Want to Know What Hate, Spite, Nationalism, and Big Lies Do to a Country? Take a Look at Brexit Britain in 2022.
My prediction was clear: “Brexit was already going to cost the average Brit an arm and a leg — about 10K per person, forever.” It wasn’t rocket science, after all, and I’m not a genius. Just a relatively good economist. And today? After Brexit? “British families are nearly £9,000 worse off than households in comparable countries due to a ‘toxic combination’ of stagnant growth and inequality, a report has found.”
I’m used to seeing my predictions come eerily true, from American collapse to climate catastrophe to the rise of the global far right and the undoing of democracy. Just another day on the job. But it’s funny to me to see a prediction like this coming true. What kind of idiots want to make themselves suddenly way, way poorer?
Right about now, Brexit is being revealed as a Big Lie, a con, a delusion. Don’t just pity Brits for their folly — everyone should learn from the mistake they made. First let me take you through a few of the highlights of what Brexit’s done to Britain — and then we’ll talk about the lessons for everyone.
Anyone and everyone sane predicted that Brexit would be an epic disaster. The idea of leaving the EU beggared belief. Why? For what reason? Why would you break up with your nearest trading partners, closest friends, and oldest allies? Not just amicably, but spitefully? What on earth led Brits to make this historic, immense mistake — which is going to destroy their futures for decades to come yet? I’ll come to that.
If you mention any of this to Brits today, though, on either side, you get a certain response. They get angry. “Let’s just get beyond it!” they cry, shout, hiss, scream. I’ve asked my friends, and I’m shocked at the anger of their response. Because you can’t just move beyond it. Brexit was a history-shaping decision, which irrevocably damaged Britain in unbelievable, surreal, irreversible ways — yet one, sadly, as we now know, built on a Trumpian series of Big Lies.
What were some of those Big Lies? Well, one was that Brits — and goods — would still enjoy easy freedom of movement to and from Europe. LOL…how? Britain wasn’t weren’t in the EU anymore, hello? Today, Brits are finding out the hard way — to travel in Spain, they need evidence of about $100 a day. Their main port is backed up for hours. Paperwork of all kinds is crushing businesses, to the extent that Britain’s largest wine importer just gave up, and set up shop in Europe instead.
A disaster. And that’s just the beginning.
Brexit was going to “level up” Britain. To where, exactly? Europe makes the world’s finest…cars, food, wine, clothes, and much, much more. There is no higher level. None. The world’s best clothes? Made in Italy and France. Food? Much the same. Cars? Germany. The list goes on and on and on, into infinity. Europe enjoys the world’s highest living standards by a very, very long way for a number of very real reasons, and one of those reasons is that it has focused its economies like a laser beam on making the highest quality stuff in the world.
Leveling up? So Britain went out and searched for “trade deals.” With a certain attitude of almost imperial hauteur. They will come to us. But whom, and for what? After all, Britain doesn’t make anything anymore. And so nobody came…for much of anything. The Brexit fantasyland of “leveling up” never materialized. The situation’s so bad that even America won’t sign a trade deal with Britain, because, well, what does it have to offer? The answer to that is: crickets. Nothing.
Then — and to an American, this is funny — it went hat in hand, begging for trade deals with American states, like Indiana. And it couldn’t even get many of those done. Because even individual American states are baffled by this situation. Britain wants to do a micro-trade deal with us? OK…I guess so. Here, have some corn. But what do we get in return. Crickets.
How did Brits get 10K poorer at lightspeed — in just a handful of years after Brexit? I just told you, but let me make it clearer. Breaking up with EU caused an economic calamity — one that the nation still doesn’t understand, because Britain is still living in the fools’ paradise of Brexit’s Big Lies. That economic calamity came from dramatically lower trade — imports from Europe are down by 25%. As a result, scores of businesses have closed, and unemployment is sure to rise systematically. Prices have skyrocketed — more than they have globally, because all of this has led to Brexflation.
