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I recently had an interesting discussion on twitter with @e_jim and @Davanlo about why Europe was a good thing. I have come to believe it isn’t, and I will expand slightly on why I believe that here .

Regulation costs

The key point to why I have come to distrust Europe is because it over-regulates. But it’s not just about the fact Europe regulates too much (although it does). It’s about the excessive cost of European regulation.

As you know, when Europe emits a regulation, it has to be transposed into local legislation. This is not a trivial exercise for the Member States, and requires full legislative efforts on their behalf.

This means you bear the cost of regulating twice: once on European level and once at country level.

Furthermore, because Member States have a degree of freedom in transposing European legislation, the whole idea of a unique legislative framework for Europe is actually negated. The same policy decisions are applicable all over Europe, but legislation does differ.

So we bear the costs of two levels of regulation instead of one.

Lack of legislative competition

The suggested solution to this is to skip the national level implementation. This would indeed solve the cost problem more or less, but a more fundamental problem would remain. The lack of legislative competition.

The idea is simple really. With legislation at lower levels, you can more easily compare the effects of different policies, see which work, and go in the right direction. In the same way competition leads to success of the best products, legislative competition leads to the success of the best policies. This is how communism and harsh protectionism finally went were they deserved to.

This occurs among others through voting and, more importantly, voters voting with their feet. It becomes much more difficult to do this if the same policies apply across a territory as large as Europe’s. And of course, having less reference points, it becomes much more difficult to spot the better policy. All the more so when all policies are half baked compromise policies as they are today.

The problem with compromise politics is that it becomes impossible to identify the part of the compromise which is responsible for the failure of the policy. So it just continues going on, and having no easy comparison point, the policy sustains itself despite lacklustre results.

More thoughts on this can be found in this post and it’s comments.

It should be added that legislative competition at higher levels (say, between the US and Europe and China) doesn’t work. Because of the massive size of the regions, and the massively different history and contexts, difference of policy performance is explained away. “This American policy wouldn’t work in Europe”, etc. And one has to admit, the argument has merit. For competition to be able to work, you do need some form of homogeneity, to make the comparison valid. The complexity of comparing the US to Europe makes the exercise nearly impossible. Belgium and France on the other hand, are manageable comparison units.

Special interests

Another issue is that centralization of power leads to the power of lobbies & special interest groups. I seem to be meeting a lobbyist every other week in Brussels these days. Of course, having a central locus of power to focus upon makes lobbies’ jobs so much easier. As such, it is my belief they gain much more traction than when powers were more local, and money runs the show in ways not conceivable before.

Again, this boils down to legislative competition. Realistically, a given lobby could hardly lobby all the local governments successfully. As such, only certain local governments would see their policies influenced by the lobby. And it would quickly become apparent how the policy is flawed.

This does not happen when lobbies can influence Brussels directly.

Just consider whether agriculture in Europe would be the same without the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe. And ask yourself if it would be a bad thing. The fine print if you lack the imagination is that France would not have the money to sustain such an ill-advised policy on it’s own, but it can thanks to the fact all of Europe pays for it.

The same applies to much less obvious domains though, areas where lobbies didn’t even exist due to organisational costs when the locus of power was more local.

Protectionism

Protectionism is an interesting topic, and one easily misunderstood. An argument in favour of the European Union is that it stops the Member States from adopting protectionist policies. While that is true, the Union as it currently exists is massive overkill to achieve that goal. Trade agreements are enough for that.

Furthermore, the largely unperceived perverse effect of the Union is that it acts as an incentive to develop protectionism of the Union against other regions of the world. Which is one of the factors spurring the extreme over-regulation of the Union. If you think consumer law is only about protecting the consumer an not blocking off foreign competition, think again. Think about the Microsoft trials. The Galileo project.

And contrary to protectionism at a lower level, the adverse effects don’t hurt the Union fast enough for the policy to be quickly identified as negative and repelled.

In a nutshell

The Union generates excessive regulation costs, stops legislative competition from taking place and allows for protectionism. Further reading on why I distrust the EU can be found here and what I suggest as alternative can be found here.

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In the past few months, there have been lots of discussions about the necessity for political representatives to reflect their constituencies not only in terms of the ideas they defend, but also in terms of social categories in the broadest sense. Since that one has been floated around recently – and because it is worryingly popular – I’ll take as example the case of  feminine representation. Be aware that I consider however that my arguments hold in discussions about representing any social category.

A prime example of this concern was the nomination of the President of the European Council and of the High Representative for foreign affairs. During the build-up to the actual nominations, it was frequently stated that a major goal during the nominations was to ensure correct gender representation. And this, in turn, greatly impacted the choice of the person for the latter role. The consequence of this is that the nominated person might be representative of her constituency, but is just not fit for job – she doesn’t have the credentials to do it right. Aiming for “representativeness of representatives” can only lead to mediocre representatives.

This is lunacy raised to an art form. Here’s why.

