Saturday, June 25, 2016

Boaty McBoatface and Brexit

A level of silliness has taken over much of the Western world, with possible dire consequences.

The recent "Brexit" vote turns out to be, in retrospect, not unexpected.   It is not that most people in the UK were clamoring to leave the EU or even thought about the consequences, but rather that they thought it might be "fun" to disrupt things.

Now that the vote has passed and the pound is worth about a buck, the reality of the situation has set in and many are complaining that they thought their "protest vote" wouldn't be taken seriously.   This is, of course, one reason our forefathers came up with the electoral college and why the Democratic party has "superdelegates" - you can't trust the voters to take things seriously all the time.

In a recent contest to name a new boat, people got together and "brigaded" the voting site to put "Boaty McBoatface" as the number one entry.   They thought it would be funny to screw up a simple boat naming contest, just for the hell of it.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and decided to scrap the contest when it was clear that immature people were voting.

Maybe the Queen can do the same thing with the "Brexit" vote.   Just a thought.   What's the point of being "sovereign" if you can't throw your weight around a bit?

For Americans, the "Brexit" vote is a non-starter.  Sure my net worth was dinged about 2% yesterday, but that's about it.  Maybe the value of my euro bonds will drop somewhat.   But the value of the pound is down, so maybe it is a good time to visit the UK.  Meanwhile, the US dollar is stronger (bad for exports, good for imports) and the world once again flocks to America as a haven of stability and sanity.

Oh, right, Trump.

You see, the Trump phenomenon is the same thing as "Brexit" and "Boaty McBoatface" - voters who just want to be disruptors and see the system torn down, without thinking much about what will take its place. 

And history is rife with such folks.   People vote for a dictator without thinking of the consequences, hoping that the authoritarian rule will "get things done" for a change,when in fact, stasis and inaction are often the best things a government can do.

The Brexit vote will be bad for the UK.   Exports from that country will be expensive, as the EU no doubt will be in no mood to cut special deals for the Brits.   Nissan just built a car plant there, the first new car plant in, well, decades.   Exporting to the mainland will be more expensive.   The Chinese and Indians might want to move production of Land Rovers and Jaguars to Europe or even their home countries, if tariffs make their products unaffordable.   It remains to be seen. 

But one positive aspect of this vote is that it illustrates to voters why voting is important and should be taken seriously.   While a "protest vote" might sound like fun and all, there is a real risk that your candidate might actually win or more likely allow an opposing candidate to win.  Boaty McBoatface people voted for Nader and allowed Bush to win.   Today, they are still saying Bernie might win (no, really) and the thought of a Bernie 3rd party candidacy is frightening - it might allow Trump into the White House.

The movement behind Trump is one of disruption - and even Trump's supporters admit this.   They want to completely spoof the system and tear our world down, without a concrete idea as to what will replace it.

Will we throw away our civilization out of sheer boredom?  It has happened before.

This raises the question - will we simply destroy our existing civilization out of sheer boredom?  Will we bring on Armageddon just to see what happens?   There is precedent for this.   Civilizations don't fail from external forces, but from within.  When people are convinced that their civilization isn't worth saving, they let it fail.

And today, a lot of people are saying this and thinking this - that our mighty civilization, the apex of thousands of years of development, is corrupt and vile and should be destroyed.  Because 1%'ers make more money, it should be torn down.  Because so many people are on welfare, it should be torn down.  Because their neighbor doesn't believe in the same God, it should be torn down.

And perhaps this is how all civilizations die.   The Anasazi people of the American Southwest built amazing irrigation systems and cliff dwellings and then mysteriously disappeared.  Maybe their kids didn't think maintaining irrigation ditches was a worthwhile endeavor.   Maybe the Incas and Aztecs were fallen by a similar fate - a generation born into wealth that took for granted all they had, and wanted only more, without work or labor.

The promise of "Brexit" is the same promise that Trump is making, that "if only" we could keep out foreigners or impose levies or taxes on imported goods, we would all be Billionaires just like he is.   Except that he isn't a Billionaire, by most accounts, but actually a failed businessman who would have done better putting his inheritance into Treasury bills than into casinos.

It really gets down to the same old "something for nothing" argument that I have railed against in this blog for years.   People get into personal financial trouble when they think they can get something-for-nothing, whether it is credit card debt, student loans, a leased car, or a refinanced mini-mansion.

And countries and governments get into the same trouble when they think the same way, that "if only" we could nationalize industry, or throw out the (fill in the blank) or whatever one-size-fits-all solution to difficult problems that is being tossed around, then the world would be a paradise-on-earth.

And if we can't have paradise-on-earth, then fuck it, lets burn the motherfucker down - right?

I can only hope that the "Brexit" vote is a forewarning to American voters that they should consider carefully how they vote and who they vote for.

And for the life of me, I am not sure why anyone would put their national sovereignty up to a vote on a whim.   America had its own "exit" vote, so to speak, in 1860, and it resulted in the bloodiest war in American history - over a half-million dead.

People may criticize the electoral college system or our "superdelegate" system, but these "check valves" in Democracy might be essential to prevent voters from truly having their way.   As the "Brexit" vote illustrates, voters can be irrational and stampeded into making bad choices.  Sometimes, it is best if "one man, one vote" exists only in theory.

1 comment:

  1. It should be noted that popular referendums in general cause nothing but trouble. In California, referendums have been passed on a number of subjects from property taxes to gay rights. None of them have worked out very well.

    We elect politicians to rule for us - to make hard decisions and sometimes unpopular ones. Well, the good politicians will make the unpopular ones, anyway.

    Government by popular vote can be a disaster as the population will always vote itself a raise, or vote for whatever hysteria is reported in the news that day.

    Democracy is a fine thing, up to a point. Then it needs a check-valve and a chance for calmer heads to prevail.


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