The Coup in Turkey

I am based in Turkey and have been at the edge of some dramatic events. Before I was in Turkey, I was in the Turkish sector of Cyprus (officially designating itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but only recognised as such by Turkey), where I followed the Postmodern or Indirect Coup of 28th February 1997 when military representatives on the National Security Council were able to force the collapse of a coalition government under an Islamist Prime Minister. Later that year I relocated to Istanbul where I experienced sporadic terrorism from Kurdish separatists and Jihadists. In June of this year I landed at the Atatürk airport just after an ISIS suicide attack. In a more gradual way I saw the disappearance of a Turkish political system under the guardianship of Jacobin laicist army generals, known as Kemalists after the first President of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk.

The changes in Turkey came about through a de facto alliance between a party with Islamist roots, the AKP (JDP, Justice and Development Party) and the followers of Fetullah Gülen. Gülen was himself a product of Nurcu Islam, which developed in the early years of the Republic before World War Two as a reaction against the state-led secularisation of Turkey. Gülen was a not very well educated preacher who operated in the context of a fragment of the Nurcu movement, which is not as a whole connected with him. Given the enormous tension between laic Kemalists and the religiously observant population, there was room for a movement devoted to developing conservative Muslim power in civil society and the state.

The Gülenists were preceded in this by the Nakşibendi community, which targeted the state bureaucracy and had followers in politics, notably Türgüt Özal, Prime Minister and then President in the 1980s. Secretive and manipulative politics has been a feature of Turkish and Ottoman politics for a long time. The power of the Janissary elite military and bureacratic corps during the Ottoman period was tied to a religious community, the Bektaşis, creating a parallel system to the legal power of the Sultan until they were violently crushed in the late eighteenth century.

The Committee of Union and Progress, which came to power with military support in the last phase of Ottoman history, developed into a conspiratorial organisation rather than a parliamentary political parry, and a secret arm of it was at the centre of the destruction of Anatolian Armenians in 1915. Secretive groups of Unionists provided a power base for Kemal Atatürk when he revolted against the restored power of the Sultanate and its subservience to the partition/occupation of what is now Turkey after World War One.

The idea of a secret part of the state was maybe not so strong during the early years of the Republic when a one-party system (though in principle the republic was under popular sovereignty) under the dominance of Kemal Atatürk and then İsmet İnönü maybe made it less necessary. Nevertheless, the conditions were established for a revived politics of manipulation behind the scenes. Unfortunately, İnönü’s decision to join the west after World War Two played a part in this. The reorientation resulted in free elections in 1950, with a change in government, and Turkish membership of NATO in 1952.

As in some other countries, the Gladio units played a role in dark political activities. These were the units established to engage in resistance in the event of a Soviet invasion. They had a secretive army within an army aspect and were inevitably a magnet for the most fiercely anti-communist officers, including Alparslan Türkeş, who played an important role in the 1960 Coup. Türkeş was expelled from the coup government, which found him too radical, but he founded the extreme right party in Turkey, Nationalist Action, which is comparatively moderate now, but was heavily involved in political destabilisation and terrorism along with the most anti-communist parts of the state.

What came later was infiltration of the state by Nakşibendis and then Gülenists. Their activity was rather overshadowed by the darker activities of the army and its extreme right allies, often also connected with the Mafia. This network is often known in Turkey as the Deep State. It tended to favour a secular democratic system in terms of formalities, but with concessions to religious conservatism along with an anything goes attitude to covert war against communists and then more importantly Marxist Kurdish autonomists, as well as very limited tolerance for the Left. The hard right element of the army with a base in Gladio was not the whole story. There were far left army officers, particularly up to 1971 and a general staff that tended to be in the middle, though the middle tended to move further right from 1960 to 1980, and then became unwilling to launch anymore violent coups after the 1980 military council stepped down in 198. The general staff itself became increasingly concerned about infiltration by Islamists, including Gülenists.

As it turns out the army’s fear was more than justified. The country liberalised, from a very illiberal base, in the late 1990s, and while the army to some degree went along with that, it launched a peaceful ‘post-modern’ coup in 1997 against the Islamists and was left with the image of the pillar of anti-democracy and anti-liberalism in Turkey. This is an important part of the background to the AKP ‘moderate’ Islamist/conservative democrat electoral victory of 2002 along with the economic crisis of 2001, which along with the 1997 coup left the secular parties very fragmented. The AKP gained a lot of liberal and libertarian support (a very small proportion of Turkey though) and more general reformist support from those who believed it would be a vehicle for reducing the military role in politics and for generally less nationalist-statist politics.

The AKP had very few supporters in place in the military, in the state bureaucracy, or in senior positions in education. The Fetullah Gülen campaign to turn his supporters into the dominant force in Turkey meant they had people in these positions, partly through infiltration of state institutions and partly through founding private educational institutions. This was just one part of the Gülen empire, which include major media groups, banks, and industrial companies in Turkey, and in many countries outside Turkey including the USA. Gülen himself moved to the USA to avoid prosecution by the Kemalist old guard before AKP came to power, claiming to have no links with the economic and educational empire of his supporters which is clearly less than honest of him.

