Brexit was a resounding shot straight into the bow of HMS Progressive, with racism and anti-immigration the ugly sailors swabbing the load, ramming the charge and lighting the fuse.
The vote, indeed, may be the first of a long line of “facts be dammed”, “we the people know better.”
As unsavory as it is to write, when it comes to creating more sustainable economies, in some ways the people might know better (though in this case, not for the right reasons and with an often ugly spirit to boot). For at the heart of the “Leavers” well-known economic and social fears is an impulse to protect and promote what is local. This has great sustainability merit.
Why? Because the more local we can produce and consume the less damage we tend to do to ourselves, workers and the environment.
Globalization ensures we will never have completely local economies, and very few would claim that this would be a good thing either. But more balance would be, and thankfully, the world’s economies are on a slow, inexorable march towards both greater globalization and greater localization. While we are still years away from realizing the innovation and social re-engineering required to bring the full benefits of decentralizing forces (e.g., three dimensional printer manufacturing, community power networks, quality on-line education, and significant demand for locally produced foods etc.) the signs and sustainability delights of localization are everywhere.
Globalization is not All Bad…
Even while globalization and its discontents scared the British working class and older folks into voting to leave, these folks probably still want the all the “good” things offered by highly integrated global economies, such as cheap clothes, inexpensive food, and the like.
But they don’t want the uncomfortable things such as the incorrectly but still perceived loss of employment to immigrants and increased costs of public services, or the very real if incremental (and my books good) changes to the cultural and social status quo.
Change is inevitable, so unless the Leave crowd is willing to wear clothes of sheep’s wool, eat only UK-grown food, or work for less than billions of poor in developing countries, more not less integration is on the way. Indeed, the EU will continue to demand of the UK pretty much the same free flow of capital, materials, and labor if it wants into Union markets. Oh yes, Leavers can also forget the promised “Independence Day”, for, as one anonymous observer sagely pointed out, they are but swapping out “one set of distant and unreachable elites for another.”
It is not surprising, that the very much plugged-in English Youth voted 70% to stay in the Union. They “get” the bigger picture and can see the good bits of globalization. They also “get” the local thing, as thousands of Millennial social entrepreneurs, farmers, and innovators are making lifestyle choices that eschew the ways of those stuck in the past, or those unwilling/unable to change. UK youth, along with millions of their peers the world round are shaping a fantastic future literally as they create the forces of globalization. And they are doing this increasingly on their own “local” terms. It is our shared responsibility to help, not hinder their chosen path.
Neither the Brits nor the rest of the world for that matter, are ready for intensely localized economies. That day will come. In the meantime, as much anyone wants otherwise, integration offers far more benefits than isolation. It also offers more hope for the creation of globally and locally sustainable economies.