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.

Reply to ‘Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism’

I write in reply to Edwin van de Haar’s post ‘Classical Liberalism, Cosmopolitanism and Nationalism’, which contains some generous remarks about my social media posts while putting forward a view different from my own about the role of the nation state. Edwin argues that the nation state is foundational to classical liberalism in that post. I have previously argued for the benefits of the United Kingdom staying in the European Union, just before the referendum which has put the UK on the path to leaving.

I will start with the doctrinal issues of how far classical liberalism might be considered as something that is embedded in the emergence of the nation state as we know it. It is true that classical liberalism arose as the nation state emerged and consolidated and it did not occur to classical liberals, on the whole, to question the state system as they knew it. That is a system defined in early modern natural law and contractual theory about law and state as one of a very unified system of sovereignty in a world of ‘a state of nature’, anarchy, or lawlessness between states.

We have to note at least one major deviation in the familiar list of classical liberal authors, which is Immanuel Kant, thinking of his essays ‘Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose’ (1784) and ‘Perpetual Peace: a philosophical sketch’ (1795), which do not question the internal  sovereignty of states, but does argue for a law governed set of relations between states with a global institution of some sort to prevent republics going to war with each other.

We should consider John Stuart Mill’s thoughts on federal states in Considerations on Representative Government (1861), particularly chapter XVII, ‘Or Federal Representative Governments’ which looks at the possibility of a state with decentralised decision making functions. A nation state can be federalised, at least in principle, but what are the components of the federation other then sub-nations, where the population may even regard them as nations within the state. Mill was building on the experience of the United States since the constitution of 1787, and Switzerland, particularly since the federal constitution of 1848.

The United States and Switzerland did not come out of nowhere. The US consolidated the links between thirteen colonies of Great Britain while federal Switzerland built on the Swiss Confederation and its links with places like Geneva which were associated with the confederation, but were not part of it until the restructuring of European states in the Napoleonic period. The point here is that modern states may be federal as well as unitary states and that includes continuity with pre-modern links between at last partly self-governing regions-nations. We could even say that kind of state of associated states was the Medieval norm.

The example, and even idealisation, of this Medieval structure enters classical liberalism via Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws (1748), along with the work of Swiss jurists of the time, particularly in Berne. Montesquieu was building on the experience of the kind of medieval and early modern monarchy where he thought there was liberty, moderation in government, distinguishing it from tyranny. In such situations different laws and assemblies for towns and for historic regions was quite normal under the monarchy. In so far as such states, like France, were tending to evolve in states based on the absolute sovereignty of the centre, in the formation of what we call a nation state, Montesquieu saw the danger of despotism.

The historical experience that Montesquieu was drawing on was the way that Medieval monarchies were constructed through assembling  patch work of  the monarch’s personal domains, regions with their own lords and institutions, and church domains, along with increasingly self-governing towns. He also looked at the antique experiences of allying republics in a federation, which he thought was preserved in the Netherlands and Switzerland of his time. Germany, which at that time was a kind of federal/confederal empire of very varied forms of sub-imperial sovereign units including princes with lands outside the Empire, was also a form of federation for Montesquieu.

If we go back to the German history of the century before Montesquieu, the idea of the modern nation state is strongly associated with the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which ended the Thirty Years war, focused on Germany, but drawing in most of Europe. ‘Westphalian state system’ has become a label for an internal system of states which are completely sovereign internally and face each other as equal legal personalities with no higher instance of sovereignty or collective instrument for enforcing the laws of nations, which do have some basis in the natural law doctrines of the time, and earlier.

The trouble with this understanding of Westphalia is that though it has some truth for Europe outside the German Empire (officially known as the Holy Roman Empire), it is very misleading for the Empire, and therefore for those European powers, including Sweden and Denmark, which had land within the Empire. The princes, cities and other territorial units within the Empire were under the legal authority of the Emperor, who largely served as a judge of interstate disputes though with far greater powers in the lands of the Habsburg family (consolidated as the Austrian Empire in the Napoleonic era) which always had the Emperor, though the Emperor was legally an elective office. The Habsburgs land extended outside the Empire into central Europe so the Westphalian system of Imperial authority brought in other European nations and extended outside the Empire strictly speaking.

Westphalia modified a system rooted in the Middle Ages of Germany as a middle European federation or confederation, drawing in other parts of Europe and therefore anchoring a European system of some kind. Periods of dominance by France or Spain complicate this story, but French claims always overlapped with Imperial claims and the peak of Spanish power was when the Spanish monarchy was from the same family as the German Emperors.