The Gülenists expected a large role in the AKP government and served them most spectacularly in purging the armed forces after an attempted website coup in 2007. In that year the armed forces, unwilling to launch an outright coup, hoped to influence public opinion and the political process by placing a message on its website proclaiming the army’s guardian role in relation to secularism. This turned into the final political defeat of the army’s Kemalist guardian-tutelary role. The AKP won a general election and a referendum to change the method of electing the President. This triumph of civil electoral politics was, however, undermined by the trials of supposed armed coup plotters in the armed forces. Such trials gave the impression of completing the civilian dominance over the army, but were themselves rigged using weak and outright faked evidence. The judges and prosecutors were from the Gülen movement and were creating space for their own people to take the high offices in the armed forces.

The AKP began a campaign against the Gülenists after making its own illiberal core attitude very clear in 2013 in its highly intolerant and authoritarian reaction to the Gezi protest movement. It was increasingly clear to the (even then) most enthusiastic of liberal fellow travellers with the AKP that it was Islamo-nationalist and statist at its core, reducing democracy to the unlimited will of the party elected to government. The Gülenists and the AKP now found the state was not big enough for both of them and the Gülenists decided to use conspiratorial methods against the AKP. Audio files and video tapes of AKP figures and associates, which had evidently been kept in reserve and which suggested widespread corruption were released. Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan (then Prime Minister and now President) and the AKP government succeeded in sacking, retiring and transferring  enough Gülenist police officers, prosecutors and judges to stop this evidence coming to court. They then declared the Gülenists to be a parallel state and a terrorist group, entering into a process of purging the state of Gülenists and seizing their assets in the media, educational and other sectors. The coup conspiracy convictions against army officers, and others, were overturned and it became widely accepted that Gülenists had rigged the trials.

On 15th July this year, I was at a small party on a terrace in the Üsküdar district of Istanbul, overlooking one of the Bosphorus bridges, though by quite a large distance. We could see traffic interrupted on the bridge and news began filtering through of a confrontation between police and army units in what was described as an anti-terrorist operation gone wrong, but was beginning to sound like the beginning of a coup. It turned out that a coup had started and for a brief part of the night it appeared that the old Kemalist-Guardian army had come back to dispose of a government that was elected but increasingly authoritarian. Any welcome in the party where I was, of secular anti-AKP Turks and foreigners was strongly outweighed by a fear that a coup regime would be authoritarian, would create new problems, and the AKP or something like it, if not worse, would be in power for ten or twenty years by way of reaction. This turned out to be the mood of anti-AKP and anti-Erdoğan Turkey. It also became increasingly reported and accepted across the political spectrum that though the putschists had adopted Kemalist language, they were for the most part Gülenists rising up before a purge of the army in a last grasp at domination of the Turkish state.

Since then a purge has unfolded against the Gülenists in state and society, covering the universities (the sector where I work), which has already led to the sacking and arrests of about 60 ooo, including constitutional court judges, army generals and university rectors. The number will certainly at least double before the purge and the current state of emergency is over. Such sweeping action is understandable up to a point given the violent actions of 15th July, and the accumulating evidence over the years of Gülenist infiltration to create a Gülenist-controlled state and society, but clearly the potential exists for massive and systematic individual injustice with abuses of state power affecting over enemies of the state, real and imagined. Some of the language President Erdoğan has used since the coup has been highly polarising and vengeful, demanding submission to state power; some of his rhetoric has been more conciliatory, recognising that all political parties opposed the coup and that deputies across the spectrum sheltered together in the basement of the National Assembly fearing for their lives. I cannot say I am hopeful that the post-coup atmosphere will be beneficial to liberty, but we should hope for and work for the best in Turkey, while being vigilant in working against further declines of liberty.

One thing is for sure: republican politics will not come from the army now and Turkish republicanism must renew itself through engagement and re-engagement with the whole history of republican thought, which is at the origin of classical liberal and libertarian thought. In theoretical and philosophical terms, which is where I work, the discussions of republicanism and liberty going back to Hannah Arendt in the last century, along with the revived study of MachiavellianRenaissanceEarly Modern Republicanism and the way the classical liberals were dealing with the republican legacy of ancient Greece, ancient Rome and medieval city-states are particularly apposite given that Turkish politics, avowedly Kemalist or not, deals so much in a republican language of shared sovereignty and popular mastery.

Why Brexit is bad for Liberty

I have been debating classical liberalism and the European Union with Edwin van de Haar. For the moment at least, I think the debate should end or we will risk repetition of previously made points. I would like to thank Edwin for a constructive debate and to invited readers to read through it themselves. Now is the time to move onto a more concrete discussions of the UK referendum vote to leave the European Union.

The UK referendum vote to leave the European Union is not producing the consequences its most eloquent supporters and ideologues had predicted. It is of course very early to have a complete view of the consequences of Brexit, but a large part of Brexit journalistic, campaigning and intellectual elite have argued for leaving the EU on the grounds it would enable a mıore free market UK, one less burdened by regulations ‘imposed’ from Brussels.

