by Jeff Thomas
14 April 2014
The world is abuzz over Crimea.
95% of the Crimean people recently voted to
reconnect with Russia after a twenty-three-year hiatus. Although Crimea had
been Russian for over 200 years, Western powers hollered "foul!" over the
In addition to Western pundits commenting nightly that such an occurrence is
an international disaster, the world seems to be taking up sides over the
possibility that any other former Russian territory may also choose to
re-unite with Russia, and sabres are already rattling all round.
We tend to forget that, although the world map has looked more or less the
same since the end of World War II, it has been the norm, throughout
history, for large parcels of property to change hands fairly often.
Boundaries move. Countries become larger, smaller, or disappear altogether.
Large empires are created, swallowing up smaller countries, sometimes
lasting for 200 years or more, then inexorably breaking up into smaller
Certainly we are heading into a period of dramatic change - economic change,
social change, and certainly political change. Whenever such a period occurs
in history, changes in the lines on the map inevitably also occur.
And, although no major changes have taken place
recently, early rumblings can be heard all over the world.
Venetians send €71 billion to Rome annually, yet only €50 billion
returns in services and investment. As they have become "tired of
supporting the poor and crime-ridden south," 89% of Venetians have
recently voted to create their own sovereign state. Following the vote,
Venetians declared independence from Italy. Already, this decision has
sparked an interest in Sardinia to have a referendum. Discussions are
afoot for Lombardy, Trentino, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia to possibly join
Scotland was an independent country until the 1707 National Referendum,
when it became a part of the UK. However, in September 2014, they will
vote to decide whether they will leave the UK and become independent.
The UK has, since the 1950s, taken a passive position in relinquishing
its colonies, and the majority of them have gone independent since then.
However, if a colony (now called a British Overseas Territory) wishes to
remain a colony, the UK firmly defends that choice. This "let the people
decide" stance is extremely admirable and may well be unique in the
Spain lost Gibraltar to the UK in 1704, and they want it back.
Understandably, Gibraltarians have a great deal more faith in a tie to
Britain than to Spain. The Spanish would also like to have Andorra once
again. To add to the drama, Spain is having problems over Catalonia and
the Basque provinces.
Across the Atlantic, sabres are also being rattled in Argentina.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seeks to retake the Falkland
Islands, despite a recent overwhelming (99%) vote by Falklanders to
remain a part of Britain (and despite a decisive victory by the UK only
30 years ago over the same islands).
In much of the world, small countries are hoping to retain their
independence, whilst portions of larger countries are trying to establish
Understandably, they're meeting with resistance,
as it's usually the areas that are the net-contributors to the larger
economy that seek independence, whilst the areas that are the net-recipients
wish to take the conglomerate approach (and to continue to eat their
This is evident even in the US, where those states that are net-contributors
are experiencing the same frustration as Venetians and are making noises
Not surprisingly, net-recipient states have no
desire to secede. The central government, of course, has a singular goal,
and that is to continue to dominate them all. This particular conflict is in
its earliest stages, and it will be some time before we see whether
secession in the US gathers any real momentum.
A move to break away is invariably a bottom-up effort - created by the
people. A move to create a conglomerate state tends to be top-down - created
by the political class. Political leaders invariably have an insatiable
appetite for gobbling up as much real estate as possible.
In other ages, this was almost always achieved
through warfare, but today, this is increasingly being attempted through
treaties with other political leaders.
The US is most certainly the original model of this type of agreement, and
since 1992, much of Europe joined together in a sort of "United States of
Europe." This hasn't worked out too well at all, but that hasn't stopped
political leaders elsewhere in the world from wanting to imitate the
Each of these groupings follows the EU model to a greater or lesser extent,
and in each case, the "unification" is desired, not by the public, but by
the political leaders.
In South America there are a myriad of organizations:
Each country, save poor Suriname, seems to have
multiple memberships in the assorted organizations. If some of the
associations seem contrived and even arbitrary, they are. All of them are
attempts to maximize the level of power through association. Some of the
relationships are acrimonious, as each nation strives to maximize its own
To this, we can add the famed
ASEAN, also notably top-down alliances.
What we see here is the desire by political leaders to construct
conglomerates that are as large as possible, whilst the general populations
seek to create smaller, more manageable entities. Clearly, the smaller model
provides the greatest potential for self-governance (as in the Cantons of
Switzerland) and limitation of the size of government, together with a
greater opportunity to create economic competition between states.
But, of course, this is the absolute antithesis of what provides power and
control to the political class. So, what will the outcome be: the end of the
nation state, as libertarians would hope, or something akin to George
Orwell's Eurasia, Eastasia, and Oceania?
It may well be that neither will be fully realized...
Human nature being eternal, the world will
always have the libertarians on one end of the spectrum and the dominators
on the other. The struggle will be unending, and we shall continue to see
empires and associations rise and fall, whilst smaller nations break away at
The real question is how we choose to deal with this eternal condition.
Do we as individuals take comfort in
being a part of a conglomerate, with its promise of full equality,
security, and cradle-to-grave care, regardless of how insincere (and
impossible) that promise might be?
Or do we choose the smaller, more
independent state, with its goals of productivity, greater
opportunity, and self-determination?
If the latter, we should examine such smaller
states and those that are emerging.
Some, like Hong Kong, Andorra, and the Cayman
Islands, are well-established. Others, like Venice, bear watching, for they
may provide the future of free-market self-determination.