Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

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Nationalism and Secession – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on August 24, 2020

Other things being equal, the lower the tax and regulation burden imposed by a government on its domestic economy, the larger its population tends to grow (for internal reasons as well as immigration factors), and the larger the amount of domestically produced wealth on which it can draw in its conflicts with neighboring competitors. For this reason centralization is frequently progressive. States that tax and regulate their domestic economies little—liberal states—tend to defeat, and expand their territories at the expense of, nonliberal ones


[Published in Chronicles, Nov. 1993, p. 23–25]

With the collapse of communism all across Eastern Europe, secessionist movements are mushrooming. There are now more than a dozen independent states on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and many of its more than 100 different ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups are striving to gain independence. Yugoslavia has dissolved into various national components. Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia now exist as independent states. The Czechs and the Slovaks have split and formed independent countries. There are Germans in Poland, Hungarians in Slovakia, Hungarians, Macedonians, and Albanians in Serbia, Germans and Hungarians in Romania, and Turks and Macedonians in Bulgaria who all desire independence. The events of Eastern Europe have also given new strength to secessionist movements in Western Europe: to the Scots and Irish in Great Britain, the Basques and Catalonians in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium, and the South Tyrolians and the Lega Nord in Italy.

From a global perspective, however, mankind has moved closer than ever before to the establishment of a world government. Even before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States had attained hegemonical status over Western Europe (most notably over West Germany) and the Pacific rim countries (most notably over Japan)—as indicated by the presence of American troops and military bases, by the NATO and SEATO pacts, by the role of the American dollar as the ultimate international reserve currency and of the U.S. Federal Reserve System as the “lender” or “liquidity provider” of last resort for the entire Western banking system, and by institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Moreover, under American hegemony the political integration of Western Europe has steadily advanced. With the establishment of a European Central Bank and a European Currency Unit (ECU), the European Community will be complete before the turn of the century. In the absence of the Soviet Empire and its military threat, the United States has emerged as the world’s sole and undisputed military superpower.

A look at history reveals yet another perspective. At the beginning of this millennium, Europe consisted of thousands of independent territorial units. Now, only a few dozen such units remain. To be sure, decentralizing forces also existed. There was the progressive disintegration of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century until after World War I and the establishment of modern Turkey. The discontiguous Habsburg Empire was gradually dismembered from the time of its greatest expansion under Charles V until it disappeared and modern Austria was founded in 1918. However, the overriding tendency was in the opposite direction. For instance, during the second half of the 17th century, Germany consisted of some 234 countries, 51 free cities, and 1,500 independent knightly manors. By the early 19th century, the total number of all three had fallen below 50, and by 1871 unification had been achieved. The scenario in Italy was similar. Even the small states have a history of expansion and centralization. Switzerland began in 1291 as a confederation of three independent cantonal states. By 1848 it was a single (federal) state with some two dozen cantonal provinces.

How should one interpret these phenomena? According to the orthodox view, centralization is generally a “good” and progressive movement, whereas disintegration and secession, even if sometimes unavoidable, represent an anachronism. It is assumed that larger political units—and ultimately a single world government—imply wider markets and hence increased wealth. As evidence of this, it is pointed out that economic prosperity has increased dramatically with increased centralization. However, rather than reflecting any truth, this orthodox view is more illustrative of the fact that history is typically written by its victors. Correlation or temporal coincidence do not prove causation. In fact, the relationship between economic prosperity and centralization is very different from—indeed, almost the opposite of—what orthodoxy alleges.

Political integration (centralization) and economic (market) integration are two completely different phenomena. Political integration involves the territorial expansion of a government’s power of taxation and property regulation (expropriation). Economic integration is the extension of the interpersonal and interregional division of labor and market participation.

In principle, in taxing and regulating (expropriating) private property owners and market income earners, all governments are counterproductive. Read the rest of this entry »

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