J'entreprends la publication sur mon blog de mes travaux rédigés lors de mon semestre à la University of Toronto (comme je le fais souvent lorsque je considère que ces travaux s'inscrivent dans la ligne thématique de ce blog). Ces travaux ont évidemment été rédigés en anglais, la langue parlée à Toronto, et je me permets en conséquence de les publier en cette langue.
Bonne lecture !
Brexit : an ethical defense
“Received wisdom among academia has been that the EU is a force for good that should be defended at all costs. Respected colleagues are incredulous that anyone with their education and professional insights could think otherwise and remain part of the academic 'in' crowd. In such an environment, it is very difficult to challenge this orthodoxy.”
Isaac Tabner, University of Stirling (June 27 2016)
“The world of tomorrow is a world of empires, not a world of small nations.”
Guy Verhofstadt, Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008 (June 20 2016)
“To decide Brexit by referendum is a bad idea. Putting the decision in the hands of UK voters is putting the decision in the hands of a body that is probably incompetent to decide that question. (…) The UK might instead put the decisions in the hands of a more competent body. We want elites to keep voter ignorance under control.”
Jason Brennan, Georgetown University (June 28 2016)
“No tyrant ever supports divided or decentralized power.”
Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., Founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute (March 10 2015)
Since the vote from the majority of the British population in favor of leaving the European Union (EU) that occurred on the 23rd of June of this year, a current popular view presents this vote as immoral. The fact that many defenders of the Brexit were moved by their rejection of the immigrants and by xenophobic thoughts seems to be the biggest moral intuition that feeds this view about the supposed immorality of the Brexit.
In this work, I intend to challenge this supposed immorality and to show that the Brexit is actually morally defensible and valuable. Indeed, the empirical fact that many supporters from the Brexit were moved by xenophobic feelings is not a philosophical argument against Brexit. In fact, one can support a good position for bad reasons and I think that we should consider the xenophobic vote that composes partly the supporters of the Brexit in that perspective.
I will use a version of rules-utilitarian theory that considers that a sound moral principle is a principle that maximizes the well-being of all individuals in its consequences.
My defense of Brexit will be structured in two parts. First, I will argue that the EU is morally condemnable because the EU is a federal state. I will show that any federal European state is morally condemnable because it necessary violates two important moral principles that are (1) political power needs to be decentralized and (2) a bigger number of states in competition is a good thing. I will thus argue in favor of these principles and show how the EU violates them.
Second, I will answer to the main arguments against Brexit: (1) Brexit threatens the unity of United Kingdom, (2) the EU preserves peace and so Brexit would threaten this peaceful project and (3) the EU leads to prosperity and Brexit threatens this productive system.
The Brexit is likely to be the first big step of many other public and academic debates about other possible exits from members of the EU. In that perspective the debate about the morality or immorality of the Brexit seems to me to be an important issue for political philosophy.
I. Argumentation against a European federal state.
Any European federal state is morally condemnable. The EU is a federal state, of course not a huge federal state as the federal state of the USA for example, but still a federal state. Indeed, one has to consider that there is a federal state since the moment when national or provincial states members of a political super-entity have to respect decisions that have been decided at the level of this political super-entity beyond them, which is the case of the EU. As the EU is a federal state and as any European federal state is morally condemnable, then the EU is morally condemnable. Obviously, I have now to show why any European federal state is morally condemnable.
Any federal European state is morally condemnable in itself because it necessary violates two important moral principles that are: (1) Political power needs to be decentralized. (2) A bigger number of states in competition is a good thing.
I will now argue in favor of these two principles and try to show why they are sound principles.
1. Political power needs to be decentralized.
First, I will propose a definition of what is political power: political power exists since you have a group of people instituting the use of the force as a way of organizing their social relations (or at least a part of it) among them and eventually among other people living on a (more or less clear) territory and attributing a legal monopoly on this use of the force to the institution they create. Alternatively said: x and y institute a monopoly on the force, that can be said legal and used, and this monopoly concerns x and y but also eventually z.
Why do we need decentralization of political power? I will take for granted that freedom has an important value thanks to its consequences and show now how decentralization favors freedom. This idea is thus expressed by Milton Friedman: “The preservation of freedom is the protective reason for limiting and decentralizing governmental power.”. Indeed, the smallest a state is, the easiest it is for the inhabitants of this state to control the decisions and actions of the government and to limit its abuses and excesses. A smaller state has less resources (incomes from diverse direct or indirect taxes) and so less means of coercion (police, army, medias, money to influence people, etc.). Its members (from the ministers to the basic little bureaucrats) are closer to the population and share more of their way of living and so are less likely to act against the population.
