A Tale of Three Unions

10 Jan

I was in a discussion with an online correspondent the other day, and the fellow made a remark that led me to think.  He suggested that the United States would benefit by being more like the European Union.  Two Unions, located in different spots and apparently headed in opposite directions.  Could the United States benefit by adjusting course to parallel the European Union?  I think we could.

Once we have a basic understanding of the European Union and the United States we can compare, contrast, and evaluate.  The EU is made up of 27+ member States.  The USA consists of 50 member States.  There are differences in the nature of the States, but not as many as one familiar only with the 21st Century might assume.

Land area: EU 1.7M sq mi, USA 3.8M sq mi
Population: EU 510M, USA 308M
GDP: EU $16T  USA $14T
Capital: EU Brussels(?), USA Washington, DC

Based on raw numbers, the two unions are reasonably comparable.  Not to diminish or ignore other cultures, but taken together, the EU and the USA have the overwhelming preponderance of art, culture, and institutions of higher learning and research.  As well as an inordinate share of Nobel Prizes.  And most of the world’s greatest wine.

The differences are not as stark as many Americans, and Europeans, might imagine.

Europeans who are not happy at home leave, and often come to the USA.  When they get to the USA, having cut ties with home, these expat Euros all too often come to realize that the problem wasn’t geography.  So there are a fair number of unhappy and ill-at ease Euros in the US.  And some who’ve returned home, taking their new-found unhappiness with the USA along.  I know this because I worked with many Europeans, a large portion of whom were unreasonably testy.

Americans who are not happy at home generally retire to some Third World country where the cost of living is low, expectations almost non-existent, and further contact with the USA increasingly unlikely.

The EU is not yet a complete Nation, it’s approximately at the “Articles of Confederation” stage, where the USA was a bit more than 200 years ago.  The States of the United States of America are not complete either, having yielded certain external Nation-State functions to the federal USA government, in exchange for membership in the Union.

The greatest similarities that exist between the EU and the USA come in comparing the EU of today with the pre-FDR USA.  The European Union of today is very similar to the United States of America before the New Deal.  The EU is far closer to the USA of 100 years ago than it is to the USA of today, leaving the USA of today as the outlier.

The EU budget is $120B Euros, whatever that comes out to in real money.  By regulation the budget must be balanced.  The EU has a policy of only getting involving when a problem cannot be solved by the affected state(s).  The European Parliament meets occasionally, and the entire operation has limited directive power over the member states.  In other words, the European Union has a highly functional Tenth Amendment, whether they know it or not.  The entire organization of the European Union, and functioning of the apparatus of government, are deeply reminiscent of the US federal government under Grover Cleveland.

So what about health care?  Indeed.  In the European Union, each State provides its own solution.  Germany, France, Britain and the rest each design and operate their own system.  Precisely what the Massachusetts Plan does, and what California SB 810 would do.  Why would we not follow the European model on this?  Introducing the ‘Third Union’…  What is the alternative, central planning?  Another Union, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics tried running everything from one central Imperial Capital in Moscow, and history shows how that turned out.  It failed spectacularly.

These issues unavoidably get wrapped up in ideology.  But there is a greater issue that bears on how these Unions should be governed.  That issue is simple pragmatism, how does a Union go about governing itself?  What works, and what doesn’t work (no matter how theoretically seductive it may be)?  The European Union has a small-footprint, minimally intrusive, decentralized, local and sustainable model.  The Union of Soviet Social Republics was a big-footprint, maximally intrusive, centralized, distant and unsustainable model.  The United States has the former, and is undeniably moving toward the latter.

If we follow the model of the European Union, we will push decisions, authority, responsibility, and resources back out toward the States.  We will celebrate diversity instead of imposing uniformity.  In the United States of America, this model can work even better than it does in Europe because of mobility.  If Germany screws things up, it’s not that easy for a German to move entirely to Portugal.  So some Europeans are stuck with broken systems, they can’t easily “vote with their feet”.  In the United States of America, the mobility of citizens is far more perfect, so the marketplace will work with less friction.

Conservatives and Liberals alike need to look at both the EU and the USSR for examples of what works and what doesn’t.  The USA is at a crossroads, we can choose either future and call it our own.  The question is, do we want to have more autonomous States, like the EU?  Or do we want a more powerful central government, like the USSR?  I most strongly urge all sides to help adjust our course back toward the EU/Tenth Amendment model.

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