From Laissez Faire
By Chris Campbell. Jun 24, 2016
So… Brexit it is.
This is, of course, great news. In an overly-centralized world, any decentralization of power is a marvelous thing and a sight for sore eyes.
We’re especially digging the headlines in our newsfeed this morning: Brexit Vote: A Pie in the Face to the Global Elites; The Brexit Vote is a New Milestone in the Global War on the Elites; America’s arrogant elites should take Brexit as a warning.
The Brexit truly is the shot heard ‘round the world.
As you know, our current form of “globalism,” the biggest consolidation of power the world has ever seen, is anything but free. Far from opening up markets and promoting free trade for all, globalism has centralized the world’s decision-making into a few hands. It’s what Robert Wenzel calls “backroom globalism.”
Looking back, this unfettered form of centralization of power was the hallmark of the 20th century. It had its time to push people around and make the many a miserable people.
But, breathe easy. We live in, we believe, the end of an era.
Now, it’s time to roll that buggy back. This idea that what stands between complete chaos and a functioning society is punk politicians, bungling bureaucrats and criminal cops who create and enforce arbitrary laws and regulations, institutionalize violence, and direct the allocation of resources, is wrong.
The Great Experiment has, once again, failed. As it should. For the future will be bright… and decentralized.
“The issue of decentralization,” the Capitalist Exploits blog reads, “is one of the most important discussions of our time. It is being thrust upon individuals, corporates and governments alike as waves of capital shift at increasing speed.”
Funny thing is, though, everybody’s so focused on the house of cards tipping over, they’re far too busy to notice the vast sea of opportunities opening up.
“Shockingly,” CE goes on, “decentralization is an issue which gets less attention than a nipple slip from one of the Kardashians or some such celebrity who, as far as I can tell, is famous for being famous. This is how the world has always worked, proving Pareto’s law with the repetition of a Swiss clock. Incidentally this allows for the few who understand the forces in motion to prepare, and prosper well ahead of the masses.”
We’ll be speaking more on how to capture the upside of decentralization well before the masses next week. Don’t miss it.
Of course, as far as the Brexit goes, it’s still early in the game. Nothing is final. In the end, the Brexit is not the decision of the public, it’s up to Parliament. They have final say.
“There has been plenty of outcry against the move to break away from the EU,” Dan Dicks reports on Press For Truth, “so it wouldn’t be surprising if representatives decided to go against the will of the people and refuse to go ahead with the decision to exit.
“In order to formally break away from the EU, members are required to notify the EU of their intention to withdraw and the EU is then required to negotiate the withdrawal agreement. The recent Brexit vote does not meet that formal requirement however, and there will need to be that notification made first which is something that could take place in only a few days from now. Once they have made the move to do that, by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, there will be a two-year window for negotiations in an attempt to replace current EU membership terms. There are still many glitches to be worked out and the process could take years.
“For lovers of liberty,” Dicks goes on, “the decision of the British people to opt for decentralization comes as a victory. ‘Large centralized states have become mystical self-justifying goals…’ says political analyst Tom Woods, and nations will go along with that centralization until things go sour; then it will turn into a rush to see who can get out the door first. The more decentralized things are, the better the prospects are for liberty.”
To drive this point home, we’ve invited Jeff Deist to the show to talk about the Brexit, nationhood, and the vast merits of individual self-determination.
Brexit: Individualism > Nationalism > Globalism
Decentralization and devolution of state power is always a good thing, regardless of the motivations behind such movements.
Hunter S. Thompson, looking back on 60s counterculture in San Francisco, lamented the end of that era and its imagined flower-child innocence:
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
Does today’s Brexit vote, win or lose, similarly mark the spot where the once-inevitable march of globalism begins to recede? Have ordinary people around the world reached the point where real questions about self-determination have become too acute to ignore any longer?
Globalism, championed almost exclusively by political and economic elites, has been the dominant force in the West for a hundred years. World War I and the League of Nations established the framework for multinational military excursions, while the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank set the stage for the eventual emergence of the US dollar as a worldwide reserve currency. Progressive government programs in Western countries promised a new model for universalism and peace in the aftermath of the destruction of Europe. Human rights, democracy, and enlightened social views were now to serve as hallmarks of a post-monarchical Europe and rising US.
But globalism was never liberalism, nor was it intended to be by its architects. As its core, globalism has always meant rule by illiberal elites under the guise of mass democracy. It has always been distinctly anti-democratic and anti-freedom, even as it purported to represent liberation from repressive governments and poverty.
Globalism is not, as its supporters claim, simply the inevitable outcome of modern technology applied to communication, trade,and travel. It is not “the world getting smaller.” It is, in fact, an ideology and worldview that must be imposed by statist and cronyist means. It is the civic religion of people named Clinton, Bush, Blair, Cameron, and Lagarde.
Yes, libertarians advocate unfettered global trade. Even marginally free trade has unquestionably created enormous wealth and prosperity for millions around the world. Trade, specialization, and an understanding of comparative advantage have done more to relieve poverty than a million United Nations or International Monetary Funds.
But the EU, GATT, WTO, NAFTA, TPP, and the whole alphabet soup of trade schemes are wholly illiberal impediments masquerading as real commercial freedom. In fact, true free trade occurs only in the absence of government agreements. The only legislation required is a unilateral one-sentence bill: Country X hereby eliminates all import duties, taxes, and tariffs on all Y goods imported from country Z.
And as Godfrey Bloom explains, the European Union is primarily a customs zone, not a free trade zone. A bureaucracy in Brussels is hardly necessary to enact simple pan-European tariff reductions. It is necessary, however, to begin building what globalism truly demands: a de facto European government, complete with dense regulatory and tax rules, quasi-judicial bodies, a nascent military, and further subordination of national, linguistic, and cultural identities.