A disproportionate part of this elite claims to be libertarian or conservative libertarian, operating in party politics via the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party and operating in libertarian to conservative campaigning groups. Employees of the most important classical liberal and libertarian policy institutions, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute were divided on this issue. However, some part of the Brexit elites were High Tory, that is traditionalist conservative.

The insistence on sovereignty and national institutions outweighs a commitment to free markets and individual rights. Immigration in particular comes off badly here. The High Tory narrative dominates the Brexit narrative in practice. Some Brexit enthusiasts welcome the supposed opportunity to boost defence spending (though this has nothing do with the European Union which places no limits whatsoever on national defence spending) and believe Brexit will allow restoring the UK’s Great Power status. This is already very high by general European standards and given the inherent limits of the UK’s resources compared with the USA, Russia and China, it’s hard to see how great power status could be attained and why the UK should try. It is clearly not compatible with retrenchment of the state.

David Cameron announced his resignation as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister straight after the referendum result. His replacement Theresa May began her term of office with a speech suggesting greater state involvement in the economy and society. As Home Secretary she has a particularly illiberal record in civil liberties, immigration and drugs. She has announced support for changes in company law to force firms to accept employee representatives onto boards and restriction on takeover laws.

These measures have led the ‘Red Tory’, Philip Blond, to announce compatibility with his views and enthusiasm for her leadership. Blond runs the policy institute, ResPublica (http://www.respublica.org.uk). He was a colleague of mine in graduate programs at the University of Warwick in the late eighties, though I have not been in touch with him since. He moved from a period of research and university teaching in theology (he was studying European philosophy since the early nineteenth century when I knew him) into the policy world.

The contemporary theologian who influenced him most is John Milbank, an adherent of a version of the Christian tradition which tends to advocate community above individual, or at least would seem to do so if its social philosophy is turned into state enforced actions. There is a strong element of Medieval nostalgia for an organic society in Blond’s social and political thought. He is arguing for less not more free markets and individualism. Now there is no reason to think that Blond’s ideas will have a major influence on May, but if he feels so comfortable with her then that is reason to think there will be strong streak of communalist conservatism in the post-referendum government and even a hint of Christian socialism.

May’s approach has also been compared to that of Joseph Chamberlain, a nineteenth century advocate of interventionist local government and then of a protectionist, state-welfare orientated British Empire; he was as well considered by some to be the strongest advocate of Empire ideology in his time.

Even the Brexit supporters who have the strongest free market small government history have come out in favour of interventionist and corporatist polices. Allister Heath, a senior member of the Daily Telegraph staff, who has a reputation as a free market advocate published advice to Theresa May which is anything but free market, full of corporatism and buying off people who might be relative losers in the post-Brexit UK.

Previous free market advocates, who found it easy to be advocates when the EU served as a scapegoat for any and every overextension of state activity in the UK (whether or not in reality it originated with the EU), have become less clear in their commitment given that some EU support for open markets, such as bans on subsidies to keep bankrupt companies afloat, are no longer available. With some institutional supports for free markets removed, the Brexit liberty advocates find themselves in a world of paying off voters who voted for ‘leave’ because they don’t like ‘neoliberalism’ and blame any difficult consequences of technological invention and market innovation on Brussels Bureaucrats along with immigration from EU countries.

One key theme of the more ostensibly libertarian parts of the ‘leave’ campaign was to argue that they did not want to reduce immigration, but globalise it by replacing automatic rights of EU citizens to live in the UK with an Australian points system, which allows people to enter from anywhere in the world who has sufficient points with regard to educational level, scarce skills, money to invest and so on. However, it is clear that many ‘leave’ voters just want a reduction in immigration and May has distanced herself from a ‘points’ system in favour of absolute reduction.

The ‘leave’ vote won based on the anti-immigration, anti-globalist and anti-‘neoliberal’ instincts of a significant section of the ‘leave’ vote. It is not the whole of the ‘leave’ vote, but  ‘leave’ could not have won without it. The evidence so far is that whatever the intentions of the libertarian to conservative element of ‘leave’ thinking that the government is now driven by the wish to follow that aspect of public opinion. The UK is headed towards communalist corporatism, or even protectionist/mercantilist, security-state Great Power nationalist versions of conservatism. Clearly there is much work for liberty advocates to do in the UK counteracting this disaster.

Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism

In another thought-provoking post on Facebook (does the guy ever write mediocre stuff, I wonder?) Barry raised the question of the relation between classical liberalism, nationalism and cosmopolitanism. He wrote the following:

“On the capture of classical liberal/libertarianism by anti-cosmopolitans. This is very influential at the heart of the ‘leave’ ‘elite’ in the UK, and can only be destructive of classical liberalism/libertarianism. The immediate political consequence of Leave is the elevation of Theresa May to Tory leadership/Prime Minister’s office on a much more ‘Red Tory’, communitarian, corporatist foundation than existed under Cameron. ’To the extent to which the current wave of populism maps into a conflict over national versus transnational identity (Dan Drezner is unconvinced), the problem is not an excess of cosmopolitanism but rather its absence, especially on the conservative, free-market right.”

