Native American Sovereignty

I have been a proponent of abolishing, outright, the Bureau of Indian Affairs for a long time. In its place, I would either grant the Indian tribes full-fledged sovereignty with reparations for stolen property, or would grant the reservations statehood into the union of the United States federal republic.

If you’ll notice, this proposal goes hand-in-hand with my other writings on decentralizing political power in other various parts of the world, and I think that the issue of sovereignty for Native Americans goes along nicely with this theme.  Tyler Cowen recently directed me to a piece in the Economist that writes about just this topic, so I am not nearly as idealistic and young as some of you might think.

I think this decentralized process is happening for a reason, and that the reason is overwhelmingly good: the world’s markets are becoming increasingly integrated, and as a result, political power is becoming increasingly irrelevant except on a largely local or regional scale.

If we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, including slavery and horrific, large-scale wars, then we would do well to realize and affirm that decentralized governance and integrated markets are extremely beneficial to mankind. In affirming this, we would likewise do well to recognize that when people want more autonomy in governance we should grant it to them, especially in cases where post-colonial states exist. States themselves are largely illegitimate, and the post-colonial ones are the most guilty of this crime. There is no reason to pretend that we have to respect the sovereignty of post-colonial states ruled by dictators, and every reason to respect the wishes of large swathes of the people in these post-colonial states for more political autonomy.

This process of decentralization is not only ongoing in the post-colonial world though. It is also happening in Europe, where an integrated market has helped delegitimize the nation-states there and encourage secessionist movements to demand ever more autonomy from centers of power that these aspiring secessionist regions have not considered to be legitimate.

Think, too, of the fact that even in Europe today there are fifty states in an area only a third the size of Africa, which also has fifty states. If Africa were to decentralize, it would develop much in the same way as Europe has. The same concept can be said of China, of Russia, and of Latin America.

The end result of this decentralizing tendency, if it allowed to flourish, is a world in which political entities are so small and irrelevant that the horrors of the past will seem as barbaric as the most sophisticated modes of governance of Roman and Mongol seem to us today. Let us work together for a more peaceful and prosperous world. Remember, we need to keep our focus of free trade, individualism, the rule of law, private property and internationalism. These are the keys to an open society. These are the foundations that have made the West great.

Oh, and here is the Economist piece on Native American sovereignty.

11 thoughts on “Native American Sovereignty

  1. Brandon, I support your call for full Native American sovereignty. It seems that there is a historical responsibility that needs to be addressed by the U.S. government. Even failing to go as far as your proposals call for, there is much that needs to be done to address the gross imbalances of life on the many impoverished reservations that dot the U.S. Basic infrastructure building programs would be a start.

    I have to disagree with your positive appraisal of the process of global market integration. While I support your calls for greater autonomy and decentralization (presumably accompanied by greater democratic and participatory control over their lives), the effects of economic liberalization result in greater inequality with the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few contrasted with the growing precariousness of the many.

    You are right to note that national political power is becoming increasingly irrelevant, in Europe for example. Instead of democratic governments that ostensibly represent the people, there has been a suspension of democracy in multiple countries in favor of “technocratic” governments that represent the interests of the EU bureaucracy, the ECB, and capital. This scenario has played out in Greece and Italy and looks to be in the works for other countries as well.

    While governments becoming increasingly irrelevant for majority of people in their respective countries, they serve a key function in advancing the interests of capital on an international scale. For the majority of the worlds people this is not a beneficial arrangement. Certainly restraints need to be placed on the dictates and imperatives of capital if there is to be a modicum of a just and equitable society. The process of establishing integrated markets will not in itself provide this. In fact it will always lead to a class society of haves and have nots, of owners of the means of production and those that do the actual producing, of a small minority with extreme wealth and a vast majority of the dispossessed.

    • the effects of economic liberalization result in greater inequality with the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few contrasted with the growing precariousness of the many.

      You got it back asswards Theo. Capitalist states have much, much more income equality than post-colonial, post-socialist states. Markets and more market integration are the key to equality and fairness.

      The EU has been great for Europeans, and if it had not established a central bank, the quality of life for individuals living there would have been even greater than it is today.

    • With all due respect I disagree with you Brandon. I think you generalize far too much. Germany is a more equal society than the US and the US is more equal than Brasil (based on Gini coefficients). But India, Egypt, Russia, and Algeria are more equal societies than the US. All the countries mentioned are more equal than Chile, often touted as the neo-liberal success story. Then again, Poland, Ukraine, and Indonesia are more equal than the US.

      When you make generalization like “Capitalist states have much, much more income equality than post-colonial, post-socialist states,” the facts do not bare you out. It is a much more complex situation.

