians though, not just in England and the rest of the UK, politicians all over Europe, have constantly tried the difficult juggling act by looking after the vested interest holders there are, with the interests of the people who voted for them.

    At some stage and time there results in this a huge gap, a gap in credibility and also increasing alienation from the people they are supposed to govern and administer, i.e. look after.

    We have the same in New Zealand, where this government runs the show on flawed evidence, on misinformation, on boosting the economy simply by increasing the numbers of the people living, working and consuming here. In reality we have no significant growth, little or no GDP per capita growth, and our future generations will be left with high liabilities to pay for, while the ones with vested business and wealth interests, they can simply pack their bags, move on and buy nice mansions in sunny places like the Queensland Gold Coast, or like our PM in Hawaii.

    The disconnect in the UK and some populist misinformation led to the result we have with this EU Referendum, that seems to even shock the supporters of the Brexit now. “What have we done?”, many ask now.

    Instead of working on reforming and improving the EU, the vote went to opt out and look at number one, but as the UK has been led into uncharted territory, great instability and disarray in their political establishment, it will not pay off at all, it seems.

    The whole of Europe is gradually being undermined and breaking up, that is the EU, which has reached its limits and is now heading into reverse gear.

    Spain had its second election within months, and the result has left the country as ungovernable as it was before. This is something happening in various EU member nations, and populist and protest movements and parties are gaining votes and support fast.

    The EU was originally a good idea, but they failed in reaching its citizens, and the system was a construct that was too alien to many, hence there is a return to follow first of all national and then regional interests.

    Forget the EU, it will not last in its present form, it is after all now a failed project, the refugee crisis showed this, they cannot agree on many essential basic things, the leaders of the member states, and therein lies a major problem.

    When you have that, a poorly constructed union, it will eventually break apart, Brexit may just have been the beginning of the end, watch this space.

    • Donna Miles-Mojab says:

      Thank you for your comments Mike. The reason I refer to the idiocy of the well-educated lawmakers is because, much like Ahab in Moby-Dick, their obsessive pursuit of neoliberal policies can only lead to self-destruction.

      • Mike in Auckland says:

        Hah, Moby Dick, I read that too, yes, a good comparison, obsessive and greedy characters, all over the show, doing so much damage to the economies and societies on this globe.

  7. Matt of Fact says:

    Thank you Donna for the first positive and sane “vision” to a better future that I have read. Better than endless catastrophic consequences and blaming that are being dished out by all and sundry at the moment!

  8. Nick says:

    No one doubts that inequality in the West is a very damaging phenomenon. All this broad brush stuff is fine, but what is needed is something that looks like a serious, practicable plan to start to turn the advantage escalator around. This is desperately needed throughout the West. A transnational summit on affordable healthcare or education may be just as needed, in the short term at least, as one on climate change or refugees. A simple determination within one country to spend more on this or that is no solution at all as Venezuela and Greece quickly learned. The problem must be attacked on much broader basis.

    It is easy to say that these First World problems pale into insignificance against the horrors experienced in other parts of the world. True, perhaps, but relative deprivation is just as likely to cause the breakdown of social order. More likely, actually, sociological theory would tell us. And while the West is absorbed by its internal hemorrhaging, who exactly is going to try to help the more extremely deprived around the rest of the globe?

    • Donna Miles-Mojab says:

      Nick, you are absolutely right about the damaging effects of relative poverty caused by inequitable distribution of market income and wealth. There is plenty of data that backs this up. There are simple fixes that can be implemented almost overnight to stop some of the money that flows from the bottom to the top. All it takes is a political will to implement these new regulations and rules.

  9. CLEANGREEN says:

    Let’s just all calm down and watch this informative documentary of what is the real face of the EU and then have a re-think as there are consideration’s we also have to consider here also friends as there are no so deaf as those who wont listen my dad always said.

    EU REFERENDUM- The Real Face of the European Union

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0WeURiShfU

    This info has never been shown or never will be shown. The corruption runs deep.

    Perhaps the BBC or NZTV might be interested in running this here production also as a balanced viewpoint.

    It is badly serious when you have to come to youtube for your education…

    • Strypey says:

      I couldn’t watch more than the first 5 minutes, which was just a bunch of blatantly misleading shock! horror! rhetoric. News flash; a group of countries can form a mutual benefit federation without giving up their sovereignty, just as a group of individuals can form an incorporated society without giving it full control over their lives. The EU is a much more democratic structure than the US, for example, or the Russian “Federation”, in which member states have far more sovereignty and independence.

  10. save nz says:

    +100 – it is even more possible in NZ to have equality and a high standard of living for all, because we have such a small population and used to be one of the most equal places in the world to live.

