Why the Debate About our Future has Failed

Brexit. It sounds like an awful version of a Twix, or the kind of budget cereal Asda would knock out at 50p a box. Rather unfortunately it refers entirely to the notion of the UK leaving a trading and regulatory block of countries called the EU.

It’s a term increasingly becoming bitter and broken as time wears on and the debate reaches a horrible, bullshit filled crescendo, as if Pavarotti had a bad weekend at the local Indian restaurant and shared the results with his audience.

We’re up to our neck in total shit essentially, from all sides, and all of it means not a jot, because there’s only one word on everyone’s mind:

Immigration.

Now, I’d rather not get into the moralistic pros and cons of immigration in the modern world, whether our nation can withstand the “hordes” (not my language) and “swarms” (also not my language) of “unaccompanied migrant children” (War Orphans. They’re called War Orphans) and “gangs of rapists” (pretty apt way to get people scared to piss of foreigners, that).

But immigration is the key thing worrying a significant amount of people, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Your local council housing list is impossibly long and there are little homes available? Must be immigrants claiming them. You’re out of a job and a Polish person rings you up at the register? Must be immigrants working for nothing and undermining your labour. NHS funding issue? Too many immigrants. Crime rates? Immigrants.

It’s the laziest, easiest way to imagine why we have the issues we do, and unfortunately, has enough truth to it to be difficult to refute. It’s the most convenient fear mongering angle possible, and the easiest way to get people to start infighting amongst the lower orders, and allow a comfortable, ruling elite to undermine the way life has worked for the last 70 years of post war thinking.

Immigration is a symptom of an economic order that has arrived in the last thirty years, in the wake of Globalisation, the rise of cheap labour markets and the free movement of people (something that Britons should realise is a thing we benefit from too – it works both ways).

Unfortunately, the current economic thinking is about deregulated businesses and rent seeking . Financial institutions hold a great deal of power over those who can change the legal landscape we reside in, and global corporations are able to devalue the value of an individual’s labour for maximum profit.

Before you start spouting to me that I am a raving socialist, realise these things hurt the economy for rich and poor alike. Without a strong consumer base, the products and goods that are sold to people cannot be bought except by a dwindling amount of people, or at least people with less money to spend.

Think  of it as heat leaving a system. Less heat, less energy, the slower the whole system is.

Now any sane business would ideally like people to buy their goods, and any sane business would ideally like as much access to as many markets (buyers) as possible. On the other side, businesses would like to save costs, which includes workers and their wages.

It’s a balancing act, really. A business needs solid workers who are productive, but also requires a consumer base to purchase its products. As such our society needs to be about finding that balance.

Unfortunately, that is not the way it has gone. In the UK especially, the generation gap is massive, and only set to increase.

The damage that inequality produces is quite extreme, and in fact, we are witnessing it today during this referendum. The damage can be found in this IMF document here. To sum it up, it creates depressed, dangerous and unstable societies where wealth at the top, contrary to recent ideas about trickle down economics, is actually saved and horded and not redistributed into the wider market. This hurts the economy as a whole, not to mention unbalancing our democratic and legal institutions.

Too much wealth concentrated in the hands of the few ends up shifting the priorities of the wider society. Rather than allowing others to compete, laws are passed which focus on allowing rent seeking to profligate, laws to appear to prevent competition, and laws which reduce an individual’s rights compared to that of an organisation’s rights. This is a dangerous place to approach for both Left and Right. It produces a system which flies in the face of free market thinking  by stifling competition and preventing new players, and damages the rights of people to work and live and be secure in their lives.

More to the point, such a system can end up capturing institutions which are meant to level the playing field and actually force it to favour the winners. Welfare does not purely exist for scroungers as our media establishment (and resentful people in working class areas) would like to promote. It also exists for businesses and institutions so that they can be protected in the face of unfair competition and mitigate risks that may harm the wider society. This is a great paper for a good summary (quote: “Delivered in another way, corporate welfare may facilitate and reward harmful business practices, divert resources to companies that assiduously avoid tax, harm the environment, exploit workers or undermine the viability of smaller and/ or more responsible businesses. It is important, therefore, to ensure that corporate welfare is provided in such a way that it helps to encourage and reward responsible business behaviour“)

Apologies for the tangent, but inequality is a key factor in what we’re seeing today. In essence, it is the average person’s stagnation in the face of great technological advancement and increasing wealth disparity, not to mention the visible effects we see day to day. As I mentioned above, there are painful signs that things are not working like they should. The systems once there to support people are no longer able to do so, and our reliance on them and the inability to work around them is proving difficult when things are so hard for so many people.

It doesn’t help when employers hire external people for positions in local towns, especially towns that have previously been left scarred by the economic policies and decisions made by previous governments.

Regardless of your stance on the collapsing of British industry, it left a variety of inhabited wastelands across the UK, whose abandoned communities are left trying to exist in an economy that has left them behind. This has only fuelled the resentment not only towards the establishment, but towards the influx of the foreign and the alien, and also towards the educated and the intellectual. However this resentment is also being fuelled by a profit focused, agenda driven political and media establishment that wishes to utilise this anger for their own gain.

For instance, copies of The S*n will sell significantly more if it scared the piss out of people regarding the foreign men from another land coming to claim their women. A political establishment can gain more power and secure more votes if they can paint everyone of a given race and creed as suicidal fanatics. They’re both in league with one another to sell them a narrative about why their circumstances are not as they could be: it’s someone else’s fault, or there’s some other battle to fight. As such, they have a great impact on how we view the world, and define the borders of debate rather successfully.

