The title above comes from a post by the consultant and writer Umair Haque, on post-Brexit Britain as a failing state. And as an aside, I miss the days of the old econoblogopshere, where a piece substantially about another writer’s post would often elicit friendly back-and-forth with the author and other interested bloggers, as well upon occasion, acrimonious jousts. But everyone wound up better informed from these exchanges.
Now before those of you on the other side of the pond get all riled up, this website has pointed often to the many indicators of America’s decline, such as decline across the board on social welfare indicators, such as lifespan, childhood poverty, percentage imprisoned, births out of wedlock, and our appalling brought-to-you-by-Big-Pharma opioid crisis. We’re slipped well down in global rankings of average height, a result of declining nutritions. And even our average educational attainment is illusory. We have very high levels among older age groups. It’s collapsed among the young…thanks to higher education price gouging.
But what is happening in the UK is instructive, and may be predictive for the US. The UK is further down the neoliberal path than we are in terms of the decay of its once-vaunted civil service, the privatization of government functions, and the hollowing out of industry.
We predicted that Brexit would result in a 10% reduction in UK standards of living, measured as real GDP per capita, in ten years. Brexit is eating slowly through already weak British institutions, like termites boring into an already-rotting foundation. And the damage is accelerating.
Brits are much tougher than Americans, but the underplaying of how bad things are getting is more likely due to many businesses having been cowed by the Government into quiet acquiescence. We wondered why more companies weren’t either complaining to the press and to their MPs about the destructive way Brexit was being implemented, such as Boris Johnson opting for the hardest of hard Brexit, and rejecting a one-year extension of the transition period, which would have allowed exporters and importers more time to prepare. We were told that word had gone out that anyone who nay-sayed the Government would be punished. Sounds awfully Mafia-like for Oxbridge twats, but still…
First to Haque, then some additional sightings. His entire piece is very much worth reading, but this is the guts of his argument:
Tesco have the fake asparagus out this morning pic.twitter.com/QokEJGs81W
— 👻🦇🎃Patrick-or-Treat Dalton 💀🎃🦇 (@shitlondon) October 22, 2021
Get this: Britain now has Potemkin supermarkets. Brits can’t get food…. so supermarkets have resorted to putting cardboard pictures of food on the shelves….
Why on earth can’t Britain get…food? I’m sure you’ve already guessed the answer: Brexit. Let’s keep going with what a breathtaking disaster Brexit has made of Britain.
If you think that pic’s bad, click this one. That’s a giant…sea…of raw sewage, aka sh*t. Why is it floating in the waterway? Because recently Britain’s conservative MPs decided to make it perfectly OK to dump raw sewage in rivers and creeks and lakes and the ocean. Why did they do that? Probably because they can’t get the chemicals needed to purify water anymore…because they come from (wait for it) Europe….
Shall we keep going. Doctors in Britain still can’t run blood tests properly. Why not? Because they can’t enough vials — the country’s run short. But what exactly can a doctor do without running blood tests? Not much. Why did Britain run out of blood vials? Because of Brexit, of course. Which has made importing things somewhere from incredibly difficult to practically impossible.
Let’s stop and take stock. Brits can’t get food. Raw sewage floats down rivers because the chemicals needed to treat water are in short supply. Doctors can’t run blood tests. I’ve chosen those three examples for a reason. Those are three of the most basic goods and services in society: food, water, healthcare.
Let me put that in more formal terms: Brits are living through a catastrophic plunge in living standards. It’s the kind of catastrophic plunge which has little modern parallel. Cardboard cutouts of food? Not being able to treat water? You’d have to go back to the Weimar Republic to encounter such levels of ruin. In modernity, the only remotely close parallel is the debt crises that Latin American and Asian countries used to suffer — which caused massive shutdowns in basic public services, and led to failed systems for basics, just like Britain’s experiencing now.
Admittedly, the raw sewage fiasco has produced a lot of public outrage, as well as a pretext for dark humor. Extracted from the Daily Mash:
FANCY a dip? Avoid Britain’s sewage-infested waters and fatal poisoning by swimming in these places instead:
….why not stay at home and do some lengths in your bath? You’ll do 50 in no time.
…Their lakes of boiling magma are nice and toasty so you won’t need to bring a wet suit, and because you’re technically swimming through molten rocks instead of water there’s no risk of getting Weil’s disease…
Sea of Japan
…Here you’ll get up close and personal with the rockets that North Korea repeatedly fires into the Sea of Japan, which is way better than swimming with dolphins…
Dangerous shark enclosures
Man-eating sharks are kept in captivity by aquariums, which means the water in these enclosures will be crystal clear and safe for humans to swim in….
The Government is now trying to pretend it is Doing Something without actually doing much. From the Guardian:
The government has announced a partial U-turn over the sewage amendment after Tory rebels threatened to scupper an upcoming vote in the Commons.
Under new rules, there will be a duty on water companies to reduce the impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows. This means the organisations will be required by law to show a reduction in sewage overspills over the next five years.
Last week, 22 Conservative MPs rebelled against the government to vote in favour of an amendment to the environment bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers.
The amendment was rejected in the Commons, and the negative reaction of constituents took some Tory MPs by surprise…..
There were 403,171 spills of sewage into England’s rivers and seas in 2020, according to the Environment Agency, adding up to more than 3.1m hours of spillages.
The government has blamed a variety of factors for the increasing sewage spills, including Victorian infrastructure and climate breakdown.