    • Donna Miles-Mojab says:

      I agree but unfortunately NZ has one of the highest levels of inequality amongst the developed countries. We know inequality hurts EVERYONE, not just the ones at the bottom. In more equal societies, even people at the top enjoy better health and longer life spans.
      Inequality is also bad for economy so, clearly, there are no benefits in pursuing policies that contribute to increasing income and wealth inequality.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      100% SAVE NZ.

      We should still be more flexible & adaptable than other larger more complex countries are.

      • Donna Miles-Mojab says:

        Ye,. I agree. We can set ourselves up as a world leader in embracing new economic thinking that promotes sustainable growth and shared posterity. As you say, it is a very achievable goal for NZ.

  11. Andrew says:

    Donna, your recollection of history is rather mixed up and suffers from rose tinted glasses.

    I was actually there in Britain in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. There were a few bright spots for sure, but working class housing in many industrial towns was still in ruins after WW2 bombing, right up to the 70’s. Britain was close to bankrupt and reliant on US aid. Our clothes were hand-me-downs, socks were darned, we ate bread & lard and the drinking water in our family was drawn from a well.

    That was the ‘Swinging Sixties’ for me. It wasn’t all Carnaby Street!

    As as child I recall the collapse of the pound caused by the hopeless Wilson government and the subsequent restrictions in foreign currency. Not many people were going overseas then – thanks to the 50 pound currency limit imposed on tourists travelling overseas! Overseas travel for common people only became feasible much later in the late 80’s.

    I was laid off twice as a young man within my first two years of working life and left the UK in ’76 because I considered it was a ruined economy.

    • Donna Miles-Mojab says:

      Andrew, I am not surprised to read what you have written. Yes, there were unemployment, inequality and racism, and to those who were there, it did not feel like the golden age, but the consensus is that, the 50s in the US, and the 60s in the UK, were the golden age of capitalism.

      • Andrew says:

        Donna as usual with these things, it’s a mixed bag.

        Many Americans look back to the 50’s and 60’s as a golden age with good reason. They had come through the Depression and WW2 to find they were the only industrialised nation which hadn’t been bombed flat. They could sell everything they made, regardless of quality or price. US unionised labour had a global hegemony that is unlikely to be ever repeated.

        Americans today generally don’t accept that version of history and seem to think that brief window in time is their birth-right rather than a one-off opportunity. Sadly they got used to living up large and extended that lifestyle right into the 90’s by taking on ever increasing levels of debt. It won’t end well for them! There is an enormous level of bitterness in the US now and the Sanders/Trump phenomenon is a result of that.

        In the UK we struggled along as best we could in the 60’s, creating some brilliant product designs but generally unable to fund them properly because of a shortage of investment capital (capital had mostly exited the UK because of punitive taxation rates) and the need to pay off war loans. So we had to make do with out of date tooling. The result was erratic quality and ultimately massive job losses in the 70’s.

        • Strypey says:

          Andrew, I just want to thank you for both of these comments. As usual I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusions, but I appreciate the level of detail you include to back them up, as well as the respectful tone in which you deliver them.

  12. Helena says:

    Thank you Donna. The Open Letter from the Greeks to the Brits is quite an eyeopener on just how the wishes of people are ignored or their wishes never sought. The letter D applies what follows is dictatorship and not democracy. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-06-19/greeks-send-open-letter-uk-citizens-about-brexit
    But then, of course, the EU was designed, organized and funded by the CIA in consort with others.

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Donna, You said; CIA and others planned the deconstruct of Brexit and EU.

      Can you share that link with us please as I don’t dispute this but we need to join it with the Bilderberg Group agenda who also have the (NWG) policy to reign as the Elitists over us all after weakening our Governments firstly?

      Here is our evidence Bilderberg are involved.

      2016 Bilderberg Meeting Dresden, Germany 9-12 June

      Evil is at play here as was during the US/EU successful intervention to breakup of Yugoslavia and Ukraine.

      Bilderberg Group’s agenda to weaken the whole European construct and their Government’s so they can finally rule as the original Elitists planned in 1942.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0WeURiShfU

      This is why several countries/ provinces/states will also vote to exit the monster now called the EU due to their wish to now seek their own control and sovereignty again even those still outside the EU.
      The EU and Elitists in The Bilderberg Group affiliated to the EU Commission and European Council have all demonstrated they are engaged in and are run by dark forces under the banner of “the European Commission and & Parliament who clearly have these elements within it,
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=384sCGM-wSU

      that frequently attend The Bilderberg Group Elitists global conferences.

      As recently as the one held in Dresden Germany, 9-12th June 2016 that we have discovered from the list of participants top heads of the and that one of the reasons why it is always held in secret. (See Final list of Participants below we have tagged with those questionable connected to Banking and EU governance and media by the flag ***)

      TO SAVE THE UK;

      NZ/Australia/Canada and other commonwealth counties should now declare its intention to request another commonwealth alliance with the UK.

