Britain Is Getting Back on Track
Successes in Ukraine and the Pacific and Rishi Sunak’s leadership shore up standing lost to Brexit and Covid.
Successes in Ukraine and the Pacific and Rishi Sunak’s leadership shore up standing lost to Brexit and Covid.
War in Europe, crisis in the Middle East, growing tensions across East Asia, and a widening chasm between a beleaguered West and the Global South: Writing a Global View column in times like these is not always the happiest of tasks. But at least one good-news story has been building quietly over the last few months. Global Britain is becoming a reality and the world is better off because of it.
The world has changed since the British voted to leave the European Union in 2016. After Brexit, enthusiastic backers expected an aggressively deregulating Britain would become a kind of Singapore-on-Thames. Russian oligarchs, Chinese moguls and Arab oil sheikhs would flock to London, eager to enjoy a sophisticated financial market that was less regulated and more hospitable than either the EU or the U.S. Free-trade agreements with the U.S. above all, but also fast-growing Asian nations, would more than compensate for the loss of the U.K.’s privileged position in the EU.
That’s not how things worked out, and the world is a much tougher place for middle powers than anyone expected when Brexit passed. Even as Covid disrupted the world economy and shut Britain’s lucrative tourism sector down, the open international economy of 2016 began to wither. Russia’s war in Ukraine and deepening U.S.-China tensions ended the dream that London could prosper as a neutral financial centre. Rising protectionism world-wide made trade agreements harder to reach and highlighted the importance of belonging to big trading blocs like the EU.
On top of this, a spat with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol, aimed at keeping the border with the Irish Republic open after Brexit, proved a much larger problem for Britain than Boris Johnson’s government anticipated. The details are fiendishly complicated, but in his rush to “get Brexit done,” Mr. Johnson signed an agreement with the EU that Unionist Protestants in Northern Ireland saw as weakening ties with Britain. The resulting tensions threatened the stability of the troubled region, and by the end of his premiership Mr. Johnson was threatening to break his own agreement with the EU. That stance infuriated Brussels and alienated an Irish-American named Joe Biden, killing any talk of a free-trade agreement between Britain and the U.S.
That’s not where things stand today. Building on foundations laid down in the Johnson era, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has repaired relations with European partners and Washington even as Britain has carved out a significant place in Asia. Britain at long last may be finding a role.
Britain’s recent foreign-policy successes stand on two pillars. The first is Aukus, the agreement to work cooperatively with the U.S. to help Australia build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. The trust among these three countries enables a level of technological and economic cooperation that potentially extends far beyond the submarine program. With Britain moving toward membership in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (based on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the U.S. helped negotiate but then refused to join), the U.K. has achieved a stronger presence than any European state in the fast-growing Indo-Pacific region.
Meanwhile, Britain’s unswerving support for Ukraine has put London back at the centre of European politics. Britain’s stance earned deep gratitude from Poland, the Baltic states, Sweden and Finland. That, along with Mr. Sunak’s more constructive approach toward Brussels, strengthened pro-British feelings inside the EU and helped pave the way for the major concessions on the Northern Ireland Protocol that enabled Mr. Sunak to forge the groundbreaking Windsor Framework. If the deal, announced last month, holds up, it would remove a major stumbling block in U.S.-U.K. relations.
The payoff could be substantial. Last week Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.), a close Biden ally, introduced a bipartisan bill with John Thune (R., S.D.) authorising fast-track talks on a U.S.-U.K. free-trade agreement. The White House plans a Biden visit next month to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which ended the violence in Northern Ireland. British negotiators hope for Britain’s eventual inclusion in tech talks between Washington and Brussels.
With an unpopular Tory government facing a revived, de-Corbynized Labour Party, and with inflation wreaking havoc on British living standards and touching off waves of strikes among public employees, foreign-policy success may not be enough to save the ruling Conservatives from the wrath of the voters. But it is likely to help, and if the Sunak government can continue to carve out a serious role for post-Brexit Britain in world politics, the next election could be a much closer affair than most forecasters currently predict.