The Napoleonic era disrupted these arrangements severely, but we can see Napoleon as trying to revive the original Empire of the Romans under Charlemagne in the ninth century, which united France, Germany and neighbouring territories under a Frankish over-king. Charlemagne was know as ‘father of Europe’ in his time, perhaps more in connection with Europe as Christendom and his wars against Muslims in Spain, then with Europe as we might think of it now, but this is part of the story of what it is for there to be a Europe and a European system. Coronation by the Pope and recognition of the Frankish kingdom as heir to ancient Rome connects the medieval German Empire with the first great European political system, the Roman Empire.

The aftermath of the Napoleonic period in Germany was a confederation, which again included those European powers (the United Kingdom was one) which had lands in Germany. This evolved into the German Empire founded in 1871, which was itself an extraordinary mixture of Greater Prussia, federation, democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and so on. It was more of a nation state than German predecessor systems in that it was a sovereign unified part of the international state system. The size and growing economic power of the Kaiserreich, incorporating Polish, French and Danish speaking areas, made it a destabilising force in Europe. Too big for the security of other European states, too small to anchor a European system.

The First World War and the Second World War were both consequences of this unstable system. The European Union is in large part an attempt to solve the problem by creating a European system which Germany anchors, though since unification the dominance of Germany has become an issue again. Whatever the problems, the EU provides a better framework for structuring a European system in which Germany is both contained and can exert influence in a consensual manner.

Returning to the issue of the nation state, Germany was never a nation state in the strictest sense of a very unitary state with a single language and ethnicity. France has usually been taken as the model of the nation state ‘strictly speaking’, but even so it has only been a country of speakers of standard French since the late nineteenth century. As it is now, it includes speakers of Breton, Basque, Occitan and Alsace German. Corsica has special status and Alsace-Lorraine also has some special arrangements in recognition of its specificities.

The European world before the First World War was more of a Europe of multi-national Empires than nations, with four Empires (German Hohenzollern, Austrian Habsburg, Turkish Ottoman, Russian Romanov) dominating the centre and east. Spain in practice has always been an extended Castille in which other regions-nations have played variable distinct roles. The United Kingdom never completely integrated as a nation state; even at the peak of integration in the nineteenth century, Scotland kept its own legal, state church and educational system and since then in a rather complicated way the UK has become more loosely integrated and may lose Scotland in a few years.

Even with the imminent departure of the UK from the EU, Europe continues to be a political system, not just an aggregate of nation states. The larger European states are not nation states in the strictest sense. Even without the EU, European states accept various kinds of obligation with regard to north Atlantic security and global trade which limit sovereignty. The UK will negotiate some kind of membership of the internal market of the EU and its passport union aspect, as well as participation in various EU schemes. It will therefore continue to be part of a European system anchored by Germany.

Ever since the Romans, Europe has needed a European system of some kind, and the German anchor schemes going back to 800 have recognised the Roman precedent. In reality there has never been a Europe of nation states and the periods closest to that model ended in catastrophic wars. Disaggregation of the European system as it is now may not result in war, but it has the potential to unleash trade wars, protectionism, competitive currency devaluation, erosion of chances to live, work, and study abroad, associated labour market sclerosis, destabilising struggles for political-diplomatic dominance, and an incapacity to ally in order to deal with global and strategic issues affecting Europe, including migration flows, Russian expansionism, and Middle Eastern conflict and terror.

(more on the consequences of the UK leave referendum soon)

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/

From the Comments: Pushback in favor of Brexit

Dr Stocker‘s recent post arguing against Brexit elicited the following response from Chhay Lin in the ‘comments’ threads, and I think it’s worth highlighting in a post of its own:

Very well explained, Barry Stocker. Although it can be good for Britain to leave the EU, it entirely depends on how they go on from there. I am worried that Britain will move unto the path of less free trade which would be an erosion of the 4 freedoms – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. On the other hand, it seems to me that the EU was steadily moving toward greater centralization and harmonization of regulations that would decrease the competition between its member states and thereby becoming quite harmful. I think that the EU should have never had greater ambitions than the 4 freedoms with a European Court of Justice that would protect these freedoms. Now they can impose EU-wide tariffs and quotas against products from countries outside of the EU or they can impose EU-wide sanctions. Some harmful examples of the EU: the quotas on cheap Chinese solar panels and EU-wide sanctions against Russia. A wise independent Britain would have free trade agreements with countries within and outside the EU, but I’m afraid that too large a portion of the Leave supporters are hostile to immigration and open markets.

Chhay Lin has written more about Brexit, in Dutch, on his homepage and I do recommend you check it out.

Brexit, free trade, and the EU

I posted this on Facebook twenty hours before the results were known:

The United Kingdom will not leave the EU. If it does, there will be concrete talks of a trade agreement between the UK and the Union within a week. Free trade is the best part of the EU anyway. It may be the only worthwhile part. At least, it undeniably works. The EU has a free trade agreement with Norway and with Switzerland already. I don’t see it denying the UK, not even out of collective pique.

