25th October 2018
Amazon Q3 retail sales “surprisingly weak”
I believed at the time that Robert Antoshak had fundamentally misunderstood both voter attitudes and the way politics works. Re-reading it, I believe that more strongly than ever, and I’m now publishing what I thought 18 months ago.
I spent the first six months of 2016 campaigning to stay in the EU. Not once did I hear my opponents – or anyone in Britain’s new, Brexit-friendly government – say they wanted to reject global integration or repudiate over 30 years of globalisation.
Scarcely anyone in Britain opposes global integration. What 52% of those voting (actually a 38% minority of the British electorate, since 28% couldn’t be bothered to vote) were against was:
Most British Brexit supporters wanted a simple free trade agreement with the rest of Western Europe – and similar deals with the rest of the world. They wanted real globalisation: not the extravagantly over-engineered, spendthrift and inward-looking protectionism they believe EU imposes on its members. I opposed Brexit – like most of the British business community – because I believe its advocates’ ambitions are unrealistic and potentially damaging.
But we had to recognise our opponents’ dislike of growing external interference in Britain’s management – and of the costs it imposed on British taxpayers. It’s impossible to imagine anyone in Obama’s America or Trudeau’s Canada accepting these aspects of the EU – or regarding their country’s insistence on self-government as “repudiating globalisation.”
In the US, the truth is a lot more complicated than: “Should Trump become president, then we will see a rejection of globalisation.”
As far as foreign trade is concerned, both Trump and Clinton oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is now in real danger of disappearing altogether, writing off seven years’ hard work by negotiators from 12 countries.
With Britain – until now the EU’s most trade-friendly member – no longer involved, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) looks threatened too – and opposition to it is hardening throughout Continental Europe.
To simplify: Trump wants the US to do far less international trade than at present; Clinton wants restrictions on much more international trade.
With or without Trump, Americans look likely to want slower expansion in foreign trade.
British voters didn’t reject “global integration” of supply chains: they rejected a particular version of international cooperation many thought wasn’t right for Britain, and some thought wasn’t global enough. That version included policies on migration, foreign governments’ jurisdiction, compulsory subsidies to other countries and restrictions on trade deals that nowhere outside Europe has ever even considered adopting.
With or without Trump, voters in Britain and America are getting increasingly uncomfortable with deals they think are integrating economies too far.
Opinion polls show other European voters are even more unhappy with the EU than in Britain – mostly because they too think the EU’s intruding more than it should into things national governments should deal with. Meanwhile, opposition in most developing countries is probably even more powerful than in the West. For example:
Practically every developing Asian country wants better access to Western markets. Few offer better access to theirs in return.
Does the problem lie “with politicians who have poorly described the benefits of free trade”? No. The problem is that deals are going further than voters’ comfort zones. And businesses expecting more free trade are unprepared to make a credible case for trade liberalisation.
Trump, politicians or Brexit campaigners haven’t created the current hostility to mismanaged globalisation. Businesses wanting more international integration have to make a better job of arguing for it than they’ve managed so far. If they doubt they can, they have to assume that integration has – for now – pretty much reached its peak.