Monday, December 12, 2011

Good neighbors don't refuse to work together in the name of sovereignty!

I try to keep this blog focused on topics for which I have some serious background. I will depart from that practice here to make a comment on the current deliberations in Europe.

I have just started reading The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis. Gaddis points out that Stalin in the 1940s believed that the capitalist countries could not collaborate to maintain the peace, and that consequently the United States and western European states would fall to squabbling among themselves and Europe would fall to communism. The Truman administration confounded his expectations by helping the other capitalist democracies to recover economically, and the United States was rewarded not only by the triumph of capitalism over communism, but also by decades of economic growth and stability.

The European Union was created in the belief that the countries of Europe would be more likely to keep the peace if they were more interdependent. The common market also had the benefit that the larger markets it provided stimulated economic growth. The EU went to a common currency, but the member nations could not agree to give up sovereignty to the extent necessary to assure that all the Euro zone countries maintained economic policies that prevented debt accumulation and financial crises. Crises have occurred and a contagion is threatened. The question now is can the member states of the EU find a way of muddling through the current threat of a Europe wide crisis and move toward a system to assure coordinated economic policies to keep the Euro sound in the future.

David Cameron announces that he will not commit the United Kingdom to the best compromise that the EU officials could come up with last week because to do so would reduce British sovereignty. That seems like a huge mistake.
These guys transferred sovereignty from mad King George and the English Parliament
to the people of the United States and their elected representatives. We have since moved
sovereignty among branches of government and between state and national government.
United States history has numerous instances in which states have sought to nullify the laws of the federal government. A great Civil War was fought to defend the principle that the the United States is a single nation with sovereignty of the states largely surrendered to the federal government. Indeed, we perhaps need to surrender more sovereignty from states to the central government -- state governments seem to run economic policies that run counter both to federal policy and the country needs; when the economy needs stimulus, states often reduce their expenditures; when jobs must be created, states lay off employees; when inflation is the problem, state governments contribute still more to inflation. Yet overall, the transfer of sovereignty from the 50 states to a continent wide federal government serving 300 million people has served those people well. It should serve as a model to be considered by Europe.

Metaphors are dangerous, including neighborhood metaphors for groups of states, but they can also be useful. The United States had a "good neighbor policy" with Latin America. Focus on the nuclear family is important, each seeking to foster its own security and welfare. Still it seems foolish not to help a neighbor to fight a fire which, out of control might spread to one's own home. Neighbors working together can improve schools and health services serving all, benefiting all from the cooperation. Indeed, there is something seriously wrong with a neighborhood where one neighbor will not go to the aid of another who is in trouble, out of simple humanity.

Indian tribes did quite well ignoring Europe before 1492, but once sea lanes opened between the hemispheres they could not do so. The changes in transportation and information technologies, and the consequent huge increase in trade and migration mean that once distant nations are now neighbors. We now see China'a and India's economies rising toward equality with that of North America. It seems likely that Europe is going to find the ability to speak with one voice increasingly important in the future.

Politicians of European countries may be making mistakes that will drag the world into a great depression. Politicians in the United States may be making mistakes that will drag the United States into grave economic problems. In each case, politicians should focus not only on the narrow interests of their local constituencies and more on the need to protect the global economy from contagion leading to another great recession or worse.

While I am at it, the leaders of the OECD countries in the aftermath of World War II chose to transfer some sovereign powers to the United Nations and the Bretton Woods financial institutions. That decision has served our nations well.

We in the United States made a great choice in my opinion in withdrawing sovereignty from a king and investing it in the people, shared with their democratically chosen representatives in government. In the United States we have done well shifting sovereignty between state and federal government, and indeed from the legislative to the executive branch as needed. The United Nations has successfully played a role in preventing war, and the IMF in keeping the world economy on a more even keel than it might have experienced. The question of where sovereignty should be placed to achieve the most good seems to me to be quite complex. Thoughtless insistence that sovereignty should always remain in the place it was found in our youth seems likely to sacrifice much.

I would hate to see Stalin's prediction proved true by the fall of democratic and capitalistic society of the west due to the inability of its leaders to overcome their greed and collaborate to solve common problems. 

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