Moreover, smaller states are not only good for the inhabitants, but also for the inhabitants of other countries. As Murray Rothbard puts it: “Decentralization is itself a good. (...) the more states the world is fragmented into, the less power any one state can build up, whether over its own hapless subjects or over foreign peoples in making war.” Indeed, the less resources has a state, the less likely it is to be able to conduct a war or invade another state and submit its population.
Furthermore, there is an epistemic argument in defense of decentralization: a smaller state (and so a smaller government) tends to make less mistakes than a bigger state because it has a better access to the will and preferences of the inhabitants living on its territory. That argument works also for the decentralization inside of a state.
So, from that perspective, the best possible state of the world is a state that has the size of a small group of people, like a village, a neighborhood or a small municipality, and every reduction of the size of the state is a good thing.
This principle of decentralization also applies inside of a state. As Milton Friedman says it: “Government power must be dispersed. If government is to exercise power, better in the country than in the state, better in the state than in Washington.” He means here that inside of the states you need to decentralize the political power and to give more power from the central government to more regional governments, and more power from the regional governments to local governments.
The whole logic of the EU consists to do the exact opposite of the principle of decentralization in centralizing the political power in a political super-entity that takes decisions further from the individuals. Thus the politicians and bureaucrats from the EU are far less controllable by the individuals living in the EU than the national politicians and bureaucrats. So the EU is not decentralization but centralization of political power.
Let's now turn about the second principle that the EU violates.
2. A bigger number of states in competition is a good thing.
Why do we need a bigger number of states in competition rather than a smaller number of states in competition? Because the existence of a plurality of states in competition in Europe has good consequences. It leads to “a jurisdictional, fiscal and regulatory pluralism which is itself useful in opposing laws that are especially damaging to commerce”. Indeed, if someone can leave his state to go to another, it is an incentive for the states to adopt policies that make its inhabitants want to stay and not want to leave.
Some authors go further. Sheldon Richman explains that without the fragmentation of Europe in a plurality of states the Old Regime of inequality of rights could not have been suppressed. He says thus: “The key was decentralization. Without it the liberal revolution could not have occurred”. Indeed, it is this fragmentation of Europe in many states that gives the possibility for innovation and refutation of accepted truths. Joel Mokyr explains in that sense that in a Europe fragmented in a plurality of states “when somebody says something very novel and radical, if the government decides they are heretic and threatens to prosecute them, they pack their suitcase and go across the border”. Of course he is expressing himself about the Old Regime of Europe, but this is actually still true. This author thinks furthermore that the non existence of a central and single power in Europe explains how the industrial revolution was made possible and why it happened there and not in another place. So the thesis means that the whole civilization would be funded on the opposite of a European federal state: the existence of competition between a diversity European states, pluralism and decentralization.
This argument about industrial revolution is in fact an epistemic argument in favor of the competition between a plurality of states that goes like this: the suppression of pluralism of political models and frameworks tends to reduce the discovery of new models of producing in reducing the competition between producers and limiting their possibilities of creation. Institutional/framework competition is indeed not only a way of protecting freedom, but also a tool for improving each political model. So if state x adopts the improvement A, it creates an incentive for states y and z to adopt this improvement or to imagine or develop another improvement in order not to lose its inhabitants. This seems to be the virtue of competition between states, and this is what is threatened by the EU project.
Until now we have seen the two principles that the EU or any European federal state necessarily violates. These are direct arguments against the EU, but I would like now to try to answer the arguments proposed by the defenders of the EU and to show why they are not sound arguments.
II. Answering the main arguments against the Brexit
1. Brexit threatens the unity of United Kingdom.
Some authors say that Brexit threatens the cohesion of the United Kingdom (UK) as a community. First, I think that these authors confuse the concept of community with the concept of political society. John Rawls explains the distinction between these two concepts: “While we can leave communities voluntarily (…) there is a sense in which we cannot leave our political society voluntarily. (…) It is a serious error not to distinguish between thee idea of a democratic political society and the idea of community.” But maybe what they mean is that Brexit threatens the existence of UK as a political society, but it is worth noting that it seems already that it is less problematic, because belonging to a community may seem more important for the individuals in their life than belonging to a political society (this intuitive idea that belonging to a family and to have friends is more important than being a citizen of a state seems rather non controversial to me).
