The Divisive Vote Over Brexit

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Andrew Watt has writ­ten a pas­sion­ate cri­tique of my sup­port for Brex­it (“Pro­gres­sive econ­o­mists should sup­port Remain not Brex­it – a response to Steve Keen”), and it high­lights a key fea­ture of this pecu­liar ref­er­en­dum: peo­ple who nor­mal­ly find them­selves on the same side in most eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal debates have been divid­ed by this ref­er­en­dum.

Andrew com­ments that he broad­ly agrees with my eco­nom­ic analy­sis on most issues, but vehe­ment­ly oppos­es me here. Like­wise, good friends like the het­ero­dox econ­o­mist Geof­frey Hogdg­son; Ann Pet­ti­for, who led the suc­cess­ful Jubilee 2000 cam­paign to can­cel the debt of the world’s poor­est nations; and Yanis Varo­ufakis, who knows a thing or two about the EU, all strong­ly sup­port Remain.

But many oth­er eco­nom­ic col­leagues, such as Richard Wern­er, sup­port Brex­it as I do. Richard states his posi­tion this way:

The eco­nom­ics is clear: there is no need to be a mem­ber of the EU to thrive eco­nom­i­cal­ly, and exit­ing does not have to impact UK eco­nom­ic growth at all. The UK can remain in the Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Area, as Nor­way has done, or sim­ply agree on a trade deal, as Switzer­land did, and enjoy free trade – the main inten­tion of Euro­pean agree­ments in the eyes of the pub­lic.

The pol­i­tics is also clear: the Euro­pean super­state that has already been formed is not demo­c­ra­t­ic. The so-called ‘Euro­pean Par­lia­ment’, unique among par­lia­ments, can­not pro­pose any leg­is­la­tion at all – laws are all for­mu­lat­ed and pro­posed by the unelect­ed Euro­pean Com­mis­sion! As a Russ­ian observ­er has com­ment­ed, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment is a rub­ber-stamp­ing sham, just like the Sovi­et par­lia­ment dur­ing the days of the Sovi­et Union, while the unelect­ed gov­ern­ment is the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion – the Politibu­reau replete with its Com­mis­sars. (Richard Wern­er, “EU Basics – Your Guide to the UK Ref­er­en­dum on EU Mem­ber­ship”)

How can one issue divide peo­ple who are in agree­ment on so many oth­ers? Part­ly it’s because of the polit­i­cal­ly ugly fel­low trav­ellers one finds one­self with: the UKIPs and the Britain Firsts that put for­ward racist, anti-immi­gra­tion argu­ments for Brex­it. Bet­ter vote Remain than find your­self with such bedfellows—and there’s the con­cern that win­ning the Brex­it vote might strength­en their hands in domes­tic pol­i­tics as well.

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About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.