One of the problems with Brexit and Trump, is that while both are expected to cause serious economic damage, often to the very people who voted for such policies, but it might be sometime before the full impact of this is realised, as the primary risk is the long term damage.
Indeed we are already seeing the effects. For example, recent rationing of vegetables in the UK. The supermarkets blame unseasonal weather in Spain. However, relatives I have in Spain, Ireland and Germany and they report that while yes supplies are down and the price of certain vegetables is up, there’s no rationing. The obvious explanation is that the drop in supplies in Spain has pushed up the prices. But with the UK pound having dropped in value by 20% the UK supermarkets are being outbid by their competitors from the rest of Europe who can pay the Spainsh growers in euros.
Similarly brexit has been disruptive to businesses, 58% of firms say so. There’s been many job losses since brexit, the banks are already quietly moving out of London. But employers, aware of how politically sensitive any such claim would be, are going out of their way to avoid saying so, often blaming other factors instead. e.g. we’ve seen a few redundancies in the uni. The official reason is that the research units they worked for didn’t bring in enough money….what they don’t mention is that the main source of research money was from the EU! The UK government has promised to pick up the tab for research, but we’ve certainly not seen any of that money, so now people are losing their jobs.
In another example, we have the recent revelation regarding NHS overcrowding. Well in part this is due to the fact that the NHS has been chronically underfunded since the Tories took office. But brexit has made it increasingly hard for it to recruit. They, like universities (we’ve been unable to fill a number of vacancies since brexit), will find it difficult to recruit staff from abroad to plug staffing shortages, as foreign staff will be fearful of the impact of brexit. The reduced value of the pound makes UK salaries look less attractive (and the rise in racist incidents and xenophobia doesn’t help either!). So the end result, waiting times go up and granny’s reward for voting leave is she’ll be waiting longer for that heart operation.
Politicians are experts at taking credit for something that happens through no action that they have taken (often despite their policy rather than because of it). At the same time, they are also very quick to try and avoid blame for something that is very much their fault. But the problem is that a lot of the time the effects of their term in office don’t show up until after they’ve left office.
Case in point, the Great Recession. The Republicans have tried to blame everyone other than themselves for this, Bill Clinton, Obama, Hilary, working class people, the tooth fairy, etc. The reality is that the two people who have to take the bulk of the blame for the financial crisis are Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Their policy of deregulation, neo-liberal turbo capitalism and the rat race “greed is good” attitude it brought with it, set up a massive bubble in the world financial system. A bubble that finally popped in 2007.
And the warning signs were there right from the start. There were numerous scandals, with companies going bust, billions lost and the government forced to step in, cheque book in hand to rescue reckless gamblers. LTCM (Long Term Capital Management), the Junk bonds scandal of the 80’s, Stratton Oakmont (of Wolf of Wall street fame), the Guinness trading fraud, the failure of Barings bank or BCCI, the American savings and loan crisis, ENRON etc.
Indeed, its worth noting that a number of these scandals and failures listed above occurred within the term limit of both Thatcher and Reagan, or their immediate successors. So nobody can plead ignorance and say they didn’t realise the dangers. And it was in this era that the concept of “too big to fail” was established. The lesson many on Wall street took away from these early scandals was that no matter how badly they screwed up, the government would bail them out. Profits had been privatised and risk had been socialised.
This is not to say all other presidents in between escape blame. G. W. Bush was clearly asleep at the wheel in the lead up to the crisis. There was a massive property bubble building and a huge rise in credit. A number of experts were warning that this wasn’t sustainable. He and his advisers should have realised the danger and taken away the punch bowl before the party started to get rowdy.
Bill Clinton often gets blamed for the crisis because he repealed the depression era Glass-Steagall act. However, we have to put this decision in the context that the banks were simply by-passing the act (via overseas subsidaires), in part thanks to legislation passed under Reagan and trading in derivatives had been left unregulated by the Reagan Adm. (which was ultimately the trigger for the financial crisis) Clinton’s options were to do nothing, or get rid of the act and then try to replace it with something that actually worked. So in and effort to get a GOP controlled congress to play ball with him and regulate derivatives, he signed a repeal as a concession (one that had been put on his desk by Republicans, i.e. they initiated the repeal, then pressured Clinton into signing it, not the other way around as its often presented). Of course Republicans being the backstabbing two faced gits that they are, they simply took the repeal and didn’t put in place any new regulations.
To draw an analogy if was Thatcher and Reagan who designed and commissioned the warehouse made of matchwood with no fire exits and crammed full of oil soaked rags built right next to an orphanage. Newly appointed fire safety officer Bill Clinton should have done something about it. But as it was already built and afraid of catching flak from the powerful builders lobby and their Mafia allies, he caved into pressure and just signed off on it without inspecting the building. It was however ultimately nightwatchman Bush, who was asleep on duty in the warehouse when it went up in smoke. And it was likely his habit of smoking indoors and his failure to extinguish his cigarette that caused the fire to start in the first place.