He seems to take a positive relation between classical liberalism and cosmopolitanism as the default position. Of course Barry did not provide definitions in a FB post, but here I take cosmopolitanism to mean “the idea that all human beings, regardless of their political affiliations, belong to a common moral community. Cosmopolitans often believe that all individuals have the same basic moral status, and tend to downplay the importance or desirability of national political institutions. [They are] opposed to nationalism” (source: Matt Zwolinski (editor), Arguing About Political Philosophy, Routledge, 2009).

I argue that Barry overlooks that classical liberalism combines a cosmopolitan side, with a strong defense of national political institutions (e.g. the state). The cosmopolitan side is perhaps easiest to see, if one takes the idea of free trade as the guiding principle. Free trade is by nature morally neutral for the individuals involved, and has numerous positive economic effects; it fosters cultural exchange as well as innovation and knowledge sharing. In that sense classical liberalism is indeed related to cosmopolitanism.

Yet this stops where the national state comes into play. Classical liberals never predicted any positive political effects of trade (see my earlier notes on this topic) and, just as importantly, they actually favor a strong state, with a limited number of tasks. At the same time, from Hume and Smith onwards to Mises and Hayek, they strongly dislike the idea of transnational political institutions, because these lack any substantial emotional basis which nations do posses. Also, these large political institutions easily become a threat to individual liberty, even more so than national states with too many tasks. So, there is no really no relations between political cosmopolitanism and classical liberalism at all.

There is also no relation between nationalism and classical liberalism. A preference for the national state does not lead to nationalism, which is the vicious and poisonous belief in the superiority of one’s country, often accompanied with a dislike of allegedly inferior neighboring countries or peoples or groups. This is collectivism turned even worse, which is a double ‘no’ from a classical liberal perspective. This said, if patriotism is defined as national pride, then classical liberalism and patriotism can and will go together. There is a fine line between the two sometimes, but patriotism is not violent and dividing, but a binding force between individuals sharing a national state.

The last point is on the European Union. Hayek and Mises have been on record with strong support for a European Federation, primarily as a remedy to war-torn and nationalism-infected Europe. In these circumstances the default position of an international order as a society of states no longer functioned, so there was a need to seek an alternative. Needless to say their federation had little resemblance with the current super state we know as the European Union, which has become a classical liberal nightmare in terms of liberty and property rights violations it commits on a daily basis.

The current EU has some classical liberal traits (the imperfect common market is the single most important one), which is of tremendous use to all European individuals. It is, however, way too cosmopolitan in the bad political way. A likely consequence of Brexit is that this will become even worse, now that the French and their allies will get more room for their collectivist fallacies.

Why a Nexit would be good for the Netherlands

Past Friday, 51.9% of the British have voted to leave the European Union against 48.1% of those who have voted to remain. The details of the EU referendum can be found on BBC’s EU referendum page. Although it is still unclear what shape the relationship between Britain and the EU will take, I expect that the Brexit will offer good economic opportunities for Britain provided that they can reach free trade agreements with all nations within the EU and provided that they will continue to open up their markets for free trade with other countries outside of the EU.

An Exit of the Netherlands, or a Nexit, will have more consequences than a Brexit as the Netherlands are also participants in the European Monetary Union. A Nexit could therefore lead to an end of the Euro. An analysis of the EU is a political analysis and as politics is always complemented by power, this analysis should hence incorporate insights on power struggles and competing visions. Each country has its own interests within the EU, just like any politician within the EU has his own special interests that he is serving. Participation in the EU is often represented as an exercise of solidarity and political appeasement, however it is still politics with politicians’ usual desire for self-enrichment.

There have always been two competing visions of the EU. The first one is a classical liberal vision, led by German speaking Christian democrats Schuman (France), Adenauer (Germany) and Alcide de Gasperi (Italy) with the Treaty of Rome (1957) as the greatest achievement of this classical liberal vision for Europe. The Treaty sought to deliver the following four freedoms: free movement of goods, freedom of movement for workers, the right of establishment and freedom to provide services, and free movement of capital. The other vision was a socialist vision led by mainly French politicians, such as Jacques Delors and François Mitterrand whose goal was to create a supranational state.

Treaty of Rome signed
Treaty of Rome.

Classical liberal vision
The first vision promotes political competition between the EU’s member states by opening up borders. When a person is discontent with the excessive taxes in his country, he could leave his country for another. Competition between member states would lead to smaller governments, lower taxes, and political respect for people who would want to pursue their individual freedoms in another member state. It would represent a return to the political model that was prevalent in Europe from the Middle Ages to the 19th century when different political systems coexisted independently. There were independent cities or city states in Flanders, Germany and Northern Italy. There was the kingdom of Bavaria, the republic of Venice, and small city states like Ghent and Bruges embraced their autonomy. The German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) had expressed the beauty of such a political system as follows when he discussed a Germany that was still splintered in 39 independent states:

