European Union

Libertarians and the European Union: A Rejoinder to Petr Mach

Victory for the Eurosceptic forces would likely be a victory for protectionism, economic nationalism, immigration barriers, and Putin.

|

European Union
EU / Wikimedia Commons

There is much to agree with in Petr Mach's response to my article about the European Union (EU). As he puts it, my defense of the EU is "utilitarian," not a principled one, and I fully accept that it is possible to imagine alternatives to the current political arrangements in Europe that would be much friendlier to individual freedom than the status quo.

Unfortunately, Mr. Mach's text does little to address my main concern, namely that such alternatives might not be on the menu of options available to us at the moment, and that the likely political dynamics of an EU downfall carry a big risk of making the continent, as a whole, less free.

It is naïve to think about a demise of the EU while ignoring the agendas of political groups that are pushing forward the Eurosceptic agenda. While Mr. Mach is a committed libertarian, he's in a minority. There is already a lot of talk about Red UKIP, following the party conference in South Yorkshire, at which the left-leaning members held a fringe meeting. Or, take Italy's Five Star Movement, for example, which belongs to the same parliamentary group in the European Parliament as Mr Mach's Svobodní, and which advocates public investment into energy efficiency, a ban on stock options, and promises to fight socially harmful businesses such as "distributors of bottled water."

If that sounds relatively innocuous, the manifesto of Marine Le Pen's National Front offers some bolder ideas. It calls for "strategic planning of the re-industrialization," under the auspices of the prime minister, using insights of leading academics, representatives of business, and of the government. "This policy is to take place in parallel with the introduction of reasonable border protection against unfair international competition (targeted tariffs and quotas)," according to the manifesto. Other policy ideas include the regulation of banking fees, unspecific policies aiming to "establish an equilibrium between independent business and large supply chains," or international bans on financial derivatives.

For the sake of completeness, one could also discuss the policy ideas of Syriza, the Greek left-Eurosceptic group whose platform is based on a wholesale rejection of the 'austerity' allegedly imposed on the country by the Troika. But bad economic policy is not the greatest danger posed by illiberal Eurosceptics.

What unites most Eurosceptic parties, notwithstanding the libertarian rhetoric of some of them, is their opposition to immigration—and to the free movement of people within the EU. Says UKIP's Nigel Farage: "Immigration has now become the number one issue in British politics, we cannot have our own immigration policy and remain a member of the European Union." Or, as the Five Star Movement's Beppe Grillo wrote in his diatribe against Romanian immigrants, "the boundaries of the fatherland used to be sacred; the politicians have desecrated them."

Indeed they have—and it is a wonderful achievement. The free movement of labor within the EU has been beneficial economically (e.g.), and also in terms of advancing a principled free-market agenda. Immigration restrictions are the single biggest source of systematic injustice in the world, trapping millions of people into permanent poverty and lack of opportunity by the accident of their birth. The fact that over a million Poles are able to live and work in the UK and Germany (combined), without asking for anyone's permission, and send home $2.7 billion in remittances each year is far cry from the world without borders that free-market enthusiasts would like to see, but it is something to be celebrated, cherished, and defended.

While free trade in goods in Europe could be salvaged if all countries leaving the EU decided to join the European Free Trade Association—as Mr. Mach rightly recommends—free movement of people would be the first thing to go should illiberal Eurosceptics have their way. In and of itself, that should raise doubts about the freedom-enhancing effects of a demise of the EU even if we assumed that all other problems (such as the unwinding of the Euro) would somehow be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Furthermore, particularly for the small countries of Central and Eastern Europe, an exit from the EU would not happen in a geopolitical vacuum. Unwittingly, Mr. Mach's former boss, President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, alluded to this in an article earlier this year: "Russia does not want to passively accept the position of a country that has been permanently downgraded by having lost the Cold War." The friendly ties of some Eurosceptic groups with the Kremlin, most prominently of the National Front, are hardly a secret, and neither is the fact that a fragmented Central and Eastern Europe would facilitate the "logically emerging self-confident growth of Russian ambitions," to borrow Mr. Klaus' expression.

