The Great Realignment: Brexit, Trump & The Future

Brexit-News“The real moment of success is not the moment apparent to the crowd,” said George Bernard Shaw. In fact, breakthroughs occur long before they’re perceived. In the last few weeks, Brexit has broken across the globe like a tsunami – but, of course, it is really the result of tectonic shifts in politics, economics and technology that the world has been undergoing for roughly 50 years. These events foreshadow even larger, axial shifts that we’ll recognize over the next 50 years. This is thus a moment in history worth stopping and pondering.

I’ve already sent around the post-Brexit piece I penned in the vote’s immediate aftermath – literally, the morning after. In the past week, I’ve written three more pieces, extending the argument and tying it back to what I’ve been writing over the past several years about this coming phenomenon.

In The Real Brexit Fallout, I wanted to tease out the implications of my oft-stated argument that, “Within a generation, governments will operate in a largely open marketplace for their services.” This raises various, inter-related practical and theoretical problems:

What happens to provision of public goods (things that basically have to be shared, like police protection, national defense or parks and green space)? What happens to provision of “public bads” [like government regulation]? And what happens about inequality (the reduction of which, since it generally has positive spillover effects for everyone else, is coming to be recognized as a traditional public good – paying for which many, if not most, folks want to opt out of, just like public bads)?

German Chancellor Andrea Merkel provided part of the answer in her day-after-Brexit declaration that, “Those who want free access to the European domestic market will have to accept the basic European freedoms and the other rules and duties which are linked to it.”  I think this portends the answer we’ll reach as a society as to the “free-rider” problem with public goods: “Of course, if you’re not willing to pay, maybe you shouldn’t be able to use the public roads, miracle drugs or Internet developed largely at taxpayer expense.”

In the final piece of my Brexit trilogy for US News, The Angry vs. The Ascendant, I push back on the overly-simple but now-fashionable argument that Trump and other Republicans are making, that we’re seeing a worldwide revolt against “the Elite.” (Look for a staple of next week’s GOP convention to be attacks on the Clintons, liberals, Mexicans, blacks, and even the poor as part of this oppressive “elite”….) The divide in the world today isn’t between a small elite and an oppressed 99% – it’s basically an even split between those who are part of a “connected” world and those economically left behind. The former live under a system that “isn’t really ‘social-ism,’ as that term has been used historically (although it might help explain the unusual prominence of ‘socialism’ in this year’s presidential campaign) – it’s more like social-ish.” This is rendering all other existing arrangements – including nations and governments as we know them – obsolete:

For the social-ish, borders of all sorts, not just the physical kind, are breaking down – and that’s good…. [T]he internet generation’s belief that privacy comes from ubiquitous transparency, not firewalls, probably also describes the future of physical and cybersecurity, as well, where distributed technologies are likely the future of everything.

But “those angry people outside … don’t feel the same way.” My most recent post, The Great Realignment – for Europe Insight, which asked me to write as a result of my recent speech on all this in Copenhagen – notes that these right-wing populist movements are not anti-government (which is why the conservative elite of the GOP is so alarmed by the Trump phenomenon): “Tea Partiers who rose up against Obamacare because, well, Obama, at the same time railed that the government should keep its hands off their Medicare.” The aggrieved Trump, Brexit, Le Pen and other angry white voters around the world are so angry because “they are turning to the fading nation-state system they have known, and derided, all their lives to provide newly-appreciated ‘rights’ to economic security and protection against their newly-found feelings of victimhood – and finding that, for them, these are no longer there.”

As always, I welcome your comments below.