From the Comments: More trade, more states?

Nguyen Ha left this thoughtful comment about my post on protectionism in Africa that I am embarrassed I missed:

Would you care to explain how “stronger economic ties will hasten the demise of current African states’ superficial institutions”?

What a tough question! First, though, I stated that it was my hope that deeper trading ties would lead to more states, not my prediction. My hope is based on current trends around the world: stronger economic ties have led to more states (and more aspirations for statehood within existing states).

The best academic treatment on this topic comes from Giacomo Ponzetto, an economist currently at CREI in Barcelona (he’s been mentioned at NOL on more than one occasion, too), and especially the Introduction and Section 5 of his working paper titled “Globalization and Political Structure.” Here:

As globalization proceeds, localities remove borders by increasing the size of countries. The number of countries declines and the mismatch between each locality is ideal and actual provision of public services grows. Eventually, this mismatch is large enough to justify a move to a two-level governance structure. The world political structure shifts from a few large countries to many small countries within a world economic union. The two-level structure is more expensive, but it is nonetheless desirable because it facilitates trade and improves preference-matching in the provision of public services.

By “two-level governance structure” Ponzetto means one level, a locality, that’s focused on delivering public goods to that specific locality, and another level, a world economic union, that’s focused on protecting property rights and eliminating border costs.

You can see this concept play out in a few different federative structures, especially the EU, the US, India, and China. In the European Union, multiple localities have tried to separate from countries (Catalonia from Spain, Scotland from UK) while still remaining part of the international economic union in place. Deeper trade ties, more states.

Three new states were created in India in 2000, and China is currently grappling with federalism as a way to keep up with its predictable economic success. The US hasn’t seen any new states added since 1959, but that’s because its system does a good enough job overall to keep all its member states content (happy, even).

The free trade zone in Africa will be interesting to watch because there are so many different variables at play than in China, the EU, India, or the US. India was governed by one overseas empire; the EU has been able to maintain stability because of American military power and the security umbrella it provides; China has been unified on and off again for centuries; and the US is, for all intents and purposes, a polity underscored by British cultural, economic, and political mores. Africa has none of these traits, yet its various leaders recognize that free trade leads to prosperity and often (not always) to better diplomatic ties.

If all goes well, and current trends elsewhere are any indication, Africa would see more states come into being to go along with its deeper economic ties. (This might be a major factor why Nigeria refused to join; Abuja fought a vicious civil war in the 1970s against separatists in Biafra and its leaders are probably tacitly aware of current global trends.) If all doesn’t go well, then violence and poverty will be just around the corner.

Secessions that didn’t work out

No, not that secession. It’s the ten most important unsuccessful secessions of the last few decades. That’s the topic of my latest column over at RealClearHistory, anyway. An excerpt:

You already know about Catalonia and its unsuccessful bid to secede from Spain late last year. (Check out our archives if you want to get up to speed.) A comparative approach is useful here. The unsuccessful secession movements in Africa have all been violent. The unsuccessful ones in Europe and North America started out violent but have evolved into democratic movements. The key to understanding this shift is the federative structures that exist, or don’t exist, in different parts of the world. The secessionist movements in Europe and North America are not looking to go it alone any longer. These movements don’t want full sovereignty. Separatists in Europe and North America want more decision-making power in federative structures. In the case of Quebecers, it’s Canada’s unique federation; for Catalonians (and the Scottish, for that matter), it’s the European Union. Once a federative body roots itself in a region of the world, separatist tendencies cease to be violent and they shift to more peaceful forms of resistance. Kurdistan provides a microcosmic example of this evolution, In Turkey, where the Kurds continue to be ignored and oppressed, violence reigns supreme. In Iraq, where the Kurdish region has been given autonomy and self-governance, grievances are aired out in the open, in the form of non-binding referenda and in arguments put forth in a free and open press.

I also spend a good deal of time explaining why the Confederacy is no longer relevant for understanding the world we live in. Please, check it out.

