The EU may have its stars, but the Americans have earned their stripes
It appears that Greece has had its 34th stay of execution. At 1.30 pm today (BST) George Papandreou said he would quickly call for a vote of confidence in his newly reshuffled pack of knaves. His rival Angelos Venizalos, newly installed as Finance Minister, has flown to Luxembourg to play his debut role in yet another drama meeting of EU central bankers and Chancellors. Merkel has moved a step backwards from her demand for obligatory investor haircuts. The IMF has forgotten its Articles briefly in order to waive the rules about the $10 billion bridging loan for Athens. Thus the markets have calmed down a little.
For those centrally involved in it, this financial shuttle-diplomacy no doubts makes for a pleasing erection, and nervous hotel maids. But it is a displacement form of onanism: all of it is for nothing. The eurozone will not survive in its current form….if at all; and I am beginning to believe that if this nonsense carries on much longer (which, without a reality injection, it must) within two years at most UKIP will be a redundant political Party. Out of bad, as the Buddhists say, must come some good.
You think this alarmist, even hysterical? Come with me now on my magic internet carpet to the United States of America.
I was listening to a US radio station the other night. Unusually, there were no phone-in, religious mania, or Tea Party elements to the show; so I’d imagine it gets minimal ratings. But this didn’t stop it from being one of the most interesting and bollocks-free broadcasts I’d heard for a long time.
The show obviously has a very upmarket audience, as although America got a lot of mentions, it wasn’t the main focus; the spotlight was on Greece, and its obviously unrepayable debt. What kept me hanging in on the show after the first few seconds of ads was that one of the invitees in the studio quickly said, “Greece’s debt is unrepayable. Any third grade kid could work this out”. As nobody in real authority anywhere in the EU or the US Federal Reserve will admit to this blatant truth, the guy got my respect immediately.
Such interest as exists in the the US about Greece’s inevitable demise is still extremely limited. It stops beyond Wall Street, Greek-origin immigrants, and Ivy League colleges studying modern history. Even fewer folks would be interested in a debate about European culture and how the EU sits in all of it; but that’s what the show almost went on to discuss next. This will become clearer, stay with me.
I don’t think we of the old world should get too sniffy about American ignorance in relation to Europe. A dozen US States, for instance (and most States are very big in America) are about to face, or already filing for, bankruptcy. I doubt if many EU citizens would know which they are. Equally, I’m sure there’s a big scandal in Wyoming somewhere right now, but I wouldn’t know what it is, or the politics behind it. One of the dafter tenets of globalism is Levitt’s idiotic concept of the Global Village: if that idea has any value at all, then let’s – this afternoon – drop a construction worker from the Bronx into the gigantic floods swamping Eastern China. You know – just to see how he copes.
But Wyoming – and every State of the US, really – is highly germane to the European Project. (The only exception to this is Illinois, which is highly German. Sorry. Silly gag, couldn’t resist it.)
The best way to illustrate what we can learn from the American experience is to give you a potted summary of what the first invitee said about Greek debt, and then immediately afterwards, what the second person started to say about the more profound issues lying behind it.
Invitee1: Look, you have a eurozone here, right? There is no coordination of national fiscal policy, agreed format of reporting procedures, subsidiarisation of national banks to the ECB, standard banking rules, central Bourse, or federal economic policy. From the day it was mooted, the idea was obviously the triumph of bureaucratic ego over the pain of national interests. Half the nations lied about their credentials for membership, their economic results, their intentions, and their liabilities. The other half didn’t, but did deals to help them get in for their benefit too. Now the lies have come to light, and just this latest skirmish alone is going to cost the European taxpayer another $120 billion….
Host: It’s gonna cost Wall Street 127 billion bucks in cdo insurance too…
Invitee 1: …..that’s true….
Invitee 2: If I may come in here, I think what you’re talking about is one of many symptoms. The symptom is obviously going to be horrible in terms of the citizen’s life-quality, but this is just painkillers being applied to a patient who has been subjected to a mad scientist’s operation. A Doctor Frankenstein, if you will, who has created an amoral monster, with no ethics, from 27 disparate parts. I’m talking of course about the European Union itself….
Host: That’s a real interesting point there Gene, and we’ll come back to it in just a minute….
