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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit: Which Kind of Dependence Now?

Is Brexit a move toward British independence? Some Leave and Remain partisans may believe so, differing only over whether that's good or bad.

But, as usual, things are more complicated. We should hope that, in one respect, Britain's exit from the EU will create a kind of dependence that did not exist while it was still a member of the union. (But see Jacob T. Levy's well-argued opposition, as well as J.D. Tucille's rebuttal of the xenophobia explanation and Matt Ridley's defense of Leave.)

To see how, one must take note of the original (classical) liberal case for competing political jurisdictions rather than one unified authority: competition tends to generate liberty and prosperity by lowering the cost of "exit" -- that is, of voting with one's feet to relocate from more-onerous to less-onerous jurisdictions.

Legal and political scholars have long understood that decentralization of power in Europe accounts in large measure for its unique achievements both in terms of individual autonomy and prosperity. During the Middle Ages, instead of one superstate united with a single religious authority, Europe consisted in many small jurisdictions and a transnational church, each of which jealously guarded its prerogatives. In England, when kings tried to consolidate their power, they met resistance from barons and others who expected to lose from the centralization of power.

Although the players in this drama did not intend to liberate the common people, to an important extent, that was the world-changing consequence of this struggle, aided by direct popular resistance to oppression when opportunities arose. When the Middle Ages ended, this proto-liberal tradition, though under assault, was invoked in defense of liberty and economic progress. The result, imperfect as it has been and constantly in jeopardy from those who favor power over freedom, is what we call the western liberal spirit.

To repeat: the key was decentralization. Without it the liberal revolution could not have occurred.

Here's the complication: while decentralization indicates legal and political independence, it can also entail economic and social dependence (or, better, interdependence). If voting with one's feet is cheap, then jurisdictions must compete with one another to keep and attract people and capital; failure to do so -- autarky -- brings social and economic stagnation.

So the question is not really dependence or independence, but what sort of dependence. Will it be the political dependence that comes from membership in a union of states? Or the economic and social dependence engendered by the competition among politically independent states.

The EU in essence is a cartel intended to suppress competition among the states of Europe -- which is not to say it has had no liberalizing objectives or effects, such as freedom to move and work without visas, and disincentives for corporate subsidies. (I said this is complicated.) Competition, however, is too important to be suppressed because it reveals critical information we are unlikely to acquire otherwise. Since vital knowledge is disbursed among large numbers of people, competition is, as Nobel laureate economist F. A. Hayek put it, a unique "discovery procedure." It's not just a matter of freedom; it's a matter of progress, and of life and death for those in the developing world.

EU bureaucratic harmonization of regulations and tax rates -- despite possibly liberal intentions -- assures that individual states won't engage in a race to liberalization to attract people and capital. The absence of that race necessarily means a lack of discovery, as well as of liberty. It also provides abundant opportunity for corporatist rent-seeking, with which the EU is rife.

The late British political philosopher Norman Barry warned of the dangers of EU membership in 1999. "What the enthusiasts for [the political unification of] Europe do not understand," he wrote, "is that freedom is better protected by competition, both in economics and law, than by constitutional documents: 'exit' always beats 'voice' (democratic privileges)." Of course, the ability to exit a country requires the ability to enter others -- immigration restriction is deeply illiberal.

Barry went on: "It is not the case that British Euroskeptics are necessarily fanatics for parliamentary sovereignty [although Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party apparently are], the very system that has done so much to undermine the market economy and the rule of law in their country. What they fear most of all is the reproduction of that institutional phenomenon on a much more dangerous scale in Europe."

Finally: "The only virtue of retaining independent states (which could still bind themselves by minimalist general rules, mainly for promotion of free trade and protection of the right to free movement) lies in the possibility of preserving genuine institutional competition."

Brexit will have no automatic consequences beyond formal exit. What matters now are the policies the British (and others -- European, American, etc.) undertake. If the Brits embrace xenophobia or protectionism, they will suffer. But if they follow the cosmopolitan peace-and-free-trade program of the great 19th-century Little Englanders Richard Cobden and John Bright, they will prosper in freedom.

Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!


MarkZ said...

"Brexit will have no automatic consequences beyond formal exit. What matters now are the policies the British (and others -- European, American, etc.) undertake."

