JIM POWER: Jim Power: Hopefully, political sanity will come back

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an old Chinese curse that has resonated strongly around the world over the past year. 

On a whole variety of fronts, 2016 will live long in the memory and will feature strongly in the history books in the years to come, and not for good reasons.

First and foremost, it was a year when electorates around the world rejected what we would regard as conventional politics, and the world became a much more dangerous place.

In addition, we lost many very talented people, particularly in music and the arts. David Bowie stands out for me.

The situation in the Middle East deteriorated in horrific fashion and the optimism that accompanied the Arab Spring a few years back has rapidly become a nightmare. It is very sad to see a cradle of civilisation like Syria descending into tragic chaos.

Apart from the hundreds of thousands who have been slaughtered in that country, it has unleashed a migration problem that Europe is struggling to deal with. It is now threatening the very foundations of the EU project.

In the UK, the Brexit vote unleashed a level of political chaos and uncertainty few would have imagined possible in a country like the UK.

Personally, I cannot see any real economic upside for the UK in leaving the EU at this juncture. I spoke at a Brexit event in London a few weeks after the vote and foolishly expressed those views.

The vitriolic response was quite startling and the interaction of the audience from both sides of the debate demonstrated to me just how divisive the issue is and how difficult it promises to be for prime minister Theresa May to steer Britain through this particular quagmire in 2017.

The Brexit vote was a seismic event that will fundamentally alter the UK and the EU, and most particularly Ireland’s relationship with the UK.

Recessions are cyclical and come and go with frightening regularity, but the likely exit of Britain from the EU would represent an event of much greater structural significance.

The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election was another seismic event.

I was in San Francisco in early September and spoke to a lot of people that I have got to know well in that city over the years. As one might expect in that city, most of them are of a liberal disposition and would typically be Democrat voters.

Jim Power: Hopefully, political sanity will come back

However, the level of hate directed at Hillary Clinton and the mistrust struck me very forcibly. Basically, they had wanted Bernie Sanders to get the Democratic nomination and were not going to vote for Ms Clinton even if it meant an individual like Mr Trump winning the prize.

I wrote this column from San Francisco at that stage and expressed the view that nobody should be shocked at a Donald Trump victory given the hatred of Hillary I encountered from surprising sources. Nevertheless, I was shocked when Mr Trump swept to victory.

The cabinet he is putting in place does nothing to assuage my sense of shock. The alleged role of Russia in the whole sorry state of affairs should certainly give cause for concern.

North Korea should also give cause for concern. It is growing as a nuclear power and is gradually managing to manufacture the odd missile capable of travelling and doing serious damage.

It is one thing trying to deal with political leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump and Mr Assad, but trying to deal with somebody like Kim Jong-un is a much more frightening prospect entirely.

All in all, 2016 was a very strange year. I have always argued that politics render economic forecasting a total waste of time because irrational political developments such as Brexit have significant economic effects that can blow the most sophisticated economic forecasts out of the water.

2016 demonstrated this point forcibly. Finally, I would like to wish all readers a happy and peaceful new year.

Hopefully, political sanity will return in 2017.


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