Friday, March 21, 2014

Swimming Upstream in the Crimea River

Vice President Biden labeled Russia’s annexation of Crimea a “land grab”.  He may be spot on with that assessment.  However, the bigger picture truth is that Vladimir Putin is swimming against the tide of history.  The trend in governance is in favor of smallness and localism as opposed to aggregation and national expansion.

Throughout the world provinces and cities are agitating to secede from larger nations.  Legitimate secession movements are budding even in what we might consider to be old-line rock solid nations.  In Great Britain, Scotland is seeking Independence.  Venice wants break from Italy, Catalonia from Spain and to our North, Quebec is making separatist noises once again.

At home in America, counties and regions are bucking to extricate themselves from the majority tyranny of their state capitals.  A movement is afoot to devolve California and a piece of Oregon into six states.  Also percolating are the Northern Colorado and Western Maryland initiatives.  In the Great Lake State, much of Michigan is looking to sever ties with Detroit.  Who wouldn’t?

One might object that none of these movements has garnered majority support.  True enough but neither did the first great separatist movement, the American Revolution.  Not a problem according to Samuel Adams who told us, “It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.

Secessionist movements aside, nullification is gaining acceptance as an accepted means of pushing back against Washington’s heavy hand.   On a cultural level, the locally grown / Farm-to-Table movement strengthens local allegiance and identity.

The modern nation state is a recent invention.  It absorbed formerly autonomous fiefdoms, principalities and city states for the purpose of aggregating the massive natural, capital and human resources needed to wage Industrial Age wars.  Otto von Bismarck, who was the architect of the modern German nation, invented the modern welfare state system as an apparatus to buy loyalty and build dependency among the citizens.  Murray Rothbard explains:

“Generally, a State cannot win the passive support of a majority unless it supplements its full-time employees, i.e., its members, with subsidized adherents. The hiring of bureaucrats and the subsidizing of others are essential in order to win active support from a large group of the populace. Once a State can cement a large group of active adherents to its cause, it can count on the ignorance and apathy of the remainder of the public to win passive adherence from a majority and to reduce any active opposition to a bare minimum.”

It is becoming increasingly evident from the massive deficits, municipal bankruptcies and the EU monetary crisis that the welfare state can longer afford to buy off its citizens. 

Similarly, warfare between advanced industrial nations is no longer viable.  Our destructive capacity is too staggering, especially if the combatants possess nuclear weapons. 

Finally, digital technology empowers private individuals as well as businesses to transcend national borders.  In their visionary 1999 book, from The Sovereign Individual,   authors James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Moggs assert:

“The process by which the nation state grew up over the past five centuries will be put into reverse by the new logic of the Information Age.  Local centers of power will reassert themselves as the state devolves into fragmented overlapping sovereignties.

Government will have to adapt to the growing autonomy of the individual.  This will make smaller jurisdictions more successful.”

The point of all of this is Putin’s Crimean “land grab” is strictly old school.  Even if they manage to annex new territory, their hold will be tenuous and unstable.   Successful and sustainable millennial governance will be smaller and more cognizant of local needs as opposed to massive, bureaucratic and unwieldy.

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"Half the people are stoned and the other half are waiting for the next election.
Half the people are drowned and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction."
Paul Simon