Reflections on an Election in Britain in Memory of Edmund Burke

I was asked for my thoughts on Boris Johnson’s dramatic victory in last Thursday’s parliamentary election. Not in a position to discern most realistically what might have been the determining ideas in the minds of British voters as they chose candidates to elect, I thought rather of how the general result might be assessed from the critical standpoint of our vision of social justice.

Of course, the election was about Brexit – a particular concern of a particular nation state. A working majority has formed among Britons that believes that they should belong to a nation that could and would set its own course in world history, just as it has done for centuries. The majority vote was a return to the familiar, an expression of an identity which provided reassuring purpose for the collective and substance and meaning for those it inspired as members of that collective.

Our principles for business and government have little to say about the goods and bads of nationalisms. But they do reflect what I would call the laws of nature or what some call the reality principle. There are consequences of behaviors which are real and can’t be avoided, whether the U.K. is part of the E.U. or not.

Thus, markets and capitalism follow the reality principle, not our dreams and whimseys. There is less demand for higher-priced goods and services than for lower priced goods and services. Getting the same quality good or service for a lower price attracts buyers, so seeking to produce goods and services for lower costs will increase sales. Sourcing of goods and services will move to lower cost environments. Innovations will disrupt conventional business arrangements. Quantity of supply determines our marginal utility preferences and our demand curves. Those who have assets do better in the long run than those who don’t. You can tell people what to do with their lives and have them thank you for it only for so long.

So, one reflection on the election is that after Brexit, the U.K. will be more wealthy the more it participates in the global economy. As Adam Smith discerned, the ability to profit grows with the size of the market – a bigger market for suppliers lowers costs and a bigger market for customers expands gross sales. Thus, our Principles for Business hold that it is ethically responsible for a company to go international. World trade makes us all better off and expands the scope of our ability to choose.

A second reflection is that British voters seemed to have chosen a middle way in politics and economics as the formula for national happiness. They have rejected the extremes of right and left and settled on something akin to moral capitalism – private enterprise conducted with stakeholder responsibility and with government investing in needed public capitals – physical, social and human.