It’s a day or so after Great Britain’s Brexit vote and I’ve been sitting at the old computer machine for several hours watching the bottom drop out of my IRA. Nearly 40 years of saving and, at this hour, the listed value of my retirement plan is about $38,000 less than the cash amount I put in over all those years. Forget the interest. Others, I’m sure, are seeing that and much worse.
World markets are drowning in red ink, keepers of the economies of nations around the world are wondering what the Hell just happened and the Brit’s home ground is cracking beneath their feet. Politicians everywhere are struggling to get on the “right” side of what’s happening although most have no idea which side that is.
For many years, I’ve privately clung to the belief some important national issues should never be given directly to the public to decide en masse. Brexit is one such. One proof of that is how many millions of Brits and others were asking Google “What does Brexit mean” and “What is the EU” the day AFTER. Where were they the day BEFORE and in the last few weeks as England’s media covered little else?
You know how the enormously complicated Brexit issue got to a referendum ballot? We’re told it’s ‘cause PM David Cameron, his chief of staff and a couple of other British politicians were sitting in a pizza shop at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport a few months ago and wondering what to do. Cameron was trying to come up with an idea to heal some of the many riffs in his nation’s populace at-large. He wanted home folks happier.
One of the four hit on the idea of a referendum on whether the nation should remain a member of the European Union or go its own way. So, the pizza gang - after a brew or two, I’d guess - decided nothing could be more “unifying” than a vote on the country’s entire economic future.
So, how did that work out? Well, Cameron resigned the morning after the vote and it can only be deeply hoped the others - with tomato sauce and cheese on their fingers - do so as well.
Thanks to those four pepperoni-loving pols, a nation previously dealing with a number of far lesser political disagreements is now one deeply divided smack down the middle. About 52% on one side- 48% on the other. And the economic wreckage will pile up for years. Yes, Sir. Nothing like a good, old popular vote to smooth everything out.
Like it or not, the British system of government - and ours - requires the election of people to public office. It’s how we do things governmental. Once in office, their chief responsibility is to research and study issues, use the committee process to get all the facts, make an educated recommendation to the entire larger body for that body - with a studied committee report in hand - to decide what to do. It works, most of the time. But odds of it working are a whole lot better than dropping this terribly complicated question into the laps of millions of citizens when most of them are unprepared to cast an intelligent ballot using whatever facts may - or may not - be at hand. Or even knowing the facts at hand.
Suppose, just for giggles, our nation faced the question of whether to return to the gold standard. Our Congress studied, researched, conducted endless committee meetings and came up with no clear decision. So, over a large Domino’s, the powers-that-be decided to put the issue on the good old American ballot. Let the voter decide. What kind of a well-informed, fully educated, studied decision would be forthcoming? Look up and down your street. How many of your neighbors would you think could cast a fully-informed vote?
Yes, there are issues which should be in the hands of the electorate. Most questions should be decided by those who will have to live with the consequences. But, once in awhile, a subject comes along that defies the ability of the public-at-large to come up with a researched, intelligent decision. That’s why we have a government. Why we elect people to office - to study issues of great import and make decisions based on research and recommendations of well-informed experts. Think seriously about that the next time you vote for someone.
Most Americans have no idea what the implications of switching an entire nation’s monetary system would mean. But that ignorance could be the basis of the collapse of an entire economy. Or, the world’s.
Such, I think, was the case with Brexit. Rather than cold, hard facts that could be understood by “the least of these” - if they cared to pay any attention - the issue was handled like a major marketing program. Thousands of slick TV commercials, newspaper pages filled with thousands of fancy ads and wall-to-wall talk radio going in all directions. If there was a repeated, easily accessible program of facts and a full disclosure of lasting, national effects either way, it was hard to find in the flotsam.
Our own little Faux News proudly proclaimed Great Britain was “pulling out of the United Nations” - which it isn’t. The Trumpster on his way to Scotland tweeted how happy he was the Scots had voted to leave the EU - 64% of Scots voted NOT to leave. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan called the vote “the worst economic happening in my more than 40 years of public service.” And on and on and on.
Well, the market is now down another 150 points in the last hour. That’s about $500 more cash loss to the retirement plan. I think it was Mark Twain who quipped “England and America - two nations separated by a common language.” Given today’s dire effect on my standard of living here in the senior years, that separation hasn’t been near far enough.