People, meanwhile, are suffering of all kinds of European and even American businesses simply leaving, shuttering their doors because now operating in Britain is unprofitable. As an example of how bad it is, Britain doesn’t have a Gap anymore, because its executives can see the future, and understand that Brits are only going to get poorer. Scores of mainstay European businesses — H&M, Zara, and so on — have slimmed their operations down to the absolute bone, and taken all those jobs with them. High streets are places of boarded up stores, next to vape shops and betting parlors. It’s not good.
How do you get that much poorer, that fast? Higher prices, lower incomes, less employment, lower wages. Lost potential for everyone. I used to predict that Brexit would be something surreal, never before seen in modern history: the equivalent of a nation putting sanctions on itself — and that much has already vividly, visibly, sadly, idiotically come true. There’s simply no other way to get this poor — this fast.
And the even grimmer truth? Brits are only going to get poorer now. For a very, very long time. I’ll explain why in just a moment.
How did all this come to be? The Big Lies was told, and, to their shame, the most august of BBC presenters allowed it to spread unchecked. Told over and over — until, at last, they were just accepted, as articles of faith. People were told, by uneducated pundits, louts who’d found their way to power, to cheer and applaud for the Big Lies, and they did. Levelling Up! Taking Back Control! Britainnia Uber Alles!!
And so Brexit happened almost unquestioned, to the disbelief of international observers. Even the centre left backed it. There was no real opposition to it — not at an institutional, political level. It was a fait accompli.
People really believed the Big Lies. They’d still be able to travel to Europe, pain-free, and live there. Goods? They’d get back and forth, no problem. Money? Not an issue! Prices? Why, they’d drop! There’d be more money to fund public services with that, not less. What on earth were these people thinking? How had most of Britain become idiots?
They really believed the Big Lies — and now, Britain’s in the difficult, awful place of having to learn the hard way, that the Big Lies were never really true. Prices didn’t go down, they went way, way up. Trade didn’t increase, it slowed catastrophically. Movement to Europe didn’t keep on going the same way — now, it’s a problem and a pain. Doing business didn’t get easier — it got way, way harder. And the world? It didn’t faint in delight, and offer Britain its riches for free, “levelling it up” in some weird vestigial imperial fantasy.
Today, Britain is levelled way, way down, incredibly fast. Brits are getting poorer so fast it’s shocking and almost unbelievable. 10K poorer in a country where the median household disposable income is just $31,000 is not trivial. It’s really, really bad.
And yet worse is to come. Because Britain is still governed by the kinds of fanatics and lunatics that made this mess, and populated by enough true believers in it to keep them at the reins of power. Britain today is a nation without a plan. A sane nation? To make Brexit work, it’d realize it only had one choice: invest heavily in offering something to the world again. And fast. Doesn’t matter what. Anything. So there’s something to trade for, and lift living standards falling at light speed with. Make computers, pens, clothes, doesn’t matter, anything. Have a national industrial strategy like South Korea did…fifty years ago. Now you’re half a century behind — and falling further every day. You need some strategy like that, to trade, to offer the world something, and you need it yesterday.
But Britain? LOL. It’s doing the opposite. The plan is…there is no plan. The only plan is to…cut taxes. By double digit figures. Britain’s leaders are being forced to do that, because, well, people are getting poorer at incredible, Weimar Republic-level rates. But the more you do that, the less you can ever invest in a national strategy to stop the decline by making something, anything, the world wants again, either. Catch-22.
Game over. Brexit has left Britain in a poverty trap. This is what better economists warned of. That it would set off a vicious cycle of falling incomes, decreasing trade, lower investment, all of which would only keep growing, like some kind of weird black hole at the heart of an economy. A chain reaction. A nuclear bomb. This is what’s going on now. Brits are getting poorer, and they’re going to keep getting poorer.
