The tyranny of the minority

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve written so much about our gun problem in the nearly fifteen years my blog has been around that I pretty much have said it all. In a sense this week’s rampage that killed 59 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas was fated to happen.

Sensible people wonder why we can’t seem to do anything about it, given that sensible gun control legislation is supported by a majority of Americans. It’s easy to say it’s because the NRA owns enough legislators to keep it from happening. In reality it’s a symptom of a much larger and possibly intractable problem: the tyranny of the minority.

It’s so big a problem that it is hard to see. I confess I did not fully understand its dimensions until I read this op-ed in the Washington Post by E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann. While the op-ed talks about gun control, its implications are staggering. It explains why according to a recent poll only 25% of the country says we are on the right track. In this country the tail wags the dog.

The tail in this case is rural states. Remember that in the Senate all states are equal. So Montana with roughly one million people in it has the same clout in the Senate as California, which has 39 million people. Ending the Senate’s filibuster rule would likely make the tyranny of the minority even worse. As the author’s point out:

Ending the filibuster would not solve the problem; in some cases, it might aggravate it. As The Post’s Philip Bump has noted, if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16 percent of Americans could overrule those representing 84 percent.

We have a federalist system. In theory each state within our union is an independent nation. Each state has voluntarily ceded some of its sovereignty to the federal government. The Senate is the institution that recognizes this sovereignty by making each state equal within the body. In short, the Senate has a rural bias. In the beginning the difference did not mean too much. But as new states emerged the implications became clear. For example, at one time there was to be a state called Dakota. The people living there realized though that they could double their impact by applying for recognition as two states: North Dakota and South Dakota even though the two states are very homogenous.

The depressing part is that there is almost nothing we can do to change the Senate. It would take a constitutional convention. It’s hard to see why rural states would voluntarily relinquish more of their power to make the system more “fair” so a majority could actually govern. It takes two-thirds of states to call for a constitutional convention (34 states). Twenty-eight states have already called for such a convention. Since most states represent rural populations, a constitutional convention would likely rewrite the constitution to give rural states even more power, furthering the tyranny of the minority.

Gerrymandering is the other aspect of the tyranny of the minority. Gerrymandering though is a bit different. It empowers pluralities rather than minorities within a state. For example, Texas is a conservative state in general. By creating highly partisan voting districts, Texas has created districts where a plurality of conservatives in the district are more conservative than normal, and minority districts are more liberal than normal.

Those most affected by gerrymandering are not necessarily minorities, although onerous voter ID laws certainly depress minority participation in elections. As I pointed out before, moderates are the biggest losers in gerrymandered states.

The impact of gerrymandering is easy to see in Congress but also in state legislatures. It is feeding partisanship in these chambers because there are so few moderates to form a sensible center, making compromise increasingly unlikely. This more than anything else probably explains why only 25% of the country says we are on the right track. Essentially we’ve “elected” legislators that vote against the interests of a majority of their citizens. Curiously, it is this frustration at not being heard that fed the rise of Donald Trump. Citizens seem to want someone to change the status quo and shake things up. Trump is certainly making waves, but he cannot change these fundamental mistakes in our system of government.

And that’s what they amount to: mistakes. If the decks were not already stacked against the majority, the Electoral College makes it worse, leading to presidents who lose the popular vote by three million votes (Trump).

The irony of all this is that those calling for a constitutional convention amount to rural states that want more power. They already have the nation by its scrotum. They don’t have complete control. The president is generally elected by a majority of its citizens, but recent elections in 2000 and 2016 suggest an emerging trend of presidents losing the popular vote but still winning the election.

Some states like Texas sound like they want to secede from the Union. In reality rural and southern states have it good. Overall they consume more federal revenue than they contribute, a product of many decades of these states having disproportionate power in Congress. Secession would actually be a huge problem for them, as they would have to live within their own means. Right now red states are sucking blue states for their wealth and prosperity.