That’s not to say their criticisms and points are not unfounded; in fact the basis in reality they have is why they’re so effective. People are scared of the notion of religious fanatics with bombs to their chest. They actually did damage people with their antics. Same goes for the uncomfortable truth about the limited availability of work and employer’s preferences for certain workers. But it’s a gross oversimplification of a widespread problem faced across all aspects of society.

The left has a massive problem in this debate too – they now have to choose between supporting a political and economic union that prioritises the wealthiest at the expense of the poorest, and the right wingers that have captured the Leave campaign from the top down. They’re options are utterly limited, and no matter which way they roll the dice, they’ll roll snake eyes.

The EU is not  a “leftist utopia”, rather it is a trading bloc that has increasingly focused on a heavily pro business and pro capital model which, unfortunately, manages to include a few scant concessions to worker’s rights and standards of products to prevent poor manufacturing and harmful practices. The only reason anyone on the left will vote for them is to prevent the further decline of standards that has occurred over the last thirty odd years.

The only thing truly left wing that many will be in favour of is the free movement of people….which actually has a economic repercussion as well as the obvious social impact on the affected countries. It’s not just us affected by this decision, but we are convinced that everything we have as a nation is under attack by overwhelming volumes of people coming here for the sake of our goods and services.

This fails to take into consideration the positive impact that migration provides – more thinkers and workers coming from elsewhere to here in order to make a living, pay into our systems, and provide for our economy. The obvious counter this is we should be able to provide for ourselves, surely? Doesn’t always work like that but it’s a fair point – if we have unemployment why aren’t we using our own people for so many jobs?

But the only horror stories we hear (thanks to a very limited prism provided to us) is that of migrants coming here to sit on our benefits and plug up our NHS. Migration is going to impact our services. It is a known calculation. But the myth is that the reason they are collapsing is volume; in actuality, it’s the structural, funding and policy making decisions of our own nation that is failing the public as a whole. That decision making in the face of these numbers is causing the failure of our services.

If the volume of migrants was such a problem our borders can be tightened. We actually have a higher volume of migrants from outside the EU than within it. So the question then isn’t “can we afford more immigrants?”, it’s “Why, if we cannot afford any services, do we insist on keeping our borders so open”? This is a question of policy that is up to the British Government to decide on.

Of course that leads us on to the whole “spend, spend, and spend” and “careful fiscal policy” that left and right smash into each other with. I honestly won’t waste time trying to explain economic policy regarding surplus, deficit, borrowing to invest, etc. etc. Just be mindful of one thing – if a Government is running a surplus, it is taxing you too much. If it is running a deficit, ask where the money is going and when the benefits are received. A bad deficit is horrid, as money is siphoned away from us as tax payers and away from where it could help things. I’m being vague, because if I knew what investments to make on borrowed resources I wouldn’t be writing from my bedroom but from a shiny office near the treasury.

The points above are not hard to find, not hard to research and certainly not hard to figure out. So why are they uncommon? Why is it that FEAR, HATE and CHAOS are the main words used in our media coverage and political discourse?

There are many reasons – restricting opinion so that it only focuses on a handful of issues rather than more serious (and financially damaging if contested) problems, for instance. Or that certain organisations have certain ideological agendas that they’d rather distract you with others than possibly informing you correctly.

Worse, there’s been a growing resentment of the idea of education and learning in recent years, not helped by the failure of students and graduates to succeed in an increasingly unstable market. It doesn’t help that universities have courses that manage to be less useful than a cock flavoured lollipop, but those institutions allow people to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to improve their social status. Resenting thinking, learning and intelligence just resets the clock back to when “peasantry” was a thing.

It’s unfortunate that immigration has been sold as the biggest problem facing our time by people all across the political spectrum, for and against. It has a place, it is a concern, it is a legitimate point of grievance for people who genuinely feel their culture and world is being undermined. The fear mongering, the moral grandstanding, the discourse, has been so extreme and emotional that any rational conversation about it is completely ignored.

The referendum is yet another battle where it is being invoked, and it is not a fight between left and right as many would imagine, but between factions in a political establishment at war with itself. And in that war they are resorting to the nastiest and worst use of misinformation and deliberate misleading lies (or “inaccurate facts” as one Leaver put it). The other side is trying so hard to scare the life out of you it wouldn’t surprise me if they just beamed the Japanese version of The Ring into everyone’s TVs during the evenings.

Our capacity to actually think about and take on this referendum as a country is completely shot by these arguments, by our leaders and by our news sources. Who the hell can we trust if so many are being so extreme and nonsensical about so much?

This is an unhealthy time and environment to actually have a serious discussion regarding these issues. Terrorism, the role of immigration in post industrial communities, membership with a technocratic organisation with little possibility of change, the UK’s role in a wider world – these are serious, deep points to discuss.  Reducing them to flag waving, moralistic grandstanding and bigotry is not going to do anyone any favours.

What country do we want for ourselves? One that promotes rational discourse, and rational decision making based on what is best for the nation? Or one that can be riled up at short notice by the sudden mention of the word “foreigner”? Or even one that can reduce all argument to nothing more than “leftist thinking?” or “right wing craziness?”

What fucking mess have we ended up in? And how the bloody hell can we decide on such an important matter in such an environment?

I’ll vote tomorrow, and have a say in something that, honestly, I feel I shouldn’t because I don’t know enough. And maybe that will be Britain’s legacy – doing something stupid for the sake of some point scoring, and not realising the fuck up until it’s far too late. And that fuck up is quite simple – giving an option to an island full of angry, misinformed individuals and leaving the aftermath in the hands of sociopaths.

 

 

 

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