Until what? Until a new equilibrium is reached. You see, even a nation like South Korea has plenty to offer the world. From cheap electronics to K-Pop, South Korea has exported its way to global significance. Britain’s equilibrium post Brexit is going to have to be a poorer country than that, because it doesn’t offer the world any such stuff anymore (not even culture, anymore, sadly, after decades of crushing that, too.) Nations must find their equilibrium in the world, their resting place. And Britain’s, without the EU? It’s just a small country, with little that interests the world.
That is the brutal, self-evident truth — why else haven’t trade deals materialized?
Britain had a place in the world, and it was a good one. It was the gateway to Europe. Through it, finance and contracts and information and technology all flowed. That was a place in the world that most other nations would have given their eyeteeth for. Being part of the EU? Being the gateway to it? Offer that deal to India, Malaysia, Chile, Algeria. They’d all leap at the chance. But for Britain, delusional, drunk on memories of its imperial past? All that — this special, privileged, powerful place in the world — wasn’t good enough for it.
Instead, Britain was deluded into thinking of itself as better than everyone else. Europeans were scapegoated for its problems — and quickly became cultural targets, black marks on their backs, attacked, mocked, hated. Think of that. In modern day Britain, Europeans were treated with contempt and spite. And still are.
That is how Brexit really happened. The scapegoating worked. The Big Lies found their target because of that. People were given someone to hate — and they rejoiced, like zombies, like idiots, like slavering fools. Hooray! Europeans are the problem, and Europe is our enemy! Let’s be as cruel as we can to them! Let’s make a society based on hostility, rage, spite, anger, and selfishness.
Ah. But did it work? Even if the scapegoating was false — did the principal work? Does it work to build a society on hostility, anger, rage, cruelty, unified by lies? Does this political modus operandi — violent, bombastic, virulent nationalism, verging dangerously closely to proto-fascism, hated minorities scapegoated and attacked — actually yield anything but ruin and self-destruction?
Of course not. And especially not in the 21st century. Because now we have problems which are bigger than countries. They are ones which affect us all. From climate change to extinction to the end of industrial economics and on and on. Because these problems affect us all, we must pull together to solve them. Those nations who pull apart — and blame their share of these problems on hated others — what will they ever do to solve anything? How can scapegoating someone actually solve a Real Problem? It can’t. And so this politics — bombastic, chest-beating nationalism, verging dangerously close to proto-fascism — leads nowhere but straight down into the idiot’s abyss of self-destruction by way of self-deceit.
Britain, it turned out, was only lying to itself.
And this is the lesson that I think Brexit has to teach everyone. Because we’re all in danger of falling into that trap. About climate change. Extinction. How bad things really are. How close to the edge our civilization is, as our economies fail, and our social contracts shatter. As our harvests begin to wither on the vine, and the rivers run dry, and people, desperate, confused, turn to lunatics and fascists and fanatics who offer them Big Lies, scapegoats, and cults of hate and spite. We are all in danger of falling into the trap Britain fell into.
And now? It will never make its way out. Brexit is forever, my friends. Even if, one day, Britain returns, hat in hand, to the EU — the damage that’s done is permanent. Nobody is going to give today’s generations back their lives, magically.
So too it is for all of us, especially at this juncture in history. If we fall into the demagogue’s trap — this time, it’s forever. We have precious little time to address all our problems, the way that climate change and extinction are now wreaking havoc on our economies, societies, our ability to provide, function, offer the basics. This time, it’s forever.
Britain did something history will regard as incredibly, surreal, astonishing. It walked, dancing, laughing, drunk on hate, intoxicated by contempt, delusional with hubristic dreams of absolute power…straight off the edge of a cliff. Dazzled by Big Lies told by demagogues, it cheered its own collapse all the way down. And now, waking up at the bottom of a very, very deep hole, it’s wondering: but where am I? I was told that rivers of milk and honey flowed here.
We must all be more wary, every single day, of the demagogue’s trap. The stakes have never been higher. And perhaps for exactly that reason, the siren song of hatred, contempt, violence, and supremacy has never been more seductive, either. Let us all learn from the sad, stupid story of how Britain destroyed itself — begging all the while, still, for more.