If states are going to secede, logically it should be blue states with large populations and thriving economies, states like California and New York. A couple red and purple states also meet these criteria. Texas has a large population and is thriving. Florida and Virginia also likely apply. More minor states like New Jersey, Ohio and Minnesota would also meet these criteria. I do have to wonder how long supposedly sovereign states like California will put up with this system where they are handicapped and bled dry, with much of their wealth going to other less prosperous states.

Imagine if states like California and New York when on strike, refusing to pay federal taxes until the system is fairer to the majority. Maybe something would change, but most likely it would cause massive national disharmony. And that’s the real problem here: our constitutional framework largely keeps the majority from wielding its clout. That’s why 59 people died and over were 500 injured in Las Vegas by a crazed shooter on the 38th floor of a hotel and nothing will change: because the minority has the nation by the scrotum.

You have to look hard for signs of hope. The Supreme Court is considering a case of partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. In the past the court has been hands-off. Is the gerrymandering in Wisconsin so egregious that they will take action? If they do (and it’s unlikely) it will be around the edges of the problem. If political gerrymandering can be ruled unconstitutional then there is hope that at least in the House and in state assemblies will generally represent their constituents again.

What the op-ed suggested to me is that as bad as our dysfunctional government is at the moment, it’s likely to get a lot worse. The tensions are there for a lot more Las Vegas-like shootings. It’s hard to see but the fabric of our democracy is shredding. Moreover there are few ways we can come together and solve the problem because there are so few people willing to admit there is even a problem, or that it’s in the interest of the minority to cede some of its power to the majority.

If civil war is in our future, it might well come from blue states. They, not red states, are the ones getting shafted.

Recipe for dysfunction: the Flint water crisis

The Thinker by Rodin

My wife and I have been watching the Flint Water crisis for the last year or so. It has been in the news for a long time, just on back pages of papers or in obscure news articles when it was mentioned at all. Now, of course, it is suddenly a national story.

We were following it in part because my wife was born in Flint, Michigan so stories from Flint will naturally flag her interest. When she first heard that the state of Michigan (acting as its manager) had changed Flint’s water source from Lake Huron (via Detroit’s system) to the local Flint River, she said, “This isn’t going to work”. Although considerably cleaned up from its polluted days, she knew the Flint River was still an unsafe water source, much like the Hudson River near Albany is after decades of General Electric dumping PCBs into the river. The river is not the sewer it once was but lots of crap still ends up in it.

In the auto industry’s heyday, Flint was Detroit’s younger brother, living off the auto business. While cars were certainly built in Flint, equally important was its role in supplying auto parts. ACDelco, for example, still has a plant in Flint although it is certainly smaller than it was. Over the years we have made a few trips to Flint. Like many cities in Michigan, it’s a pretty sad place. If you’ve been paying attention to Flint stories, you’ll learn there is much that is dysfunctional in Flint. For example, it has a police force that works 8 to 6, Monday through Friday. If you need help at other times call the county police and hope that they will respond. This was due to the city’s declining tax base. It could no longer afford a full-time police department. Long ago Flint was pimped for its cheap blue-collar labor, found even cheaper elsewhere, so the city underwent hard times from which it never recovered. It became another sad tale of urban blight, if you can call of city of 100,000 with lots of boarded up houses and a declining tax base “urban”.

A perfect storm came together to cause the Flint water crisis. It would be easy to blame this entirely on Michigan State government, and it certainly does earn the majority of the blame. But it’s clear that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had a hand in the problem, basically by not providing the oversight that was needed. When it detected a problem, it didn’t take effective action to hold Michigan accountable.

The impact of the problem is easy enough to see now: thousands children and adults with elevated lead levels, which are not easily corrected and will likely lead to lifelong cognitive problems. The problem is more than the lead, which is mostly a factor of the differently treated water going through old pipes rather than of contaminants in the Flint River. It’s mostly a story about an absence of government, but it’s also a story of ideology overriding common sense. It’s also a story about the drawbacks of federalism. I’ll tackle each of these.

