One of the upsetting things about both Brexit and Trump’s victory in America, is that they have taken some solutions from the progressive left and green movements, intermingled them with the nastiness of far right rhetoric, and made far more headway than we have by doing so. For years while the Labour machine was busy joining the Conservatives in telling us that There Is No Alternative, that they were intensely relaxed about the stinking rich, and that free market economics would raise us all, we have been saying that many are left behind and made insecure by this economic model and entire cities and districts are written off by it as collateral damage, while inequality rises. The trade deals opposed by many Trump supporters and many Brexiters, have partially caused this, alongside other factors such as automation and poor domestic industrial and regional policy. Mainstream dogma economists sneered at us for querying the success of neoliberalism, while those experiencing the inequality and insecurity got neglected and disenfranchised.
In both countries, the rightwing media has for decades peddled the myth that immigration (or, for the nastier media outlets, immigrants) and benefits-scroungers are to blame for workers’ predicament, following the age-old pattern of splitting the oppressed into factions to fight each other. This has been the fuel for the success of the Trump and Brexit rhetorics. Now the neoliberals are saying “The people have spoken.” Well, kind of. The people have spoken through the distorting sound system of a very rightwing media, powerful megalomaniacs, and, for some, extreme desperation. As a friend said yesterday, we must not “pander to prejudice and division because we mistake that for listening”. At least there is a trace of understanding this in the new mainstream interest in so-called “inclusive growth”.
International trade and protection need to be refined collectively, not unilaterally, and with care that we’re aiming for the outcomes we really need. Hence the call of “Another Europe Is Possible” which sought reform from within Europe rather than the UK leaving it. Freedom of movement applies to people (or “labour” as it charmingly gets called), capital and goods, and capital is currently the freest of those. We should reverse this. Put simplistically (of course negotiations would be complex in reality) more restrictions on the flow of capital, some on goods, and less on people, could enable these better outcomes. It could mean that we still value our connections and the opportunities of travel, but can ensure that the industries that meet domestic needs can be protected, that countries get and contribute the goods required from other places, and that the profits this ‘labour’ generates can stay within each country to benefit its citizens more fully. Meanwhile we should ensure strategies to develop alternative industries where whole places have relied on one globally-relevant sector (Sunderland’s ship-building).
LWM is a regionally focused organisation, so although we are interested in the reform of world trade our role is more to tell the story of, and get policy change for, economics that is built on increasing local ownership and control over the economy of a place, as per Localising Prosperity. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance does a similar job in the states. The International Alliance on Localization calls for this approach globally.
Seeking a positive from both the Trump presidency and Brexit, there is now the tiniest opportunity to challenge the neoliberal approach to trade with more solidarity and inclusivity. But only if we can challenge the scapegoating of the vulnerable and join together to demonstrate better economics.