My guess (guess) is that the UK will have done the EU a favor by pointing out that much of the European Union’s bureaucratic, abstract, nebulous project is simply overambitious. The UK taught the world democracy and soccer (football). It can teach its European neighbors pragmatism.

Obviously, I called the referendum wrong. The mistake I made was to guess that people who were going to vote for staying were more likely to lie to pollsters than partisans of Leave. That would have given an underestimate for the “stays.” I should not have called it. I am not inside British culture enough to make this kind of guess. I shouldn’t have. I won’t again.

I am perplexed by some of the comments I heard all day in the US media. Perhaps as a result of a bit of psychological projection, American commentators state that anti-immigration sentiment played the main part in the victory of the “leave.” This may be the case; I don’t know enough to pronounce but I need to make a technical point that the pundits don’t seem to be completely aware of. Leaving the European Union can only lessen the flow of European immigrants into the UK: Polish (plumbers), Romanian carpenters, and tens of thousands of French citizens, at least. Since about one million Brits leave abroad and almost all in the EU, I see an exchange agreement in the making. Don’t you?

Leaving the EU will do nothing or nearly nothing to reduce the intake of immigrants of color and of Muslims. Those landed in the UK and continue to land there as a consequence of past colonial relationships. I say this because I suspect (I suspect; I don’t know) that Brits are more exercised about large numbers of dark-skinned Muslims than they are about fewer dishwater-white Catholic Poles. Call me a cynic!

Second technical point. Many of the American commentators I heard today, including those predicting Armageddon as a result of the British referendum, seem to have vague ideas about what the European Union actually is. It’s actually fairly complicated but I don’t excuse them. If they want to comment, they should do their homework. Anyway, the EU is first and foremost a free trade area and and free investment area. In this capacity, it works very well. I mean by this that any step backward would impoverish all Europeans to some extent.

I don’t see how British industry and British commerce can really face the possibility of meeting with tariff walls and other discriminatory treatments in a market of 27 countries until now wide open to them.

The Brits have two years to finalize their exit. I think (but I have been wrong before; see above) that they will say to the EU: We are leaving except that… we want to be included in your free trade and free investment area, like Iceland and like Norway. As I mentioned above, I also think they will want some mutual arrangement about citizens of the EU living in the UK and citizens of the UK living in the EU. I think there are going to be many rounds of negotiations around the theme: “We are leaving but…” It’s also possible that the most fervent Leave-ers will ultimately be satisfied with having made a rude gesture toward Brussels, the capital of the European Union. I am repeating (in fear this time) my prediction that the British referendum will cause the EU to reform itself. In fact, think it already has.

See also “Protectionism; Free Trade….” It was written for the intelligent uninformed.

A quick note on the Brexit debacle

I think Barry (here and here) and Edwin (here and here) have made the best contributions to the debate on the EU and sovereignty here at NOL to date, so I’m just going to add a couple of open-ended thoughts to the recent vote (which I think was a huge mistake).

One of the big theoretical debates over the years concerning the EU is the concept of European-ness and how it can never replace the nationalisms that already exist in each state across the pond. This makes no sense to me, though, especially if you buy the argument (as I do) that nations come and go largely in reaction to current events. German-ness or French-ness or British-ness could easily be subsumed by a European-ness.

I don’t want to be one of those doomsayers who claims that, because things did not go my way, all will be lost. The UK is going to be in for a little bit of hurt, financially, as is the European Union; losing the UK is a big deal, and so is leaving the EU. However, the UK is not exactly Sweden or Germany. The United Kingdom is poorer than Mississippi, the poorest administrative unit in the United States. It’s possible, if a bit unlikely, that the UK will be better placed to negotiate itself back to economic prominence if it doesn’t have to work through the EU to attain some of its goals. The UK has deep connections with a number of states and regions around the world thanks to its now-dead worldwide empire, and I don’t why a more Euroskeptic UK would decide to shun the rest of the world too, especially if the “rest of the world” was once a part of the UK’s empire (the glorious past of the UK seems to be an important talking point for Euroskeptics).

Immigration may not cease either. An irony here is that the Euroskeptics who won rode hard a wave of anti-immigration sentiment sweeping across the UK (and the rest of Europe, too). But it seems to me that, because of the UK’s deep connections to its former imperial provinces, most of the immigrants in the UK are going to be South Asian or Gulf Arab rather than Polish or Greek. Given that much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe stems from a deep distrust of Islam, I find it odd that British voters could be so gullible on this matter.

Does anybody know if this vote is the final say on whether or not the UK will leave the EU? [UPDATE: see Dr van de Haar’s comment for an answer to my question] It seems to me that there has got to be some legal mechanisms, via courts, that have been put into place in order to slow down things like mob rule mass voting.