NATO, Kendrick Lamar, and the answer to free riding

Edwin’s post giving one cheer to NATO brings up the old rift between European and American libertarians on foreign policy and military alliances. As usual, it’s excellent and thought-provoking. Here’s what he got out of me:

International relations splits the classical liberal/libertarian movement for a few reasons. First, consensus-building on both sides of the pond is different, and this contributes strongly to the divide over foreign policy. American libertarians lean isolationist because it aligns closer to the American left and libertarians are desperate to have some sort of common ground with American leftists. In Europe, leftists are much less liberal than American leftists (they’re socialists and communists, whereas in the States leftists are more like Millian liberals), and therefore European libertarians try to find different common ground with leftist factions. Exporting the Revolution just doesn’t do it for Europe’s libertarians.

Edwin (and Barry) have done a good job convincing me that trans-Atlantic military ties are worth the effort. But we’re still stuck at a point where the US pays too much and the Europeans do too little. Trans-Atlantic ties are deep militarily, culturally, and economically. Tariff rates between the United States and Western Europe are miniscule, and the massive military exercise put on by NATO’s heavyweights highlights well the intricate defense connections between both sides of the pond. Night clubs in Paris, London, Warsaw, and Los Angeles all play the same Kendrick Lamar songs, too.

Politically, though, the Western world is not connected enough. Sure, there are plenty of international organizations that bureaucrats on both sides of the pond are able to work in, but bureaucracy is only one aspect of getting more politically intertwined with each other (and it’s a damn poor method, too).

In 1966 economists Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser wrote an article for the RAND Corporation showing that there were two ways to make NATO a more equitable military alliance: 1) greater unification or 2) sharing costs on a percentage basis. The article, titled “An Economic Theory of Alliances,” has been influential. Yet almost all of the focus since it was published over 50 years ago has been on door number 2, sharing costs on a percentage basis. Thus, you have Obama and Trump bemoaning the inability of Europe’s NATO members to meet their percentage threshold that had been agreed upon with a handshake at some sort of bureaucratic summit. You have Bush II and Clinton gently reminding Europe’s NATO members of the need to contribute more to defense spending. You have Nixon and Carter prodding Europe’s NATO members to meet an agreed-upon 3-4 percent threshold. For half a century policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have tried to make NATO more equitable by sharing costs on a percentage basis, and it has never panned out. Ever. Sure, there have been some exceptions in some years, but that’s not okay.

What has largely been lost in the Olson & Zeckhauser article is the “greater unification” approach, probably because this is the much tougher path to take towards equitable relations. The two economists spell out what they mean by “greater unification”: replacing the alliance with a union, or federation. I’m all for this option. It would make things much more equitable and, if the Europeans simply joined the American federation, it would give hundreds of millions of people more individual freedom thanks to the compound republic the Americans have built. Edwin, along with most other European libertarians/classical liberals, acknowledges that Europe is free-riding, but are Europe’s liberals willing to cede some aspects of their country’s sovereignty in order to make the alliance more equitable? Are they ready to vote alongside Americans for an executive? Are they ready to send Senators and Representatives to Washington? Or are they just pandering to their American libertarian friends, and telling them what they want to hear so they’ll shut the hell up about being ripped off?

Nightcap

  1. Symmetry and Asymmetry as Elements of Federalism: A Theoretical Speculation Charles Tarlton, Journal of Politics
  2. The asymmetry of European integration, or why the EU cannot be a ‘social market economy’ Fritz Scharpf, Socio-Economic Review
  3. The past and future of European federalism: Spinelli vs. Hayek Federico Ottavio Reho, Martens Centre
  4. Secular Nationalism, Islamism, and Making the Arab World Luma Simms, Law & Liberty

Vox on Puerto Rican statehood

Vox, a left-wing publication founded by a fellow Bruin (Ezra Klein), has a pretty good piece up on Puerto Rico’s inability to “gain statehood,” i.e. to become a full-fledged member of the American federation. I say “pretty good” instead of great because the author, Alexia Fernández Campbell, does too much Trump-bashing and not enough focusing on the issue at hand.

Look, I didn’t vote for Trump. I don’t like Trump. But the Left’s infatuation with him is unhealthy, the way the Right’s infatuation with Obama was unhealthy. When Obama was president, I wanted so badly to rely on the right-leaning press for excellent opposition coverage of the Obama administration but, with few exceptions, all I got was garbage. The experience jaded me, and I expect less of the press, so the Left’s inability to look at the Trump administration’s many wrongdoings with clear-eyed sobriety is annoying rather than disheartening.

For instance, Campbell points out many problems facing the pro-statehood faction in Puerto Rico: a century-old racist SCOTUS ruling, the lack of a clearly-defined process for gaining statehood, anti-statehood factions in Puerto Rico, Washington’s lack of interest in adding another state, and Donald Trump being A Very Bad Man. One of these problems doesn’t fit into Puerto Rico’s decades-long campaign to gain statehood. Can you guess which one? Annoying!

At any rate, Campbell misses one of the problems facing pro-statehood factions: Puerto Rico would be a “blue” state (overseas readers: “blue state” means a reliable vote for the Democratic Party). If Puerto Rico really wants to become a member of the American federation, its policymakers would do well to start looking for a “red” state (reliable vote for the Republican Party) lobbying partner.

RCH: “10 Places That Should Join the U.S.”

That’s the title of my weekend article over at RealClearHistory. An excerpt:

9. Puerto Rico. Officially an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico was acquired by Washington, along with Cuba and the Philippines, in the course of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Not quite an annexed state and not quite a colony, the island has been in legal limbo since the war with Spain ended. In 2017, a referendum was held on the issue of statehood (the fifth of its kind since 1952), and an overwhelming majority of those who voted preferred statehood to independence or the status quo.

Unfortunately, “those who voted” only accounted for about 23% of the island’s population, and referendum was popularly-held, meaning that the legislature didn’t vote on the matter (which is what the federal congress would require in order to consider a Puerto Rican application). Despite the odds being stacked against a Spanish-speaking state, there has never been a better time than now to join the union, especially if representatives could work in tandem with representatives of Jefferson. The history of American statehood is one of balance in the Senate. If Maine could join as a free state, then Missouri could join as a slave state. If Hawaii could join as a blue state, then Alaska could join as a red state. If Puerto Rico joined the union it would be as a blue state, and Jefferson could be the red yang to San Juan’s yin.

Read the rest.