By Dr. Abdul Ruff
Following the referendum on UK membership of the European Union (EU), upholding Brexit, world politics is expected to herald a period of immense instability and turmoil. There is likelihood of economic crisis in Europe and UK, even globally.
USA can ignore the any negative impact on its economy or domestic policies on account of Brexit, but it cannot doubt that Brexit could churn out issues of political economy at least for both Britain and EU.
Unexpected or unintended?
Britain’s exit from EU is now almost final, pending only some formalities and the EU is pushing for early conclusion of the Brexit deal. It is quite clear that British Prime Minister David Cameron had not expected the referendum to lose, thereby forcing him to quit, having found no other credible alternative. The result is primarily the outcome of a political miscalculation by Cameron and allies that caused geopolitical and financial issues. The British capitalist lords are staggering about as they try to pick up the pieces while the situation spirals out of control.
Geopolitical relations in Europe have been destabilized as a direct consequence of the Brexit. Without Britain anchored in Europe, relations between France and a far more powerful Germany will deteriorate. Equally, relations between the EU and the United States—for which Britain provided a bridge—will be thrown into flux.
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, insist there must be no delay in Britain invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally initiate exit proceedings, so as to limit financial damage and impose a harsh settlement on Britain that will serve as an example to others. Far-right forces in Europe are now demanding referenda in their own countries, including the National Front in France and similar parties in Slovakia, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere.
Amid dire warnings of economic catastrophe and the boost the referendum gave to right-wing, anti-immigrant nationalists, millions fear for the future. A petition is circulating that has gained some three million votes for another referendum to be held.
There is widespread shock and anger at the Brexit outcome in the UK, even among some who voted for leaving the EU. The result indicates anger on the art of the Britons in the very project of EU- an integration of basically different entities with varying degree of geopolitics and economic variations.
Meanwhile, the UK itself is in danger of breaking apart. Conservative Party and Labour Party could split, amid speculation of a snap general election. The Scottish National Party is pressing for a second independence referendum and also seeking early talks with Brussels and EU member states. In Northern Ireland, where the referendum vote was polarized along Republican and Unionist lines, the most severe crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 1998 is looming.
The historic Brexit that democratically became a reality create Brutish soverign nation once again after decades of being a part of EU, is feared to kickstart another “Great Financial Crisis” of 2008, and threatens to blow up even further, if more European countries exit for EU. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), has warned of deep-rooted problems in the global economy.
The economic cost of the successful referendum by Britain to cede from EU is aid to be very high globally. The ongoing market sell-off wiped $2.5 trillion from the values of world equities markets on June 24 itself is the most visible manifestation of a much deeper crisis of the global economy. both the International Monetary Fund has warned in effect that the USA and world economy face conditions of stagnation characterized by a long-term reduction in growth rates.
The BIS report said the world economy was threatened by a ‘risky trinity’: debt levels that are too high, productivity growth that is too low, and room for policy manoeuvre that is too narrow.” It cast doubt on the ability to continue to combat crises with monetary policy. However, the BIS had no solution to the ongoing crisis besides further austerity measures. It called for slashing government debt while improving the “quality of public spending… notably by shifting the balance away from transfers.”
Virtually every global central bank issued a statement saying it would either begin or was ready to implement a further expansion of liquidity measures in response to the share selloff. Markets are increasingly betting that the Federal Reserve will halt, or even reverse, its announced plans to begin raising interest rates. These conditions have weakened productive investment, fueled a global expansion of debt, making it near impossible for central banks to respond in an effective manner to the eruption of new crises.
In the latest such measure, the Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Bank of Japan announced the provision of additional funds to the financial system.
The growth of negative interest rates, promoted by central banks seeking to reassure the markets, is a risk with “a long fuse, with the damage less immediately apparent and growing gradually over time. Such rates tend to depress risk premiums and stretch asset valuations, making them more vulnerable to a reversal by encouraging financial risk-taking. All the actions taken by global central banks since the 2008 crisis have only exacerbated the cancerous growth of financial parasitism. At the end of May, close to $8 trillion in sovereign debt, including at long maturities, was trading at negative yields—a new record.” Due to the continuous infusions of cash into world markets, monetary policymakers have found it harder to push inflation back in line with objectives, leading to economic slump.
