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An Apt EU Comparison

An Apt EU Comparison

Over at the DailyBeast, Stefan Theil has a really great write-up about rich nations interacting with poor nations, using a comparison of Texas/Louisiana/Florida & Greece/Italy/Spain.  

Imagine 27 Barack Obamas and John Boehners trying to get a debt and banking crisis under control. That, in essence, is what the Europeans are facing now.

Now the north is belatedly trying to impose radical spending cuts on the south, which has not only plunged countries like Greece and Spain into recession but has made the citizens in those countries very angry, in particular toward paymaster Germany and Chancellor Merkel. Greek newspapers liken Merkel to Hitler and accuse her of turning Europe into a “financial Dachau” with her limits on deficit spending. EU officials dispatched to Athens this summer to help reorganize Greece’s corrupt tax-collection system are nicknamed “the gauleiters”—the title of a Nazi occupation governor. One of the most powerful officials involved in extricating Europe from the crisis, speaking on background, says one of the reasons the crisis has been so difficult to resolve is that in Europe, ancient hatreds and mistrust between countries always lie just below the surface.

I had a recent write up in the Cornell Review comparing the EU to the Hanseatic League. This was my doomer take on what I saw in the EU:

The economic integration of the euro zone is subject to the same faults as any other cartel. When they don’t face competition, they become sloppy. When they have a free insurance buy-in, they become sloppier.

History suggests that this brand of autarky is only successful insofar as it remains unchallenged by outsiders. During the Middle Ages, merchants seeking secure methods of trade retreated from the governance of local nobles to work in cities aligned with the Hanseatic League. The League functioned as a network to protect commercial interests on the Baltic Sea in a time when it was particularly risky to trade. It provided a common market to build wealth by insuring its pursuit.

Yet as the League adopted protectionist measures to sustain trade exclusively among its membership, such as blockading Norwegian ports to prevent commerce with rising British and Dutch merchants, its success dwindled. As the modern nation state caught up to the technological progress and prosperity of many Hanseatic cities, the League dissipated. To the modern reader, the Hanseatic League’s reaction is not unlike the EU’s high tariffs on processed goods from developing nations, or the current rumor that Brussels is considering a raise in tariffs on Chinese goods. The alternative to this protectionism is a market for government – not its reinforcement.

To paraphrase F.A. Hayek, competition is a process of formulating opinion through diversity, creating the views people have about what is best. This does not require the creation of new nations or the demolition of old ones. It requires political diversity. Switzerland was born of dissent from the Habsburg empire and slowly grew to a plurality of states with their own autonomy and cultures. After the demise of Napoleon’s Helvetic Empire, the Swiss cemented their government as a confederation of states at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, only to reassert this sentiment in 1848.

Today, Switzerland boasts 26 distinct cantons, each with their own constitution, parliament and courts. Through their autonomy, every canton is able to attract commerce from across the world by voting themselves into competitive tax brackets within the same monetary system. Pfaffikon, a village outside of Zurich, recently changed its reputation from a small town speckled with dairy farms to a hedge fund incubator. It aims to compete with Zug, once one of the poorest cantons in Switzerland, which attracted more than 180 regional headquarters of large foreign companies between 1998 and 2008. Appropriately, the nation was recently ranked ‘most innovative economy’ by INSEAD Business School. […]

 To its credit, the European Union has not been void of decent proposals to promote competitive government within its borders. Legislation, such as the Shengen Agreement, made travel, schooling and work relatively hassle-free for EU passport-holders. These sorts of windows allow for practical competition, like the tenfold increase in applications from British students to Maastricht University in the Netherlands after their government raised tuitions at universities.

The European story is torn between a history that rewards competitive governance with prosperity and local autonomy, and politicians who see the continent as opportunity for centralization and cartelization (so-called “solidarity”).

Today they seem to be headed in an untenable, but unified, path.



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For American [and lay] discission purposes I compare the EU with what “The Thirteen Colonies” would be today had the Constitution/Bill of Rights Not been written And Ratified.
EU Referendum(s).

One of the things that I love about this particular blog – where else can I become educated on European economies of centuries ago, their causes of success and failure, by someone who’s attempting to educate (v. grind an axe). Thank you – I have to go read up more on the Hanseatic League.

Not buying into The Beast’s total POV but found this bit….

“Germany’s TUI, Europe’s largest tour operator, is already renegotiating contracts with Greek hotel chains to allow it to convert euro invoices into any new, devalued Greek currency.”

quite interesting. Business is business, but I wonder how many German tourists would be welcome in the resort areas around Grecian hotels once the country is expelled from the EU? Is there something I don’t understand here?

    Kathleen McCaffrey in reply to 49erDweet. | November 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Good question. I heard a crazy rumor that there are a ton of Deutschmarks lodged away in Germany though…

The EU was a bad idea and this kind of stuff was bound to happen. They only formed the EU to counteract the US. They thought the EU would be more powerful than the US. It was naive to think that so many European countries that had been at daggers drawn with each other for centuries would come together as one entity in peace let alone prosperity. Or that nationalism would go out the window. Greece/Italy/Spain are going to bring down the economy of all the European countries with Finland/Ireland not far behind helping.

It would be very sad to allow the prosperous states in the US to go down the tube to save the blue states that have spent and regulated themselves out of existance. Every day we hear some dumb law these idiots impose on their people. People are leaving these states like flies and the liberals in these states have no one to blame but themselves. When there are not enough people to support their rules and regulations, they will go bankrupt and I, for one, am tired of hearing too big to fail. They need to fail in order to half way understand their way is not a prospersous way. We are a republic of individual states and each must stand on its own, no matter how the federal government wants to impose it’s will on us to be one entitiy.

Another example of bad planning is the UN but that’s another story.