From the Comments: Federalism, Small States and Central Banks

Rick Searle asks the following question after reading my argument with George Ayittey on secession in Africa:

Brandon, how do you respond to the geopolitical and macro-economic arguments in favor of strong federalism rather than small-state nationalism? The experience of Central Europe after the First World War seems to offer a telling example of what happens when you break-up multi-national states along ethnic lines. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a power vacuum which Hitler and Stalin were only too glad to fill. All of the thriving national states you have named exist under the implied or real security guarantee of the US.

Secondly, whatever the attraction of economic integration without political integration seems to be coming apart at the seams with the example of the European Union as we speak.

Breaking up Africa’s multi-ethnic states- unless they were replaced with a robust form of federalism- would, thus, seem to condemn that continent to perpetual interference by the big powers, and economic weakness.

Rick,

Thanks for chiming in. Your question and comments are very good ones.

how do you respond to the geopolitical and macro-economic arguments in favor of strong federalism rather than small-state nationalism?

As far as strong federalism goes, it is actually my preferred system of governance for the withering away of the state. Unfortunately, strong federal republics are few and far between in history. There are very hard to maintain and even harder to govern effectively. The best way to achieve a strong federal state is to start small and work your way up to a confederation, and if all sides want more political integration, then it would be wise to start putting together a federal state.

As far as small-state nationalism goes, I don’t want that. At all. What I am in favor of is smaller states without the nationalism. Remember, of all the small states I’ve listed most are fairly multi-ethnic. Denmark isn’t (I blame the crappy weather), but is still very open to immigration and international firms, while South Korea is currently trying to push an immigration reform bill through its parliament. Small states are good, nationalism is bad. More on this just below, but first:

The experience of Central Europe after the First World War seems to offer a telling example of what happens when you break-up multi-national states along ethnic lines. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created a power vacuum which Hitler and Stalin were only too glad to fill.

Ah, great example Rick. Just to be clear: I don’t want to go around breaking states up. That would be both pompous and disastrous. Playing god is something only Leftists do! All I am saying is this: if a region within a state wants to secede from another state, then the international community should recognize this secession. There are a couple of caveats, of course. Doing this in China or Russia’s backyard would be a bad idea, but in the post-colonial world I think this is something that we should be looking at as a policy option to stunt the violence and poverty in these areas.

Recognizing the legitimacy of the secession would have three effects that would stop the violence for a time: 1) it would require that the new states prove their worth in the international community in the form of not persecuting minorities in their new state, 2) it would deter the state that just lost the region to secession from attacking another sovereign state for fear of reprisals and 3) the recognition of independence would inevitably lead to talks by both sides. Perhaps they could figure out a way to re-federate a few years on down the line, or perhaps they could come to some sort of agreement on trade. Whatever they do, they would at least be talking instead of fighting.

Failure to build an international consensus to recognize the independence of regions seeking independence will lead to more of the wars we have seen in much of the post-colonial world, as well as in the Caucasus and the Balkans.

Back to the nationalism you brought up earlier. A lot of states that try to secede are actually very multi-ethnic. Azawad, in Mali, for example, is a good example of a multi-ethnic region trying to break free from Bamako’s inept rule. With the advent of the market economy throughout the world (see my reply to NEO above), nationalism will continue to decline in prominence, and the areas of the world where nationalism is prevalent will be the hottest ones on the planet. States that thrive on nationalism are going to have to struggle to assert their authority over their people, and where there is nationalist promotion in government, there we will see most of the violence. I am thinking of China, Russia, Israel, Palestine, North Korea, and India-Pakistan.

In other cases, secession has taken place within a state that is largely homogenous ethnically. Somaliland, a democratic, relatively prosperous, but unrecognized state in the north of Somalia is a case in point. They want out of Somalia until all the violence and competition for the center of power dies down. They are open to re-federating, but in the meantime…

All of the thriving national states you have named exist under the implied or real security guarantee of the US.

Yes, but isn’t this in itself a form of confederation, or loose federalism? I’m all for more integration between the US and other societies, by the way. If we could get these states to integrate further economically, and could make our political borders largely irrelevant within the confederation: then security costs would largely be paid for. My co-blogger Jacques Delacroix has actually written one of the most stimulating papers on the subject of integration between states: “If Mexicans and Americans Could Cross the Border Freely.” I highly recommend it. Remember, one of the pillars of individualism is internationalism. Hayek, among others, lamented that we had lost this fight to the Marxists in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Secondly, whatever the attraction of economic integration without political integration seems to be coming apart at the seams with the example of the European Union as we speak.

Ah, but the problems of the EU don’t stem from economic integration, they stem from more political integration. The European Central Bank – a political creation if I’ve ever seen one – and proposed measures for a European parliament with more delegated powers is what has caused the strife in the Eurozone, not the ability of Greeks to work and vote in France, and vice versa.

Breaking up Africa’s multi-ethnic states- unless they were replaced with a robust form of federalism- would, thus, seem to condemn that continent to perpetual interference by the big powers, and economic weakness.

Agreed! But again, I don’t want to go around breaking up states. One big hole I see in my support for secession theory so far is the question of what if: what if the new state’s neighbors don’t play ball economically? Won’t that new state be isolated? Co-blogger Fred Foldvary actually wrote an article on this subject using Turkey’s rejection from the EU as an example: “Let Turkey Join NAFTA.” Another highly recommended piece!

Whew. Thanks again for contributing to the conversation, Rick, and don’t be bashful in throwing more fastballs my way. It helps me learn and clarify my thoughts!

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