In “You Break It, You Own It” The Moustache of Wisdom says that the British vote by a narrow majority to leave the European Union is not the end of the world — but it does show us how we can get there. Hmmm… If only Tommy had thought about “you break it, you own it” before he was banging his wee tin drum celebrating the fustercluck in Iraq… Mr. Bruni takes a look at “A Bachelor Named Britain, Looking for Love” and says the U.K. is due for some serious matchmaking. Albania, anyone? Here’s TMOW:
The British vote by a narrow majority to leave the European Union is not the end of the world — but it does show us how we can get there.
A major European power, a longtime defender of liberal democracy, pluralism and free markets, falls under the sway of a few cynical politicians who see a chance to exploit public fears of immigration to advance their careers. They create a stark binary choice on an incredibly complex issue, of which few people understand the full scope — stay in or quit the E.U.
These politicians assume that the dog will never catch the car and they will have the best of all worlds — opposing something unpopular but not having to deal with the implications of the public actually voting to get rid of it. But they so dumb down the debate with lies, fear-mongering and misdirection, and with only a simple majority required to win, that the leave-the-E.U. crowd carries the day by a small margin. Presto: the dog catches the car. And, of course, it has no idea now what to do with this car. There is no plan. There is just barking.
Like I said, not the end of the world yet, but if a few more E.U. countries try this trick we’ll have quite a little mess on our hands. Attention Donald Trump voters: this is what happens to a country that falls for hucksters who think that life can just imitate Twitter — that there are simple answers to hard questions — and that small men can rearrange big complex systems by just erecting a wall and everything will be peachy.
But I digress.
Because although withdrawing from the E.U. is not the right answer for Britain, the fact that this argument won, albeit with lies, tells you that people are feeling deeply anxious about something. It’s the story of our time: the pace of change in technology, globalization and climate have started to outrun the ability of our political systems to build the social, educational, community, workplace and political innovations needed for some citizens to keep up.
We have globalized trade and manufacturing, and we have introduced robots and artificial intelligent systems, far faster than we have designed the social safety nets, trade surge protectors and educational advancement options that would allow people caught in this transition to have the time, space and tools to thrive. It’s left a lot of people dizzy and dislocated.
At the same time, we have opened borders deliberately — or experienced the influx of illegal migration from failing states at an unprecedented scale — and this too has left some people feeling culturally unanchored, that they are losing their “home” in the deepest sense of that word. The physical reality of immigration, particularly in Europe, has run ahead of not only the host countries’ ability to integrate people but also of the immigrants’ ability to integrate themselves — and both are necessary for social stability.
And these rapid changes are taking place when our politics has never been more gridlocked and unable to respond with just common sense — like governments borrowing money at near zero interest to invest in much-needed infrastructure that creates jobs and enables us to better exploit these technologies.
“Political power in the West has been failing its own test of legitimacy and accountability since 2008 — and in its desperation has chosen to erode it further by unforgivably abdicating responsibility through the use of a referendum on the E.U.,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who co-leads the London-based global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.
But we need to understand that “the issue before us is ‘integration’ not ‘immigration,’” Mousavizadeh added. The lived experience in most cities in Europe today, is the fact that “a pluralistic, multiethnic society has grown up here, actually rather peacefully, and it has brought enormous benefits and prosperity. We need to change the focus of the problem — and the solution — from the physical reality of immigration to the political and economic challenge of integration.” Schools, hospitals and public institutions generally will not rise to the challenge of the 21st century “if social integration is failing.”
Indeed, in my view, the countries that nurture pluralism the best will be the ones that thrive the most in the 21st century. They will have the most political stability, attract the most talent and be able to collaborate with the most people. But it’s hard work.
Yet in an age when technology is integrating us more tightly together and delivering tremendous flows of innovation, knowledge, connectivity and commerce, the future belongs to those who build webs not walls, who can integrate not separate, to get the most out of these flows. Britain leaving the E.U. is a lose-lose proposition. I hope the “Regrexit” campaign can reverse Brexit and that Americans will dump Trump.
Never forget, after the destruction of World War II, the E.U. project “emerged as a force for peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom in the world,” noted Eric Beinhocker, the executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford. “This is one of humankind’s great achievements. Rather than let it be destroyed we must use the shock of the Brexit vote to reimagine, reform, and rebuild a new Europe.”