The sentiment I've heard -- at least filtered through the mainstream US media outlets -- is that there was a very nationalist slant to this whole thing. If these were indeed the motives behind the Leavers, then the consequences will probably be very anti-liberal in the sense that free(ish) trade and free(ish) movement will become far more restricted. It's hard for me to see this news as a positive thing then, Glenn Greenwald's point about an F.U. to the ruling elite notwithstanding.

WorBlux said...

"immigration restriction is deeply illiberal." -From above article

I'm not so convinced about that, especially when combined with welfare and other perverse incentives. There is also potential incompatibility with culture to consider, not just with integration but the degradation of civil society when incompatible world outlooks and widely divergent histories are placed in close proximity. Additionally the children and grandchildren of migrants from undeveloped nations tend to have a lower IQ than those of nationals, and are much more likely to politically support illiberal policies and politicians.

"there was a very nationalist slant to this whole thing" - MarkZ (in comments)

Treating nationality (shared language, culture, history (both genetic and in the more academic sense) seriously, is vital if you want to effect the world as it is.

Additionally large numbers of Muslims is particularly worrying, because Islam philosophy and tradition does not make room for a secular state. It's all religious, It's all spiritual any power or authority must serve and respect those spiritual ends. Any remnant of a secular state you see in Islamic states are a historical byproduct of western colonization. Particularly incompatible with western liberalism, are the punishment of apostasy, the prohibition of proselytizing of any other religion to Muslims, and the prohibition of marriage of Muslim women to non-Muslims. These laws hold in all Islamic countries, just as much in the "fundamentalist" Saudi Arabia as the more "liberalized" Malaysia. For further explanation of the incompatibility https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2016/01/liberalism-and-islam.html

And in the end it's cruel and inefficient, as immigrants you don't share the language, culture, and values of the nation tend to do quite poorly in it, and the failures largely extend through the second and third generations. For far less cost refugees could be settled in nations where they share more of the language, culture and values, are less likely to remain among the poorest in the population, and where their children and grandchildren can expect greater social mobility.

cat's paw said...

Agreed with WorBlux.

The freedom of movement is based on the premise that all people will abide by the non-aggression principle. But not all people will respect the non-aggression principle. Islam is not. Islam promotes the killing Christians and Jews; it's in the Quran. If any Muslim endorses the Quran, they are committing a criminal threat of physical harm against Christians and Jews. We therefore have the right to respond to this threat to the fullest extent as possible.

The peaceful ones will say they do not condone violence, but they still wish to execute Christians and Jews if it's done by a "legitimate" government; by voting for the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorist organizations. Voting for Muslim Brotherhood in an act of aggression against non-Muslims. Therefore we cannot allow any Muslim immigrants.

Sheldon Richman said...

That may be your interpretation, but it differs dramatically from the interpretations of many other people, Muslim and otherwise.

MarkZ said...

Worblux and cat's paw:

There are lots of nutso philosophies out there. Islam is one of them and so is catholicism. The crazyness that exists in both of their holy texts and the nutcases who take literalist interpretations of that crazyness can potentially be dangerous.

But I think the whole idea of freedom of religion extends to all forms of religion and other crazy philosophies. As soon as we put together a police force to go round up people who we deem potentially threatening because they believe in something stupid, it puts all of us at risk. Not to mention the fact that it is incredible expensive, largely untenable, and directly violates the non-agression principle if that's your thing.

3D Face Analysis said...

You're trying to convince that not all Muslims are bad...to white supremacists. This won't work. Most Muslims aren't white, why would white supremacists care about a religion practiced by mostly non-whites, other than to bash it? Most white supremacists hate Islam because of backward reasoning: They hate Arabs, most Arabs practice Islam, therefore they hate Islam. White supremacists are already decided on their hatred against Islam, and any attempt to reverse this will be met with resistance. It's too much cognitive dissonance for white supremacists to accept Muslims while at the same time believing that Arabs (who practice Islam) are inferior.

It's the same thing with convincing global warming to free-market advocates. Too much cognitive dissonance for them to accept that global warming is real because the "solutions" to global warming usually involve non-market solutions like a carbon tax.