Skip to main content

Brexit, finding balance for the role of self-interest

Written By | Jun 28, 2016

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2016 — The U.K. decision to leave the European Union may be a case of trying to balance self-interest policy and social interest policy. All governments must seek that balance and set policy accordingly.

In the last eight years, both the U.S. and much of the rest of the industrialized world has upset the balance, putting the needs of society too far above the needs of the individual citizen.

In some countries, government and tradition place the needs of society far above individual needs. They conclude that people are motivated primarily by the general good, not by self-interest.

The result is a large role for government, which ends up running the economy, controlling consumer behavior and making decisions without input from an electorate.

Brexit: Britain’s revolutionary shot heard round the world

In theory, the citizens go along because they believe that government acts to benefit the most people. They willingly submit even when those actions are individually harmful.

In countries like the U.S. and the U.K., the assumption is that people are motivated primarily by rational self-interest. Under that assumption, citizens assume a great deal of individual responsibility and are rewarded with considerable individual freedom.

In these countries, the economy is mostly coordinated by free markets; individuals are free to behave in a manner consistent with law and that, in their own estimation, will provide them with the greatest personal benefit.

In the controlled economies, government acts to redistribute and share the wealth. In market economies, the social benefits to redistribution are not clear-cut.

The British generally favor democracy and freedom, but they have more of a social orientation than the U.S.  They believe, for instance, that it is in their best interest to ensure that all citizens have access to quality health care.

They also believe they have a responsibility to others who are in need, particularly those from other European countries and countries where there is a threat to their lives.

Brexit highlights Obama’s otherness

The level of response to the needs of the people from outside of the country is really what led to Brexit. Since 2009, the U.S. and many other countries decided that the needs of people worldwide should be given greater importance. That came at the expense of the citizens.

The timing could not have been worse. The world was just coming out of a severe recession. The world’s largest economies should have set economic growth as the primary goal. Instead, led by President Obama, policy was geared to curing perceived social injustices, which meant putting the needs of the many above the needs of the individual.

Resources were directed away from the income-earning citizens and toward people in need. Borders were opened, allowing hundreds of thousands of immigrants to enter the country. These arrivals utilized resources that could have gone to programs that would grow the economy.

The Brits finally said, “No more.” They want to concentrate on solving England’s problems first and then spend resources on solving the problems of others. They said the pendulum had swung too far away from self-interest. In the U.S., the same thing could happen in November.

The Obama/Clinton policy is to allow hundreds of thousands of immigrants to enter the country illegally and then give them a path to stay in the U.S. indefinitely. And the illegals are able to benefit from costly social programs.

Their economic plan will pay a minimum wage of up to $15 per hour to help those who have no marketable skills. This comes at the expense of the majority of the people, who will pay higher prices for products in the retail and fast food industries particularly and who will pay more taxes for social programs for those who will not find a job because of the high wage.

Brexit: Obama and Clinton on the wrong side of history

Obama and Clinton support Obamacare, which helped about 5 percent of the population who were previously uninsured, but 85 percent of Americans who were previously insured are paying higher premiums and higher deductibles and may not able to see their family doctor.

In November, there is a clear choice between a candidate who wants policies geared more to the self-interest of the majority of Americans and a candidate who continues to promote a cure for perceived social injustices. If Brexit is an indication, the country may be leaning toward a specific candidate, regardless of what the polls say.

We will find out in November.

Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.