      This may help save the UK before it breaks apart as this action may change Scotland and Northern Ireland from seeking separation from the Commonwealth via UK separation.

      If the Bilderberg Group Elitist’s are not shut down from succeeding to break up the UK and go on to break up all other strong Countries they will rule eventually with impunity another Corporate giant monster.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=384sCGM-wSU

      Most observers agree that the attendee list is pro-European Union, anti-Brexit, pro-migration, pro-Hillary Clinton (a regular of Bilderberg meetings) and pro-high-tech surveillance. In short, it is pro-NWO. The very existence of these meetings reflect the elite’s lack of respect for the democracy.

      Even a cursory comparison between the guest list and the conference agenda raises red flags. All those finance ministers sitting round discussing the “geopolitics of energy and commodity prices” with the group chief executive of BP, the vice-chairman of Portuguese petroleum giant Galp Energia, and the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell. And then afterwards saying nothing to their respective parliaments about what they discussed. It’s so off-the-chart inappropriate that it beggars comprehension

      http://www.bilderbergmeetings.org/participants.html

      According to this Infowars article, an “insider source” claims that the meeting will discuss the implementation of an Internet ID and global tax.
      The secretive Bilderberg Group is set to discuss plans to implement an Internet ID to eviscerate anonymity on the web as well as a global tax on financial transactions and air travel, according to an inside source who spoke to Infowars.
      According to our source, the creation of a virtual passport that web users will need to obtain before they can use many Internet services is high on the agenda.
      The Internet ID will be justified under the guise of “cybersecurity” and creating a convenient method for citizens to access government services, but free speech advocates will view the proposal with deep suspicion as it would threaten online anonymity and possibly chill dissent.
      Services such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter could also use the online passport to revoke posting permission if a user violates terms of agreement, another obvious threat to the free flow of information that has made the web what it is today.
      – Infowars, Bilderberg Leak: Secretive Group To Discuss Internet ID, Global Tax.
      In short, this year’s meeting is all about keeping course on the ultimate goal: one world government, one world currency and total control of the masses through insidious policies and high technology.

  13. CLEANGREEN says:

    The choosing of the United Kingdom to exit from Europe is a repeat of history when the United Kingdom decided to separate from the rule of Rome during the reign of King Henry VIII. These 2 incidences in history provide a remarkable similarity regarding an issue that was not really covered by the mainstream news during the run up to the EU referendum.

    http://www.globalwatchweekly.com/articleb24jun16.htm

  14. suzyiam says:

    One only has to look at Sunderland to understand the driving force behind the Brexit vote. Sunderland in the north has experienced low immigration, therefore the ‘racist’ argument doesn’t apply and yet, the district had more than 60% vote for Brexit.

    Sunderland has however suffered greatly from austerity measures. The area has been generally neglected in the post-industrial period, leaving it’s residents without chance of achieving any improvement in their social position. Without the opportunity for social mobility, a lessening of jobs due to scientific advancement etc and drops in basic household incomes & access to services due to austerity, generally the area is devoid of hope.

    Despite being a Labour area, many there feel snubbed by the party, hence saw no reason to trust the party’s ‘stay’ stance. Instead 61% of Sunderlanders chose to vote Brexit because it offered the chance for change, and basically when you have nothing to lose and are going nowhere, any chance is better than none at all.

    Media reports the people of Sunderland are still standing by their decision proudly. The resulting political confusion is of little consequence to them. Their lives will not change because already for many, they’re on the bottom of the heap. Sunderlanders know what inequality is. The way they voted will hopefully make the rest of the world start working out the cost of inequality too.

  15. Maama says:

    Thank you Donna for a well written easy to understand breakdown of what has happened in the UK with Brexit.

    For too long the working classes of the world have been shafted by the 1%-ers. It is now time to turn the tables.

    Last night I watched the Series ‘The Mill’ where the workers were fighting for a 8 hour day – they were working 10 hours a day. FFS most of our shifts are 12hours or if your are a farm worker 28 days on with 3 days off.

    How the hell has this happened – Roger Douglas & his mobsters set the ball in motion, it is
    now time for a change – if employers in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were able to run profitable businesses and still treat their workers fairly there is no reason why it can’t happen again today.

    Always remember – THERE ARE MORE OF US THAN THEM – WE JUST NEED TO TAKE THE POWER.

  16. Blake says:

    Well done Donna ! ! – 100% true and accurate and many agree with you.
    Reagan and Thatcher were just pawns and puppets controlled by the very elite monsters and greedy idiots that orchestrated this worldwide mess.

    We now need to continue to look behind the curtain and behind the media and see who these very people are and expose them and hold them accountable for the misery they have created.