A short note on the Holy Roman Empire, “democracy,” and institutions

At the heart of Europe […] lay a hugely complex and fragmented political entity which resisted the ‘modernizing’ trend of national state formation, and preserved medieval arrangements conceived as rooted in antiquity: the Holy Roman Empire. After three decades of bloodshed retrospectively known as the Thirty Year War (1618-1648), the Empire had achieved a somewhat precarious equilibrium in which hundreds of semi-autonomous imperial estates co-existed under the loose authority of an emperor and a college of princes. Disparaged as a multi-headed monster by many […,] for Leibniz the Holy Roman Empire remained a preferable alternative to national and absolutist states. In his mind, the Empire offered an ideal of shared sovereignty in which limited territorial autonomy could be combined with a central imperial authority, and the main Christian confessions could cohabit peacefully in a balanced, representative Reichstag. Alongside his more famous works on logic, metaphysics, and mathematics, Leibniz wrote innumerable memos and proposals advising rulers on how to strengthen and re-order the Empire into a stable, supra-national political structure which could protect and promote common interests while maintaining local self-determination in territories and imperial free cities. In short, Leibniz regarded political unity in diversity under a supra-national authority as a better path to peace, prosperity, and stability in Europe than the ascendancy of competing national states.

This is from Maria Rosa Antognazza, a philosopher at King’s College London, writing for Oxford University Press’s blog.  (h/t Barry) Check out this map of the outline of the Holy Roman Empire in 1600 AD (it is superimposed onto the outlines of today’s European states):

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(source)

It reminded me of this map I produced a couple of years ago showing the GDP (PPP) per capita of administrative units in Europe. What the map illustrates, generally, is a Europe where present-day Austria, western Germany, northern Italy, Switzerland, and Benelux are much wealthier than the rest of Europe (sans Scandinavia).

And here is a map, thanks to Vincent, of GDP per capita in European regions. What his map illustrates, generally, is a Europe where present-day Austria, western Germany, northern Italy, Switzerland, and Benelux are much wealthier than the rest of Europe (sans Scandinavia).

Wow, right? Eastern Germany, Poland, and Czech Republic are poor today, but the rest of what was once the Holy Roman Empire is very prosperous. So, two lines of thought here. One, socialism is really bad for people. It not only destroys economies and political and civil liberties, it also destroys institutions.

The second line of thought is to wonder aloud a bit more about institutions and their long-term viability. The first question that needs to addressed is “what are institutions?” Today, many scholars use “democracy” and “property rights” as generic answers when explaining to the general public what good institutions are, and they are not wrong, but they don’t do justice to the concept of democracy (or property rights, for that matter). I think a better term might be “representativeness,” or “constitutionalism,” or “republicanism.” Anything but “democracy.” Democracy implies rule of the people, but this doesn’t describe what has happened in the West, in regards to political equality and economic growth (both are uneven, but undeniably real).

“Democracy” sounds better than “political institutions favoring separation of powers and coalition-building in parliamentary settings, as well as the inclusion of people who don’t pull the levers of statecraft (through the voting mechanism),” but this shorthand has obvious negative unintended consequences: many a demagogue will use the term democracy to mean something quite different from what actual self-governance requires institutionally.

There is more to the Holy Roman Empire than just path dependency (albeit stretched to its limits). For instance, you’d have to explore why representative institutions in the HRE eventually failed. My quick guess would be that HRE’s neighbors (Russian Empire, French Empire, Ottoman Empire, Scandinavian kingdoms) were pretty ruthless and thus made it impossible for more formal constitutional institutions to take deep root and flourish in the heart of Europe. Instead, because of HRE’s unruly neighbors, the Empire was forever in flux between a loose alliance of petty states and a confederation.

BC’s weekend reads

  1. Who’s who in Hamburg’s G20 protests
  2. But, if Marxism is not inevitable, it is nothing. Ronald Reagan, with his abiding fear that the Evil Empire would spread without intervention, was, in this sense, a much better Marxist than David Roediger could ever hope to be.
  3. It’s business as usual between Turkey and the EU
  4. So far there is not much sign of the fresh dawn that IS’s downfall should bring.
  5. Hell Makes the News

Could the DUP push UK Conservatives towards a ‘Norway Option’?

Last year, Britain voted to leave the European Union under a banner of anti-immigration and protectionism. Since then, both social democrats and classical liberals have been waiting to catch a break. Ever the optimist, I hope they may have just got one, from an unlikely source, the Democratic Unionist Party. They are a Northern Ireland-based Protestant party that is usually at the margins of national British politics. Thanks to the outcome of the latest general election, they may be in a position to force the British Conservatives towards a more trade and immigration friendly Brexit.

In April, Prime Minister (for now) Theresa May called a snap election. She didn’t need to face the electorate until 2020, but decided to gamble, thinking that she would increase her working majority of Conservative MPs. Instead, as we discovered yesterday after the polls closed, she did the opposite, reducing the slim majority that David Cameron won in 2015 to a mere plurality. This was against one of the most radically left-wing opponents in decades, Jeremy Corbyn.