“I do not fear that Germany will not be united; … she is united, because the German Taler and Groschen have the same value throughout the entire Empire, and because my suitcase can pass through all thirty-six states without being opened. … Germany is united in the areas of weights and measures, trade and migration, and a hundred similar things. … One is mistaken, however, if one thinks that Germany’s unity should be expressed in the form of one large capital city, and that this great city might benefit the masses in the same way that it might benefit the development of a few outstanding individuals. … What makes Germany great is her admirable popular culture, which has penetrated all parts of the Empire evenly. And is it not the many different princely residences from whence this culture springs and which are its bearers and curators? … Germany has twenty universities strewn out across the entire Empire, more than one hundred public libraries, and a similar number of art collections and natural museums; for every prince wanted to attract such beauty and good. Gymnasia, and technical and industrial schools exist in abundance; indeed, there is hardly a German village without its own school. … Furthermore, look at the number of German theaters, which exceeds seventy. … The appreciation of music and song and their performance is nowhere as prevalent as in Germany, … Then think about cities such as Dresden, Munich, Stuttgart, Kassel, Braunschweig, Hannover, and similar ones; think about the energy that these cities represent; think about the effects they have on neighboring provinces, and ask yourself, if all of this would exist, if such cities had not been the residences of princes for a long time. … Frankfurt, Bremen, Hamburg, Lübeck are large and brilliant, and their impact on the prosperity of Germany is incalculable. Yet, would they remain what they are if they were to lose their independence and be incorporated as provincial cities into one great German Empire? I have reason to doubt this.”[1]

In addition to the advancement of political competition, the vision also promotes economic competition. A German employee would not be obstructed from working in France anymore, a Dutchman would not be taxed by the government if he transfers money from a Dutch to a Spanish bank or when he decides to buy stocks on the Italian equity market. Nobody would withhold a Belgian brewery from selling beer in other countries within the European free trade area.

Socialist vision
The second vision promotes a European central state that holds the power to enact more regulations, redistribution of wealth, and harmonization of legal systems within the whole Union. A strong central political body is to coordinate such efforts. The consequence is that its member states would increasingly have to give up their sovereignty. This is clearly visible from the political events in Greece and Ireland during the financial crisis of 2008 when Brussels demanded from Greece and Ireland how they should deal with their deficits and what austerity measures they should take. The socialist vision of Europe is an ideal for the political class, bureaucrats, interest groups and the subsidized sectors that want a powerful central state for their self-enrichment. Political competition among its member states, something that the classical liberals supported, should be eliminated. Doing so, Europe becomes less democratic and political power is increasingly shifted into the hands of bureaucrats and technocrats in Brussels. Historically, such plans for concentrated political power had been realized by such figures as Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler. The difference with our times is that the creation of a modern European superstate does not directly require military means. The introduction of new institutes like the European Central Bank, a common currency like the Euro, and extended power of the European Commission would suffice. Similar socialist intentions were already visible from the start of the European integration in the European vision of Jean Monnet, the intellectual father of the European community. Fearing an independent and emerging Germany after the second World War, an integration of Germany into Europe was considered to be a good thing. Next to that, the French wanted to have control over the Rühr area and they wanted to keep other vital German resources out of solely German hands. After losing her colonial powers in Indochina and Africa, the French ruling elite were also looking for new influence and pride which they eventually found in the European community.[2] The French premier in 1950 had for example proposed a plan to install a European army under the leadership of the French.

Why it is good for the Netherlands to leave the European Union
I believe that the EU should never have had more ambitions than the free trade zone that requires no supranational institutes, except for a European Court of Justice that is restricted to supervising conflicts between the member states and guaranteeing the four freedoms. The EU has become so far removed from the classical liberal vision of political and economic competition that it is not worthwhile anymore for the Netherlands to participate. It has declined into a malignant cartel of states that can tell its members with whom and how they should conduct their trade. A good example were the quotas and import levies on Chinese solar panels in 2013 under the disguise of ‘anti-dumping’ measures. Several countries like the Netherlands and Germany had first opposed to these measures as they would like to maintain good relationships with China. Nonetheless, the European Committee, apparently under influence of solar panel lobbyists like those of the German producer Solarworld AG, introduced ‘anti-dumping’ measures. The eventual winners of such measures are European solar panel producers and its victims are the European people that simply want to buy cheap solar panels. Another example are the sanctions that the EU had imposed on Russia since the Ukrainian conflict – a conflict that was provoked by American imperialists and NATO.[3] The deteriorating trade relationships between the EU and Russia is also detrimental to the wealth of ordinary European citizens. Another recent example is the prohibition of high-powered vacuum cleaners and possible future bans on other energy appliances such as kettles and hairdryers in order to reach environmental targets.[4] Those who profit from such measures are mainly large legacy organizations such as Bosch and Siemens that have enough capital to meet the strict EU regulations.

Another reason why a Nexit would be good for the Netherlands is that it offers an opportunity to extricate oneself from the Euro and the implicitly pledged financial aid when a future financial crisis will tear through Europe.

