Why Brexit is a neoliberal project
Neoliberalism is generally associated with extolling the market, encouraging globalisation and generally being on the side of business. As Brexit will reduce the size of markets available to UK firms and therefore reverse globalisation in the UK, and is definitely not what most of UK business wants, how can it be neoliberal?
A good place to start is to go back to a discussionof what free trade means. Most people, and certainly most economists, would think that free trade means free to trade. Following that definition, harmonising regulations across countries which enables firms to trade much more easily in many countries is increasing free trade. The ideal is one single market, which is what the EU has achieved for goods and many services.
Many neoliberals would think that way. But others would see free trade as meaning free from any kind of state interference. The Single Market, with a court to judge whether its rules and regulations have been broken or not, does not sound free in that sense. Their ideal becomes trade that is as free as possible from any kind of state regulation. They do not want harmonised regulations, but the minimum amount of regulations.
If seeing free trade as meaning free from regulations on trade seems strange, it shouldn’t. If you look at how many neoliberals use the term free market that is exactly the what they often mean. If someone says that executive pay is determined by the free market, they do not mean a market free from what economists would call imperfections but just free from government interference. Unlike ordoliberals, neoliberals of this type would call a market with a monopoly producer free but a market where competition policy broke up monopolies as suffering from state meddling.
I had original thought that the Global Britain idea that Brexiters go on about was pure deflection from the awkward fact that Brexit would restrict trade. I think I was being unfair. Being true neoliberals Brexiters do not want to destroy trade, but trade has to be as regulation free as possible. Far better, therefore, for the UK to trade with the US or emerging markets that had weaker regulations than with the Single Market. The problem with the Single Market, from the Brexiters viewpoint, is that it locks in strong regulations of various kinds.
This helps explain why so many Brexiters also appearto be strong neoliberals. Brexit is like striving for a kind of neoliberal utopia, in contrast to other neoliberals like Osborne and Cameron who were prepared to compromise over regulations for the benefit of access to a bigger market. And just as neoliberals have no worries about trickingthe public to vote for their utopia by pretending it was something very different, they also have little time for firms that cannot understand that what the Brexiters are doing will ultimately be for their own good. Politics as marketing, better described as deceiving of the public, is a commonneoliberal trait.
The Brexiters are just one more group inspired by their own vision of neoliberal Nirvana. While Osborne and Cameron were prepared to settle for a small state, the Brexiters want that along with as few regulations as possible. Both obtain their vision deceitfully, and are prepared to inflict untold damage on the economy to get what they want. Like all good Leniniststhey believe that in the end (for Rees-Mogg 50 years) it will all be worth it. Which means if they get their way we will endure half a century of economic damage only to demonstrate their vision was just one more neoliberal fantasy,
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