Regarding Brexit there have been many dire predictions about the economic downturn Britain will suffer as a result. However, its defenders could hold that the short-term cost of leaving is worth the long-term benefits that an independent Britain will bring, such as not receiving costly mandates from politicians unelected by the people and having more control over their immigration. Even if Britain continued to mandate policy similar to the EU’s numerous rules and regulations, at least objectionable legislation will be passed from London instead of Brussels and voters can hold their legislators directly responsible. We can see a similar example with the American Revolution and its aftermath.
After consistent taxation without representation and colonists not being treated as Englishmen through oppressive laws such as the “Intolerable Acts”, the Patriots decided that the colonies needed to be independent. The costs were great not only in terms of lives but on economic well-being. The British blockaded American ports, cutting off imports and exports. The morale of American soldiers was badly tried as often their pay was postponed and they often had little food, depending on inefficient Congressional requisitions of grain and livestock to keep them alive. Congress tried to get the states to pay for the war effort, but the states lacked a system of taxation and were thus of little assistance. Inflation skyrocketed, which primarily harmed soldiers as they were on a fixed income. Some soldiers would be given land after the war in recompense for not being fully paid. To add to these difficulties, many wealthy merchants were of no help in the war effort as they opposed independence. The costs would continue after the war, as the Revolutionary War had cost the colonies the equivalent of $2.4 billion, and the newly constituted United States needed to raise revenue to pay off the war debt (Daggett, 2010). One of the most controversial ways was through the “Whiskey Tax”, a tax on distillers which was so unpopular in Western Pennsylvania that it resulted in the Whiskey Rebellion, a violent tax protest that had to be put down by the military.
The issues surrounding Brexit are comparatively far milder, and it is not going to be nearly as costly as the American Revolution. Just as many people in Britain think Brexit to be unwise and not worth it, so did many colonists. There are even people who hold this view today albeit from a hindsight perspective, such as Dylan Matthews of Vox, who wrote an article on how American independence was a mistake primarily from a racial justice angle. However, we don’t hear about the economic angle much because the United States was successful in paying off its war debts to France, Dutch bankers, and individual creditors within the colonies by the 1790s thanks primarily to Alexander Hamilton. Brexit may be viewed similarly in time if implemented to its fullest.
Whatever your feelings on Brexit, the costs associated with this move away from the EU are likely short-run, with possible benefits in the long run if the EU faces more crises in governance and the Middle Eastern population proves increasingly unwilling or unable to integrate into European society.
Daggett, S. (2010, June 29). Costs of Major U.S. Wars. Congressional Research Service.
Ferling, J. (2010, January). Myths of the American Revolution. Smithsonian Magazine.
How Alexander Hamilton Tackled the National Debt. (2017, April 19). Smithsonian Magazine.
Matthews, D. (2015, July 3). 73 reasons the American Revolution was a mistake. Vox.
“Whiskey Rebellion”. Encyclopedia Britannica.