The tragedy of the Euro
The introduction of the Euro has proven to be a huge mistake, because it has enabled fiscally irresponsible governments of such countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain etc. to conduct unsustainable economic policies. In the past, when these states had their own currency, their governments had to finance their budget deficits through the sales of government bonds which resulted in higher government debts. The higher government debts manifested itself in higher interest rates on their government bonds, and a greater money supply would lead to devaluations of their currencies.

To illustrate how the process of government bonds financing works in the European Monetary Union, we could look at the development of 10-year government bonds. The graph below shows the interest rates that governments have to pay to the financiers of their 10-year government bonds from 1995 to 2011:

Development in Interest Rates on 10-year Government Bonds
Interest rates on 10-year government bonds from 1995-2011.

The y-axis represents the rates of interest that an investor receives from 10-year government bonds. Countries that are economically stronger and fiscally more conservative are rewarded with lower interest rates due to the smaller risk that these governments will not pay back their loans. In the case of Germany, a country with traditionally a stronger economy, a more conservative Bundesbank, and a fiscally more responsible government than many other European nations, investors received 7.5% interest on their 10-year government bonds in 1995. Greek government bonds had a yield of 18% in 1995. 1995 was the year in which the European Committee had announced that the Euro would arrive in 2002. Interest rates on government bonds consequently converged in the following years. At the end of 1997 all rates of interest on Portuguese, Irish, Spanish, Italian, French and German 10-year government bonds were more or less equal despite the fact that many of the governments of these countries still spent more than they received in tax incomes. The consequence of sharing a common currency with fiscally more responsible countries like Germany and the Netherlands is that fewer price signals in the form of higher interest rates on government bonds of fiscally irresponsible governments emerge. Irresponsible governments can issue government bonds to the banking sector that transfer these bonds as collateral to the ECB in return for loans. The interest rate that banks pay for the loans of the ECB are issued as profits to their governments. This is in short how ‘seigniorage’, the profits derived from money creation when the costs of money production and the distribution of money are lower than the value of money itself, is created.

Sovereign debt financing in EMU
Sovereign debt financing in the European Monetary Union.

This process leads to inflation, but the costs of inflation in the EMU are not solely borne by the respective country that issues the government bonds, but by all countries that participate in the EMU. A country like Spain can for example issue government bonds that traditionally would correspond with 10% inflation. However, when other countries like the Netherlands and Germany issue an amount of bonds that corresponds with 5% inflation, Spain benefits from seigniorage as the inflation created by Spain is higher and borne partly by the Netherlands and Germany. A Euro in this regard is beneficial for fiscally irresponsible governments. It is actually a “Tragedy of the commons”. Abusing the Euro in this way is exactly what countries like Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain and France have done. This works until a financial crisis shows how insolvent the governments of these countries actually are. That has happened in 2008, the moment when interest rates on European government bonds started diverging. The ECB had even decided to buy up Greek government debts in May 2010 in order to lower the interest rates on Greek government bonds. In June 2010, a temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) was founded with guarantees of up to €440 billion to combat the European sovereign debt crisis. It has provided financial assistance to Ireland, Portugal and Greece. The EFSF was later replaced by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in October 2012 with a total described capital of around €700 billion of which the Netherlands has pledged €40 billion in capital participation. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, had promised the Dutch in 2011 that the Netherlands would receive back the money it has loaned out to Greece in May 2010.[5] The total sum that was loaned to Greece by the Dutch was €3.2 billion. However, in 2012 when the Netherlands loaned out €14.5 billion of the second financial aid package of €130 billion that was pledged by Europe and the IMF to Greece, the Dutch minister of Finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, admitted that the Netherlands were losing money. Rutte also admitted that he could not guarantee that the Dutch loans to the Greeks would not be forgiven.[6] Three years later, on July 13 2015, the Netherlands loaned out another €22.6 billion to Greece.[7] It has become clear that such financial pledges of the Netherlands to fiscally irresponsible governments like that of Greece are not beneficial for the Dutch. Even in the long run it is not beneficial for the EU as it supports and prolongs a socialist European system that is deeply rotten to its core and destined to fail. What the EU needs is a radical return to decentralization and political competition.

The EU has become a sinking ship. It appears to me that the Netherlands should leave the Union as soon as possible. I do not see how Europe can maneuver itself safely through the next financial crisis that is at the point of breaking out as more banks are on the brink of collapse.[8] I also expect greater centralization of political power within the EU and a greater loss of individual member countries’ sovereignty. On June 27, 2016, the Polish media had reported that France and Germany were taking matters into their own hands and are using the Brexit to unveil their plan to morph the continent’s countries into one giant superstate. Under their radical proposals,

“EU countries will lose the right to have their own army, criminal law, taxation system or central bank, with all those powers being transferred to Brussels.”[9]

Conclusion
A sensible Netherlands would leave the European Union and the European Monetary Union in order to preserve political and economic sovereignty. They would have free trade agreements with all countries within and outside of the EU. EenVandaag, a popular Dutch TV programme, had published the results of their 27,000 large online poll on Sunday June 26, 2016 in which 54% of the Dutch would like to hold a referendum about the Netherlands’ participation in the EU. 48% of the poll wanted the Netherlands to leave the EU against 45% who would like to remain in the EU.[10] In the meantime, the Remain camp will continue their nauseating snobbery accusing the Leave camp of being racist, nationalistic, isolationist or simply ignorant.