Regardless, Americans should welcome Britain’s return to the high table of world politics. A stronger Britain means a healthier West, and given the otherwise grim state of world affairs, Washington can use all the help it can get.
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Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual
Many people are spending more than they think as inflation stays elevated
Many people have a gap between what they think they spend and what they actually spend. This gap has widened recently as the financial and psychological effects of higher prices further strain people’s budgets.
Elevated inflation has rippled through American’s wallets for more than a year now. Some have cut back, while others have increased their spending to keep up. Credit-card balances were staying relatively flat for a while, but have jumped higher recently.
In the fourth quarter of 2022, the average household’s credit-card balance was $9,990, up 9% from in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to WalletHub, a consumer-finance website. Meanwhile, the average credit-card interest rate rose to a record high of about 20% last week, according to Bankrate.
Financial advisers say the larger amount of credit-card debt while rates are higher is one indication that some Americans are spending more than they think they are. This type of spending can reduce people’s ability to pay for important items down the road, such as college for a child or even fund their own retirement. More immediately, it will put people in costlier debt.
“If people spend too much on credit, they could end up trapped in a cycle of debt,” said Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma.
Spending less isn’t always possible when everything from groceries to travel is generally more expensive. Still, people can find ways to cut back if they understand more about why they are overspending and take a closer look at their finances.
The power of compounding is a boon to investors, but not to shoppers.
Money grows much faster than most people expect because interest is earned on interest, said Michael Liersch, head of Wells Fargo & Co.’s advice and planning centre. A similar concept applies to inflation: Prices rise, and if inflation remains high, prices continue to grow on top of already-inflated prices, leaving people off guard.
“People get constantly surprised that their money isn’t going as far as they thought it would,” he said.
The cost of eating out and going for drinks continues to take Dina Lyon aback. Even though the 36-year-old married mother of one is dining out and ordering in far less than she did a year ago, some prices still give her sticker shock.
“The difference between cooking at home—about $10 for nice pasta and quick sauce from canned tomatoes—versus Italian takeout of $50 is astronomical,” said Ms. Lyon, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
People tend to underestimate their future spending in large part because they base their predictions on typical expenses that come to mind easily, said Abigail Sussman, a professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
She and other researchers found that when people are coming up with predictions, they tend to think about what they usually spend money on—such as groceries, rent and gas—and base their predictions primarily on these expenses. They are less likely to consider atypical expenses, such as car repairs or birthday presents, the researchers found.
This pattern is particularly problematic when inflation is high, said Prof. Sussman. When the price of the same basket of items rises, people might not account for these price increases in their future budgets, she said.
Further, times of stress cause people to be less intentional about tracking their money, said Mr. Liersch. They might also spend more than they know they can afford to soothe feelings including anxiety and depression.
According to a recent survey by Credit Karma, 39% of Americans identify as emotional spenders (defined by the study as someone who spends money to cope with emotional highs and lows.)
You have a better chance of staying under budget if you become more aware of your spending instead of sticking your head in the sand, financial advisers said.
One thing Adam Alter, a professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, does is create a line item in his monthly budget for one-off expenses, such as an unexpected medical bill. This gives him a cushion in his budget and enables him to more fully examine how much he is spending each month, said Prof. Alter, who has studied overspending.
People might also wish to include an escalating buffer into their budgets of say, 2% to 5% a year, to account for inflation, he said.
Jay Zigmont, a financial planner in Water Valley, Miss., looks at clients’ total take-home income from the year, subtracts everything they must spend money on such as their mortgage and how much they saved. The remaining number is how much they spent on discretionary spending.
In most cases, clients are surprised they spent so much, he said.
Once people know how much they spend, Britta Koepf, a financial planner in Independence, Ohio, suggests they practice mindful spending. Before any purchase, ask yourself if you really want or need what you are buying. Frequently, the answer is yes, but sometimes waiting five seconds will prevent you from overspending, she said.
You can also practice mindfulness by delaying purchases further.
“A lot of the time, if I tell myself that I will purchase it next week, I find that I am no longer interested a week later,” she said.
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