Libertarian Eurosceptics are correct to argue that, ceteris paribus, bad policy at the level of the EU is more damaging than at the level of a handful of nation-states. However, in Europe's political reality, the 'ceteris' are hardly 'paribus.' Victory for the Eurosceptic forces, which could plausibly bring about an exit from the EU or its complete demise, would likely be a victory for protectionism, economic nationalism, immigration barriers, and for Mr. Putin. We should think twice before becoming cheerleaders for such outcomes.

NEXT: Ebola Claims Its 3,000th Victim in West Africa

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. We’ve got the Romaniana. Where’s the pot and the ass-sex?

    The Nordic countries showed you could have free movement of people without an EU, as their border agreements predate Finland and Sweden’s entry into the EU.

  2. I have seen a whole lot of crazy and unbelievable statistics about the current state of the economy but this one takes the cake.
    http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/195700/

    In 8 Econ Recoveries from 1949 to 2000, Bottom 99% Got Over 1/2 of Income Gains. In this Recovery, 99% get measly 5%.

    It is almost like Wall Street got Obama elected and called in a few favors or something or that big government benefits the rich. Can’t be. Only crazy, nihilist Libertarians and fundie science hating conservatives think that.

  3. the likely political dynamics of an EU downfall carry a big risk of making the continent, as a whole, less free.

    In sum, we Eurofanatics won, fuck you, deal with it.

    Seriously, see if this doesn’t have a familiar ring:

    the likely political dynamics of an EU downfall an Obamacare repeal carry a big risk of making the continent healthcare, as a whole, less free affordable.

  4. While free trade in goods in Europe

    WTF is he talking about? This is the EU, after all, that loves itself some economic micro-regulation, even to the point of dictating acceptable curvature of bananas.

    1. You know what the sad thing is? This is not only accepted, but supported by the hoi polloi.

      I left a comment on some Youtube video, expressing my dismay at… whatever the EU did– curvature of bananas, amount of cinnamon on a sweet roll… and I was immediately besieged with replies about the necessity of these regs.

      The European population never got over their love of kings. They need the EU. If there was no EU, they’d have to invent it. Oh wait…

      1. People would die if it weren’t for the regulation on the curvature of bananas.

  5. This again, eh.

    I am most amazed by how many people argue against points not made by the author. He is simply saying that from an extremely pragmatic point of view, if the EU disbands, there is a high probability of nationalist statists taking over most EU governments. Given the two choices of EU bureaucracy and nationalistic governments butting heads, an EU breakup is not the cure-all that many think it would be.

    He admits this is not based on principles. Yet everyone reacts as if he is a heretic, an untouchable, a statist.

    1. Given the two choices of EU bureaucracy and nationalistic governments butting heads, an EU breakup is not the cure-all that many think it would be.

      Which is a bit weird, don’t you think? What was Germany in the 80s, before the EU? What was France in the 80s, before the EU, what was England in the 80s, before the EU, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland… I could go on.

      I’m not saying you (or the author is wrong) but what countries, specifically, would devolve to nationalist statist oligarchs (or dictatorships) if the EU evaporated?

      I’m predicting that a small list of eastern european countries, where the population wears a lot of Adidas track suits will be mentioned. Possibly… would those be the countries which constantly have the ire of the EU because their economic freedom and taxation is so high, they make the other EU nations look bad?

      1. Economic freedom high, taxation low.

        Hey Reason, how about an edit button?

      2. I’m not saying the author is right or wrong. I only said that none of the responders seem to have read what he wrote, that they argue against points he didn’t make.

        1. I aruged against something he wrote. The Nordics proved you don’t need an EU to have free movement of labor.

      3. Which is a bit weird, don’t you think? What was Germany in the 80s, before the EU? What was France in the 80s, before the EU, what was England in the 80s, before the EU, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland… I could go on.

        The amusing thing is that the EU is feeding the fascist parties and putting them into power by its very existence.

        None of this shit was going on in the 80s and 90s. And yet now that it all happened under the umbrella of the EU we should keep the EU to protect against it?

        Dalibor Rohac is full of rubish.

        What he is saying is we should put Canada under US control to protect against the nationalists that would gather against US control of Canada if the US took control of it.

    2. What he’s mainly arguing for is open borders. His point is that absent the EU, most European governments would reinstate some actual border control.