References
Bagus, P. (2010). The Tragedy of the Euro.

BBC. (2016). EU referendum: The result in maps and charts.

China Courant. (2014). Mogelijk nieuwe straffen voor producenten Chinese zonnepanelen.

Dijkstra, M. (2015). Griekse crisis: wat heeft het allemaal gekost?

DutchNews.nl. (2016). Dutch PM rejects referendum calls: not in the Netherlands’ interest.

Fullfact.org. (2016). First they came for the vacuum cleaners: will it be kettles next?

Gutteridge, N. (2016). European SUPERSTATE to be unveiled: EU nations ‘to be morphed into one’ post-Brexit.

Hoppe, H.H. (2001). Democracy the god that failed.

Judt, T. (2006). Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.

McMurtry, J. (2016). Ukraine, America’s “Lebensraum”. Is Washington prepared to wage war on Russia?

NOS. (2011). Rutte verwacht Grieks geld terug.

NU.nl. (2012). Rutte geeft verbreken verkiezingsbelofte toe.

Zerohedge.com. (2016). Deutsche Bank tumbles near record lows as yield curve crashes.

Footnotes
[1] From Johann Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe (1836-1848).

[2] Tony Judt writes in Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2006) that “[U]nhappy and frustrated at being reduced to the least of the great powers, France had embarked upon a novel vocation as the initiator of a new Europe” (p. 153). He also writes that “[F]or Charles de Gaulle, the lesson of the twentieth century was that France could only hope to recover its lost glories by investing in the European project and shaping it into the service of French goals (p. 292).”

[3] See for example Prof. John McMurtry’s “Ukraine, America’s ‘Lebensraum’. Is Washington prepared to wage war on Russia?” for an analysis how Washington had provoked the Ukrainian conflict with Russia.

[4] See “First they came for the vacuum cleaners: will it be kettles next?”

[5] See “Rutte verwacht Grieks geld terug” (2011). http://nos.nl/artikel/275035-rutte-verwacht-grieks-geld-terug.html

[6] See “Rutte geeft verbreken verkiezingsbelofte toe” (2012). http://www.nu.nl/algemeen/2968363/rutte-geeft-verbreken-verkiezingsbelofte-toe.html

[7] See “Griekse crisis: wat heeft het ons allemaal gekost?” http://www.elsevier.nl/economie/article/2015/07/griekse-crisis-wat-heeft-het-ons-allemaal-gekost-2657386W/

[8] See for example “Deutsche Bank tumbles near record lows as yield curve crashes.” http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-06-13/deutsche-bank-tumbles-near-record-lows-yield-curve-crashes

[9] See “European SUPERSTAT to be unveiled: EU nations ‘to be morphed into one’ post-Brexit.” http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/683739/EU-referendum-German-French-European-superstate-Brexit

[10] See “Dutch PM rejects referendum calls: not in the Netherlands’ interest.” http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2016/06/92520-2/

The Case for the UK staying in the EU

Leaving the European Union would not be a gain for liberty in the United Kingdom. This is true as a matter of general principles and is reinforced by the nature of the Leave campaign which has targeted sections of the population hostile to immigration, open markets, and free trade. Much of the Leave campaigning which has not appealed to such base arguments has at the very least appealed to a version of populist democratic sovereignty at odds with the restraints on government and the state at the heart of classical liberal and libertarian thought.

Even if we try to separate some pure classical liberal version of the Leave campaign from the crudity of the campaign, as some natural supporters of leave wish had happened to the extent they ate voting for Remain rather than go along with such an obnoxious campaign, we are still left with the question of why it liberty advocates should support Leave.

I have sometimes seen references to national sovereignty as a classical liberal doctrine. If this means never sharing sovereignty at a transnational level, then it is simply a false claim. Immanuel Kant advocated a world federation to prevent war. Kant is not often put at the centre of the history of classical liberal thought. His ideas about political institutions, individual rights, and the limits of government certainly belong in the classical liberal sphere. We should distinguish between what Kant said and what later German Idealists said, a rather big issue, and appreciate how close he is to the way of thinking of Montesquieu and Smith and even advances upon them in showing a clearer understanding of the role of representative assemblies in modern politics.

More recently F.A. Hayek advocated federation between liberal democracies. The creation and evolution of the European Union has been and continues to be supported by European political parties of a classical liberal persuasion, those liberal parties which remained most true to the principles of their nineteenth century founders and precursors. Thinkers on the left, like Albert Camus and George Orwell, known for their particular commitment to liberty and their opposition to an authoritarian state were enthusiasts for European integration. Many conservatives of the more free market and limited government sort like Ludwig Erhard (founder of Germany’s post-war, post-Nazi market economy) and John Major (UK Prime Minister from 1990 to 1997, who went further than Margaret Thatcher in privatisation and deregulation) have been and are advocates of the European Union.

