BREXIT Part 2: Roger Cohen

By William K. Black
June 24, 2016     Kansas City, MO

Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen published a column decrying BREXIT.

Warnings about the dire consequences of a British exit from President Barack Obama, Britain’s political leaders, major corporations based in Britain and the International Monetary Fund proved useless. If anything, they goaded a mood of defiant anger against those very elites.

This resentment has its roots in many things but may be summed up as a revolt against global capitalism. To heck with the experts and political correctness was the predominant mood in the end. A majority of Britons had no time for the politicians that brought the world a disastrous war in Iraq, the 2008 financial meltdown, European austerity, stagnant working-class wages, high immigration and tax havens for the super-rich.

That some of these issues have no direct link to the European Union or its much-maligned Brussels bureaucrats did not matter.

Yes, “Project Fear” failed in its goal of intimidating voters.  It isn’t simply the “politicians” that failed, it was the “experts” – the elites that rig the system in finance and the ideologues who create the self-inflicted wounds of EU austerity – who designed the failed policies and grew wealthier and more powerful because of those policies.  Cohen ignores that obvious point, but much of the public has come to realize that the foreign policy and financial “experts” are dishonest and self-serving.  Their principal competence is making themselves wealthy at our expense.  I urge people to understand that ideology and self-interest rather than competence is what causes these elite “experts” to act as if they were stupid.  They are typically not stupid; they are skilled parasites.

Of the issues Cohen lists, only the “disastrous war in Iraq” has “no direct link to the European Union.”  Each of the five other disastrous policy failures that he listed has a direct, harmful link to official EU policies.  In sum, Cohen’s logic means that the EU citizens should rationally be enraged with the EU’s leadership and the “experts” that shaped the EU’s disastrous policies.  The citizens should also, under Cohen’s logic, be dedicated to bringing about the urgent and fundamental transformation of those policies.  Cohen, however, is the archetype of the “serious person” so he promptly declares that the critics of the EU elites’ and the experts’ failed policies are “irrational.”

The travails of the euro, the tide of immigration (both within the European Union from poorer to richer members and from outside), and high unemployment have led to an eerie collective loss of patience, prudence and memory. Anything but this has become a widespread sentiment; irrationality is in the air.

Yes, “irrationality” has long been “in the air” in the EU due to the policies of the EU leaders such as the design of the euro and austerity.  Part of that “irrationality” has been the bizarre concept that “patience” is a rational response to “high unemployment.”  Cohen doesn’t bother to inform his readers that “high” means Great Depression levels of unemployment, that it is now nine years since the recessions began in the various EU nations in 2007, that the unemployment levels in Southern Europe often exceed the equivalent rates those nations suffered at this stage in their recovery from the Great Depression, that roughly half of young workers in Southern Europe are unemployed, and that unemployment is so severe that vast numbers of EU university graduates promptly emigrate because there is no economic future for them in their home nation.  The “irrationality” is greatly compounded by the fact that this massive unemployment is caused directly by the EU’s economically illiterate austerity demands and the incompetently designed euro.

But the most wondrous “irrationality” is that Cohen, having closely witnessed nearly a decade of this irrationality, thinks that it is so “irrational” that it is “eerie” that the unemployed have responded to massive, pointless, and long-term unemployment with an “eerie collective loss of patience.”  In Cohen’s world the tens of millions of the EU unemployed are irrational if they respond rationally to unemployment.  It is important for readers to understand that Cohen’s bizarre worldview about mass unemployment and “patience” reflects the dominant, bizarre worldview of EU policy elites.

I emphasize that the bizarre worldview is not the product of incompetence.  The EU elites are ideologues and close allies of EU corporate CEOs eager to use mass unemployment to create the political and economic leverage to force “labor reforms” – the EU elites’ euphemism for the destruction of “traditional job security” – on EU nations.  When the workers are stripped of “traditional job security” it becomes far easier for the CEOs to force them to take much lower wages.

Once Cohen went off the rails on the irrationality of the unemployed suffering an “eerie” loss of “patience” after a mere nine years of mass unemployment, he lost the plot in humorous and revealing ways.  The humor is that Cohen writes that the vote “revealed” that there were “class” divisions in “Britain.”  Yes, that was a shocking reveal.

Divisions were not only national. London voted overwhelmingly to remain. But the countryside, small towns and hard-hit industrial provincial industrial centers voted overwhelmingly to leave and carried the day. A Britain fissured between a liberal, metropolitan class centered in London and the rest was revealed.

Who knew that the Brits had class divisions?  I had never realized that all those BBC dramas or “My Fair Lady” had a class element.  I thought the House of Lords was a costume party where the characters come in drag.

Cohen’s column trails off with this lame sentence.

Europe’s failings — and they have been conspicuous over the past decade — are simply not sufficient to explain what Britain has done to itself.

Let’s recall Cohen’s description of those failings.

A majority of Britons had no time for the politicians that brought the world a disastrous war in Iraq, the 2008 financial meltdown, European austerity, stagnant working-class wages, high immigration and tax havens for the super-rich.

