Natural devolution
Posted by aogMonday, 08 January 2007 at 16:51 TrackBack Ping URL

Both Brothers Judd and Diversely We Sail commented on this article concerning the growing support for kicking their parasitic butts out granting independence to Scotland from the UK. How then can I resist the urge?

There are several converging trends here that support the devolution of large polities.

The first is a subject I have touched on before. In our era, other peoples and territories are in general net losses. Just like modern employers have found that it’s not in their best interests to tie employees and / or business partners too closely, so various polities are finding that if a region thinks of itself as independent, it may well be best to hold on loosely so you can let go if they don’t work out.

In addition, the End of History and the spreading of trade pacts and supra-national organizations reduces the costs and increases the benefits of smaller polities. Scotland has run in to a bit of a snag with the European Commission stating that an independent Scotland would not be automatically admitted to the EU, but that’s a relatively minor nit which can almost certainly be overcome. Even with Europe’s degraded military, the idea of an actual military invasion isn’t credible. Moreover, what really protects Europe is American military power, so disassociating from local military powers is almost cost free. Without the impetus of trade and military advantages, what attraction does a large polity really have?

Interestingly, I think that the federal system in the USA is a significant part of why we see much less of this in the USA. I could of course be mistaken, but as far as I can tell there’s nothing in the European political structure that corresponds to our state governments, not with the kind of control those government have here. This provides a release valve for many of the issues involved in devolution, without having to actually break up the overall polity.

In the end, large polities evolved because of the economies of scale of pre-information age societies. Now, those economies of scale no longer exist and in some cases are actually negative. Naturally, then, we can expect a period of devolution.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Brit Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 04:44

It’s driven by the identity of the populations. In the US, people are patriotic American citizens first, Texans or Californians or Massssachusssettttianses second.

In Britain, people are Englishmen or Scots first, Britons second (often a close second).

In Europe, people are Englishmen or Frenchmen or Spaniards first, and Europeans such a distant second that it’s hardly visible.

erp Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 06:25

Yes on all counts!

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 09:03


How many actual Texans have you met?

But presuming you are correct, why was it that the USA incorporated an independent nation so thoroughly, but the UK didn’t? I still think the better federal structure of the USA was a big contributor.

Brit Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 09:27

The weight of history.

(But let’s not get too carried away about the ‘failure’ of the UK to incorporate, say, Scotland. We are talking about 400 years, during which the British Empire became the most powerful in the world.)

Catalonia and Spain is an interesting case right now.

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 10:12

That was my point. There’s lots of reasons to presume we’ll see ever more of that in the future. It’s a brittle situation where each escapee encourages others while weakening any central attraction. It will be more interesting 10 or 20 years out if places like Scotland succeed and then fail. I thought the travails of Slovakia would put a bit of a damper on, but I think they’ve mostly turned around.

Peter Burnet Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 14:09

I’m under the impression that these beakaway nationalist movements are big EU fans and it’s not hard to see why. The EU lets them assure doubters in their midst who worry about the economic consequences of being too small or insignificant. And I’ll bet the EU bureaucrats love them and find all kinds of subtle ways to encourage them. It’s a good way to throw off the big troublemakers like Britain.

AOG, I always assume the solidity of the States was largely a result of your civil war. Doesn’t everybody knows a warm goodbye handshake is unlikely? Quebec separatism seemed to just keep rolling along until Ottawa stopped being so civilized and started growling about the likely unpleasant consequences,and Clinton mused publically that entry into NAFTA wasn’t assured. To take some kind of postmodern high road and pretend fear isn’t an effective tool and you shouldn’t have to fight for your cookies is for surrender-monkeys.

Which brings me to one of my favourite Quebec stories. When the separatists were in power in the province, they used to organize big-wig treks to New York and Washington to assure American movers and shakers what a great deal it would be for everybody. During one, they were making a presentation to some very bright staff members of a senior senator. The Quebec spokeman finished with a flourishing statement that he wanted to assure them an independent Quebec would not pose a threat to American security or other national interests.

To which the answer came back: “You’re g-d—mned right it won’t.”

Annoying Old Guy Tuesday, 09 January 2007 at 14:48

It is claimed that the American Civil War marked the point at which the term “The United States” changed from plural noun to a singular noun. So your view has its strong points.

I also agree that fear is a big motivator, but what I think is that such fear is, to a large extent, disappearing as we approach the End of History. Realistically, the USA isn’t going to allow Catalonia to be invaded from Africa. Problems with joining the EU or NAFTA can be worked around or dealt with, and in particular would not be ongoing concerns, but would be settled before succession.

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