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Me, I probably would have voted for Remain—stay in Europe to combat neoliberalism and make each country and the continent as a whole more democratic. But my close friend Stephen Whitefield, Tutor in Politics, Rhodes Pelczynski Fellow in Politics, and Professor of Comparative Russian and East European Politics and Societies at Oxford University, disagreed with me. He voted in last week’s referendum in favor of exiting the European Union. Here, in a letter he submitted to the Guardian immediately following the results, he presents his reasons why and the opportunities for the Left moving forward.

My father used to say of politics that when things can’t carry on anymore then they have to change. The landscape of British politics has now moved seismically. It is the most significant moment to reshape our country for better or worse since the War. I believe that this moment opens up real possibilities of progressive reform. That is why I voted Leave, one of the few academics I know to have done so. There will be big constraints on what can be done, externally and internally. There are many ways in which change might happen that are frightening. The task now is for the centre-left to win the political battle that is about to commence. I believe that it is well-placed to do so.

Let me state the obvious, or what in the light of the vote should now be. The era of neo-liberal political economy is over, and the challenge is to build something new. Neo-liberalism brought about vast increases in inequality and curtailments in democracy to protect the interests of transnational corporations and other elites against what citizens might do. The European Union was part of that. While there was growth, some of the worst effects of inequality could be mitigated by using taxes on welfare and supply-side policies in education and training. Following the Crash, and failing growth, that strategy of the centre-left is gone, in the UK and in Europe. Neo-liberalism also entailed an open door immigration policy within the European Union that completely ignored the strains it would put on many voting citizens, while the Crash and the euro wreaked such destruction on many economies that migration to the better-off countries became incredibly attractive. This combination is what produced the Leave vote in England.

That old neo-liberal order has collapsed, thank goodness. Now we can turn to changing things. Brexit will happen, this is not a nightmare we will wake from. So, the questions for the country as a whole now are: What kind of Brexit do we want? This is also a way of asking, what kind of Britain do we want? And it includes at last, after a complete failure to engage in the Scottish Referendum, what kind of Union, if any, do we want? These issues are now up for grabs and progressive political forces can take advantage of the Brexit opening.

Cameron has gone and the Tories will have a new leader—Boris Johnston presumably—by October. We must expect a general election in November. We rightly fear what the Tories will offer at that point. On the one hand, I expect them to support more austerity and neo-liberalism in domestic economic policy, to “reassure the markets” and “drive our competitiveness” by further cuts in wages and benefits at work, including employment protection, along with cuts in services and reform of the NHS. Watch out for the return of Liam Fox and his US health care partners. On the other, they will offer a variant of Faragist nationalism and dog-whistle anti-immigrant rhetoric to appeal to the old Tory constituencies outside London and to what they think might be a market in Labour voters inclined to UKIP.

If Labour is paralysed this programme might win. Labour needs to act with great urgency if the election is to be won. But Labour can win. The key thing to note about the politics after the Referendum is that a near majority that voted for Remain need now to move on to the next question. There is a bedrock of 48% who voted for Remain who can and must now surely be motivated to support the best possible form of Brexit we can find. That constituency must be brought together with those who have been marginalised by neo-liberalism but who must fear the swinging cuts in public services that a Tory austerity-heavy government would bring. I think the outlines of a policy that can bring these constituencies together should be clear. We must deal with inequality; have a sensible immigration policy that includes controls on numbers but also emphasises internationalism; defend our public services; and maintain a liberal outlook. That can be Labour’s position to win by building a new political coalition.

Some part of that, in my view, will require new leadership. I simply do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn is up to the job. He lacks strategic vision, an ability to communicate with voters, has political commitments that will make it very difficult for him to get on board with a new set of policies, and of course he is widely perceived to lack leadership ability in the country as a whole. He should go and go now, while being recognised for his commitments to good and noble causes, particularly to peace and disarmament. There is a new leadership team that can unite, I believe, around a set of policies that will marginalise the Conservatives. Tom Watson as leader can represent those positions and will have credibility in the electorate; John McDonnell can be an effective Chancellor.

There are certainly great uncertainties and things beyond the control of all parties now that Brexit has won. We face the hostility of the EU, who may wish to punish us or who might even see advantages in our leaving. I think European leaders who take that perspective face potential political disasters of their own. I hope that sensible and constructive negotiations will take place, though these are far from guaranteed. But a progressive response from Britain about Brexit is surely the best way forward.

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It’s clear the British referendum on the European Union was a gross miscalculation on the part of David Cameron, who decided to move ahead with the vote in an attempt to placate the nationalist, anti-immigrant forces inside and outside the Conservative Party. And he lost—by much more than any of us expected.

A couple of issues should then concern us.

First, the fact that the 52-48 result in favor of Leave was so unexpected, not to mention mainstream economists’ overwhelming support for Remain, is a reminder to those of us on this side of the pond that supposedly expert opinion is increasingly unreliable and out of touch. So, even though Trump’s numbers currently favor his defeat, and mainstream economists on this side of the pond have been so dismissive of the kinds of issues raised by Bernie Sanders, we should continue to expect the unexpected and do everything we can both to oppose Trump’s election in November and to continue Sanders’s political revolution.