(Cue ad for Harvey’s Liquor Store & Breakdown Service)
Now this is one of the things they have got badly wrong in the States. Invitee 2’s analogy was so wonderfully obvious – so deliciously rich in where one could go with it – that putting an adbreak here was like slicing the bottom off a large Francis Bacon original to fit it into a frame from Walmart to go in the downstairs lav. Even worse, after the break, the host brought in some bloke who talked complete tripe, and the moment was lost. And worst of all, I was tired and it was late, and I forgot to opt for ‘restore session’ when quitting Firefox….so the station was lost too.
But the next day, I thought about where Invitee 2 was going, and I’m pretty sure it was to talk about the history of the USA’s States. Although this chap was cut short in his prime-time, an imagined reconstruction here would be useful – if only for the sprouts in Brussels with no brain-stem.
American history is an endlessly absorbing tale, and it’s largely one of an anthropological nature. Put another way, it’s about reality, and life at the sharp end. America banded together as a federalised unit because without doing so, there was a danger that the French, the British, and even the Mexicans could stick their noses back in again. The infant country needed a standing army, and a constitution to stop that army becoming an instrument of tyranny: having escaped the British, the founding fathers had no intention of falling prisoner to their own Government.
So there was a Bill of Rights, and – even though a Federal Government was set up under Washington – the principle of States’ Rights became almost central to the whole idea. It was a Big Idea too: even the British themselves had only been a United Kingdom for seventy-odd years. There was, and has remained, an intense suspicion among Americans about big government: the States were given lots of serious powers of their own – and in case the President got any attacks of megalomania, there was Congress to keep an eye on him. And if by chance the Reps got a bit to uppity, well – there was the Senate to poke them in the eye as required.
All this is important, because it reflects the fact that the American founders saw the USA as a means to an end: a way to discourage internal or external bullies. Those behind the EU, however, see the Union as the end in itself: not a loose federation with nationalities retaining most of their rights, but a Superstate. And not a superstate for self-defence, but a superstate to compete in a globalist economic world driven increasingly by Might. Most important of all, although the men of 1776 were actually very conservative and suspicious of untutored mobs, their fear of demagogues was greater. So they gave everyone the right to vote about almost every public office in the Nation. The ugly politico-bureaucrats running the EU took the diametrically opposite view: as one senior sprout put it in a most dreadfully Freudian slip earlier this year, a popular vote against one of the fiscal policies forced upon Greece would be viewed as “an accident”.
A united America developed from the bottom up in response to the realities of liberty desired by the many. The EU is the product of top-down delusions of grandeur by an anti-libertarian few.
Those lessons alone should be enough to make every EU citizen tremble at the unelected, unresponsive power we have given to a bunch of Zil-lane fanatics who – far from being anxious about authoritarianism – positively embrace it. But the USA’s experience has more to teach us than this alone. It teaches us that even a united federation – with all the founders’ concerns addressed – can still screw up bigtime.
The USA was less than a century old when it underwent the awful bloodletting of civil war. And this too was, above all, about States’ Rights.
The idea that Abe Lincoln was an anti-racist meritocrat who plunged the country unwillingly into war for the rights of negroes is a gross distortion of history. This was a war about the Southern States’ desire to continue harvesting high-margin cotton…but also one where fighters took sides about whether States’ Rights were more or less important than the Union itself. For those who thought in favour of States, Lincoln’s election in 1860 was a red rag to a bull: before he’d even taken the Oath of Office, seven States had seceded. They eventually became the Confederated States – and the war began.
Look at the contemporary situation in the EU today. Britain fears a European plot to hijack its core business of financial services. The French remain implacably opposed to British attempts to break up the Common Agricultural Policy – from which France is by far the largest beneficiary. The Germans refuse to accept the manana mentality of the ClubMed States. There is a ruthless Franco-German determination that their banking businesses shall not crumble under the ClubMed strain. Brussels changes the rules on dark beer production by Ireland to aid its own flagging White Beer business.
Yes, you might say – but the USA has remained stable since. True, it has: but my father fought with American airmen for much of the Second World War – and he told me many times, “After a few beers, the Rebs and the Yankees were soon at each other’s throats”. As late as 1961, a Federal Army had to intervene in the American South in order to force through Kennedy’s educational racial-integration laws
But fair enough – the US became the most powerful Nation State on the planet, and a successful federation. Lets look at why.
1. It was empty. Lots of land, lots of business and farming opportunities, and lots of immigrants escaping government bigotry to help realise them.
2. The natural resources. Beyond just a rainbow of bright, entrepreneurial people, the US is rich in just about every mineral, building material, and energy form known to Man.
