The Civil War, as it’s known in the north, or the War of Northern Aggression, as it’s known in the south, supposedly “settled” an issue for time and all eternity: that the smaller political units known as states could not leave the larger political unit known as the United States, at least not without the larger unit’s consent. Unless they emigrate, 320 million people are bound to a political arrangement from which there is no other escape hatch, and the 50 states don’t have the option to leave. Similar strictures are in effect around the world. Why?
Centralization, command, and control—the tendencies that defined the twentieth centuries—are in their death throes, done in by their failures and the residual progress they’ve failed to kill. The signs are everywhere. If war is the health of the state, then states are sickly indeed. The most militaristic government on the planet, that of the United States, has not cleanly won a war since 1945, unless one wants to call Grenada a war. What has stymied the US has not been superior military force—the US has the world’s biggest arsenal and most technologically advanced military—but the force that is stymying centralization at every turn: decentralization.
Multimillion-dollar aircraft, tanks, and aircraft carriers can be destroyed by missiles fired from a variety of platforms, their cost a trivial fraction of that which they destroy. Small, diffuse terrorist cells inflict mayhem, destruction and death, especially when they have members willing to die for their cause. The major military powers upgrade their counterinsurgency and counterterrorism efforts and buy ever larger, more costly, and complex weaponry and systems. Both approaches have been self-evident failures, the former a losing game of whack-a-mole, the latter leading only to chaos, political instability, blowback, and the spread of terrorism and refugees, but no discernible victories. Large, complicated, cumbersome, and expensive keeps losing to small, simple, nimble, and cheap.
Governments’ economic incompetence rivals their military ineptitude. They and their central banks have almost emptied their bag of tricks: fiat debt and currency production, monetization of debt and other financial instruments, interest rate suppression, central planning, negative interest rates, financial market manipulation, and the possible elimination of cash. When the bag is empty, they will be left with global depression, massive debt, bloated central bank balance sheets, fabricated financial market prices and signals, yawning economic inequality, and widespread discontent. The western welfare states and Japan are de facto bankrupt. China is frantically administering hair of the debt dog to forestall the debilitating hangover from a two-decade borrowing binge. Economic entities that consume more than they produce eventually have to produce more than they consume. The bizarre and desperate measures either implemented or contemplated confirm both centralized incompetence and looming collapse.
The Information Revolution drives decentralization. A smart phone puts vast computing and communication power in the hands of its owner. The Internet and search engines allow directed access to virtually unlimited news, opinion, video, photographs, and data. Historically, governments have used control of information to control their citizenries. No one will argue that modern governments do not try to influence or control the Internet in their jurisdictions, or that they do not have some success in doing so. However, success has been, at best, partial and information technologies are the beating heart of advanced economies. How do you separate their central role in innovation, production, and commerce from their central role in disseminating information, fomenting dissent, and coordinating communications and protests?
We have real time experiments in China, Turkey, and other authoritarian states, where governments try to retain the economically beneficial aspects of information technologies but not their “unacceptable” political drawbacks. This have your cake and eat it approach is doomed, and the governments trying to enforce the division will move decisively towards freedom or repression. The latter outcome is not a foregone conclusion, simply because repression is costly and technologically challenging, and will become more so as the world becomes more decentralized and power continues to devolve toward smaller units and individuals.
The most important election this year is the British referendum June 23 on EU membership. The EU has followed the US’s disastrous policies in the Middle East and Northern Africa and has been unable to deal with the refugee and terrorist blowback from those policies. It has no strategy for resolving the issues stemming from the debt of its de facto bankrupt members, other than have the ECB buy it. Growth has been smothered by taxes, regulations, cronyism, and monetary idiocy. European youth have the “opportunity” to pay some of the world’s highest tax rates to fund the world’s most generous welfare state benefits. Those looking for other opportunities—private sector jobs, leaving home, starting families, building wealth—must look elsewhere.
Why would Great Britain want to plight its troth with this gang of incompetents? Why would anyone think it can’t do better by going it alone? These are questions the political establishments in Europe, Great Britain, and the US would rather not have asked, much less have to answer. The animating impulse behind the Brexit movement is one no political power can acknowledge—the desire for more freedom from that political power. Does life become more or less free for the British if they subject themselves to cabbage regulations of 26,911 words? Individuals generally have more of a say in a smaller, closer governmental unit than a larger, more remote one. For anyone living in Great Britain, both literally and figuratively it’s a shorter trip to London than it is to Brussels.
At least the British have a chance to decide this question by a peaceful political process. In the US, smaller political subdivisions have no way to opt out, and this type of restriction characterizes political arrangements in much of the rest of world, leaving violence as the only way to sunder them. In that respect, the non-secession stricture needs urgent reconsideration. Centralization is collapsing under its own weight, discouraging its many proponents not at all. A decentralizing reversal will not be sufficient to restore freedom, but it will be necessary. Almost certainly that reversal will be accompanied by chaotic violence, as current arrangements leave no other choice.
Today’s behemoth governments secure few advantages to their productive and honest citizens, and exact myriad and substantial costs. If the collapse of centralization is accompanied by balkanization and devolution, then among the many smaller political subdivisions, enclaves devoted to liberty, limited government, and individual rights become real possibilities, provided they can secure their territories. Such enclaves of freedom would be havens for the productive and honest, at the forefront of innovation, economic progress, quality of life, and political expression. Smaller can be far more beautiful, peaceful, and prosperous than the current blobocracy.
The Brexit vote is more important than the US presidential election because whoever wins in November will be chained to the failing US government, while the British have an opportunity to shed some of their chains. Regardless of who wins in the US, the government will not relinquish its resources, power, or corruption. Centralization has advanced so far and so destructively that every expression or potential expression of a revolutionary desire for devolution—the transfer of power to lower levels and smaller subdivisions—is to be welcomed, be it Brexit or other countries leaving the EU, various separatist movements within countries, or mass disobedience to the dictates of centralized governments. As the Brexit vote and electoral insurgencies in the US and Europe make clear, the underlying pressures continue to build. Something’s got to give, and when it does, decentralization and devolution will give those seeking liberty a rare opportunity to build the kind of society they’ve always envisioned.
SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS…AND A GREAT STORY