      It would be nice if these so-called libertarians would finally admit that they aren’t anti-state so much as they are anti-nation. No state is too big for them as long as it’s in the business of demolishing the historic ethnic nations of English, French, or German people. If this article isn’t a flat-out admission of that point, I don’t know what would be.

      In absence of an EU superstate ethnic Poles, Germans, English, Italians and French would actually be able to exercise self-determination for their nations? Heaven forfend!

      1. No, it isn’t and you are no good at reading comprehension either.

        I disagree with him on a zillion points, but his only argument is that absent the EU, the individual nations are likely to turn into angry xenophobic states run by governments who rise to power on stoking that xenophobia, and that is not an increase in freedom.

        If you can’t understand even that simple a concept, you are in the wrong business.

    3. Given the two choices of EU bureaucracy and nationalistic governments butting heads, an EU breakup is not the cure-all that many think it would be.

      Cure-all for who? As far as I’m concerned, nationalistic governments butting heads means they don’t have time screwing up things on a larger scale; at least it would make Europe less of a disruptive force globally.

      As for the Europeans themselves, I don’t see them any worse or better off either way.

    4. 1) Trends making Europe less nationalistic have far more to do with the US boots on the ground (and more specifically, German and French boots off the ground), and economic integration. There is nothing saying that a political or currency union are drivers as much as they are consequences of these trends.

      2) If the current resurgence of nationalist lunatics in Europe is the result of epic mismanagement on the part of the EU, then this consequence can rightly be laid at the feet of the EU — certainly moreso than at the feet of those who predicted this as the logical consequence of attempting to govern the whole of Europe through a small, disconnected clique accountable to no one.

      The poverty of EU institutions have everything to do with this author’s subject, whether he realizes it or not. The USSR and Yugoslavia held back, manipulated and exacerbated some nasty nationalist forces behind its facade of unity which all went to shit when they were dismantled; didn’t make dismantling those states a bad idea and it certainly didn’t make these nationalist tendencies the fault of critics of the regime (who often pointed out just how crassly political those institutions’ manipulation of nationalism would lead to precisely the results we saw in Yugoslavia). The EU is manipulating nationalist sentiment as a bogeyman to pre-empt its dismantlement; it also uses it to threaten governments to stick to their party line (as in the case of Scottish independence, an EU-supported movement).

    5. Vaccines are made from dead cultures.

  6. Libertarianism can’t exist without an all powerful superstate to tell people what to do!

  7. This debate seems pointless as a libertarian. No matter what happens no country in Europe is going to ever make decisions based on libertarian principles. One might be slightly worse, but pretending one is “more libertarian” than the other seems insane to me.

  8. Indeed they have?and it is a wonderful achievement.

    Spoken by someone who almost certainly doesn’t live in the welfare-state society that is being forced to absorb these workers.

  9. Cut through the fluff, and yet again, the issue boils down to Reason’s doctrinal support for open borders.

    Open borders. At the end of that ideological road, we’re all to be interchangeable cogs in One World Corp and citizens in One World Gov.

    When does Reason ever talk about the “likely consequences” of this?

    Let’s just take the US. What would be the “likely consequences” of the US having an open border policy?

    Importing tens of millions of poor and poorly educated people, for whom the US welfare state would be a huge step up in standard of living. When we import them, we import their culture and their voting patters, which by the numbers are sure to be less libertarian.

    Ready to vote with millions of Pakistanis on the proper method of executing adulterers and apostates? ~80% of Pakistanis think execution is the proper punishment for these “crimes”.

    The countries that have political cultures in *any* way compatible with, let alone as free as, US political culture are largely confined to the Anglosphere. Outside of that, it’s central planning, fascism, communism, authoritarianism, theocracy, and old fashioned brute force.

    Import those ideologies via open borders, and the “likely consequence” is a much less free and prosperous US.

    1. Troll elsewhere, troll. Your and my ancestors were immigrants, who have long proven themselves more valuable just by wanting something better, and study after study has refuted claims that immigrants suck up welfare.

      1. I don’t know about your ancestors, but mine were settlers or colonists, who were subjects of the king until the American colonies declared independence. They were certainly not immigrants. If you’re going to assert that, would you care to tell me what country they immigrated to?