But then the question is: does Brexit threaten the existence of UK as a political society? It seems actually a plausible claim. But what if Brexit was creating an incentive for Scotland, Wales and North Ireland to secede? Should we consider that like something bad? At the opposite, I think that it would be a good thing, because the secession of these four parts of the Britannic state would (1) create smaller states, (2) decentralize political power, and (3) increase the number of states in competition. These three elements are all good consequences, as I have shown in the part I of this essay. I will now talk about a second main argument proposed by the opponents of Brexit.
2. The EU preserves peace and so Brexit would threaten this peaceful project.
The fact that the members of the EU do not war against each other is not the proof that the EU is a peaceful project and this for two reasons: (1) The existence of EU feeds the nationalist movements which could on the long run threatens the peace in Europe. (2) The EU increases incentives to war against other external countries of the EU through (a) the externalization of the costs of war and (b) the reduction of the inter-dependency with other countries of the world. I will now develop these points.
(1) The existence of EU feeds nationalist movements.
The EU has bad consequences for the peoples leaving under its regime at least when we talk about freedom (Part I) and economic consequences (cf. point 3 of the Part II), but as the main opponents to the EU are (for now mostly) the nationalist parties, the EU gives them the opportunity to increase the number of their supporters just by attracting people who are not necessarily nationalists but just against the EU. As Tyler Koteskey puts it: “European far right has benefited thanks to having the EU to blame. Authoritarian, anti-immigrant parties like Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary win support because people feel disenfranchised by EU mandates and powerless to control their futures.” This process is also reinforces by the transfers of resources through different members of the EU which puts every people the ones against the others.
(2) The EU increases incentives to war against other external countries of the EU.
(a) The externalization of the costs of war.
Dan Sanchez highlights the fact that “the bigger the military bloc, the easier it is for bellicose countries to externalize the costs of their belligerence”. Indeed, if x and y are members of the unit (entity) z, but not w, and if x has an interest in fighting against w but not y, then if z is lead by x to fight against w, y will support the costs of the war that otherwise x should support alone. This implies that a bigger state, like a European federal state, reduces the responsibility of the members of this bigger state in letting them not assume all the costs of their potential military fights. So it creates an incentive to war and could lead more easily to conflicts than if x had to assume the whole costs of its offensive military politics, which could prevents it to adopt this politics. As there is not yet a EU army, this process is for now not too strongly present, but the debate about the creation of this federal army is quite actual among.
(b) The reduction of the inter-dependency with other countries of the world.
Dan Sanchez points also the fact that the bigger the economic area of a state is, the less it has an incentive to do trade with more countries, because it is able to produce more, simply by the fact of its size. It is worth noting that less economic inter-dependency decreases the incentive not to war with another state. By contrast, being more economic dependent from other countries creates an incentive not to war against them. Indeed, to go to war against an economic partner implies the economical stop of the exchanges and so a reduction of the wealth for its inhabitants (at least higher prices because of the reduction of division of labor and a reduction of choices and options on the internal market). Simply put it by Sheldon Richman: political independence leads to economic dependence which leads to peace.
3. The EU leads to prosperity and Brexit threatens this productive system.
I would like mention first the existence of a huge argumentation from the Austrian School of Economics against central bank and monopoly of the state on the currency. This argumentation applies obviously to the euro and the European Central Bank, but I won't talk more about it especially because the UK is not (directly) concerned by this argumentation. Here, I will talk fist about the negative economic impact of EU in terms of (1) costs of equalization policy, (2) costs of regulation and (3) limitation of trade.
(1) Costs of equalization policy.
The problem of equalization policy is that it creates an incentive not to be as productive and efficient as much as one could be and reduces thus the responsibility of the actors. It is a sort of incentive for free-riding, or as Doug Bandow puts it “European solidarity means others caring for [those in charge of European countries taking advantage of the equalization policy] after they have wasted everything under their control“. He adds that equalization policy can seem sometimes convenient, but what most people want is not convenience but pluralism of choices and options. In that system of transfers, UK is clearly a loser. Indeed, Michael Tanner estimates that UK pays 13 billions of pounds annually as contributions to the EU.
(2) Costs of the regulation.