For several decades now Republicans have been pushing the rube that government is the problem instead of the solution. The government than governs least governs best they opined, channeling Thoreau. Michigan voters bought into this and turned the state bright red when it elected Rick Synder in 2010 as its governor. That was also the year its legislature went red, when Republicans won the State House (they had previously controlled the State Senate). It was quite a change, with the house going from 67 Democrats to 47 Democrats. Republicans got carte blanc, controlling all the levers of state government. The usual stuff that happens when Republicans claim a state government started. This included legislation allowing the state to take over local governments that could not stay fiscally solvent. Flint was one major city (the other being Detroit) to be taken over by the state.

From Governor Snyder’s perspective, Flint residents proved they couldn’t govern themselves. This was their fault: they were incompetent. In fact the city was a victim of economic forces largely beyond their control. The city needed “adults” (i.e. mostly white men from nowhere near Flint) to take charge, adults appointed by Snyder with the consent of the state government. And thus half-baked solutions like changing Flint’s water supply became a way to make the city more lean and efficient. (In fact, the City of Detroit offered Flint a 50% discount to keep it as a customer but the offer was spurned.)

Unsurprisingly the new city managers were tone deaf to complaints from citizens about their discolored water or from a local pediatrician who kept trying to get their attention with actual test results. They were not accountable to any voters and being challenged on their actions simply set up a wall of cognitive dissonance: if you are so smart why did you let things get so bad? Those cute, misinformed and principally black Flint residents simply didn’t know what they were talking about. It’s clear though that had Flint not been taken over, it would not have done something so radical as to quickly change its water source, at least not without considerable deliberation and testing. The mayor and city council would have probably raised concerns like whether it would have affected the aging lead pipes in the city. Not doing so might jeopardize their reelection. But when you are an out of town manager not running for reelection, you do what you think is right and aren’t concerned much about local input.

Federalism empowers regional control by allowing states to make regional decisions. There are obviously virtues to federalism, but occasionally there are drawbacks as well. This was pretty obvious by the way the EPA mishandled this crisis. The regional EPA senior executive was mindful of the political consequences of getting too involved in the issue. Michigan was now bright red, and he could expect interference and hostility if he went out on a limb for Flint. He chose not to, which was obviously a mistake, but an understandable one given that the job requires making political choices. In politics sometimes you overlook individual deficiencies to address a larger goal. That’s probably what happened here, but the judgment was obviously a flawed one and led to his resignation. Michigan deserved to have its hand slapped, but more importantly it’s the EPA’s job to raise these issues to prevent exactly these sorts of situations.

And so a perfect storm happened. A tone-deaf and ideologically driven state government tried to do things its way with entirely predictable results. Thousands were sickened and will endure lifelong disabilities. Government served no one here, certainly not the residents of Flint, and became an obstruction to common sense governance.

It’s unclear to me if we will learn any lessons from this. Here are mine:

  • Government should not be run by ideologues but by people who want society to run like a well-oiled engine.
  • We need local input and local control if possible but sometimes local government can’t do it all and are victims of macro forces beyond their control, like Flint’s shrinking tax base and it’s not necessarily their fault.
  • State and federal resources should be used to empower and supplement local control, not to countermand it.
  • Government exists to serve the people, not just the people that fund politicians’ campaigns.
  • Most importantly, anyone who serves in government has the role of a fiduciary. They should be there not to destroy government but to make it run better. Gumming up its machinery won’t make it better, and that’s what happened here to tragic effects.

Republicans and their bogus notion of federalism

The Thinker by Rodin

Texas Governor Rick Perry is one of the latest entrants into the 2012 Republican presidential primary race. In fact, in barely a week he has managed to displace former Governor Mitt Romney in polls as Republicans’ favorite choice. Clearly, Republicans are more enamored with his record than voters overall will be, once they get the facts on his “Texas miracle”. One thing Perry is very adamant about, aside from the usual whines about cutting taxes, is federalism.

