Britons Prepare To Choose

buckingham palace england

When polls in the United Kingdom recently began to show movement toward widespread support of the country’s departure from the European Union, markets did not take long to respond.

Global oil prices dropped. The pound slid to about $1.40, when it had been trading closer to $1.50 a few weeks prior. Equities tanked, particularly in Europe and Asia, though U.S. markets followed them down. Yields on German government debt tumbled, with the country’s benchmark 10-year bond sliding below zero for the first time, according to The Wall Street Journal. In other words, after having long ignored the possibility of Britain leaving the EU, investors suddenly became alarmed at the increasing probability it would actually happen.

Unlike President Obama, who has firmly endorsed the U.K. remaining in the EU, I am not prepared to tell the British what to do. I am certainly not prepared to echo the president’s gratuitous threat that, in leaving the EU, Britain will go to the back of the line in negotiating new trade deals with the United States. If and when that happens, Obama will be long gone, and there would be no reason for this country to try to punish the British for leaving an arrangement that we Americans would never accept for ourselves. Our long-standing political, military and economic ties to our one-time motherland will hardly be erased by a British exit from the EU. On the contrary, we would have every reason to demonstrate to the British that they are not alone in the world.

In fact, in a different political environment, I think there would be a lot of merit in welcoming the U.K. into a newly expanded North American Free Trade Agreement, building on the existing trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. We could rename it the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and people would still be free to complain about NAFTA. Griping aside, free movement of people, intellectual property and physical goods would benefit everyone in a trade area so closely bound by language, legal structure and business practices. The U.K. – and perhaps one day Ireland, which has no interest in leaving the EU right now – would be a natural fit.

But we are not at a moment in history when big new free trade areas are easy to create, as evidenced by the president’s dead-in-the-water Trans-Pacific Partnership, which his own party’s prospective candidate, Hillary Clinton, has already disavowed.

A British exit would underscore the structural failings of the EU, about which I have written previously. The European Union was supposed to lift the less-advanced economic and political structures of Southern and Eastern Europe into some sort of parity with the efficient and well-oiled government machinery of Germany and other northern countries. But it has done the opposite.

Decades into the experiment, stagnant societies like those of Italy, Spain, Greece and France still resist the structural reforms that would increase productivity and competiveness and decrease the chronic youth underemployment that is stopping young adults in those countries from building families and boosting their nations’ economies. Brussels has simply layered on red tape and subsidies. While fostering free trade within the bloc, it has acted with increasingly protectionist overtones against competition from outside – particularly from America’s highly advanced agriculture and tech sectors. Hence the foolishness, from an American perspective, of an American president counseling Britain to stay in the EU.

It is ultimately up to the British whether they want to be a part of Europe’s grand socialist experiment. Warnings of the difficult adjustments to come if they leave are probably not baseless, but they are also probably overblown. It is clear that Europe needs the U.K. more than the U.K. needs them, as illustrated by the EU’s attempts to convince Britons to stay through measures such as a conveniently timed European Court of Justice immigration decision in Britain’s favor.

A “Brexit” – even more than the Greek departure that was narrowly averted, or at least postponed, last year – would signal the bloc’s inevitable contraction, if not its demise. The great dream of an “ever-closer union” among European states that have no underlying agreement of what that union should accomplish is an increasingly clear failure.

Germany and France want the British to stay in the EU to help bear the costs of that failure. No doubt they will try to exact a price if and when the U.K. leaves. But once those transitional costs, whatever they may be, are behind them, the British will probably enjoy regaining their full sovereignty. Like the Swiss and the Norwegians, both of whom have remained outside the bloc, they will make their own trade agreements with the EU, or at least what’s left of it. And since the EU will need British capital, jobs, know-how and markets, these deals will get made on reasonable terms, regardless of European bluster.

The British should know, whatever they decide, that they can count on the support of their friends on this side of the Atlantic despite the internationalist bleating of our soon-to-be departed president. Her Majesty’s subjects have a long history of confronting the future with courage and resolve. Whatever they decide, my guess is that we will look back on tomorrow’s historic vote and see those traits on display.

About Larry M. Elkin 552 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

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