This was a dismal failure for the Conservatives but the result is a relatively good sign for liberals. I feared that Theresa May’s conservative-tinged anti-market, anti-human rights, authoritarian corporatism was exactly what centrist voters would prefer. It turns that Cameron’s more liberal conservativism actually won more seats. Not only is an outward-looking liberalism correct, de-emphasizing it turns out not be a popular move after all.

Without a majority, the Conservatives need to form a coalition or come to an informal agreement with another party. This seems likely impossible with Labour, the Scottish Nationalists or the Liberal Democrats who have all campaigned heavily against the Conservatives and disagree on key issues, such as whether Britain should leave the European Union at all. This leaves the DUP.

In terms of ideology, the DUP is far to the right of most British Conservatives. Their opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and occasional support for teaching creationism, means that they have more in common with some Republican Christian groups in the United States than the secular mainstream in the rest of the United Kingdom. Historically, at least, they have links with pro-unionist paramilitaries that have terrorized Irish Catholic separatists.

There is, however, one way in which the DUP are comparatively moderate. While content with the UK leaving the European Union, they want to keep the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (an EU member) open. Closing it would reduce critical cross-border trade with an economically dynamic neighbor and re-ignite violent tensions between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland.

How could this be achieved? Leaving the EU while keeping a relatively open trading and immigration relationship is similar to the so-called Norway Option. Norway is within the single market but can exempt itself from many parts of EU law. In return, it has no direct representation in EU institutions. If the EU could accept such an arrangement, then the DUP may be able to make Conservatives commit to it.

Of course, the DUP will extract other perks from their major partners as part of any deal. But their social policy preferences are so far to the right of people in England, Wales and Scotland that this will hopefully have to take the form of fiscal subsidies to their home region (economically damaging but could at least avoid infringing civil liberties).

It might seem paradoxical that an extreme party may have a moderating influence on overall policy. However, social choice theory suggests that democratic processes do not aggregate voter, or legislator, preferences in a straightforward way. Because preferences exist along multiple dimensions, they are neither additive nor linear. This can produce perverse and chaotic outcomes, but it can also generate valuable bargains between otherwise opposed parties. In this case, one right-wing party produces an authoritarian Brexit. But two right-wing parties could equal a more liberal outcome.

That’s the theory. Has something like this ever happened in practice? Arguably, Canada is an outstanding example of how a minority party with many internally illiberal policy preferences produces liberal outcomes (see the fascinating Vaubel, 2009, p.25 for the argument). There, the need to placate the separatist movement in Quebec involved leaving more powers to the provinces in general, thus keeping Canada as a whole much more decentralized than Anglo-Canadian preferences alone could have assured. Will the DUP do the same for Britain? We can but hope.

Ricardo and Ringo for a free-trade Brexit

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My colleague, Shruti Rajagopalan, points out that today is the 200th Anniversary of the publication of David Ricardo’s  On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. It was here that the notion of comparative advantage began confounding protectionists and nativists. Shruti offers this famous example of it in practice:

Apparently, when asked if Ringo Starr is the best drummer in the world, John Lennon quipped, “Ringo isn’t the best drummer in the world. He isn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles.” And while Lennon may have fancied himself a better singer, guitarist, songwriter, and drummer, than Ringo, the Beatles are still better off with Ringo at the drums.

The essence of comparative advantage is that you don’t need to possess a great talent to benefit from trade within a group, whether we are talking about individual people or nations. So long as there exists some variation in relative talents, people will be able to benefit from specialization and trade.

This message is as relevant as ever. The British Parliament has just voted to hold fresh elections. This is supposedly to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand when negotiating new terms of trade when Britain leaves the European Union. Politicians act as if trade is dangerous, always a threat to the national interest unless carefully constrained. They negotiate complex deals and regulation on market access, essentially holding their own consumers hostage, preventing them from buying foreign goods unless other countries agree to open their own markets. They fear that their domestic producers will be out-competed by superior, or cut-priced, businesses from abroad.

What comparative advantage shows is that even if that happened to be true for every single industry, domestic businesses could still specialize so as to be competitive on the world market, and improve domestic living standards at the same time. Britain could open its ports and wallets to foreign goods and services with no tariffs, even without any reciprocal deal from the EU, and yet still benefit from trade.

Why? Because it doesn’t matter if you have to be the drummer, just so long as you are in the band.

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.