Which brings us to the Brexit vote, which offers Britons far more than simply an opportunity to remove themselves from a doomed EU political and monetary project. It is an opportunity to forestall the juggernaut, at least for a period, and reflect on the current path. It is a chance to fire a shot heard around the world, to challenge the wisdom of the “globalism is inevitable” narrative. It is the UK’s last chance to ask — in a time when even asking is an act of rebellion — the most important political question of our day or any day: who decides?
Ludwig von Mises understood that self-determination is the fundamental goal of liberty, of real liberalism. It’s true that libertarians ought not to concern themselves with “national sovereignty” in the political sense, because governments are not sovereign kings and should never be treated as worthy of determining the course of our lives. But it is also true that the more attenuated the link between an individual and the body purporting to govern him, the less control — self-determination — that individual has.
To quote Mises, from his 1927 classic (in German) Liberalismus:
If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done.
Ultimately, Brexit is not a referendum on trade, immigration, or the technical rules promulgated by the (awful) European Parliament. It is a referendum on nationhood, which is a step away from globalism and closer to individual self-determination.
Libertarians should view the decentralization and devolution of state power as ever and always a good thing, regardless of the motivations behind such movements. Reducing the size and scope of any single (or multinational) state’s dominion is decidedly healthy for liberty.
[Ed. note: This article originally appeared on Mises.org here.]
There is only one proper, appropriate, and fruitful response to Brexit, and that is to chill. But deep—or not so deep—inside too many Brexit critics is a repressed desire to freak. Although we should all stage an exit of our own from the therapeutic mantra that everything repressed must be released, it’s true that this bottled-up freakout—far more powerful than even the pent-up rage of the world’s populists, fascists, or racists—has to do with something real. Millions of people simply do not think they can cope with a world gone seriously wrong. Ask, or look, around: how many of your fellow citizens, how many online interlocutors, have the cognitive, psychological, or spiritual readiness to live into a world like the world of 1918 or 1940? Even the smaller worlds of the Black Plague or the Thirty Years’ War are beyond contemplation. Just a whisper of a risk of catastrophe ushers in an all-consuming fear. Even life as it was last year had people muttering they could never bring a child into this uncertain a world. This is what Brexit went up against—and will keep butting against as the panic spreads. How dare you unbolt the door of “History” even for a moment, the better to let the nightmares rush in? Yet everyone knows that the good old days of narrowly charted historical progress have irretrievably passed us by. What’s more, we know they were an illusion. I spent a spring in London in 1999—a moment of unrivaled energy and cool—and the signs of diremption were already lurking everywhere. War, Islam, terrorism, refugees—all today’s buzz fears had begun to lock into place. Nor were the happy days really even that happy. You could hear it in the music. Oasis was fading, Blur was exhausted. It was the centerpiece of Radiohead’s “OK Computer”—a gutting litany of Blairite Britain’s soulless routines called “Fitter Happier”—that loomed over such superficially celebratory times. Songs are only songs, of course, but during the “right track” years of our warped imagination the United Kingdom really writhed beneath the rictus grin and bankrupt culture of New Labour. Now that era seems as distant as any. But instead of viewing the change with invigoration and relief, Europeans and Americans alike prefer to imagine the worst. Britain will cease to exist—no, Europe! Britain’s economy will crash—no, Europe’s! No, the world’s! The markets might crash—Sell! Sell! Right-wing nationalism will sweep the planet! Donald Trump will become president! My life is already a howling void, and I’m not even poor! Panic! Imagination, of course, is hardly the same as preparation. Rather than spending the past 15 years on sturdy and modest social structures that could withstand uncertain times, fatuous individualism and equally fatuous institutionalism held sway. Now we find that neither individuals nor institutions have the nerve to endure so much as the possibility of the unknown. They are unfit to be led. Or are they? So afraid of surprises, many of us fear deep down our capacity to surprise ourselves—not with some new indignity or vice, but with plain courage and resourcefulness. Amid today’s ostensible scarcity of things worth suffering over, I suspect we Westerners, amid our great differences, could find far more that matters in Brexit’s wake than we often dare to seek out. The British can discover in the hard work of earned liberalism a salve for its excesses of both inwardness and outwardness. The French can discover the monumental duties that await them as Europe’s indispensable leaders. The Germans can teach the sobering lesson that economics alone can never provide a foundation for unity. The Americans can also endure a reckoning with the burdens of true exceptionalism. Although we truly need not fear Europe’s dangerous dreams of reactionary re-enchantment on the one hand and perpetual revolution on the other, we truly do tend to be constitutively crazy in a way other peoples do not. We ought to see in Britain a unique civilization, to which we’re only cousins, refusing to disappear into another. Instead, visions of yet another extremist contagion dancing in our heads, we fear that the British exercise of exceptionalism puts our own in the crosshairs. Instead, we ought to be soothed by the exceptionally moderate way we Americans have digested the lessons of the ancients. We see religion like we see politics—more as a practical way to deal with drama than a ritual of purification of the will. We are primed more than any comparable people in the world to achieve great things by lowering the stakes. But because of this, we fear that one day the outside world will catch up with us. We fear our good character depends on our good fortune. It doesn’t. Rather than conflate good character with adherence to some pure and comprehensive doctrine, we should accept that we’re at our best when we use our strong and simple foundations to take life as it comes, making it up as we go. We can responsibly relax well enough to avoid one disaster without inviting another—because we know that even disaster isn’t the end of the world. For all our rootin’-tootin’ stereotypes of the unrestrained cowboy, it’s the languidly controlled one that represents us most. In a reeling world, Brexit is yet another opportunity to psych ourselves out. The thing to do with a steady gaze is touch the brim of our hat and the butt of our gun and let that opportunity ride on past. Cool?