SMUG MONEY: Brexit, an alternative view

Written by Rebecca O'Connor on 2nd June 2016

Once upon a time, on a small island off the coast of a large land mass, there lived some people who didn’t like other people very much.

A group of them, who really didn’t like other people at all, wanted everyone on the island to vote on whether they wanted to keep sharing their stuff with the other ever bigger group of people on the large land mass (some of whom came over to the small island sometimes).

They didn’t really like sharing. They had tried it for a long time and didn’t feel the benefit. They wanted to keep their things and have their own rules, and the other people on the large land mass could keep theirs and have their own rules.

But then some of the other people on the small island said: “Hang on a minute, we like being friends with that lot. They give us more than they take. Even though we have to share some of our stuff with them, they end up sharing more of their stuff with us. Without them, we would have less of the stuff we like, and we’d become a small group of people with little skill in making things any better than anyone else. Except, maybe, crumpets.”

The disagreement rumbled on for years, until it was decided that there would be a vote. The vote would mean the people on the small island could stop sharing so much and have their own stuff and their own rules, but less of other people’s (better) stuff. Or they could stay friends and keep getting stuff easily from the other big group of people, but also have to keep giving up a bit of their own and follow some rules not set by them that were sometimes a bit annoying.

Lots of ambitious politicians decided what they thought the people on the small island should do. Lots of opinion pollsters made a ton of money guessing which way the vote might go and changing their prediction every day. PR departments for large companies put out press release after press release of thought leadership comments, which amounted to versions of the following messages:

 

Reasons to remain

“Better the devil you know”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

“Curiosity killed the cat”

“Out of the frying pan into the fire”

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”

“No man is an island”

“Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer”

Reasons to leave

“Each to their own”

“Charity begins at home”

“Too many cooks spoil the broth”

“If you want something done right, do it yourself”

“Quit while you’re ahead”

 

…. People became very confused. Even people who thought they knew what they thought realised they weren’t sure what they thought any more. A range of possible outcomes, all as probable or as improbable as the next, were discussed.

Everyone on all sides knew that they knew nothing, but made lots of educated (and uneducated) guesses about what would happen. Wild predictions merged with realistic expectations, attempting to fill the void of the unknowable future.

The day of the vote came. People who had either a strong opinion, sense of obligation, fear, or all of the above, turned up. That’s about 25 per cent of the UK population. The rest were eating dinner.

Some voted to keep sharing, some voted to stop sharing. In the absence of fact, they followed their instincts, vague judgments about which politicians had nicer faces, or what their neighbours thought.

Would we ever know what was truly the right decision?

.. For the record, Good With Money thinks we should stay in.

From our little corner of the world of responsible personal finance, which cares about looking after the environment and other worse off people with our money, EU decision making, such as targets on carbon emissions, are (we think) more likely to deliver positive outcomes for all than the less predictable, potentially whimsical and purely economically driven decision-making that is likely to ensue from a Brexit.

Pinning our hopes on leaving the EU is a red herring – it’s this country that has stuffed up this country, if indeed it is stuffed, and not Brussels bureaucrats. Having said that, this stuff is hard to unravel.

But there have not been encouraging statements of intent from the Brexit camp on the things we care about, like support for renewable energy, supply chain legislation, banking reform, fiduciary duty on environmental social governance issues, financial services regulation, energy market regulation, consumer protection, financial innovation or carbon policy. What we will do with new found freedom has, oddly, not been the selling point of the campaign.

Many of the banking regulations and reform post-financial crisis of 2008 were implemented via Brussels. Renewable energy targets and banking reform are good things.

Based on recent form, it seems unlikely that, without pressure from Europe, the UK government would see fit to significantly boost renewable energy generation as it is an upfront cost any Chancellor would rather not bear, even if it does yield savings and a cleaner environment in future.

We live in a global economy, where decisions made elsewhere affect everyone anyway – better to have a say in them (one that the rest of the world actually cares about). So we are voting to remain.

But if the country does decide to leave, it’s not the end of the world for such matters. Rather, it could be seen as an opportunity to start fresh with our own, even better targets.

Maybe it would even be easier to implement beneficial reforms. If that happened, the Good Money Girls and anyone who shares similar views on how we can improve the world through money would have to make our voices heard. We’d have to use that greater control over the UK’s future to the benefit of all, and not allow it to become an excuse to follow the selfish, short-term interests of politicians or big business.

Whatever happens, this is a useful self knowledge exercise for this country. What are our values? What do we actually want? Are we guided by fear, suspicion and self-interest or openness and a shared sense of what is right? Which outcome will help us to better express the best parts of our national character, such as common sense, an intolerance of injustice and a tolerance of others?

Is the desire for a referendum a consciously created opportunity to shape our own destiny and our childrens’ futures according to what we agree is important? Or is it actually just a childish tantrum, a foot-stamping charade, because we don’t like sharing?