I’m betting some of you don’t know what federalism is. Just incase you don’t know, federalism is not the philosophy that the federal government should do more and states less. What federalism really means is that sovereignty is split between the national government and state governments. In the usual dopey Republican thinking, federalism means that the federal government should do almost nothing and the states should do almost everything else. “Republican federalism” generally means they choose to ignore the constitutional provision that the federal government is empowered to “promote the general welfare”. Moreover, they would also be happy to ignore, if not outright repeal the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that says U.S. federal laws are the supreme law of the land. In short, they believe states are more than peers to the federal government; states are superior to the federal government. States are the masters, and the federal government is a little yappy dog that they occasionally throw dog biscuits at to keep happy. The federal government is a servile little puppy that amuses the states and is good at growling at strangers that come near its borders.

Rick Perry’s latest personal beef is that he thinks “Obamacare” is unconstitutional and thus should be repealed. He believes states have the authority to create statewide health insurance plans, or not, but definitely not the federal government. The states should be incubators of laws to see what works in the real world. At the same time, Perry is being a typically schizophrenic Republican by castigating Mitt Romney for the Massachusetts’s health care law, because it requires citizens to have health insurance, except in some limited cases.  Massachusetts’s law, of course, was something of a model for “Obamacare”, known by its proper name as the Affordable Care Act. If this dichotomy bothers you then congratulations: you are a rational person. If you a Republican, it should not bother you at all. Of course you can be for states’ rights while at the same time being selectively against state laws that you believe impinge on personal freedom, even if you don’t live in the state. In fact, you can be for federal laws requiring that all states prohibit gay marriage or abortion, while still believing in states’ rights and ignoring the Supremacy Clause. It’s crazily confusing to those Americans who retain their sanity, but wholly sensible to Republicans.

Anyhow, Perry wants to repeal “Obamacare” natch, and let states be laboratories for health care reform, unless it looks anything like Massachusetts’s health care law. In that case, at best he will hold his nose and accept it as the price of federalism. At worst, he will argue that the original intent of the constitution does not allow states to encroach in this area because it impinges on personal freedom. In general though he believes the federal government’s authority should be much more limited than it is, probably limited to providing for the common defense and controlling immigration, and not much else. Why? Because he thinks this was the founding fathers’ original intent, in spite of the words in the constitution ratified by the many states saying otherwise!

In Rick Perry’s ideal world, agencies like the Food and Drug Administration would be abolished and the money saved on these wasteful agencies returned to taxpayers. States would choose whether or not to regulate drugs. In fact, states already can regulate drugs. Here in Virginia, for example, I cannot buy Sudafed over the counter without giving them my driver’s license, which is scanned. A record of the purchase is put into a database that tracks how many times I bought Sudafed. Basically, Virginia wants to know if I might be running a meth lab. Virginia can extend federal law, but cannot selectively override federal law. This is perfectly clear to most of us who have read the Supremacy Clause.

I do hope that Rick Perry’s idea of federalism at least extends to allowing the federal government to regulate the airwaves and airline traffic. Because otherwise, goodness, it would be a hell of a mess trying to fly anywhere or keeping deviant radio waves from illegally crossing a state’s boundaries. However, neither of these is directly mentioned in the U.S. constitution so maybe they are not allowed. After all, original intent triumphs everything.

The Supremacy Clause exists specifically to answer the question that Rick Perry and so many other Republicans raise. You would think that they might, like, actually read it. The Supremacy Clause also has the side effect of allowing activities that affect the country as a whole to be done nationally once, instead of replicating it inefficiently and piecemeal up to fifty times across the fifty states. Do we really want to take federalism to the extreme where the New York State health department says that heroin is an addictive drug and hence illegal, while California judges it is a matter of individual liberty and should thus not be regulated? Do we really want one state to allow shoddy Chinese drywall while another state prohibits it?

It all sounds so dreadfully confusing and, worse, incredibly inefficient. Granted the federal government has lots of bad laws, but at least if it is repealed it is gone nationally. If federalism existed the way Rick Perry envisions it, most of us would find it too risky to ever leave our state, simply because there are too many ways you can get in trouble with the law moving to another state. You couldn’t count on any law being consistent. We’d probably want an opinion from our lawyers before we moved to another state. Our lifestyle, say living with our gay spouse, could be criminal in a neighboring state. One state may be okay with Miranda rights, another prohibit them.