Second, the British vote is just the latest (but not yet final) nail in the coffin of neoliberal Europe. Europe without a real and vibrant Social Chapter was (in Thomas Friedman’s language) only a “golden straightjacket” to protect European and non-European corporate interests. That transcontinental free-market utopia—after the combination of bank bailouts, austerity, and high unemployment, the costs imposed on Greece (and Spain and Portugal), the unwillingness to treat ordinary people’s concerns about open borders and to humanely integrate war-ravaged refugees, and so much more—now lies in tatters.

The real issue, within Great Britain and the rest of Europe, is whether the Left will be able to reassemble the pieces to create a new “social-democratic internationalism”—a politics that attends to both national concerns (like healthcare, wages, and immigration) and internationalist ones (having to do with such things as debt relief, human rights, and global warming). In Britain, that means forming a demos, under the aegis of the Labor Party, consisting of groups of voters who ended up on opposite sides of the Leave-Remain vote—to defend workers’ rights within Britain while maintaining an internationalist concern with the plight of workers in other countries. It’s the kind of politics outlined by both Richard Tuck (who argued for Leave) and James Stafford (who supported Remain).

That’s important because, notwithstanding the title of my post, we’re far from being after Brexit. The process of Britain’s exit from the European Union is just starting. And while the Tories are engaged in their own internecine battle (which, as Boris Johnson steps forward, may even exceed the spectacle that led to Trump becoming the presumptive Republican nominee), with even more fallout for economic and political elites across the rest of the continent, the British and European left-wing parties and movements have an opportunity to imagine and create the kind of social-democratic internationalism the various countries’ working-classes have long wanted and ultimately deserve.

“O Death” was one of the most haunting pieces of music ever sung by the late Ralph Stanley.

It’s also the appropriate theme after yesterday’s Brexit vote—the political stunt by David Cameron that will now have the anti-immigrant “take control” forces in Europe braying for more.

Trump

And, according to some, it helps explains Donald Trump’s popularity in the United States.

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The U.S. economy is a remarkable success according to the standards of neoclassical economic theory. Yet, for “prime-age” men, who need to work to provide for themselves and their families, it is increasingly a failure.

That’s the clear lesson from the latest report from the Council of Economic Advisors (pdf) on “The Long-Term Decline in Prime-Age Male Labor Force Participation” (which has been taken up and discussed in a wide variety of news media, from the Financial Times [ht: bn] to the New York Times).

On one hand, the United States, more than any other advanced country, has labor market institutions that represent a neoclassical economist’s free-market dream.

The United States has the lowest level of labor market regulation, the fewest employment protections, the third-lowest minimum cost of labor, and among the lowest rates of collective bargaining coverage among OECD countries. . .In the United States, governments and institutions (such as labor unions) place relatively few barriers in the way of employers who want to change who they employ and what they pay.

That’s exactly what labor markets look like in neoclassical models and what neoclassical economists recommend as the best, “flexible” labor-market policy. It’s a world in which it’s easy to hire and fire workers, which is supposed to facilitate matches between employers who want profits and individuals who want to work.

And yet, on the other hand, the labor-force participation rate of men between the ages of 225 and 54 has been declining since the late-1950s—from a peak of 98 percent to close to 88 percent today (which means the United States now ranks third lowest, above only Israel and Italy, among 34 OECD nations). And the rate for men with a high-school degree or less had plummeted even more, to 83 percent.

In a world in which selling their ability to labor is the principal way for workers to earn enough income to purchase the commodities necessary to support themselves and their families, the extraordinary success in creating neoclassical labor markets in the United States has resulted in a complete failure from the perspective of working people. As a result of declining wages (and, in addition, high incarceration rates, which makes finding a job that much more difficult), prime-age men are simply being forced by employers to drop out of the labor force.*

Now, the decrease in the labor-force participation rate for male workers has not escaped the attention of other mainstream economists and policymakers, as the long-run decline has tremendous implications for economic growth.** Fewer workers (especially since the labor-force participation rate for prime-age women, which had been increasing, leveled off after 1990 and since 2000 has also started to decline) means, in the absence of large productivity gains, less output and slower rates of growth. Therefore, they propose policies that seek to create more flexibility for prime-age men and women within the labor market, to increase their labor-force participation rates.

The alternative, of course, is to create more flexibility for workers outside the labor market—by giving them more say in the enterprises where they work and by creating a universal basic income for all—so that they’re no longer forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to a small group of employers.

That kind of flexibility beyond the labor market represents the only real way of solving the failures of neoclassical economists and of the economic and social system they celebrate.

 

*As the report notes, “The direct effect of increased incarceration is to actually increase the reported participation rate because the official statistics cover only the non-institutionalized population and omit prisoners, people in long-term care, and active duty members of the Armed Services.” But the indirect effect runs in the opposite direction, as these men face substantially lower demand for their labor after they are released from prison.

**Even the International Monetary Fund has recently warned about the negative implications for U.S. economic growth of declining labor force participation—along with slow productivity growth, an increasingly polarized society with income gains concentrated among the wealthiest Americans, and too many people living in poverty.