How a Right-Winger Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the EU

My impression is that most right-wingers in America are deeply suspicious of the European Union. And fearful that the model will spread here. But I think they are looking at things exactly backward; in fact the EU model is so good that we should adopt it right now in the US of A.

I don’t know if this story is apocryphal, but I recall reading that prior to the Civil War people used the say “the United States are” instead of “the United States is.” I propose we split the U.S into 50 independent countries, and have Washington DC become a part of Maryland. I can’t see any drawbacks from doing this, and I can see many huge advantages.

I envision an American Union modeled after the EU, with Washington DC playing the roles of Brussels, Frankfurt and Strasbourg rolled into one. Each “country” would have its own military, and each could join NATO. The coastal states would maintain navies, while the interior states would provide a disproportionate number of soldiers to NATO. North Dakota could be one of the most formidable nuclear powers on earth, providing a nuclear umbrella over the rest of us. (I’m sure we’d be willing to help the Dakotans with the cost of maintenance.)

Consider some possible objections:

1. A liberal might ask if this is just a right-winger trying to bring back the “states rights” of the segregation era?

No. The EU has some sort of bill of rights; for instance the rights of minorities are protected and capital punishment is banned.

2. A conservative might complain that each state should have the right to decide whether to have capital punishment.

I have mixed feelings on capital punishment. But think of all the grief we get from the Europeans about this rarely used punishment. And for what? Last year we executed 37 people in America. That’s not much deterrent in a country with more than 15,000 murders each year. I was born in one Midwestern state, and grew up in another. And both states banned the death penalty more than 125 years before the French stopped slicing off heads. And now we get lectured to by snobby Europeans about how barbaric people are out in Middle America. Is the death penalty really worth the abuse we take?

3. Wouldn’t 50 states be really inefficient? The US is currently a very big market, with no barriers?

So is the EU. Yes, it doesn’t work as well, but it is much easier to prevent new trade barriers from forming, than to remove those that were formerly in place. The EU has 27 countries, and is well on its way to 40. Why not 50 over here?

4. Wouldn’t it be inefficient to have 50 different currencies?

Ever heard of the euro?

I know a lot of patriotic people out there are thinking that this is un-American, trying to break up the greatest country on Earth. But the beauty of the idea is that nothing that makes America great would change at all. We’d still have the NFL, backyard BBQs, NASCAR, etc. What about about our flag? Well doesn’t the EU have some sort of flag?

Others might be worried about economies of scale in governance. Aren’t we richer because we are bigger? At one time that was true. When countries were very nationalistic there were huge advantages to having a big army and a big market. But now the most successful countries in the world are often very small.

Remember my three neoliberalism models; Denmark, Switzerland and Singapore–all three are small. The fastest growing country in the EU during recent decades is Ireland—population 4 million. The richest country in the EU? Luxembourg (even the name exudes wealth, like something dreamed up by the marketing people who pick names like “Lexus.”)

In fact there are diseconomies of scale in governance, which is why Ireland is richer than Britain, Austria is richer than Germany, HK is richer than Taiwan which is richer than China. Singapore is richer than Malaysia (even controlling for ethnicity.)

And with 50 different countries the terrorists wouldn’t know who to strike. Put a Vermont flag on your backpack and you’re even less conspicuous than those with a maple leaf.

We could end the debate over national health care in Washington, and start 50 debates out where they should be, in state (oops national) capitals. For those on the left, consider how hard it would be for pharmaceutical companies to convince 50 different countries to stop buying low cost drugs from Canada.

Indeed, I see huge advantages for both those on the left, and those on the right.

The right has already been moving in this direction, with conservatives in places like Texas, Nebraska, and Alaska asking for more sovereignty. But there are also big advantages to those in affluent blue states. No longer would their heavy income tax payments be used to subsidize those low income red states in the heartland, which claim to support “small government” but eagerly take a disproportionate share of federal money to build bridges to nowhere. And for all you “progressives” out there, aren’t you always lecturing your fellow Americans about how much better they do things in Europe? OK, here’s your chance.

My plan would also boost our self-esteem in all sorts of ways. No longer would red and blue states have to take turns sitting through 8 years of an idiot or a rogue running our country. Of course there would still be a Congress, sort of like the European Parliament. But it would be relatively weak, just as in the EU. And there would still be a Supreme Court. But now the 10th amendment would have real teeth. I dare you to impose “uninumerated powers” over those North Dakotans! And (sorry Austrians) there would still be a Fed. The only thing missing would be a president. The White House could be a great museum. And isn’t it fitting that our final President would have been an African-American, after our sorry history of slavery and Jim Crow? (Sorry ladies, Hillary was so close.)

Have you ever looked at the map and thought how much tidier it would be if we had grabbed Canada when we had a chance? Well Canada would never join the US, but they might join the AU. Of course they’d first have to break up just like we did.

Here is another way our self-esteem would be boosted. When they compile lists of the highest per capita incomes in the world (PPP adjusted), the AU would completely dominate the top 20 or 30 spots, with only a smattering of petro-states and postage stamp countries scattered amongst us.

How about the lists that take intangibles into account, the so-called quality of life indices? Right now there are 10 or 20 countries ahead of us in the various happiness rankings, but that is misleading because all these countries are small. We are happier than any of the bigger European countries. And the US currently ranks only 15th in the UN Human Development Index. But this is actually much better than it sounds, as there are so many tiny countries on the list. Our ranking is similar to that of many Western European countries.

I am almost certain that if we broke up, at least one former state would lead the world in the UN Human Development Index. And I am pretty sure which one it is. But first check out this link, (you’ll have to scroll down to the third graph.) Ignore obesity and look at the percentage of people making less than 200% of the poverty line. Do you see one state that is an outlier on the right? No surprise, it is Mississippi. Now before continuing just think about the fact that we are essentially tied with Denmark in this quality of life index, despite our country having states like Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia, and many others that clearly have big problems with poverty, crime, health care, etc.

Now look at the outlier on the left. To my eyes it looks a full standard deviation better than any other American state. And this state also has a very low crime rate, a nice environment, a high income, and very high quality education (based on test scores.) In a comparison with the Nordic countries I am quite sure that it would hang in there with most of the intangibles, and then when they got to the per capita income part of the index it would look like Secretariat coming down the stretch at the Belmont Stakes.

And best of all, this state has no state income or sales tax. Take that Paul Krugman.

PS. Ever noticed that the euro bills all look alike (for a given denomination), but the coin designs are still different from one country to the next? Now think about our state quarters. It’s starting already.

PPS. The only threat to New Hampshire in the HDI contest would be Norway. But I still insist that oil extraction isn’t really “income,” it’s depleting capital.

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About Scott Sumner 492 Articles

Affiliation: Bentley University

Scott Sumner has taught economics at Bentley University for the past 27 years.

He earned a BA in economics at Wisconsin and a PhD at University of Chicago.

Professor Sumner's current research topics include monetary policy targets and the Great Depression. His areas of interest are macroeconomics, monetary theory and policy, and history of economic thought.

Professor Sumner has published articles in the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, and the Bulletin of Economic Research.

Visit: TheMoneyIllusion

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