My wan hope is that as Americans learn more about Perry and other Republicans’ bizarre idea of federalism that they will come to my conclusion: it’s crazy and wrong. But it’s more than that: it’s unconstitutional. Let’s just hope if someone like Perry does get elected president and tries out this notion of federalism, our federal judges will apply the U.S. constitution as it was actually written in judging the cases. This includes those inconvenient clauses like the Supremacy Clause that plainly say what they plainly say.

Is mutual interdependence the solution?

The Thinker by Rodin

That is what I have been asking myself this evening. As often happens, I was getting dishpan hands this evening while listening to the radio. Tonight, C-SPAN Radio was featuring speakers at yesterday’s Republican Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa. I happened to tune into a speech given by candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He was winning kudos from the friendly crowd by speaking of the virtues of energy independence. He proposed a plan that within ten years would make our country energy independent. He also warned of an even bigger national security issue: food independence. A nation that cannot grow the crops to sustain itself could be blackmailed, he warned. He warned the crowd that we could not let this happen. He received warm rounds of applause for these points.

I too have made similar points in the past. When discussing illegal immigration, I pointed out the consequences to our nation if much of our agriculture disappeared because we could not find sufficient migrant labor to pick our crops. When discussing global warming, I pointed out that conservation and renewable fuels could help us become energy independent. Once we were energy independent, the consequences of another war in the Middle East would trouble us a lot less.

While I still think that both goals are laudable it occurred to me that there is a downside to all this independence. What we are really saying when we talk about energy or food independence is we want our nation to be completely self-reliant. If we can take care of ourselves, then, if necessary, we can seal our borders and live in relatively happy isolation from the world’s chaos.

In our interconnected world, we will never be isolated from the world’s problems again, if we ever were. It is still said that when Wall Street sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. This seems to be borne out by the turmoil the last few weeks in our risky sub-prime mortgage market. Now it is also true that when stock markets tank in South Korea or in China, Wall Street catches a cold. These effects of course simply reinforce my point that we are increasingly interdependent. There is no way to go back to our isolationist past. We need to accept this reality. That our economy is growing at all is largely a result of our interdependence. Imagine how you would feel as a shareholder of Microsoft if it could only sell inside the United States.

So what does this mean? It means, as I have suggested before, that nation-states are moving toward obsolescence. I see this in small ways in my own life. I earn a few bucks on the side installing software for clients. I have yet to meet any of my clients in person. There is one client twenty miles or so away, but even in his case, all of our interaction was accomplished through email. Most of my clients live in the United States, but I have had clients in Israel and Great Britain too. It is not hard to transact business. They send me money via PayPal. I do the work over the Internet. At least in my case I can state that the Internet has made such things that used to matter, like the country where someone lives, irrelevant. Their money may be in a different color when they go buy groceries, but it is green when it arrives in my PayPal account.

It looks like before we ingloriously leave our debacle in Iraq will cost us at least a trillion dollars. Why did we do it? President Bush was quite candid about his rationalization before we invaded: because he perceived a real threat from Iraq to our national security. We thought that given more time Iraq could create atomic weapons that it might lob at us. Apparently, that was unacceptable to the cost of about one trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. Our ability to remain an independent nation apparently trumps all other needs including the need for all nations to peacefully coexist.

Most economists tout the virtues of free trade. They see it as a cure to the world’s economic ailments. Free trade, they intone, raises all boats. If it is cheaper to import vegetables from Mexico because the labor is cheaper there, this is ultimately good. Consumers benefit. Our farmers may be a bit put out but overall both the United States and Mexico would benefit. Our agriculture would change to be more efficient, or we would develop new industries to replace it. However, what free trade also does is that it promotes our world’s mutual interdependence.

From listening to politicians running for office, I am left to conclude that the world’s mutual interdependence is a bad thing. Is it? Maybe what we really need is to encourage our interdependence. Maybe nation-states are entities that are on their way out. Maybe what the world needs is world federalism instead. If this is where we need to go, from a world of autonomous states, to a world of federated nation-states then we need more interdependence, not less.