The unrestrained sovereignty of the nation-state is not only not an inherently liberal idea, it is dangerous to liberalism. There is nothing illiberal in transnational rules and institutions that restrain states from violence against their own citizens, attacks on individual rights, economic protectionism, and market rigging. The European Union is particularly successful with regard to the economic and market issues at the national level.  It adds huge institutional weight to the work of the Council of Europe which promotes human rights through its court in Strasbourg. The existence of the European Court of Justice is of profound importance in ensuring that national governments and peoples are accustomed to regarding the decisions of nation states as subordinate to and accountable to a judicial process enforcing transnational laws.

The EU is open to a great deal of criticism with regard to its tendencies towards over-regulation, but this represents the median attitude of the member governments, not an imposition on the nation-states of Europe. Since the UK economy is at the more free market deregulated end of the European Union, there is some plausibility in saying the UK might go further down that road if it left the EU. However, before it joined the EU it was looking less market oriented than the EU states of the time. The period during which the UK has moved from the more statist to the more limited state end of the European nations has been during the period of EU membership. The precedents do not favour the UK becoming more classically liberal because it leaves the EU and the Leave campaign has appealed to the most insular, nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner, and anti-free trade sections of the UK population.

It is possible to imagine the UK as a more libertarian kind of place in the EU, but a much more plausible use of the liberal imagination is to think of ways in which the UK can work with allies in the EU for a a less regulatory and centralised EU. This has already worked as in the adoption of the European Single Market and the diminishing role of the European Commission, the ‘bureaucratic’ part of the EU. The Commission employs as many bureaucrats as the larger local government units in the UK and is tiny compared with any national bureaucracy. Its members are nominated by national governments subject to confirmation of the European Parliament. Power has shifted from the Commission to the bodies in which national government representatives meet, the European Council and the Council of the European Union.

The Leave campaign in the UK, including self-styled free marketers in the Conservative Party, is committed to leave the Single Market as well as the European Union itself, in large part to terminate free movement of EU citizens across its borders. The reasoning offered to prevent this movement of human capital is in terms of anti-foreigner sentiment. This is not something than can be recognised as a pro-liberty program. The pro-liberty choice is to keep free movement of goods, investment, and labour within the EU while working to reform the more interventionist tendencies of the European Union, to stymie the regulatory drift which started hitting industrial market economies decades before the EU was created and which cannot be solved by smashing up the EU.

Muddy thinking on child care

Five Thirty Eight had a disappointing discussion of an interesting issue: the cost of child care for working parents. The basic issue is that kids are expensive in time and money. Unfortunately, the discussion mostly revolved around questions of how to engage in economic engineering by government in order to expand access to child care and parental leave.

The hosts see these policies as having costs and benefits, and they see the value in studying alternatives empirically, but they miss an important issue: providing these sorts of goods doesn’t require screwing up markets by adding an extra layer of complexity to the tax code. If these goods are worth providing (that’s another couple of cans of worms) then just give money to new parents. Better yet, move to a basic income guarantee.

Another important point they miss is that if some good is difficult to get, it’s worth figuring out what to do about the root problem rather than just throwing money at the issue and hoping someone will figure out the important stuff later.

NOL Foreign Policy Quiz, Part Two

This is a follow up to part one, where I discuss under what conditions a libertarian can engage in foreign policy beyond pursuing free trade and so whether the creation of a NOL Foreign Policy Quiz is even worthwhile.

In this post I outline how to design a foreign policy quiz.

For starters I imagine two major axis:

  • Soft vs. Hard Power and,
  • Nationalist vs. Internationalist

The first axis corresponds to whether an individual prefers using soft non-coercive actions to achieve their foreign policy goal or hard coercive actions. The second axis would correspond to whether someone prefers to act unilaterally, a “Nationalist”, or through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, an “Internationalist”. Combined the two axis produce the below spectrum.

 

The questions themselves would be formatted something like the below:

Question: A foreign policy question on defense, trade, or resources/environment.

Answer 1: Nationalist, Hard Power action.
Answer 2: Nationalist, Soft Power action.
Answer 3: Internationalist, Hard Power action.
Answer 4: Internationalist, Soft Power action.
Answer 5: Do nothing.

On each question respondents would be given two points, one for the Soft/Hard axis and another for the Nationalist/Internationalist axis. A respondent’s coordinates would be the average score for the two respective axis.

For simplicity I think we ought to limit the NOL quiz to ten or so questions, but if a longer version were developed we could also assign scores on whether the question was about defense, trade or resources/environmental issues. That way we could further distinguish foreign policy views dependent on the type of issue at stake.

Note the inclusion of a fifth answer for all questions – to do nothing. This is an essential option as there are times, especially for the libertarians among us, where all available options are just awful. In those scenarios it may be better to simply not act at all.

I suspect that most of us who are based in the United States will tend to be most ‘nationalist’ than others all else held constant. Beyond that I am not sure where most libertarians would fall on spectrum. To be sure I think many would elect the fifth answer – “Do nothing” often and gravitate towards the center, but I’m doubtful many would be perfectly in the center.

Thoughts? Opinions?

In part 3 I will hopefully have an actual quiz developed so that we can have fun calling one another statists.