3. The protection of two huge oceans. For many decades at a time, isolationism was a perfectly sensible policy that allowed Americans to stay out of dysfunctional wars.
4. There was a common language. The influence of French in the South continues to this day – and there are of course many Hispanic media channels and communities. But if you go to the US in 2011, even though they use odd words for pavements, prostitutes, rubbers and hello, 97% of the population has English as a first or fluent language
5. Nobody opted out of the common currency: it developed naturally as a response to inter-State trade, not unnaturally as a targeted competitor to a global Reserve Currency.
6. Not just the spirit of adventure, but also a deeply felt gratitude, helped a century of immigration solidify the fierce patriotism we see in the US today. It is, by and large, a monocultural nation: with one set of Federal laws, taxes, legislatures – and a flag most people revere, rather than robotically fly outside town halls – as if it might be some form of makeover.
The continent of Europe (now formed into the 27-State EU) has none of these advantages.
* It is already overcrowded, with migrant movement from one State to another the cause of often bitter cultural division.
* Its natural resources are already over-exploited – especially its ocean fish – and it is hugely dependent on the Middle East and Russia for oil.
* Europe – indeed, the original EEC – was defined by war and rivalry. The reaction to this has been (understandably, but unwisely) the hegemony of centralised social democracy with the accent on an equal, not a growing, cake. The American entrepreneurial model is almost entirely absent…in favour of stifling bureacracy that continues to spend and spend. (The US has spent unwisely to subsidise its banker, multinational business and Pentagon lobbyists; but it is winding down its government employee benefits, cancelling its social health commitments, and paring back the welfare system).
* Closely connected to the above, there is no common culture, language, economy or patriotism behind the EU. As the Peripheral State spaghetti is unravelled to reveal an unpalateable sauce within, the old enmities are reappearing. And remember, it was cultural and economic differences that primarily lay behind the determination of the Confederate South to go to war with the Yankees. More recently, the equally falsely formed USSR was in the end a dismal failure.
* Only 16 of the 27 EU nations either opted for (or were allowed into) the eurozone. It’s also becoming pretty clear that only four or at most five of that 16 were really ‘ready’ for monetary union. Even they however (thanks to French intransigence) failed to instate the necessary common disciplines to make it practicable. Those nations outside the zone are now being asked to come to its aid. Even a Government as weak as that led by David Cameron isn’t going to agree to that for much longer.
*Its central and local government spending is out of control – and this in turn is exacerbated by the tendency of member States to cover up economic inadequacies, rather than highlight them to concentrate central attention on the problem.
Just about the only thing the EU has in common with the USA is a large and pernicious banking sector, a largely unreformed and/or unbalanced economic structure, and the Big-Dick bonus. Let’s face it, these are hardly historical parallels likely to be the salvation of either of us.
But the difference on this side of the Pond – above any other – is the lack of any monocultural love of a real Nation which, for all its myriad faults, has given most US immigrants a life fulfilment that almost certainly would not have been possible in the homeland – the ‘Old Country’.
What more and more people feel in my Old Country – the UK – is that they are being robbed, restricted, penuried, lied to and ignored by the EU. And that emotion is considerably more keenly felt in the debtor nations.
But this too is a reaction to shorter-term events. When it comes to the EU, we need to go back to the anthropology of all this….and the lessons of American history.
Man is a pack animal, and after a certain size, packs split off. Our success as a species is based on competition within the pack and cooperation between packs.
But we can only relate to packs of (a) a finite size and (b) a distinctive nature that allows for identification. Even when (b) applies – as in the US – (a) would become a problem if people felt that their ‘state-pack’ rights were being abused.
Today’s EU is an abusive, bullying elite toiling on behalf of itself. Almost the same applies in the United States of America, but it is the localism of small town and Tea Party America that will probably, in the end, bring that elite down – because access to the political system is being allowed to them, and US citizens have a stronger civic sense than us.
The lack of this safety valve in the EU suggests that there will be violence – and violence on a scale, as ever, totally underestimated by its self-appointed aristocracy. However, my main point in this essay is not to encourage that violent response among those becoming ever-angrier with the power-intoxication of their masters. Rather, it is to suggest to those in power (but still sober) that band-aids endlessly applied to cancer symptoms cannot cure such a fatal toxicity. For the outcome of any such attempt to deny our species nature – and the history that illustrates it – can only ever be death, destruction, and anarchy.