Trigger warning: Thoughts on Brexit and politics more widely, followed by the week’s good reads.
The Euro-sceptic Labour leader wrote to Theresa May setting out a Brexit compromise, and as the FT [search result] puts it:
The letter not only shows how the Labour leader is trying to wriggle away from a second referendum, to the frustration of shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer.
It is also a symbolic moment that gives succour to the many Labour MPs who are tempted to back the government because they fear a no-deal exit.
Labour MPs are turning on one another, while the right of the long-fractured Tory party is playing some kind of Keyser Söze move against itself.
As this two-year farce approaches a head, you’d find more trust among slip-sliding latecomers to the Red Wedding.
No wonder the exasperated EU let slip the pretense that it believes it is negotiating with grown-ups who know what they’re doing.
Surely even the most sensible and sober-minded sovereignty-seeking Leave voter must be embarrassed by now.
Yet Remainers can’t gloat.
Two years in and the Brexiteer MP Kate Hoey is still able to label elected MEP Guy Verhofstadt an ‘unelected bureacrat’ to social media applause, with no effective push back from Remainers or the press.
Meanwhile other Brexiteer MPs state nonsense like “no Marshall Plan for us, only for Germany” – when Britain was the chief beneficiary of the Marshall plan – only to get slapped on the back by a dad’s army of Barry Blimps desperate to stockpile cabbages in an old Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden.
The civil service is paying particular attention in its no-deal contingency planning to those same regions that cheered on Brexit – because those areas will be hardest hit by the no-deal that many of them seem to desire.
And our negotiating strategy? It’s come down to shouting “the EU will sacrifice their politics for economic reasons” whilst defending our Brexit as “more important than economics”.
Honestly, at this point party politics seems irrelevant.
Indeed expressing a view on Brexit nowadays is not so much like revealing something about yourself through a Rorschach test as playing a bookish version of Cards Against Humanity.
We’ve gone beyond parody.
Won’t anyone think of the capitalists?
Negotiating Brexit through Parliament has devolved into constitutional Jenga played by blindfolded drunks over a fire pit.
But when the dust settles we’ll (presumably) still be a functioning capitalist democracy – and then the old questions that helped fuel Brexit will return.
Among the most important: What can be done to bring ‘the people’ back to capitalism, and pronto?
Which is ironic given that among many of my friends and most my family, I’m caricatured as a Vulcan-like free marketeer who knows no such thing as society and only barely has time for Building Societies.
The truth is – insert cliche – somewhere in-between.
I believe capitalism is a force for good, but it must operate within constantly reworked rules designed to spread the bounty of its golden eggs without killing the goose that laid them.
Whenever you propose a new rule – or even just a rule tweak – the laissez-faire ultras accuse you of being a confused Marxist with a share dealing account.
But I’m pragmatic.
There’s abundant evidence that well-regulated capitalist economies lead to huge wealth creation.
So regulate we must.
In contrast, planned economies lead to surplus tractors and starvation, and unfettered capitalism leads to surplus oligarchs, overpaid CEOs, cronyism, and bad taste.
Nobody except the oligarchs and CEOs want that, but that’s what we seem to be getting more of.
Few true believers
So I think it’s fair to say capitalism has seen better days in the West.
It works for me and it probably works for you.
It works-with-bells-on for the 1%.
But too many feel left behind, and a fair chunk with good reason.
Rising nationalism – Brexit, Trump – and the daily internecine battle that is politics on Twitter are signs of ebbing faith that capitalism is working.
And given capitalism is the greatest economic tool we have for fostering productivity, innovation, and higher living standards, I find that mildly terrifying.
My article How To Be A Capitalist was my own small attempt to win back some of Thatcher’s childish children (and grandchildren) who sneer at markets and vote for Corbyn while jetting around the world taking selfies on iPhones whilst decked out in designer brands.
“Capitalism itself is under attack. I believe this to be a mistake, perhaps even an existential one for those of us in the US.
It’s easy to take for granted the little everyday ways capitalism conspires to make our lives better.
When was the last time you went to the grocery store and all of the shelves were barren? How do we coordinate to make sure we make the right amounts of everything without too much waste and rarely shortage?
I’d call that a miracle hiding in plain sight.”
There’s a disconnect between the system that supports us and how many of us feel about it.
That’s dangerous. Living with an incoherent and economically pointless Brexit could yet be the least of our concerns.