How Specialization Cost Britain: Brexit and The Silo Effect

When the behemoth of a change that is Brexit arrived, the world was shaken. Experts everywhere speculated about its causes, attributing the unprecedented phenomenon to an eclectic mix of socio-political and economic causes that often conflicted with one another. Yet, what really caused Brexit to transpire was not one isolated event or even an amalgam of events—it was a movement, one that underlies every major episode in the global arena.

This movement was expounded upon by the Financial Times writer Gillian Tett at the European Horizons Midwest Regional Conference held in Wisconsin, Madison on April 6. During her impactful presentation, Tett explained why Brexit was inevitable by highlighting the framework “FUCU”: Fragmentation, Untrustworthiness, Customization, and Unpredictability.

With the advent of the technological revolution that has permeated every sphere of our lives, the process of fragmentation begins online when people engage in socioeconomic dialogue contained within their own peer groups. Herein lies the ultimate paradox of social media and of society itself: networking sites such as Twitter, which were meant to connect masses of people, eventually transformed into cliquey, polarized platforms that harbored a potpourri of segmented opinions based on different factions.

These factions then began developing an untrusting disposition toward one another, amplifying the appeal of customization regarding specific policies and the creation of cyber flash mobs that ultimately resulted in unpredictability. According to Tett, this modern process is responsible for phenomena like Brexit.

Tett describes the “silo effect” as a phenomenon that occurs when specialization leads to a lower degree of interdisciplinary communication and therefore generates one-dimensional thinking, closed-mindedness, and blind spots.

Translated into the world of politics, the silo effect has very dire ramifications in terms of corporate infighting and bureaucratic rivalry, which has had an effect on politics. Specialization may be beneficial in the short-term by improving efficiency, but eventually the lack of innovation it gives rise to overshadows the immediate effects of efficiency, costing a country more in the long run because the unemployment rate rises.

This is exactly what happened with Brexit. With the insular disposition of the working class amplified by social media platforms and the existence of a geographical split between the Euroskeptics and the Europhiles, fragmentation was inevitable as the Labour Party was unable to unite these disparities due to the lack of a solid figure to spearhead the Remain movement—and this only augmented the silo effect that was already festering.

Moreover, misinterpretation of the polls and betting markets is a further testament to the notion that fragmented groups were simply unaware of each other’s outlooks and beliefs, or at least the extent to which they were influential.

Take London for example. A world financial capital, its residents are often prone to believing that the trends and opinions that prevail in their city are representative of the views of the entire nation. Given that 59.9 percent of London’s residents voted to remain in the EU, the silo effect clearly prevented the city from even accurately gauging its own self, as almost half of Londoners still voted to leave.

It is common to hear that nobody saw Brexit coming. That it is an anomaly, an aberration in the tapestry of time. But the fact of the matter is that the signs were all there: they were simply scattered over different silos.

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