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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Bullshit Diary - 3
Not for the first time, I find myself agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn.

On the one hand...

... I don't like or trust the EU, especially in terms of its lack of democracy and its willingness to negotiate free trade deals involving assymetrical arrangements for US corporations to sue EU governments should they put their citizens' interests ahead of those of said corporations. (And if that's not what's in TTIP, they're doing a very poor job of advertising what is in TTIP.)

On the other hand...

... the Brexiters are a such a motley bunch of capitalist ideologues, racists and chancers that I find it hard to imagine delivering the country into their hands either. Corbyn talked about the consequent "bonfire of workers' rights", but to that we might add the bonfire of environmental and social protections.

As for the economics - I don't know, and I'm not convinced anyone does. On balance, I'm inclined to hold my nose with Corbyn, or abstain for the first time in my life, or perhaps donate my vote to my daughter, who'll be a few weeks short of her majority on 23 June, and is after all likely to be affected by the outcome for longer than I am.

Meanwhile, I have largely stopped logging things under "bullshit arguments" because life is too short, but I was struck by Stephen Kinnock's response to Boris Johnson's pointing out (correctly) that the US would never dream of pooling its sovereignty in the way that membership of the EU entails, to the effect that it already does so by being a member of NATO and the WTO, as if those were in any way comparable. I despise Johnson, but I also don't like having my intelligence insulted by Kinnock. There are far more effective ways he might have answered (for example by pointing out that the USA's size and wealth allow it to do things that the UK never could) than with this childish misdirection.

That was topped today, however, by Angela Eagle, who apparently said:

“There are no countries that trade with the European Union that don’t have to accept free movement, that don’t end up paying virtually the same that we pay into the European budget."

China? Japan? The USA? They have to accept free movement and pay into the EU budget in order to trade with the EU? Please.

So far this debate has sucked harder than a vacuum pump.

Helen etc. are right. The political struggle that the US went through in turning 13 jealously independent colonies into one country bears striking resemblance to the situation of the EU, particularly in terms of the fears and concerns of the states. It finally took a civil war to change the prevailing opinion that the US was a federation of separate states into a view that it was one nation. It was at that time that people stopping saying "The United States are ..." and started saying "The United States is ..." We still have some people bleating "states' rights" today, but those of us whose state governments are not neaderthalish (e.g. not North Carolina) see very little difference in whether our regulations come from a distant federal capital or a not particularly small home-town state capital.

To the worry about giving up sovereignty to the EU, the response that the UK has already done so by joining NATO or the WTO, not to mention the UN so apparently they didn't mention it, is a very old response and totally disingenuous. They're not remotely the same thing. The argument is that in the modern world, no country has complete freedom of action. True enough, but it doesn't follow that the proper response is to give up more of it. Besides, being constrained by other countries is hardly a function of modern economics. Louis XIV could do whatever he wanted, but other countries could and did wage war against him in response, which seems to me a negative externality worth taking into consideration.

As a historical analogy, certainly, the history of states/federal rights in the USA is a telling one, and of course there have been many in the past (though they're keeping quiet now) who have been quite open about their wish to see a United States of Europe - a phrase that I think may have been coined by Churchill as a desirable outcome, though God knows he's had so many phrases childed upon him that I wouldn't put money on it. But neither Johnson nor Kinnock was referring to the past US so much as to its present incarnation, with their eyes on Obama's imminent visit (where he is expected to urge voters to stay), and such interventions as this morning's letter to the Times by eight former Treasury Secretaries, a move I suspect will put more people off than it persuades, as such external interventions tend to do.

I know they were referring to the present. But the past is more relevant here, as the reason the U.S. wouldn't need to go through the growing pangs of joining something like the E.U. is that it already did.

Fair enough. Though I think it's fair to say that UK as an association of nations has had a few pangs of its own - indeed, is still having them.

True enough, but any continuing pangs between the nations of the UK are not appropriate as parallels with the problems of the EU, or of the US, since the UK unions all originated not as free associations, but as hostile takeovers.

Indeed! And we still have the castles to show for it. Wales was very much colonised and exploited right up until the 20th century when the coal finally started to run out. The EU has a good record of helping the poorer regions to improve their prospect by investing in better transport links etc. In my mind it would be a disaster if we lost that.

Okay. The US's origins are pretty unusual in this regard. Nevertheless, in entering treaties, etc., the US acts as a single entity, just like any other country; so although the historical parallel is interesting, I don't see how it affects the question of the USA's willingness (or not) to pool its sovereignty with other states.

I already responded to this uptopic. The Brexiters' argument was that the US would never pool its sovereignty in this way. The reply is that the US doesn't have to - its individual states (once independent entities) already did.

To say the US wouldn't pool is like saying that the EU as a whole wouldn't pool with some outside-of-Europe entities. It doesn't have to. The individual countries already did.

It's like a child saying to its parent, "I don't want to go to school. Why don't you go to school?" The parent's reply is, "I already did."

But the EU as a whole is entirely capable of pooling its sovereignty with other entities - indeed, with TTIP it's currently negotiating to do just that. There's no contradiction in the idea that a state that originated from the pooling of sovereignty of its constituent parts cannot in turn pool its sovereignty with other states.

If you mean that the USA as now constituted has achieved a critical economic, political and military mass that makes the kind of pooling being asked of the UK unnecessary then I would tend to agree (and said as much in the post); but that's a function of its size rather than its internal political structures. It's as true of Chinas as it is of the USA.