My firm conviction is that these dynamics are already well underway. Those who adapt to this new reality, like Europe, are likelier to prosper. The longer that the United States of America deludes itself into thinking that we will always be completely sovereign the more painful and costly our adjustment will be. Arguably, the debacle in Iraq is a one trillion dollar consequence of our delusion.

Imagine a different world where this is no my country vs. your country competition except in sports. I am not naïve enough to think that such a world will happen overnight. However, I do think that since the process is already well underway, the longer we delude ourselves then the more painful our transition will be. We need to discard ourselves of foolish notions like we can provide entirely for our country’s needs. While energy independence may help us find cleaner means of generating energy to reduce global warming, its ultimate goal is to find ways for the world to also do this. For global warming, like much of what ails us, can only be solved globally.

The more we rely on other countries, and other countries rely upon us, the more natural incentive there is for all of us to get along together in peace and harmony. These ties truly bind us together as a planet. We need to listen to the message. China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, India and many other countries need to listen too. The European Union has already heard the message and is prospering.

We cannot solve our national problems by being independent in all things, or even in areas that we consider critical to our sovereignty. This is delusion. However, the world can solve its problems by engaging in them together. Economic interdependence is the means by which a newer and saner world order could emerge. It is likely to be messy, as are most things in human affairs, but it offers a hopeful vision, and seems more viable than our current tactics.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

– John Lennon, “Imagine”

Our Emerging Federated World

The Thinker by Rodin

The nation-state is dying. What is emerging to replace it is a state of states. It is a newer and smarter federated model of governance for the 21st century and beyond. It is a good model that I believe will work better to serve the needs of our increasingly complex and overpopulated world.

I saw plenty of evidence of this new world order during my family’s recent trip to France. It is not that France, as a country, no longer exists. It certainly does. However, it is no longer quite the sovereign country it once was. Their former currency, the franc is gone. It has been replaced, as have most of the currencies in Europe, by the euro. Since the formation of the European Union, a French citizen no longer needs a passport to move around the E.U. countries. French citizens now travel internationally using a generic European Union passport. (Your country’s seal is embossed on the cover.) These are just some of the privileges of federation. Citizens of the European Union can now travel freely within the E.U. without even the hassle of a border check. There is no need to convert currency inside the E.U. either. All E.U. member countries use the euro. In addition, E.U. residents can compete for jobs elsewhere within the E.U. This has expanded the job possibilities for millions of Europeans.

Bully for Europe. The European Union is the first example of a new kind of federalist uber-state. Europeans have discovered that collectively they can wield much more clout, as well as live richer lives, by federating. For those countries that choose to federate, this tide raises all boats. Europe, which throughout its history was scarred by seemingly incessant wars, can likely look forward toward a more peaceful future. A Frenchman today is as likely to think of himself as a citizen of the E.U.

It is not that countries in Europe have ceded all of their rights. Each country still has its legislature and controls most affairs inside the country. Some members, like Great Britain, have only gone up to their knees into E.U. waters. The British cannot seem to give up their pounds in favor of euros. Nor can they quite adjust to the metric system when their English system of measures remains hardwired into their brains. Other countries like Turkey and Macedonia want to be part of the European Union, but the E.U. is holding them at arm’s length. In addition, countries like Iceland, which are not official members of the E.U., seem to have some of the privileges of federation. Iceland participates in the European Free Trade Association and subscribes to the Schengen Agreement, which lets it share immigration and border policies with the E.U.

If the forces of chaos can be kept at bay, in time what is happening in Europe is likely to happen over much of the civilized world. Our grandchildren may live in a world that is more like George Orwell’s vision of Eurasia and Oceania (just hopefully not as hopeless). Europe is first out the gate, but internationalism in general is emerging all over. Africa is already looking northward for an example. Right now, its African Union is more like a United Nations of Africa than the federated E.U., but it certainly has the potential to morph in time into an E.U.-like state of states.

