What the financiers, right wing politicians and business who have backed Brexit believe is that they are immune from any of adverse consequences that might result from Brexit. A belief that can be rephrased as follows that, ’bad things don’t happen to the rich, only to the poor’. Only a person completely ignorant of the past and past economic crisis can believe such nonsense. These people are of a generation that has no knowledge of the great economic depressions and financial crashes of the past. My generation of economists were told stories of financiers jumping out of the window of their offices to their death, as they could no live with the consequences of their business failures and lost fortunes. Although this was a popular myth as Galbraith writes in his book on the great crash of 1929, what it does is through a popular myth convey a truth, there were many rich man who saw their fortune disappear with the financial crash of 1929. The Joseph Kennedy’s who had the foresight to get out of the stock market before the crash, where few and far between. After the crash there were many millionaires reduced to relative penury. A fact disguised by the terrible suffering of the less well off who lost homes and jobs, a fact which tended to dominate the popular imagination.
The misplaced confidence of the many rich right wing politicians is in part due to the fact that the crash of 2008/9 left them with their fortunes largely intact. The action of the government and the Bank of England prevented these people from suffering any real adverse consequences from the crash. When banks failed, the government through the Bank of England invested billions in the weakest banks to maintain confidence and preventing a run on the banks developing and causing a more general collapse of the market. All banks and financiers had over invested in the property and equities markets and were at risk of seeing their assets fail catastrophically in value. As a consequence only the most reckless and unluckiest of banks failed, most were left relatively unaffected by the crash. A serious and catastrophic financial crash was averted through the government being willing to back the banks with whatever money was needed to maintain the banks solvency.
What is not understood is that at the height of the crash the government was willing to pledge most of the country’s wealth to support the banks. Fortunately the credit of the British government was sufficiently high in the eyes of the banks major creditors that this money was never called on. If it had been the British population as a whole would have been reduced to abject poverty as major creditors would have wanted their money and it could only have been provided by taking it from the incomes of the people. The only consolation would have been that if the British economy crashed because the bank’s creditors doubted the credit worthiness of the banks, the world economy would have crashed because most of the developed world’s banks were as unsound as those of the British.
The world economy is subject to regular cyclical downturns, which seem to occur at intervals of every nine years. If this cycle continues as normal, the next downturn is due in 2017. In 2017 negotiations to leave the EU begin and the uncertainty generated by these negotiations will worsen any economic downturn.It is unlikely that the UK will go through 2017 without a significant downturn in economic activity, especially as now the leaked Treasury report on the negative impact of leaving the EU has been published, a report which confirms the fears of those doubting the wisdom of leaving the EU.
Many of the rich Brexiters have invested considerable proportions of their wealth into high paying and high risk financial investments. The high risk element is concealed by the continued upsurge in asset values, which makes all investments appear sound. When interest rates are low and prices are constantly rising it is possible for even the worst of investment managers to make money. What matters is belief or confidence, in 1928 investors bought into a project which promised to build houses on swamp land in Florida. They did not worry about the soundness or otherwise of the project, as they believed that they would be able to sell their investments in the scheme for a sum higher than that which they invested. The financial markets today are brimming with misplaced confidence so that investment managers are making many investments that are ill advised. Unfortunately the opaqueness of so much financial accounting makes it almost impossible to judge which investment funds are the ‘dogs’ in the market.
Next year if not sooner such financial dogs will be revealed. The bull market will turn to a bear market as the fear regarding the when uncertainty about the future of the economy grows when it becomes obvious that the Brexit negotiators have no realistic plans for offsetting the negative impact of leaving the EU. The negotiators at present are literally conjuring markets for British goods and services out of nowhere and when the markets see that there is no substance to the optimism of the politicians prices of all assets will tumble. Then in a falling market the financial dogs will be revealed, some will inevitably be unable to meet their obligations and will collapse. Those unlucky wealthy politicians that have invested heavily in these companies will face substantial losses.* While I can be very confident that next year, if not this will be one of financial crisis, it is impossible to predict how severe the crisis will be. If the crisis reveals that there are only a few dogs in the market it can be contained. What matters is how the collapse of a number of investment and property funds affects the confidence of the market. In a volatile market which is the financial market,falls can be substantial before the market recovers its nerve. All that can be said is that there will be a number of rich politicians next year who having lost substantial sums of money will be regretting their decision to campaign for an exit from the EU.
* The compensation schemes exist will be insufficient to compensate these rich investors for their losses, particularly as the government will need to spend its money elsewhere to minimise the negative impacts of Brexit.