The EU can pool with other entities, but it doesn't have to. It already did.

That's two points:

1) A supra-national entity exists on a different scale than a national entity, whatever its size. If successful, it'll become indistinguishable from a national one, and that's what the US did. The US is the EU-enthusiasts' dream of what the EU will someday be. It'd be beside the point to claim it wouldn't be interested in a larger entity; and if you're going to mention TPP, I seem to recall that the current President of the US is also an enthusiast for that.

2) And yes, sheer size does make a difference. The original argument for the EU included the point that combined strength meant more power in a world with larger entities like the US, the USSR, and China active in it.

if you're going to mention TPP, I seem to recall that the current President of the US is also an enthusiast for that.

TTIP, not TPP (which the EU isn't involved in). It's hard to know what's in it, since it's being negotiated in secrecy, but one suggestion is that the courts allowing corporations to sue governments will go in only one direction - i.e. US corporations will be allowed to sue European governments, but not vice versa. (It sounds bizarre, but there's precedent for such asymmetry in trans-Atlantic agreements - as for example in the area of extradition.)

It's slightly tangential, but perhaps it's worth mentioning in passing that although the US had its origins in the pooling of its constituent states' sovereignties, that only applies to 9 of its 50 states (i.e. the original 13, minus the four who later seceded and had to be brought back into the union by force). The rest were acquired by the more conventional means of treaty, purchase, war, invasion, etc.

Your final tangential paragraph is entirely incorrect. The "treaty, purchase, war, invasion, etc." refers to how the land was acquired and has nothing to do with the constitutional union; it is also just as true of the original 13 states as of any of their successors. There is zero distinction between the originals and the successors in this regard.

What happened to the previous inhabitants is a complex matter involving continuing treaty rights (some abided, some broken) that last to this day; but the cases of numerous established European settlers - particularly the Dutch in New York, the French in Louisiana, and the Spanish in New Mexico, and also the native Hawaiians - became active parts of the new polity, with just as much say in the subsequent process of joining the Constitutional union as any of the settlers from the old Union or immigrants. They weren't dragged in by conquest (as Wales), threat (as Scotland), or arbitrary decree (as Ireland) [and as with the US, I'm referring to their becoming part of the UK polity, not to their originally coming under English political control].

Admission of a state to the Union has always been a complex treaty-like process involving getting full consent from the political voice of both the nascent state and the existing union. It is entirely foreign to the US system to treat some admitted states as subordinate to others; the UK's history is entirely different.

Furthermore, I specified that I was distinguishing how the US's union was formed vs. how the UK's was formed. Subsequent disputes aren't part of that point. As far as they go, if a state may only join the union by mutual consent of the state and the existing union, it follows that one may only depart equally by mutual consent, and these departures did not have the existing union's consent. The attempts to leave were therefore illegal unilateral acts of force, as arbitrary as the decrees placing Scotland and Ireland in a United Kingdom. They were also the culmination of a decades-long chain of specious reasoning claiming that the states had no obligation to abide by the rules of the union they'd voluntarily joined, although they didn't extend this regard when federal laws they'd sponsored were objected to by other states, so they were hypocrites anyway.

Well, I'm certainly not qualified to argue with you about the formation of the USA. I will just suggest (under correction) that the distinction between acquiring land and deciding the manner in which that land will be governed may be a slightly factitious one, at least in some cases. If I discovered that my homeland had become a possession of the United States, by whatever means, and were then offered the chance to join the USA as a full citizen or else live in a dependency, colony, or whatever, then of course it's a no-brainer. That doesn't seem like an entirely free choice from my perspective.

If the distinction is factitious, then it applies to the entire US, not just to the post-constitutional additions. If the US fought a war with Mexico to acquire California in the 1840s, then England, its constitutional predecessor, fought a war with the Dutch to acquire New York in the 1660s. It's the same thing. (And if gaining control of the territory is the dividing line, then almost all the US east of the Mississippi was under US control at the time of independence, all of it designated as part of existing individual states and later ceded by them.)

But I maintain that it is not factitious. Look at the equivalents in the UK. The 1800 Act of Union made the most enormous difference to the subsequent struggle for Irish independence, because it had been passed specifically to tie Ireland constitutionally to England in a way it had not been before, even though it had already been under English control for centuries.

As for Scotland, what exactly was the relationship between it and England between 1603 and 1707? "Personal union of the crowns" yes, but what does that mean? Unlike Ireland, nobody conquered anybody. That part was hardly the "hostile takeover" that I specified that all three unions were; indeed, if you'd asked people like Dr. Johnson, he'd have grumbled that the Scots were taking over England. But if the personal union hadn't happened, then England wouldn't have been able to hold a knife to the Scottish Parliament in 1707 and force it to dissolve itself. That was a constitutional change, and that was the hostile takeover to which I referred.

Turning back to the US, no: it is not a no-brainer to decide whether to join the Union. Some potential states, notably Kansas, balked at accepting the terms that Congress wanted to admit them under, and there have been such fusses in other cases. Then there's West Virginia, which came into existence as a loyalist counter-revolution against the rebellion in Virginia.

Lastly, may I mention Puerto Rico? Whether the Congress would admit it as a state I don't know, but it hasn't been asked to. Potential states have to apply, and every time Puerto Rico has been asked if it wants statehood, independence, or to continue as whatever it is now, the plurality, at least, of the vote has gone to the last option.