Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Global Government II: Starting with Global Economy

I'm going to do something that feels a little icky. I'm going to have to defend Michelle Bachmann, maybe just a little bit. Oh dear.

Here's Michelle Bachman talking to radio host Scott Hennen, as quoted by Matthew Yglesias:
Well, President Obama is trying to bind the United States into a global economy where all of our nations come together in a global economy. I don’t want the United States to be in a global economy where, where our economic future is bound to that of Zimbabwe. I can’t, we can’t necessarily trust the decisions that are being made financially in other countries. I don’t like the decisions that are being made in our own country, but certainly I don’t want to trust the value of my currency and my future to that of like a Chavez down in Venezuela. So I think clearly this is a very bad direction because when you join the economic policy of different nations, it is one short step to joining political unity and then you would have literally, a one world government.
Yglesias' response is:
Of course the existence of a global economy in which events outside our borders impact us is not something Barack Obama dreamed up, and the idea that having world leaders gather for occasional meetings constitutes a “one world government” is insane. Is her idea that the President should never meet with anyone? Does that undermine our sovereignty?
Unfortunately, although I disagree with the strenuousness of Rep. Bachmann's objections, I actually wrote a while about my own belief that there would be a global government; specifically, a global NATO.

What we have right now are a few world governmental bodies. There are three disconnected branches: an extremely weak international republican legislature (the United Nations), a slightly more powerful international judicial branch (the International Court of Justice), and a few scattered executive branch functions (trade regulation in the World Trade Organization; various UN agencies, etc.).

The purpose of government is to create a social contract between different interests, and create regular methods for dealing with conflicting interests. These international bodies were created to serve as forums for different nations to peacefully negotiate solutions to conflicts of interest.

The ones I've named above, by the way, all have enforcement powers of some kind: UN sanctions, ICJ warrants, WTO trade rulings. They are all technically binding. However, because none of the organizations listed above have the ability to override sovereignty, and none of them have the ability to levy their own taxes, their enforcement powers are extremely weak. The UN can enforce against countries that all of its Security Council members agree should be enforced against, but it can't enforce against Security Council members even if it could get the votes.

There is, however, a precedent for these types of organizations becoming full governments.

The first is the most obvious and most successful, and it is the United States. At the end of the Revolution, we created a governing document called the Articles of Confederation. It required the government to rule with a unanimous vote, denied the government taxation powers or the ability to raise an independent army. The Congress created by the Articles was, basically, the United Nations.

Chaos reigned. Pirates burned coastal cities to the ground, there was a minor revolution in Massachusetts, and the government was helpless to do anything about it. That's what caused the conservative counter-coup that we call the Constitution: the need to give the federal government teeth.

But domestic chaos was only part of the story as to why we came up with the Constitution. One of the biggest salesmen for the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, who became our first Treasury Secretary, and the reason he was pushing for it was economic: he realized that if America's economic future was tied together, there would need to be an economic regulator in place. The first example of that was when Hamilton used his newfound powers to pay for the debt of poorer states using money from richer states. It meant that within a short period of time, the United States was able to pay back all of its Revolutionary debt, rather than simply having Northern states make good on their debt and Southern states continue to drag America's credit rating down.

Another early reason for the Constitution was to create a unified currency, so as to reduce the cost of doing business in America.

The Constitution introduced those key elements: taxation, an independent army, and the legal ability to override state laws, enforceable by the Supreme Court. Whereas the UN Charter respects the sovereignty of its member nations, the United States Constitution sets itself up as the Supreme Law of the United States.

And, over time, power begat power, and now the Federal government is as powerful as we normally think of governments -- far, far more powerful than even the government the Constitutional framers originally intended. And why did it become so powerful? Largely on the back of the Interstate Commerce clause -- an economic driver for the Federal Government to level the economic playing field between states.

Compare to the other, even more economic driven tale of organic government growth: the European Union. It started as the European Economic Community, and it was simply a system for helping raw materials in Germany (such as coal and Iron) reach French producers in a way that was beneficial for both countries. Then the EEC became the EU, realizing that there needed to be international economic regulation (like our Interstate Commerce Clause), and the lowering of borders (the Schengen Free-Movement Zone), a unified currency (the EU, like our Dollar), and finally an EU Constitution. They're moving in the direction of having a single European nation. If the bail-out of Greece proves anything, it is that the economic interdependence of Europe has created a situation where, sovereignty or no, they are responsible for each other.

Yglesias is right to mock the notion that the G20 is somehow a world government. The problem with Bachmann's analysis is not the foretelling of a world government, but rather a lack of investigation of what that means and what it would look like. I laid out the similar problem a long time ago, in a run of posts I wrote about the Grassroots and Power: an inability to understand how government works, and all of the different shades of control, whether it is direct or indirect. All power is not created equal.

Basically Bachmann sees two things: freedom and tyranny. World government is tyranny; US independence is freedom. Free market is freedom; Cap-and-Trade is tyranny. My argument, of course is that Free market is anarchy, direct control of carbon emissions is a bit tyrannical, and Cap-and-Trade uses moderate socialism to improve market forces. The health-care bill is another example: the current system is tyranny by insurers, a single-payer system is a little bit tyrannical by government, and the new system is... well, it's confusing. But it's neither tyranny nor liberty.

Rather than simply dismissing Bachmann's point that a global economy leads to world governance, it would be a lot more interesting to engage in the premise, which I think is an accurate one. The question is: what governance? How can we make it better, rather than simply covering our eyes and pretending it doesn't exist? ("There is no such thing as the United Nations...")

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