Alex Massie

The Advantage of Being a Confederate

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Henrick Hertzberg writes:

Most of Europe’s individual “states” have governments that are not just democratic but also energetic and powerful. Hence the “European socialism”—i.e., universal health care, greater economic equality, low crime rates, fast trains, good road signage, excellent broadband—that American conservatives are so scared of. But Europe’s federal government—the European Union—is like the post-independence U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation: it’s weak, it’s atomized, it has feeble powers of taxation, and it can’t act without unanimity or something close to it among its several states. It’s as if South Carolina were a sovereign country within a loose confederation, and Barack Obama and Congress needed Mark Sanford’s permission to design and shape a stimulus package.

Of course, like other American liberals, Mr Hertzberg would like to see Brussels accumulate more power. That is. the EU should punch its weight in foreign policy and have a co-ordinated, centralised response tot eh economic downturn. In other words, Brussels should be a little more like Washington.

Doubtless that's what the euro-elite would like to see happen too. Washington is their City of Dreams, not a cautionary example best avoided. My preferences are rather different: I'd like to see Washington become more like Brussels. In other words, Brussels' comparative weakness (vis a vis Washington) is a good feature, not a bug. My suspicion is that the size of government is less vital than its distance. The larger the administrative unit, the more difficult it becomes to legislate effectively. In other words, with 300m people, it's almost impossible to craft creative legislation in Washington that doesn't penalise almost as many people as it may, in the best case scenarion, aid. The same is obviously true of europe: what works in Finland may not be appropriate in Greece and so on. It's pretty obvious that different places have different needs but the more distant the government is, the more it is likely to forget this and instead pursue a misguided one-size-fits-all-strategy.

So, in short: Austin and Concord and Tallahassee and Richmond and Springfield should be more like Paris and Dublin and Berlin and Copenhagen and Lisbon while Washington should be more like Brussels and Brussels should avoid trying to be anything like Washington. 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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