Brexit's Bitter Lesson on Letting Neoliberal Brutality Run Rampant

Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz
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A British flag that was washed away by heavy rains the day before lies on the street in London, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
A British flag that was washed away by heavy rains the day before lies on the street in London, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union.Credit: Reinhard Krause / Reuters
Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz

The pissing and moaning is back again. From New York to Berlin, and in Tel Aviv too. Shock and awe at the results of the Brexit referendum. As if the polls hadn’t been nearly tied for months, as if a huge part of the population was not alienated from Britain’s political and economic establishment, crying out from the abyss of social inequality.

Who voted against the European Union? Who are the supporters of Donald Trump and of Marine Le Pen? They are the “left-behind.” The people who struggle to survive in the predatory jungle that hides behind terms like neoliberalism and globalization. In fact, it’s a brutal method that is ubiquitous these days, and it shoves the masses to the bottom of the ladder while at the same time a tiny handful of people enjoy unprecedented wealth.

The successes of the populist, ultranationalist gang leading the anti-democratic trends in the world, including in Israel, would have been impossible without the left’s failure to offer an alternative to the left-behinds. And so they stand on the edge of the road, staring with longing at the wealth that grows increasingly distant and falling into the arms of the extreme right, which incites them with stories about migrants and foreigners.

“The edge of the road” is not an abstract idea. It leaps out from every data table, for example in the ratio between average and median wages. In a country with immense inequality, after all, the average is a fiction, while the median begins to disclose the truth. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, since the early 1990s the percentage gap between the median and average income has been in the double digits. And in Israel? Half of Israelis earn less than 6,250 shekels (around $1,600) gross per month. That is the median wage here, according to the most recent report of the National Insurance Institute, whose data is for 2013. That is infuriating, insulting. The situation exists because a tiny number of people at the top created a ridiculously immense gap, at the expense of the general public.

Like his friend David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu did not attempt to close wage gaps, nor did he purport to do so. To his credit it can be said that he is clear and consistent in his positions. The Israeli prime minister is a capitalist ideologue who is convinced that lifting restrictions on capital will, in addition to massively increasing the wealth of the already wealthy, also raise the living standards of everyone else, as the former’s money “trickles down” to the latter. The fact that money actually moves in the reverse direction, from the larger public to the tycoons, hasn’t changed his mind. His answer is that capital is still not free enough to take the hoped-for action, and to that end more restrictions must be removed.

Barack Obama, in contrast, does purport to reduce poverty and inequality, to restore dignity to workers and to return to the middle class police officers, teachers, drivers, small-business owners. But the U.S. president failed. He did not change the system, and he followed in the footsteps of predecessors such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s with the Great Society. He poured the big money into programs to rescue the corrupt financiers of Wall Street. There were some steps in the right direction, such as his universal health-care program, the Affordable Care Act. But the truth is that Obamacare did not affect overall health and life expectancy because the program is limited and has many problems.

In this way, Obama wasted the enormous credit line that American voters gave him and, more important, the uncommon Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. Now he is being forced to roll up his sleeves to keep a figure like Trump from succeeding him in the White House.

By the way, it’s surprising to learn that the percentage difference between the median and the average wage is identical in Israel and in the United States, at 35 percent. On second thought, it’s not at all surprising, since the process stems from the same source, the same ideology. But hey, we always wanted to be America. So if we can’t have a constitution, freedom of religion and balance between the branches of government, at least when it comes to income equality we are totally there.

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