June 20, 2016

Brexit, Schmexit

My recent travels in Europe have given me the opportunity to see up close and personal into Europeans’ perspectives on the upcoming Brexit referendum. Whether Britain leaves or remains in the European Union is the center of current world attention, as pundits make predictions and central banks are poised to respond. While the media focuses on the potential economic impacts and possible market volatility, I think there are broader implications that we should be paying attention to.

As I asked European citizens their opinion on Brexit, it seemed that a significant majority (even outside of the U.K.) support a “leave” vote; they are against Britain staying in the E.U. There is a perception that the British working class has been disenfranchised, and that a large part of that is due to ineffective national and E.U. leadership and immigration issues.

When looking at the microcosm of Britain, it’s easy to see that being part of the European Union has caused some challenges — as it has for other member countries — and it’s natural that people would react to those. And perhaps leaving the E.U. would help to solve or mitigate those challenges, but there is a much larger issue at stake. This vote is representative of a “me versus we” (i.e. national vs. global) decision that could impact the course of global history. Globalization has been marching forward for some time, and the Brexit referendum marks a strong resistance (maybe not the first, but certainly the most notable) to the momentum of globalization.

Naturally, becoming a global economy is a challenging prospect and not without its hurdles. Recent challenges, particularly in Europe, have given rise to a desire to reassert national autonomy. Should Brexit pass, and Brits choose to exit the E.U., it could be the beginning of a larger backlash against globalization, which would have long-term impacts on the process and on the world.

Pundits are arguing that Brexit may have significant economic effects, including market volatility and a substantial decline in the value of the pound. While I think the immediate economic effects of Brexit could be more media-induced than a natural consequence of the vote, I do think we need to seriously look at whether we’re ready to halt the progress of globalization. This is the real issue; will Brexit be the first domino that topples globalization, or could it be the hammer that ultimately will forge a stronger union in the long run?

dreamstime_xl_18782607By Tony Arnerich, from Croatia