The recent vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has sent economic shock waves around the world.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron did not have to hold a referendum on Britain’s staying in the EU, but he thought people would vote to stay and thus give public approval to the partnership.
Calling for a popular vote to determine public policy is fraught with unintended consequences, as Cameron has seen, and this referendum may be the dumbest move any nation’s leader has ever made. So much for his political wisdom, not to mention his political future.
The sentiment and anger expressed in the UK vote is felt by many people in many nations. A part of it—maybe the major part—is anger at people emigrating to their country to seek a better life, or in the case of refugees, a life period.
But there is another element of the anger and frustration that concerns the way politicians have favored other interests over those of their constituents. Specifically, in America, that concerns jobs sent overseas and corporate influence in government.
Something that both the hard left and hard right agree on is the way working men and women have been treated by the corporate entities of the World Trade Organization, the folks who brought us NAFTA and CAFTA and are now trying to bring us TPP.
The WTO logic has been twofold: first, setting up trade agreements with other nations opens up opportunities for profit; second, moving manufacturing jobs overseas gives citizens of economically deprived nations a source of income that they could not have imagined a few years ago and improves their nation’s economy.
Doing well by doing good, as it were. This helps keep world peace because trading partners need to rely on economic stability, and wars don’t do stability any good.
There have been winners in developing nations, and that’s good. However, for every winner there is a loser, and that’s less good, especially when the losers see their manufacturing jobs go to other workers in other nations. So thanks to the corporate desire to spread peace and love and money to the world, the United States has become a nation that bases its economy on—I shudder to say it—shopping. That’s right, shopping. Seventy- five percent of the American economy depends on you and me going out and buying stuff. That is not a healthy economy.
It is no coincidence that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have drawn disaffected Americans into their camp. There are a whole bunch of people who have been waiting for someone to step forward and give voice to their personal concerns about who runs America. Sanders has lost, and maybe Trump will, too, but the issue will not disappear with their absence from the scene, and any politician who ignores it is in trouble, and rightly so.
Lip service won’t cut it. The frustration needs to be recognized and addressed by elected officials and corporate America. It also needs to be addressed in an adult way, that is, demagoguery alone does not offer solutions and only amplifies the discontent with no benefit to the citizen.
From my perspective it is in the best interests of Americans (and, whether they know it or not, corporations and politicians) to shift attention from the wishes of big business to the wishes of the American public, which include bringing back jobs from other countries and restoring the American Dream by rebuilding the middle class.
It can be done. We Americans did it before, and we can do it again, but it won’t happen unless the powers that be recognize that they are in deep trouble if they ignore us.
Jim Elliott is a former chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a former state senator from Trout Creek.