The mere idea of federating nations here in North America is anathema to America’s leaders. Nonetheless, cooperation is expanding with our neighbors in many areas in the Americas. The Organization of American States has been around since 1948, but is largely toothless. More meaningful are lower levels of federating through trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the nascent Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). We have seen the impact of NAFTA for many years now, both for good and ill, but its effect is to make Canada, Mexico and the United States more economically dependent on each other. In the grand scheme of things, this is likely a good thing.

As you probably know, there are many other regional organizations, most of which are only loosely federated at best. The Arab League allows Arab countries to come together periodically and vent, but it does not accomplish much of note. Southeast Asian Countries have formed ASEAN to work on common economic and political issues. ASEAN has enough mojo that our president usually flies out to attend their annual summit.

Of course, there are many other international institutions serving a variety of purposes. The United Nations goes without saying. Many question its value, but at least it provides a forum for aggrieved nations to scream at each other instead of firing volleys. Considering that it was formed in the 1940s, it is not surprising that it is largely toothless. Less toothless are powerful international institutions like the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. Less interesting, but just as vital are organizations that do our international plumbing, like the International Standards Organizations and the International Telecommunications Union.

All these organizations of course are responding to needs of a changing and growing world. The United States is one of a small number of countries that still harbors the illusion that it is not that connected by an umbilical cord to the rest of the world. We figure, wrongly, that if things outside our borders went too much not to our liking, we could simply lift the drawbridges and dwell in happy isolationism. The reality would be a national depression that would make the 1920s and 30s look like the good old days. Lord, Wal-Mart would even have to buy American!

Looking at the E.U. example, you can almost see the light bulbs going off over the heads of the smarter countries out there. There is strength to be found in joining with likeminded compadre states. The European Union is leading the way with a regional federation of countries with similar values. This new federalism is not that much different from the model we have here in the United States. Our states maintain a lot of independence from the federal government. Only limited control is ceded to the federal government. This gives a lot of flexibility to find solutions acceptable at the regional level while allowing for common needs to be addressed at the federal level. The E.U. now demonstrates a way that this can work with countries, and other countries are taking note.

Except, of course, here in the United States. We tend to look down our noses at other countries. We just cannot help it. We think of ourselves as the epitome of a successful country, and figure all those other countries just need to emulate us in order to succeed. Goodness knows we need not waste our time emulating them. We will cooperate with other countries if they act servile toward us (preferred approach), or do not say too many nasty things about us (acceptable approach). The reality, of course, is this attitude works to our long-term detriment. The global sandbox is getting more crowded. Countries that work well and play well with other countries are going to get less sand thrown in their faces. Right now, the United States is sitting in one corner of the sandbox in a huff, but the sandbox is getting more crowded. When will we learn to play nicer? When will we start sharing pails more often with our sandbox neighbors?

I expect that this new form of federalism will continue to expand. I expect that 100 years from now tourists like me will look forward to going to visit the E.U., not France, Spain or Great Britain. I expect by sharing a common governmental infrastructure that federated states like the E.U. will have a competitive advantage. Witness it emerging in endeavors like Airbus S.A.S., an airplane manufacturer that competes well with Boeing and spreads its jobs across E.U. member states.

Call me nuts but I think there will be a time, perhaps fifty years hence, when the United States will be petitioning to be in the European Union too. We will kick ourselves for not having done it sooner. I expect that Russia will get there long before us, once they too emerge from their nationalist huff. The E.U. may well be the 21st manifestation of George Orwell’s Eurasia, encompassing perhaps the entire Anglo-Saxon world.

I would prefer, however, to look toward an ultimate solution: world government. The very term sends shivers up the spines of most Americans. However, this new federated model should give us hope that it can be done in a way that will work for everyone. Perhaps world government would look like a federation of federated states. This is, in fact, some of the thinking behind the World Federalist Movement, to which I have alluded before. It is a model for how to live together on this increasing small planet in relative harmony. I encourage you to spend some time checking out their site.

Allied against federalism of course is the usual anarchy and forces that want to pull us back into our tribal past. There will be more on this in a future entry.