An environment minister said there had been a tussle against the government, as No 10 and the Treasury believe that putting this duty on water companies, which would have to massively upgrade infrastructure, would be too expensive.
“Victorian infrastructure”? Come on. Victoria died over 120 years ago. This is the worst “dog ate my homework” excuse I’ve ever seen. Tories have been in charge long enough since then to fully own this problem.
The UK is also not getting the marvelous benefits it claimed it would reap by being freed of those pesky EU trade restrictions and being able to cut deals on its own. Some tidbits from a Wall Street Journal story last week, Is Brexit Hurting the U.K. Economy? Trade Data Flash a Warning:
Leaving the EU has put the U.K. outside the EU’s vast internal market of 445 million consumers and a customs territory that is bigger still, stretching from the Atlantic to Turkey. It is hobbling trade just as its economy needs all its engines firing to power out of its worst downturn in a century.
For British businesses, the shift means reams of paperwork and ballooning costs. Trade with the EU accounts for about half of all British exports.
As a result, the U.K. is trailing the trading performance of its peers as the pandemic recedes and global commerce picks up. The U.K.’s split with the EU is also intensifying the disruption felt in Britain from the supply-chain bottlenecks bedeviling the global economy, including a shortage of truck drivers and gasoline.
“U.K. PLC has become harder, slower, more expensive, more difficult to deal with as a result of Brexit,” said Dale Harris, chief executive of ATL Turbine Services Ltd., which repairs turbine components for customers world-wide in Dundee, Scotland….
The U.K. stands out for the weakness of its recovery in trade. CPB’s gauge of U.K. export volumes at the end of July was 16% lower than it was at the end of 2019, while imports were flat. Over the same time frame, U.S. exports were only 4% lower and imports were 7% higher. Euro-area exports were flat compared with the end of 2019 and the currency zone’s imports had by July exceeded their pre-pandemic level by 2%.
And those trade deals? We warned that the UK would have less leverage on its own than it did through the EU. That is panning out as predicted. We also featured this tweetstorm in Links, so forgive the duplication, but it is worth reading in full:
Remember that ground-breaking 🇬🇧 UK-Japan 🇯🇵 trade deal?
The one that was so much better than the 🇪🇺 EU-Japan 🇯🇵 deal because the names of 70 British products would now be protected?
🇬🇧 Stornoway Black Pudding, Wensleydale, English sparkling wine, Scotch beef and more?
— Peter Ungphakorn (@CoppetainPU) October 23, 2021
On top of that, the Financial Times warned that trade frictions with the EU will get worse as a waiver on rules of origin expires at the end of this year, subjecting more goods to tariffs and additional documentation:
Under the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that took effect in January, British exporters can send goods to the EU tariff-free, but only if they can prove their products are sufficiently “made in the UK” to qualify for preferential access to the bloc’s single market.
These certification requirements on local content also apply to EU exporters wanting to send goods to the UK without incurring tariffs.
The certification process, known as the “rules of origin”, is so complex that exporters on both sides were given a one-year grace period that reduced the required documentation, but this will expire in January 2022, leaving many companies facing a major new paperwork challenge.
EU importers found to have brought in goods tariff-free that are later found not to have complied with the rules of origin must pay full duties, and vice versa.
British trade groups have expressed fears UK companies will become less attractive as suppliers to EU businesses if they repeatedly fall foul of investigations by the bloc’s customs authorities, making it more reliable for European groups to source goods from inside the single market…
The precise rules of origin and the way “originating content” is calculated vary from one product to another, but typically an item must be about 50 per cent British or EU made in order to qualify for zero-tariff access under the trade deal.
The pink paper goes on to explain that many traders don’t begin to understand the rules, and whether by accident or design, many are also flagrantly violating the standards, like taking an import from China, slapping a Union Jack label on it, and thinking that magically makes it UK originating content.
How bad things get for the UK depends on how strict the EU is in enforcing the rules. The Netherlands is already gearing up to be stringent.
And need we point out that the UK has decided to engage in EU eyepoking over Northern Ireland as the EU can quite legitimately start tightening this noose, and politely claim it’s just enforcing agreed-upon rules?
Haque is far from alone in decrying the sorry state of what passes for British government:
A government which can’t ensure basic security of supply – food, fuel, energy…. A government which can’t maintain basic international trade… which can’t do basic public health… which can’t even do basic drainage… is no government at all.
— Dominic Minghella (@DMinghella) October 26, 2021
But there’s no reason to think that Boris Johnson’s freakish luck won’t continue. Labour is in such a shambles that it is unable to take advantage of this spectacular political opportunity.
Moreover, it may well be that Johnson and his allies among the Ultras are not discomfited by this visible breakdown of provision of services. Some believed that the Brexit extremists understood full well the implications of a sudden and radical rupture with the EU, that the disruption would deliver opportunities for a plutocratic land grab, just as in the post-Soviet phase in Russia. That period also featured a dramatic shortening of adult male life expectancy, on the order of four years.
The acceleration of deaths may not even be unwelcome. Lambert found a 2007 article by Johnson that made clear he was a long-standing fan of population reduction.
So sewage in the water? Just another route to the British elite’s distaste for unproductive eaters, like Scrooge’s exhortation that the poor should die so as to decrease the surplus population, a proto-formulation of Lambert’s principle of neoliberalism, “Die faster.”