The Bear’s Lair: Brexit Could Unshackle Britain From A Corpse

It quickly becomes apparent that the Single Market offers no advantages that could possibly outweigh its costs. For one thing, it prevents Britain from signing advantageous trade agreements elsewhere. The EU is essentially a protectionist organization – and why not? – the great majority of its members (by all means, excepting one or two such as Holland) have a long history of protectionism, while the members from Eastern Europe suffered 50 years of outright autarky.

Hence the EU has little enthusiasm for agreements that actually free trade (as distinct from those like the Trans Pacific Partnership that call themselves free trade agreements but are mostly cloaks for protectionist intellectual property legislation.) When India attempts to set up a free trade arrangement with the EU, it finds itself stymied by special interests, especially in southern Europe, whose economies are old-fashioned enough to fear Indian competition.

Britain’s tradition is the opposite; indeed, it damaged its own economy very severely in the late nineteenth century by its fanatical devotion to unilateral free trade. The country built its economic power by trading around the world when few other countries did the same. You only have to read Daniel Defoe’s “A tour through the whole island of Great Britain,” published in 1724-27, to see that even that far back, long before industrialization, Britain was different from other countries by its inhabitants’ keen devotion to trading and the market, whether domestic or international. Long-lost annual fairs in the middle of rural Cambridgeshire drew vast crowds from all over the country, many of them driving horses, cattle or sheep hundreds of miles, in order to secure the widest possible universe of buyers for their goods.

Looked at this way, the EU’s Single Market stifles British enterprise rather than expanding it. It represents a steadily declining share of world trade, even as more and more countries have been added to it, indicating the sclerosis of its structure and the declining global salience of its participants. The insane over-regulation imposed by Brussels and the even more insane monetary policy imposed by Frankfurt make the Single Market even less attractive, because they stifle innovation and trade, wrecking the growth of productivity and wealth. They also cause a steadily lengthening list of countries in southern and eastern Europe to become overspending basket cases.

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(The Bear's Lair is a weekly column that is intended to appear each Monday, an appropriately gloomy day of the week. Its rationale is that the proportion of "sell" ...

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