In short, yes it would be unfair to blame Reagan and Thatcher alone for the financial crisis, G. W. Bush, Gordon Brown, Blair, Clinton and anyone who with a credit card who spend money they didn’t have prior to the crash, we all need to take some of the blame. But clearly it was these two who set the world on the road to ruin. But the problem is that the bomb didn’t go off within their terms, hence they didn’t get the blame. Indeed there are (as noted) some Trump voters who blame Obama for the crisis, even thought he wasn’t in office until well after the crisis had started.
So one has to worry that history is about to repeat itself. Trump and Brexit will both have lasting long term impacts on the global economy. Potentially, we might well look back in a few decades time and point the finger at this moment as the point where Western capitalism and democracy failed. But it will take a while for such damage to appear. Indeed, given that Trump’s plan seems to be to cut taxes and increase public spending, we could well see a temporary jump in the economy, even thought he’ll just be starting another unsustainable bubble.
The US has a major problem with its national debt. As I discussed in a prior post, if something isn’t done about it, sooner or later the US government will go bankrupt. And Trump is talking about borrowing anything from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. This could potentially double the debt and push it to levels equivalent to nations like Greece or Italy. At the same time, his racist, xenophobic and anti-science policies will stifle investment. The next generation of investors and entrepreneur’s will bypass America and go elsewhere. Already in fields such as renewables or biotechnology America is falling behind its rivals. Tariffs and protectionism, will just make things worse in the long term.
In short, Trump policy will make it very difficult for the US government to raise tax revenue to pay off its debts. And with the baby boomers retiring the US needs to start raising income just to pay the pensions of those retiring. At some point, it could be a few years time or twenty, the US government won’t be able to raise the cash to pay its obligations, never mind service its debts and it will default. Of course the likelihood is the markets will see this coming and stop to lending any money to the US government, leading to a sovereign default.
Now Trump supporters will say, so what that’s only bad news for China and those pricks on wall street, isn’t it? Well two thirds of America’s debt is internal, that is to say held within the US. And American pension funds are the main holder of US treasury bonds. If the US were to default as Trump has implied, he’d be bankrupting every pensioner and saver in America. Print more money? That will destroy the value of the dollar, which is bad news for billionaires like him or anyone on a fixed income (such as pensioners). In short, there is no way that Trump or any of his successors (whether Democrat or Republican) can dig their way out of this hole without screwing over pensioners and baby boomers, or in other words the very people who put him in office. Trump’s economic policy is essentially the same as Argentina’s prior to the crash in 2001.
In Britain Theresa May has committed the UK to an economic policy that is also unsustainable. Brexit is going to be expensive, perhaps a cost of up to £66 billion just to leave and maybe as much as £25 billion per year to fund all those subsidies she’s promised to those who will lose out (car makers, universities, farmers, etc) as well as the loss of trade. Put quite simply that’s unsustainable. There was something of a stopped clock to Osborne and Cameron’s obsession with deficit reduction. In that they were doing it because they couldn’t bring themselves to spend public money on the poor and the needy (who’d just blow it all on stuff like pasties and rent). But that’s not to say that the UK hasn’t got a big problem here, one that will get worse with time as more and more baby boomers retire.
Digging the UK out of this hole becomes difficult post-brexit. Making it harder for young Polish workers to come in and take over paying the taxes that pay for the pensions of retiring British workers isn’t helping matters. Quite apart from making it harder for companies to recruit (i.e. longer waiting times in hospitals, you won’t be able to get a plumber, train and bus strikes and delays become more common, etc.). Letting the value of the pound slide leads to high inflation, which means pensioners take a hammering and workers start demanding higher wages (anyone paid in sterling reading this has essentially taken a 20% pay cut this year thanks to the falls in the value of sterling).
Cutting public spending? Well the two biggest line items in the budget are the NHS and the welfare bill. And pensions and working tax credits are the main source of welfare spending, not unemployment benefit (tiny by comparison). In short, there is no way the UK can dig itself out of this hole that doesn’t screw over the very pensioners who vote Tory and voted overwhelmingly for brexit. My advice to any pensioner is don’t retire....ever!
In fact here’s a prediction, my guess is that what will finally push the US over the edge will be its greatest ally the UK. You can just see the scenario. The UK, at some difficult to predict future date, goes broke as a result of brexit and defaults on its debts. American banks post huge losses. Worried the US might be next and needing cash in hand to prevent a run on their reserves, they all dump their holdings of US treasury bonds. The US government finds it impossible to obtain credit and defaults as well.
What about the IMF? Well do you think China or the EU is going to be terribly helpful after Trump and Brexit? They’ll rescue themselves and their own banks but that’s it. Keep in mind that some bankers may actually be able to profit handsomely from the crisis, the same way they profited during black Wednesday.
So the real danger with Trump and brexit is the long term lasting impact they will have, not the short term. Its important to realise this and when things do hit the fan, remember how we got here. And also as we go along, remember that while many may be reluctant to admit it (particularly those who voted for these clowns in the first place!), but both are already having an impact on the real economy and on people’s lives.