Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
May 9, 2016
“A vote to leave is the gamble of the century.
And it would be our children’s future on the table, if we were to roll the dice.”
David Cameron, February 2016
“We have our own dream and our own task. We are with it, but not of it. We are linked but not combined.
We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.
If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.”
Winston Churchill, 1953
On June 23 the British will go to the polls. They will vote whether to remain in or leave the European Union. Preliminary polling suggests the decision will be close. There is comfort in staying – the status quo is easy, while change portends unknowns. Maintaining the current system is the preference of many, even as the country drifts toward greater political control from Brussels. The knowledge that bigger government is accompanied by diminished personal freedoms doesn’t bother those who say “stay!” Yet, the creep of “big” government is insidious. It lulls one into complacency; it assuages before it suppresses.
There is risk in leaving the EU. It is a leap into the unknown. It is frightening to those who have grown accustomed to dependency, and unappealing to those who work in government. Almost certainly, the immediate reaction of financial markets would be negative. There are other concerns. Would the UK, as President Obama inappropriately suggested, go to the back of the queue in terms of trade with the U.S. and the rest of Europe? Would the economy lose a couple of percentage points of growth in GDP, as the wizards at the Financial Times suggest? Would leaving herald an end to the peace that has prevailed in Europe for the past seventy-one years? These are important questions, but ones with no no clear-cut answers. There is no crystal ball.
In my opinion, the risks of “stay” are greater. They include concerns about political, economic, cultural and security issues. Many of these risks stem from the Progressive fascination with political correctness and its consequence – identity politics. Those policies ignore damaging cultural effects and deny their protagonists from seeing solutions to problems of their own creation. They descend from what Daniel Patrick Moynihan described more than twenty years ago in his essay, “Defining Deviancy Down.” Fear of offending means that ill behavior is too often accepted as norm. Additional risks evolve from what Samuel Huntington referred to as “the illusion of permanence” – the sense, for example, that Judeo-Christian values and British common law will survive intact the advancement of misogynist Islamists and Sharia law. It is not xenophobia when freedom loving Brits do not want their laws amended by religious extremists of any sort, be they Christians, Jews or Muslims. Liberty and human rights are too valuable and too rare.
It is economic growth that is wanted. Europe has been in an economic funk since before the financial crisis, the result of an inexorable slide toward bureaucracy, high taxes and regulation. These trends are slow-paced and incremental, and therefore insidious. Such gradual changes are not scrutinized closely; complacency dulls our sensitivities. For example, EU regulations regarding the sale of cabbage comprise 26,911 words! An overdose of bureaucracy impedes the willingness to take risks for economic gain. It is not trade that drives economic growth, though it helps. It is the regulatory and tax frameworks provided by government. Economies that succeed will be those that encourage research, investment and risk. Developments in automation will continue to alter the way we work; thus individuals and society must be prepared to change. All human advancement is predicated on the willingness of individuals to take risks. It is critical to a nation’s well-being that the environment created by government be conducive to economic success. Over a period of fifty years, as Hoover Institute senior fellow John S. Cochrane recently noted, the difference between two percent annual growth and three percent is a more than a doubling of GDP per capita. If the EU remains on its current course, wealth gaps will widen, global poverty will begin to increase and the promises made in terms of retirement and healthcare will never be realized.
Domestic security is an obvious concern. A shrunken world has brought much that is positive, but it has also meant that a war in Syria is inextricably linked to Islamic terrorism in Europe, and that a cyber thief in the Philippines can rob Bangladesh of money held in New York.
It has become common practice to dismiss those like Churchill (quoted above), as people from another age. Certainly, the world has changed. Men, money and weapons move around the earth with far greater rapidity than they did sixty-three years ago. Technology has shrunk our world, making it both more habitable and more dangerous. We have gone to the moon, and we, the civilized, use Drones to execute our enemies. Barbarians, in the guise of Islamists, decapitate their enemies and mutilate female genitalia. But the emotional characteristics of people – love, hate, fear, envy, lust, greed, anger, joy, sadness and trust – are no different today than when man first became man.
It is primarily middle and low-income wage earners who plan to vote “leave.” They are part of the global backlash against the establishment. They feel (and are) underrepresented. Cumbersome regulation, a function of nanny-state politics, has stifled initiative. Complexities in tax laws favor big business and the wealthy. Wages have declined or stagnated. Jobs have been lost to migrants from Eastern Europe and neighborhoods, schools and cultural lives have been altered by Islamists and, in a few cases, by the imposition of Sharia law. Muslim families tend to have two to three times the number of children as native Brits. That growth, in two or three generations, will have enormous ramifications. Hypocritical elites in media and government are not immediately impacted by changes in cultural mores. They live in restrictive, expensive neighborhoods; they don’t send their children to state schools populated with Muslims. They see things as they want them to be, not as they are. Distanced from those they govern, they consider such problems in theoretical terms, not within the practical realities of living.
The goal should be peace and prosperity. Diplomacy is better than war. Talking is better than fighting. Finding common ground is better than the reverse. But remember, it was Churchill, the man, who stood up to Hitler, not the League of Nations. Wisdom is wanted, not size; universal ethics should be respected, not the acceptance of multicultural immoral behavior; governing should be smart and limited, not large and bureaucratic. The nation should be respective and assimilative, not dissonant and divisive.
Governments must adhere to moral principles that are universal. They should welcome diversity in ideas, and should avoid a sectarian multiculturalism that keeps separate its proponents and prevents assimilation. Governments must have the military strength, the fortitude and will power to defend their cultural institutions and to counter external threats. They must encourage mutual respect, tolerance and civility. This requires an environment that gives freedom to the curious, rewards the successful, encourages the aspirational and provides the infrastructure for innovators and entrepreneurs to take risk – all necessary for peace and prosperity.
Are these elements to be found in the EU? Their history doesn’t inspire confidence.