The types of fiscal austerity measures and labor market restructuring called for by the BIS have been brought forward in every major economy in response to the 2008 crisis. These range from the USA, where state education spending has been slashed by 25 percent, to Greece, Spain, Portugal and, most recently, France, with the implementation of the El Komri labor reforms by the Hollande government, where sweeping social cuts have been combined with attacks on protections for jobs and conditions.
Austerity policies have transferred ever more wealth to the financial elite, who have proceeded to use their cash hoards for speculation and financial parasitism, fueling a vicious cycle of economic stagnation, rising inequality and financial crisis, in turn inflaming international antagonisms and the growth of protectionism.
The global economy cannot afford to rely any longer on the debt-fueled growth model that has brought it to the current juncture, the “persistent and otherwise puzzling” global slowdown in productivity growth. It tellingly attributed the slowdown to the effect of a massive series of booms and busts that have characterized the global economy in recent years as it has become increasingly dominated by financialization and speculative mania, fueled by virtually unlimited cash from global central banks.
A full scale disintegration of the EU is now a real possibility – yes, only a possibility and not necessarily the reality, mainly because Germany would not let EU disintegrate.
EU Integration was an attempt by the ruling classes of the continent, with the support of the United States, to prevent a new eruption of national conflicts that had twice plunged the world into all-out war. However, “unity” within the framework of capitalism could never mean anything other than the domination of the most powerful nations and corporations over the continent and its peoples.
The fracturing of the EU along national lines that is now taking place is once again driving inexorably towards world war. But the EU cannot be put back together again. The Brexit result has made manifest a broader crisis that is insoluble within capitalism because it is rooted in the fundamental contradiction between the integrated character of the global economy and the division of the world into antagonistic nation states based on private ownership of the means of production.
Europe must be united. However, this cannot be done on a progressive basis through efforts to preserve the moribund institutions of the EU or other bureaucratic mechanisms. The progressive and democratic unification of Europe can be achieved only from below, through a revolutionary struggle for socialism across the continent led by the working class.
The likely economic fallout from the Brexit vote on the rest of the world over could be huge. In addition to the direct trade effect, business investment around the globe is likely to be dampened somewhat due to the heightened uncertainty about the global implications of Brexit and the tightening of financial conditions. Companies now delay investment projects to assess how Brexit could affect them.
One impact on the government is the effect on the value of its holdings in banks. The value of the government’s holding in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group dropped by about £8bn, although it has recovered somewhat since.
The pound has dropped considerably against the US dollar; less so against the euro. That has not had a great deal of impact on the economy so far, although it is likely to stoke inflation in due course. National income is reported in pounds so will not be hit automatically by a weaker pound, although it will suffer in comparison with other countries – the status as the world’s fifth biggest economy may be threatened.
There may already have been an impact on the economy or the public finances but there are no data as yet showing that. Throughout the campaign pro Brexit leaders argued that UK would save money from not contributing to the EU Budget.
However, the impact on global growth and inflation is likely to be relatively small – and almost certainly not large enough to push the global economy into recession. UK import demand would be minimal as the UK accounts for only 3.6% of global imports of merchandize goods.
This could lower potential growth even further and would likely lead to higher wage and inflation pressures.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne says that companies have already started cutting back on investments following the vote to leave the European Union.
The Brexit shock is likely to intensify the pressure on current and future mainstream governments to address inequality and limit migration.
Of course, Europe, USA and the rest of nations would undertake urgent measures to minimize the impact of Brexit and according to reports the European Union has already begun action in the respect. Investors will have to factor in a higher chance of a stagflationary outcome over the next three to five years: even lower growth or near-stagnation coupled with a significant rise in inflation. This could lower potential growth even further and would likely lead to higher wage and inflation pressures.