The Brexit vote is a trigger for much more than just the UK, or parts of it, to leave the EU. It is a trigger that will actuate the many fault lines that have been growing beneath the surface of the modern world. It is also a symptom of those growing fault lines. The impacts will be economic, social, legal, military, political and historic.
Furthermore, the Brexit vote will trigger those tensions to erupt across the world to a greater or lesser extent in each and every country.
The popularity in the political sphere of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the USA, the Tsipras’ Syriza party in Greece and the Brexit vote itself, are all symptoms of a breakdown of, for want of a better descriptor, the ‘social contract’ in each of these countries.
We are heading for seismic political changes in which traditional parties will be forced to adapt immediately or die, and since few human organisations can adapt quickly to change, my guess is that many of the old parties will die.
We are already seeing the early economic fallout as predicted, but it is the medium to long term impacts that really matter. After the dust has settled, the significant pressures already impacting late stage capitalism (or early post capitalism or whatever you want to call it) will re-emerge as driving forces. For example:
• Permanently low interest rates
• Static or reducing demand
• Vast increases in automation, leading to
• Destruction of many traditional jobs
• Growing abundance of low cost goods – think Sock City in China produces a huge proportion of the world’s socks at minimal cost
• Massive increase in virtually free ‘information goods’ e.g. music, movies, books, education etc.
These forces remove more and more goods and services from the economic sphere. This happens in two ways, firstly as more and more goods become effectively free, and secondly as the free, information based, portion of the value of goods increases, for example as the value of information increases as a proportion of the goods you buy – think Amazon’s purchasing suggestions.
There will inevitably be changes across the legal spectrum from treaties to trade agreements, IP rights, residency rights, forms of property ownership and so on. The only way an ‘information’ good can be profitable is if the supplier has a monopoly – just think about the music and film industries, without their monopoly on IP rights music and movies would effectively be free.
Militarily, we can already see a shift in focus in the USA’s attention from supporting Israel to confronting China and Russia. In Europe too Brexit will impact NATO and the will of the allies to work together.
Socially we are already seeing in every advanced industrialised (or post-industrial) country the growth of non-market relationships, the desire to opt out, the development of social networks both via social media and in specific physical localities.
Technological developments in terms of the internet, social media, solar power and now the promise of cheap batteries to store solar generated electricity, and ever increasing automation of work both enable and speed up the social changes mentioned. The immanent arrival of self-driving cars will free up real-estate and reduce the number of cars on the road. Changes which have the potential to shift our societies into whole new modes of behaviour.
All these trends taken together have the potential to ‘bump’ our world into a new historical groove.
In the years to come we may look back on the Brexit vote as the defining moment when everything changed, when all those pre-existing trends and tendencies were suddenly brought together in a new combination.
Let’s hope it’s a brave new world, it may have to be.