While the banks, elites, and the super rich have been scrambling to try to hold onto their billions following the United Kingdom’s shocking vote to exit from the European Union, the anger expressed by the leave side was another emotional cry to end the control that corporations and the elite have over everyday people in many Western countries.
The day after the vote, panic and fear struck at the hearts of money gamblers as their bets soured and markets lurched downward. The wealthiest people lost $120 billion.
On the other side of the equation, people in most of the United Kingdom, except Scotland and Northern Ireland, expressed their anger over their inability to have more control over their lives. They blame the EU for the disastrous performance of the economy since the 2007-08 financial collapse, and they fear the idea of an “ever closer union” will move them closer to a United States of Europe.
This anger is not a development isolated to the United Kingdom. People have seen economic policies that favour corporations and the rich that destroy their jobs, businesses and communities. Citizens began to lose control of their governments in the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. and Ronald Reagan in the United States – without consulting the public – adopted a series of neo-liberal policies.
Multi-nationals, elites and banks firmly control Western governments through neo-liberalism, financial integration, and globalization. In 2011, a research group at a Swiss institute studied a database of 37-million companies, and identified a “super-entity” of 147 tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in a huge network.
In the U.K., millions of people feel they have suffered because of both their EU membership and neo-liberal policies.
Many well-paying jobs have disappeared due to neo-liberal policies. Corporations have shipped their production to poor countries to maximize profits. When Thatcher came to office in 1979, manufacturing accounted for almost 30 per cent of Britain’s national income and employed 6.8 million people; by 2010, it accounted for 11 per cent and employed 2.5 million.
Then there’s the massive disparity between the rich and poor. Between 2012 and 2014 the richest 10 per cent in Britain held assets - a mix of property, cash and pension funds - worth just under £5 Trillion. The poorest 10 per cent owned just £5.7 million.
The biggest issue for the leave side was the massive influx of migrants from the rest of Europe and refugees from Syria and other countries. While mainstream media has focused on the racist element, the deeper issue for people is that they have no control over EU-regulated migration and illegal immigration. The government says the UK experienced net migration of 330,000 people in 2015, but the Express newspaper says the figure does not take into account 1.1-million illegal immigrants.
Some of Britain’s elite finally get it. The day after the vote, veteran Conservative Ken Clark observed that citizens feel the institutions of government are making their lives worse, not better.
"There's a strange, angry and uncertain mood out there...”, said Clark, “(an) anti-establishment, anti-political class feeling. The discontented older generation of every social background and class are angry about what's happened in their lives."
If the U.K. were a more equitable society, it likely would still be in the EU today.
Democracy no longer functions
Elsewhere, in several European countries, tens-of-millions of everyday people realize they are powerless when it comes to influencing major decisions that affect their lives.
Democracy, whereby governments look out for the interests of people first, no longer functions in many European countries, Canada and the United States.
Working people in several European countries, including Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland have suffered greatly at the hands of a vicious neo-liberal policy component – austerity.
The most severe austerity abuse has been heaped upon the people of Greece. When the government was unable to pay its debts, the big money guys at the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – instead of acting like humans – put the neo-liberal screws to the Greek people. They were forced to reduce spending on everything, including health, social services, education, etc. Wages and pensions were slashed.
A bitter irony is the fact that, having caused trillions of dollars of hardship to ordinary people in many countries – including Canada – the International Monetary Fund has admitted that austerity does not lead to economic revival. However, it does enrich banks and corporations.
We should not forget that Canadians revolted against the neo-liberal and austerity policies of Stephen Harper. At one point Canadians were so desperate to get rid of Harper that they were prepared to vote for the New Democrats, traditionally a left-wing party.
Canada is locked into the neo-liberal way of doing things. Most controversial are the two possible trade agreements the government wants to sign, CETA (The Canada and European Union (EU) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The deals have been negotiated in secret and favour corporations and trade over the interests of government veto power, labour, and the environment.
Because Canadian corporations and the wealthy are so powerful they get away with hiding their money in tax havens, making it more difficult for the government to provide services. Instead of creating its’ own bank that could issue interest-free loans to itself, the government will continue to be financed with loans from for-profit banks.
US politics in a state of crisis
In the U.S., traditional politics is in a state of crisis. People are revolting against the Democratic and Republican parties over many of the same issues that anger Brits: trade-induced job loss, stagnant wages, and a vanished sense of prosperity.
Of course the election of Donald Trump as President would be a serious setback for democratic government. But he is advocating changes that appeal to some of those folks who are discontent: ripping up existing trade deals, slapping high tariffs on imported goods, and punishing companies that move production overseas.
If Hilary Clinton wins the election, ordinary people will continue to suffer while she gives free reign to corporations and spends $596-billion a year on various wars.
But, because of its revolutionary history and chaotic nature, perhaps the U.S. is the country where we might see a change in the form of government.
Perhaps after the November election, the dedicated forces behind Democrat Bernie Sanders, many of whom support a more progressive social democracy, will split off and form a third party. However, this has failed in the U.S. in the past.
Radical U.S. journalist Chris Hedges believes that, because the corporations and elite are so strongly entrenched, significant change is going to come through some form of revolution.
“There are all sorts of neutral indicators that show that," says Hedges. “Low voter turnout, the fact that [the U.S.] Congress has an approval rating of seven per cent, that polls continually reflect a kind of pessimism about where we are going, that many of the major systems that have been set in place — especially in terms of internal security — have no popularity at all.
“All of these are indicators that something is seriously wrong, that the government is no longer responding to the most basic concerns, needs, and rights of the citizenry. . . But what’s going to take its’ place, that has not been articulated. Yes, we are in a revolutionary moment; but maybe it’s a better way to describe it as a revolutionary process.”
Control of society by a self-appointed superior class using neoliberal policies is incompatible with any true form of democracy. As we have seen in history, people will always rebel against tyranny. Will there be radical change in the U.S.? As the cliché goes: Time will tell.