        That, btw, describes at nearly half of the people living in the US today. “Nation of immigrants”, my ass. There was no country to immigrate to. They built one.

    2. I’m in favor of open borders but not if it comes with a welfare system. You come here, you survive on your own.

    3. buybuydandavis|9.27.14 @ 4:14PM|#
      “Cut through the fluff, and yet again, the issue boils down to Reason’s doctrinal support for open borders.”

      Free trade pretty much infers free movement of labor.
      But aside from that, anyone who comments on the EU without at least reading PostWar is missing the vig passed out by the central powers and how it has increase the rent-seekers by some large factor.
      The South Tyrolians now have a lobbying office in Brussels for half a year; they move to Strasbourg for the rest of the year.

      1. Free trade pretty much infers free movement of labor.

        When the day comes that a group of Somali migrants move into a camp next to my house, is the day I sell my house. I can be called a racist I don’t care, but I somehow suspect that my new neighbors and I wouldn’t necessarily share the same values. However, I’m perfectly content to buy things from them from afar, doesn’t mean I have an ideological obligation to be content to live next to them.

    4. Cut through the fluff, and yet again, the issue boils down to Reason’s doctrinal support for open borders.

      What is even stupider about that it isn’t actually the EU that opens the boarders. It is a sister organization that does that.

    5. Import those ideologies via open borders, and the “likely consequence” is a much less free and prosperous US.

      I agree. I don’t feel that an ideological commitment to liberality and freedom demands an unabated tolerance for the destruction of one’s own culture, society, family or self.

      We live in a society where the private exercise of freedom of association is essentially abolished. Without the ability to legally discriminate association, society and labor markets are at the mercy of bureaucracy to meet private demand for labor and cultural exchange. Multiculturalism isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it occurs naturally and free of the distortions caused by laws on labor and personal discrimination.

  10. Victory for the Eurosceptic forces would likely be a victory for protectionism, economic nationalism, immigration barriers, and Putin.

    I don’t see that necessarily as a bad thing. Europe is heading for German style statism, complete with third position economics, protectionism, anti-Americanism, and attempts to corrupt US politics.

    A continent of squabbling, protectionist nation states in Europe seems preferable to that outcome. If you remember 20th century history, fascism and communism may produce long term poverty, but they are pretty good at aggression and domination when they get big. Individual nations (UK, Baltic countries, etc.) can still choose to be our friends in such a Europe.

    1. “A continent of squabbling, protectionist nation states in Europe seems preferable to that outcome.”

      The hell with the protectionism. The centralized ‘fixers’ have increased the number of rent-seekers to the benefit of both.

    2. I don’t see that necessarily as a bad thing. Europe is heading for German style statism, complete with third position economics, protectionism, anti-Americanism, and attempts to corrupt US politics.

      Do forget an exporter of terrorists. The 9/11 cell had a shit load of Islamists who were radicalised in the EU.

      1. The EU as an institution, benefits from erasing local identities with multicultural policies. They actively solicit the presence of a most unEuropean and anti-European groups.

        1. In related news, the Obozo Junta advertises food stamps on Mexican radio.

          Multiculturalism is a rationalization for destroying the West by rotting its culture from the inside-out and looting its people in order to import third world buzzards to scavenge on the remains of the Age of Reason. Open borders are crucial to this process…

          “Do you think they are taking you back to dark ages? They are taking you back to ages darker than any your history has known.”

          1. I think it’s important as libertarians to distinguish between the rather anti-libertarian position of open borders from the rather libertarian position of no borders.

            1. Both positions are idiotic, so save your breath next time.

              Libertarianism = no borders or open borders so long as it also = mindless nihilism and anarchy (behind a veil of pretentiousness and enlightened tolerance, of course).

              1. Both positions are idiotic ehh? The logical conclusion of libertarianism is a stateless society supported by free market institutions. Disagree till you are blue in the face, but if you want to dismiss anarcho-capitalism out-of-hand as nihilism then you just proved how little you’ve studied the concept.

  11. my friend’s mom makes $83 hourly on the internet . She has been without work for ten months but last month her payment was $12527 just working on the internet for a few hours. original site…..

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.