EU regulations reduce the quantity of exchanges in increasing the costs of production (the producers having to adapt the features of their production) and discriminate some producers in favor of others (bigger producers being logically able to support higher costs than smaller producers the latter are so the main victims of this process). Lobbyist of powerful interests can also influence directly the creation of these regulations in favor of some specific private interests (that can afford the cost of lobbying, which means again discrimination among producers in favor of the bigger producers). Sebastian Stern asserts even in that sense that “the EU seems like a measure to centralize control in order to make it easier for business to co-opt European politicians who are no located in one place – rather than deal with thousands of politicians in each nation's capital city”.
Empirically, Michael Tanner estimates the cost of regulations for UK from 2 to 6 percent of their GDP and John Phelan estimates the cost of the 100 most expensive EU regulations 33.3 billions a year.
(3) Limitation of trade.
Of course the EU seems first to favor trade among its members, but it also limits the trade of its members with external actors of the union, which represents important costs of opportunity. Michael Tanner gives the example of the negotiations with India that have been lasting since 2007 and John Phelan gives the example of Australia with whom the negotiations have been stopped by Italy in order to protect its own producers of tomatoes. This is because the EU new trade agreements works with a collective making-decisions mechanism. This process restrains and slows the adoption of new trade agreements as every member tries to protect its own producers. In leaving the EU, the UK will be able to sign new free trade agreement with other countries and this argument would be of course valid for any member of the EU. Indeed, if the state x is not a member anymore from the EU x has then the possibility to sign independently new free trade deals with other partners without depending on the collective making-deal process of the EU.
At the opposite, there is an argumentation of proponents of the EU like Jacob Levy or Diego Zuluaga who presents the EU as a kind of free market space, but I think that they make a confusion between two separated elements: the process of reducing some limits to trade and free movement between European countries (and not only between members of the EU) that has indeed existed and the process of building of a European federal state. These two processes have been politically linked together, but it has not necessarily to be so. It is possible, at least theoretically, to have a free market in Europe and no European federal state and it is indeed what seems to me wishful.
Also, one should consider that it is not because a political authority tends to adopt a politics that seems good for a while that this political authority will always act like that. So it is quite dangerous to give a lot of power to this political authority just because it seems to be acting, in the short run, in a pleasant manner. In his answer to Jacob Levy, Billy Christmas argues in that sense: “It is increasingly fashionable among libertarians who are involved in the formation of public policy to embrace technocracy on the basis that, at the moment, technocrats seem to favor neo-liberal policies. (…) But they are playing an extremely short-run game: to be successful in the long-run, it depends upon the technocrats one influences as having the same incentives they do now to pursue (partially) liberal policies. But technocrats do not care for liberty, they care for power, and they will only act in duty to the former so long as it serves the latter.”
Furthermore, I would like to mention that there is an interesting argument that points that real free trade is actually unilateral free trade and not these laborious negotiations between states that we usually consider as free trade agreements. As Vilfredo Pareto says it: “If we accept free trade, treaties of commerce have no reason to exist as a goal. There is no need to have them since what they are meant to fix does not exist anymore, each nation letting come and go freely any commodity at its borders.” From that point of view, the EU is not firstly a (partly) free trade area, but mostly a sort of protectionism at a continental level and the only genuine free trade would be unilateral free trade. Some authors argue so in favor of direct adoption of a policy of unilateral free trade by the UK.
To conclude, I will recall that I tried to show that Brexit is a good thing because it is a process that could slow down, stop or inverse the process of the building of a European federal state which is a bad thing. To defend this, I argued first that a European federal state violates two important moral principles which protects and preserves the freedom of the individuals, and second that the EU (or any European federal state) has no good consequences in terms of peace or prosperity. I also argue from the two principles I presented that the political fragmentation of the UK would be a good thing too. I acknowledge that this idea of political fragmentation and pluralism of institutional models that leads to a defense of secessionism in general can seem surprising for many, but the consequences of such a politics of radical decentralization would lead, as I tried to show in this essay, to good consequences. And to conclude this conclusion I would like to quote Murray Rothbard: “If one part of a country is allowed to secede, and this principle is established, then a sub-part of that must be allowed to secede, and a sub-part of that, breaking the government into ever smaller and less powerful fragments... until at last the principle is established that the individual may secede – and then we will have true freedom at last.” Indeed, from a libertarian point of view, Brexit is not the end, but only a step in order to increase freedom.