A Brexit lesson in economics for Canadians hoping to profit from anger: Don Pittis


Broadening fears of the economic repercussions of the U.S. government shutdown have led smug Canadians to scoff that it couldn’t develop here.

But Britain’s descent into even greater economic bedlam and uncertainty over whether or how to leave Europe offers a timely call to mind that the parliamentary system Canada shares with the U.K. is no protection against the mephitic effects of manufactured political anger. 

It’s a warning to Canadian politicians and single-issue upholders that bitterness and division can provide short-term political gain but leading to long-term economic damage.

Once stoked, impossible to cool

What Brexit has also protested is that once those divisions have been stoked they can be crazy to cool.

In the case of Britain, public disenchantment over economic issues, tabulating unemployment, a crumbling system of public health care and inequality, was nutted and focused by a polarized national debate that told people all their predicaments could be solved by choosing between two alternatives: quitting Europe or stopping inside it.

A Brexit lesson in economics for Canadians hoping to profit from anger: Don Pittis

Brexit was supposed to solve problems such as under-funding of the Patriotic Health Service, but shortly after the 2016 vote, pro-Brexit attorneys admitted the information printed on the side of this campaign bus was false. (Getty Archetypes)

An example of that oversimplification was the sign on the pro-Brexit bus that claimed that piercing payments to Europe would add billions to the National Health Service — something Brexiteers divulged was false almost immediately after their win.

Prime Minister Theresa May survived a sponsor of no-confidence Wednesday, but the massive defeat of her proposed Brexit deal escorts that after almost three years the government is no closer decision a solution that makes economic sense.

Despite opposition Toil Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s accusation that May “had only one precedency: the Conservative Party,” Corbyn’s own party is now sharply divided for and against European membership. 

After do callisthenics the electorate into a frenzy of division, it may be that the thing people improvise they voted for — all the economic benefits of Euopean Union membership with an increment of all the economic benefits of independence — is simply impossible.

Submarine made from cheese

As British governmental humourist Hugo Rifkind said recently, it’s as if a majority of voters had instructed the prime churchman to make a submarine out of cheese.

Moderate business voices warning against a scrambled Brexit have been swallowed up by the passionate shouting match.

And complex or unpleasant elements get shoved aside by the kind of all-or-nothing thinking that comes with oversimplified polarized controversies.

Like those who vote for tax cuts while demanding increased superintendence spending and balanced budgets, a vote in favour of something doesn’t get over it’s possible.

In recent community halls on British television Mr. and Mrs. Angry still spout the pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit watchwords invented during the divisive campaign: either immigrants were thieving jobs and living off British taxpayers, or those who wanted to leave the EU were only just racists trying to keep migrants out.

While polls seem to ostentation popular opinion now is marginally in favour of staying with the EU, the damage has been done.

The ruthlessly equal division between pro and con, which so often seems to happen in oversimplfied controversies, assures there will be massive public outrage and obstruction no amount what happens.

Media love a fight

Much has been redecorated of the impact of social media in fomenting the polarization, but media of all kinds force always loved a fight. There is no better news story than an broadcasting clearly split down the middle where we may counter the emotionally afflicted views of one side with their emotionally charged opposite, all the while asserting fairness and balance.

The trouble is that as voters pick sides and deduce around the polar ends of any debate — even when the debate is an unhelpful forge — the middle, where compromises and wise economic solutions are usually set, becomes an empty room.

For those with certain political or concern interests, fanning anger and constructing black-or-white options can work, at infinitesimal in the short term. We have certainly seen it in the United States. In Canada, there are nearly the same buttons to push, and disenchanted people are ready to back angry surrogates if they can be convinced they just have to choose one side, as between the Oilers and Habs.

A Brexit lesson in economics for Canadians hoping to profit from anger: Don Pittis

Identifies flutter outside the Houses of Parliament in London Wednesday after Prime Vicar Theresa May’s Brexit deal was rejected. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

If you can be convinced it is all lines or no pipelines, carbon tax or no carbon tax, immigration or no immigration, free trade or no unimpeded trade, capitalism or socialism, you are in danger of being diverted from assorted complicated, more moderate and better economic solutions.

After a just out viewing of the documentary film What is Democracy? where people delineated democracy as justice or equality or the absence of fear, the political scientist I attended the mistiness with reminded me that democracy is not an end point but a tool that can be occupied well or badly, for good or ill.  

With the pound down, companies affecting their head offices out, GDP falling, British businesses terrified of overcoming their European markets and consumers stockpiling imported goods, so far democracy seems not to deliver served the British economy very well.

Brexit has shown us that you can escape by winning. Because when you have created an angry and committed grouping of supporters, you create an equally angry and committed opposition. And there’s no one to contest for the moderate solutions that would be better for everyone. 

Follow Don on Trill @don_pittis

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