      Open markets and integration may be great at generating wealth and and easing barriers to capital flows, but they are poor at distributing that wealth equitably.

      Somehow I doubt I will be able to persuade you, but I am certainly far from convinced that wide open markets and minimal regulation will lead to the most fair and equal society.

    • Theo,

      I am arguing with your imagination again. Income equality in and of itself is not a good thing. Russia’s GDP (PPP) per capita is a little more than Intl$16,000. Algeria’s is a little more than Intl$6,000. In the US, the purchasing power of the average citizen is Intl$48,000.

      Income equality, then, is not a great way to convey the health and wealth of a society, especially with data from post-socialist states and post-colonial states (whom often adopted socialist policies upon independence).

      Another point: while Europe may have more income equality than the US, this equality is not free. There is a trade off. The purchasing power of the average citizen of Europe is much lower than it is of the average US citizen. This is why you see Europe as a tourist mecca for US citizens (of all classes), and the US as a tourist haven for the mega rich of Europe. Average European citizens simply cannot afford to visit the United States, whereas US citizens can visit Europe with abandon. I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t give a shit if somebody makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year more than I do, so long as I can go to Europe and consume cheap beer and prostitute services.

      The Gini coefficient doesn’t look at comparable levels of purchasing power parity when it calculates its numbers, either. It only looks at what is going on within a state. When a comparison is made between the US and Indonesia, for example, it can hardly be said that Indonesia’s wealth equality is superior to that of the US, especially when the poorest 5% of Americans would live like kings in a developing nation on the incomes that they currently have.

      It must also be noted that in capitalist states, democracy and equality are also relatively functioning and healthy, including the US.

      After the fall of the Berlin Wall, when socialism was revealed to be the monster that liberals had claimed it was for nearly a century, the states of Europe began liberalizing their welfare states (themselves a product of rationing from World War 2) and making efforts at regional market integration. The results were astounding. Europe’s GDP (PPP) per capita rose every year that the EU was economically unified but politically fragmented. It was only when Europe began to try to unite politically that the problems of the EU started to happen.

      You are right, Theo, that it is a complex issue, and I am studying these very issues now at a world class university (where are the world class universities in the states you mentioned as “income equality certified”, by the way?). This is why I am a libertarian and a supporter of economic liberalization and laissez-faire policies. It is the surest way to equality of incomes, to equality of classes, and of equality under the law.

      In conclusion, I think that the regulations only prohibit more equality of incomes and standards of living in the capitalist world. Rent-seekers and tax-evaders would have a much tougher time maintaining what irrelevant advantage they have if there was more competition and less taxes in the capitalist world.

      Seriously Theo, are you really pointing to Indonesia and Russia as models for the future of the US and Europe?

    • Hank,

      Thanks for the great link. My few thoughts, I a not so sure that Native Americans would choose sovereignty over membership into the federation currently in place. I lived near a reservation in northern California (and I’m sure you have the same sort of deal in Montana) and have some fairly extensive contact with Navajo Indians as well (they prefer the term ‘Indian’ to ‘Native American’, so long as they know you). These are people whose ancestors have fought for the US in all of its major wars over the past century. They are intensely patriotic.

      What I think would emerge from working with the Indian tribes is a system where all of the major reservations were turned into regular states (like Montana and California) and the minor ones would just disappear. Indians would then be full-fledged American citizens but could still do what they liked culturally with their heritage, much as everybody else does.

      Again, this is what I think would happen. If they wanted full-fledged sovereignty we should grant it (and include generous reparations for stolen property), but I think everybody would opt in for a spot in the federal system we have (despite its shortcomings, it’s still a very, very good system).

      This leads to me to an odd-but-perhaps-pertinent musing: I am not so sure that the majority of Europeans, South Koreans and Japanese would want our troops to leave their states. Hear me out on this. Our military essentially provides for the defense of these states, and as a result their these societies are able to use resources that would otherwise go to military expenditures for welfare programs. As Americans, we can see why this is a bad thing, but the states we occupy militarily don’t necessarily think that it is such a bad thing.

      As a result, I would be open to our continued occupation of these states under one condition: that traveling, working, starting a business, living, moving, etc., etc. between the US and the states whom we subsidize militarily is as easy to do as it is here in the US. So, for example, moving/etc. from Connecticut to Hesse or Nankaido would be as easy as moving/etc. from Texas to South Dakota. If this were to happen, then I could accept a continued US presence in these regions. What do you think?

    • Oh yes! I know quite a few Crow and Cheyenne folks.

      Your idea is very interesting. I am all for concessions made by those whom we are protecting. There would have to be some other parameters, but the overall idea is intriguing.

      Sorry to not discuss this a little more, but its dinner time, so I must be brief!

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