The goal of representation in the political arena

It seems lost on many people that the goal of representation in the political arena is to represent the will of We the People. Put in other words, the aim is to represents people’s ideas, not who or what they are. This is not some sort of marketing oriented statistical population selection. Politics is not about reflecting what people look like, how they live or what they do. It’s about what they believe is good for society.

People are people

Couldn’t resist the urge to quote a Depeche Mode song. Anyway, people, however you may wish to categorize them for whatever dark purpose, are individuals. They have their own life, make their own choices, hold their own ideas.

Thinking that a specific characterization – gender, race, hair colour or shoe size – will adequately capture a set of common ideas is basically denying that people are complex entities, for sure influenced by a certain amount of determinations, but essentially defined by their own free will.

Some will feel the need to argue for social determinations, or even genetics, and try to convince us that free will is an illusion. Well, apart from my total rejection of such metaphysics, you can’t escape the single obvious fact, observable in everyday life, that there is no single social category that can adequately provide for the prediction of a person’s beliefs. Case in point: the single person with which I hold the most common beliefs is my dearly beloved. And apart from the obvious fact she is a woman and I’m not, we have enormous differences in our social backgrounds.

So at the very least, even if someone were to hold on to the dangerously mistaken notion that free will is an illusion and our beliefs are determined, they would have to admit this determination is chaotic and thus, unpredictable.

Social categories are represented anyway

By the way, in the political arena at least, social categories are represented. In case somebody didn’t notice, voting rights in our societies are not limited to any specific social category (except children and sometimes convicts). So, to take the example of women, holding that our representatives should comprise more women “to express the voice of women” is clearly absurd. The voice of women has already been expressed – in ballots.

And for those who have decidedly not been paying attention, there have been high-profile women in politics for decades, both across the world (Thatcher, Gandhi, Clinton or Meir to name but a few) and closer to home (just look at party presidents in Belgium).

Do you really want to represent all social groups?

Just for fun, let’s imagine the idea that our representatives should exactly reflect the social categories of their constituencies is correct. What would that mean, and where would we stop?

How about ensuring hair colours are adequately represented? Sexual orientations (with obvious implications as to full disclosure of all sexual practices)? Shoe sizes? Illnesses and ailments? Criminal records (criminals are entitled to be represented too after all)? Homeless politicians? Politicians in a coma?

Of course, there could be no such thing as professional politicians, because all professional categories would need to be represented.

And then, of course, most of our representatives would need to be morons, because, let’s face it, most people just aren’t that smart.

Actually, that last one might be achieved already.

The root cause of this idea

At the end of day, people who fuss about how representatives do not match the general population usually have a hidden (often to themselves as well) agenda. And that is trying to get more representation by people they (wrongly) believe will share their ideas. Just can’t accept that their ideas aren’t the dominant ones.

Actually, I can’t either, but I don’t kid myself about it, nor do I try to mess with the system under false pretences.

Final side-note

Of course, if representation were done at a much lower level, this kind of argument would basically disappear. With representation at a very low level and direct democracy as much as possible, there would be little room left to complain about not being heard – you would be heard loud and clear.

Because, guess what? The person that can best represent me is myself.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I was fiercely
pro-european. Over time, this has started to change.

First and foremost is the fact that the European institutions have become very good at imposing ridiculous legislation. Apart from the now “traditional” regulations on what size a cucumber should be, the latest example is a suggestion, by a supposedly right-wing MEP that text messages and emails should be taxed in order to fund the Union. This stupid idea has thankfully been rejected. But the simple fact it
has been suggested is frightful. Not only would it be totally contrary
to the idea that new technologies should spread even more widely, but it’s totally impractical: it would imply tracking what every user does
with his mobile phone and his e-mail. Goodbye privacy, hello
totalitarism. And of course, it’s a tax, which is bad in and of
itself.

So, this kind of crap puts me off of Europe, but I usually think, “well, at least there’s the common market”. Well, that’s looking to be less and less true. Now the Bolkestein directive has been emasculated, one can seriously doubt if Europe will ever be a truly integrated market. Without the principle by which a service provider is only bound to respect the legislation from his state of origin, true competition, and hence the common market, is a joke.

And then, there’s the inherent problem of centralization of power. By becoming ever closer to a political union, Europe is cutting down legislative competition between it’s member states. This means we’re back to an imposition of silly rules from above, instead of having various rules, people being able to see which are the best, and only the best remaining, because governments adopt the better ones (or citizens move around). In the current system, Europe as a political entity basically only looks at it’s own belly without thinking of other solutions, hence paving the way for ever more stupid rules. It’s trial and error only without learning from your errors.

So what we’ve got now in Europe is:

  1. A not so common market
  2. Stupid rules that even local governments hadn’t thought of being
    imposed on us
  3. A suppression of legislative competition between the different
    member states heightening the likeliness of adoption of silly rules

The future looks bleak.