Now here’s Mr. Bruni:
It has been forever since Britain was single, and there will be many lonesome and disorienting nights ahead.
Maybe we should fix it up with Switzerland.
Not immediately, of course. The divorce from the European Union was just announced. The paperwork hasn’t been filed. There could be a loss of nerve, a relaxing of conjugal rules, tulips from Holland, chocolates from Belgium. Greece and Portugal could promise to stop leaving dirty dishes in the sink, Germany to quit hogging the remote.
But as things stand now, Britain will soon stand apart, and we all know how that goes: exhilaration, followed by panic, leading to an age-inappropriate Tinder account. Oh, look, here’s Iceland, flashing its most voluptuous volcanoes. Nah, too stony and lugubrious, and you can listen to only so much Björk. Swipe left.
Britain on its own is unfathomable. Think of its relationship history: epic trans-Atlantic romances, audacious trans-Pacific affairs, flings in this jungle, hookups on that dune. It was usually dominant, occasionally submissive but always coupled — if not tripled, quadrupled or quintupled. It had a lust for entanglement if no talent for fidelity.
But it’s not the overlord it once was. Those imperial pheromones are gone. Where a crown once rested, a bald spot spreads. Britain’s going to need primping, prodding, perhaps a prescription.
And introductions. So: Switzerland?
If marrying rich is the goal, marrying Switzerland is the jackpot. And Switzerland won’t do what Britain loathed in its current spouse and encourage poorer, darker people to drop in for fondue.
But it’s so worryingly petite. So wearyingly standoffish, resisting the E.U. even while enveloped and protected by it. And it’s sure to insist on a prenup longer than all of the Harry Potter novels combined. Britain needs freer and easier love than that, especially as its jowls sag and its pound droops.
Maybe that means Albania, Montenegro or Macedonia. They’re the mail-order brides of the continent, dreaming of an “I do” from the E.U. Surely they’d settle for Britain.
But would Britain settle for them? The bloated pride that brought it to this juncture won’t allow for a significant other that’s too other and insignificant, and most outsiders can’t locate Albania on a map. (Go south to the heel of Italy, turn left, cross the Adriatic, hope for the best.) There are better charted, more ego-salving corners of Europe that haven’t bedded down with Brussels and are still on the market.
Like Norway. It and Britain have plenty in common — they’re both wintry, watery, fishy, boozy — but also bring different, complementary assets to the table. In Norway’s case, oil. In Britain’s, Adele. If that’s not a recipe for global domination, what is?
Britain isn’t a bachelor like most. It has been married so many times that it has pretty much run through the available options.
Its predicament reminds me of the movie “What’s Your Number?,” which I saw so that you wouldn’t have to. Anna Faris plays a Bostonian who believes that she has reached her maximum allotment of sexual partners and that her only hope for a husband is to circle back and reconnect with someone she disconnected from previously.
For Britain that could be India. Australia. Much of Africa. Some of the Middle East. Its exes are everywhere, though approaching any of them would require a new humility, as the Britain of yesteryear wasn’t a particularly modest or accommodating suitor. It typically got the better end of the deal, until the E.U. came along and the arrangement wasn’t so lopsided.
America is Britain’s most prominent ex of all: the Elizabeth Taylor to its Richard Burton. Should our onetime colonial master become our 51st state? If we acted quickly enough, Boris Johnson could be tapped as Donald Trump’s running mate, creating a tandem of tresses so perversely dazzling that it alone makes the case. This may have been Johnson’s plan all along.
Britain is no more geographically nonsensical for us than Hawaii or Alaska, though it’s probably too long a cultural stretch. It simply lacks the requisite prevalence of gun ownership.
Which makes it a better fit for Canada. Canada is saner, except about ice hockey. It’s Britain’s obvious match: comparably affluent, sufficiently English-speaking. Together Britain and Canada can laugh at the crudeness of us Americans, a favorite shared pastime and an understandable one.
Britain is suddenly leaderless, while Canada suddenly has a leader, Justin Trudeau, who’s an international heartthrob. He can expand his portfolio to two continents, and has tidy hair. Sorry, Boris.
And the monarchy survives! Canada never ceased its ceremonial fealty to it, and bows before Queen Elizabeth II much as Britain does. It’s a source of puzzlement, but it’s a bridge to Britain, which is going to need the love.
Tags: The Moustache of Wisdom