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What’s the Matter with Little England?

“The global economy remains stuck in a deflationary expansion of minimal growth and minimal rates and electorates are increasingly voting in the developed world against wage deflation, high unemployment, immigration and inequality.” Merrill Lynch investors note, Monday, June 27, 2016

Post-Brexit sociopolitical psychoanalysis cannot be fully served without rehashing the relevance of Thomas Frank’s 2004 benchmarking literary diagnosis, “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives won the Heart of America.” Twelve years later and by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin, it appears that America’s past is now England’s prologue with lower income, less educated, overwhelmingly white populations voting against their own apparent political, social and economic self-interests. In five months, America could double down on the Brexit vote as politicians from all sides are beginning to note (Democrats Need to Wake Up; In ‘Brexit’ and Trump, a Populist Farewell to Laissez-Faire Capitalism ).

Warwick Smith, of London-based, Instinctif Partners, remarks that, “First, the Leave campaign was simply better. Referendums are binary with no room for nuance. This was a decision driven by fear and emotion. In the end, fear of immigration trumped fear of an economic downturn. Secondly, the Remain campaign, in focusing on the economy, failed to recognise that threat of economic downturn would not motivate those in our society who feel that they’ve survived on the gruel of austerity whilst the establishment has dined on the economic beef of the South East… In sum, Remain failed to understand that they needed a narrative that reached all of the country at a time when the people have lost faith and trust in the establishment. Politicians and business people handing down their received wisdom no longer drives the people’s thinking as it once did.”

Indeed, in the era of organic co-creation, handing down received wisdom may be somewhat necessary but far from sufficient. Fear conquered hope on Thursday, June 23rd, when a majority of England’s voters chose to leave the European Union. Personality-driven, social and reality media campaigns doubled down on xenophobia and racism. Nostalgia simplifying last century’s British Empire beat out wanting to grapple with a complex geopolitical and socioeconomic present. Disenfranchised working class resentment surged against resented cosmopolitan lifestyle inequalities vamped and engineered by crony-corporatist capitalists and discredited political and globe-trotting elites.   “Do as I say, not as I do” lost out to “not in my backyard.” Electoral issues and debates accentuated “us versus them” facts that turned out to be false and misleading once the voting booths closed. Morning after voters’ remorse flooded in amid the wailing sirens of globally-connected markets bursting into flames causing jobs and investments to self-deport. Generational combat took to London squares, shocked by voluntary opportunity genocide into disbelief, disgust, defiance and despair.

Painfully germane to an imminent 2016 U.S. presidential election, Brexit has separated parents from their children. According to an NBC news report, a “staggering 75 percent of people aged between 18 and 24 voted for Remain. But this youthful bloc was outweighed by an even stronger force. What pushed the country toward Brexit, according to pollsters, was a remarkably high turnout among white, working-class older people — most of whom voted Leave.”

Boomers against Millennials and rising Generation Z. Xenophobia against multiculturalism. Rural regions and small towns against integrated, transnational “sharing economies without borders” metropolitan economies. The willingness of older, white rural, small town and industrial center voters to override the desires of their multicultural, transnational-loving offspring, to risk disintegrating “Great Britain” into “Little England” by losing Northern Ireland and Scotland (“democratically unacceptable” to remain outside the EU) both who see their shining futures in European Union identity and policies.

Predictably, mainstream, corporatist media has placed far more blame on the insular, selfish, nativist, alienation of the “Leave” voters and the inability of the “Remain” campaign to anticipate tea leaves and execute competently. This blame is misplaced. Rather, Brexit showed how the authentic collective voice of disenchantment, disenfranchisement and rejection born of desperation was stronger and more credible than inauthentic elite voices who visibly and overwhelmingly benefitted from the existing global order but who have not effectively and convincingly shared the wealth. Passion driven by inequality and relative poverty hot-surged beyond righteousness and reason fueled by conventional wisdom. To rephrase America’s winning 1992 elections campaign slogan, “It’s all about the unequal economy, stupid.”

Exacerbated by the 2008 Great Recession and a distant, top-down European Union bureaucracy, the bitter and desperate selfishness of the rising classes pushed back at immigration and austerity policies to electorally outgun the arrogance and self-entitled-selfishness of the ruling classes. “Leave” voters judged dictated and unequally shared austerity as a “back to a bad future” Middle Ages rostrum sales pitch penned by Europe’s elites to resell the one-sided catechism that life on earth may suck but one can still collect rewards in heaven. A slower fuse but still violent version of promises made to suicide bombers.

The Brexit process highlights shifting power paradigms – what America’s pushback populist movements understand as “no racial or gender or lifestyle justice without economic justice” and should be interpreted on this side of the Atlantic as a last-grasp cry that working within existing systems comes with an expiration date. Resurging worker ownership and workplace empowerment campaigns can be viewed as “last chance” opportunities for the established order to help engender more equality and balance into America’s “commons” before the discontented barbarians at the gate wreck the gilded palaces and the pipe dreams they harbor.

Post-Brexit spells out the mean streets graffiti handwriting on the wall for self-indulgent, Davos-centric masters of a changing and diminished, laissez-faire capitalism universe who refuse to understand that international labor arbitrage is nothing less than human trafficking. Post-Brexit is about substituting solidarity culture and practices for predatory economic caste selfishness, greed and planetary abuse. Post-Brexit casts a transformation shadow on robber baron technologists and venture capital money-bags who deliberately sell an enticing “Sharing Economy” infomercial which divides consumers against workers with only temporary contracts who then become involuntarily shared, micro-waved hors-d’oeuvres on the way to a tasty Unicorn IPO. Post-Brexit means flattening socio-economic curves between those on the bottom and those at the top to reflect the underutilized sharing democracy potential of truly “free” markets.

In the morning after referendum melee, the victorious Leave contingent fecklessly walked back many of their boldest campaign promises so that voting premises became unglued and debunked as political hacks admitted they forgot to prepare a statesmen-like plan for what comes next. Americans know something about how this works having watched in dismay as the U.S. “Shock & Awe” military campaign against non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq morphed into a failed reconstruction process based on a hastily assembled plan that made it up as it went along, the precursor of most everything wrong in the Middle East today.

American political victory in November will belong to those who grasp how the UK Brexit vote is prologue to a global constituency electoral declaration against corporations attaining one-way personhood without paying their fair share of taxes and sharing the wealth. The majority of everyday American workers would like the opportunity to choose to own the corporations they are part of while exercising that ownership in vibrant workplace democracies where shareholder profits are aligned with stakeholder values. Today, only ten percent of all Americans have some equity relationship to where they work while the financial press still dutifully recounts how common it is to experience extreme levels of opaque shareholder and boardroom democratic practices in publicly traded companies.

Little England’s Brexit vote echoes Janis Joplin’s “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” Rather than imitate failure, America can decide to recapitalize its citizens, upgrade returns on nationwide civic investments and prioritize its GINI index standing. Tools to do so are already in hand: expanding communities of “one worker, one vote” ownership practices, empowering stakeholders to become shareholders, and extending investor-centric tax policy benefits to worker and union cooperatives to heal the economically walking wounded and cure society’s lethal inequalities.

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