Those failings are well beyond “sufficient” to explain why “Britains” would want to leave the EU.  The failings could best be described as a “compelling” “explan[ation]” of the BREXIT vote.

Update (June 27, 2016)

Roger Cohen was so upset by the majority voting against his position on BREXIT that he published another column decrying BREXIT on June 27, 2016.  The new column ignores Cohen’s own admissions about the failures of the EU “experts’” most destructive policy – austerity – and its calamitous consequences.  Cohen says that “full employment” ended in the EU, which is like describing the Great Depression as ending “full employment.”

Instead of discussing the EU’s economic war against Southern Europe, Cohen quintuples down on his rhetorical attacks on proponents of BREXIT.  They are “scurrilous” “charlatans” who led “the betrayal of British youth” by “playing on every base instinct” through a campaign of “lie[s].”

Cohen, without understanding what he has admitted, revealed a critical reason why BREXIT won.

Technology accelerated globalization, pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in Asia but also offshoring millions of European jobs. Societies disaggregated. For each City honcho receiving a daily Christmas delivery from Amazon Prime there was some poor sod out there in Nowheresville working a precarious warehouse nightshift packaging stuff.

Britain, too, now has its “flyover country,” a nationalist heartland distant from the metropolis. This is how globalization divides the world.

Boris Johnson understood, in his scurrilous way, that the E.U. had become a perfect scapegoat for Western societies beset by the dilemmas of modernity.

Here is what Cohen fails to understand.  It is not acceptable for a Nation’s leaders to consign so many millions of its citizens to being “poor sod[s]” that enormous regions of the Nation are consigned to becoming “Nowheresville.”

Cohen’s second column implicitly admits that the leaders of the Tories and Labour for the last 40 years have run the UK in a manner that demonstrates that despite their protestations to the contrary that they find it acceptable to consign tens of millions of their fellow-citizens to being “poor sod[s]” and huge regions of the UK to becoming permanent “Nowheresville.”  Cohen also implicitly admits that he finds both results acceptable.  Indeed, he finds these obviously unacceptable results so acceptable that is not even worth considering why they should be unacceptable.

What specific, extraordinary fact does Cohen implicitly claim made it impossible for any leader of the UK to even question whether it was acceptable public policy to consign tens of millions of citizens and enormous regions of the UK to the economic rubbish bin?  It would have to be something exceptionally concrete and so powerful that no UK prime minister (PM) could prevent that disaster.  Cohen says that the twin forces that make the disaster essential are “globalization” and “the dilemmas of modernity.”  Be still my heart.  I would pay the airfare to see PM Cameron go to a pub in Great Yarmouth and tell the residents that he had to consign them to the rubbish bin because of “globalization” and “the dilemmas of modernity.”  I would love to see and hear the response to such vacuous non-explanations.

The UK has a sovereign currency, the pound.  Its PMs, Tories and Labour, had the good sense not to try to get the voters to adopt the euro.  The UK does not have to follow the self-destructive idiocy of EU austerity.  The UK has a parliamentary government in which the PM almost always controls a majority in the House of Commons.  Any UK PM can, and should, routinely have full employment.  The UK should not have tens of thousands, much less tens of millions, of “poor sod[s]” consigned to the economic rubbish bin and there should be no region that is a “Nowheresville.”  The UK public should demand that result, for any PM can deliver that result through a national job guarantee program because the UK has a sovereign currency that it floats and because the UK borrows in its own currency.  A collateral advantage of such a program would be that the UK public would be less upset by immigration.

Cohen ends his column with two sentences that make my point.

Some things are unavoidable. This was not.

Consigning citizens and regions to the economic rubbish bin can be avoided by any UK PM.  Full employment should be the norm – full stop.  This will only happen, however, if the Cohens of the world demand that the PMs do so.  (In an abundance of caution, I want to make it explicit that my reference to “Cohens” is to journalists, not members of the Kohanim).

5 Responses to BREXIT Part 2: Roger Cohen

  1. Thanks. A brilliant deconstruction of Cohen’s establishment “talking head” elitism, which is poorly thought through and laced with scornful superiority masquerading as compassion.

  2. I like the message inside of this message. The Left can embrace the Right in defiance of the “Establishment!’

  3. Bill, thanks for your thoughtful posts. This one is particularly eviscerating of elite arrogance. Just a caution. You mentioned that The UK could borrow in its own currency. Of course, it can, but because it issues its own currency absolves it from having to borrow at all, unless it felt there was a good reason to do so. I know you know this, but I did wonder whether you had something else in mind.

    I am looking forward to the rest of this series.

  4. We are hearing the same dismissiveness in US media. This helps see the big picture.

  5. “Of course, it can, but because it issues its own currency absolves it from having to borrow at all”

    Technically no. The state borrows in the same way a bank borrows – as the other side of the balance sheet from savings. It’s always worth remembering that ‘credit’ is the accounting term for a liability. Yet we all love being ‘in credit’ at the bank. So I’m never sure why we are so appalled about being ‘in credit’ with the state.

    Technically it absolves the state from having to pay rich people interest – particularly foreign owners of the savings. Instead the state can pay interest to itself via its own central bank if that is seen as necessary for internal government sector control purposes.