Saturday, February 27, 2016

British Exit (Brexit) From the European Union: Right or Wrong?

British media and leaders from all walks of British life have been chattering non-stop about the pros and cons of Brexit since Prime Minister David Cameron returned from consultations with EU members to announce new conditions and safeguards for Britain that the EU had accepted to keep Britain in the EU. 

First, some background on the EU.  It consists of fourteen governing institutions.  Much like any central government, the EU has steadily grown in scope, size, and budget, which constitute an-ever increasing encroachment on member countries’ sovereignty.

Your friendly proprietor believes that U.S. history illustrates the danger to Britain if it remains (Bremain—Britain remains) in the EU.

The Constitution of the United States, which formed the government of the United States from the original thirteen colonies, was officially ratified by the states on May 29, 1790.  The first Congress to meet under the Constitution drew up 12 amendments and sent them to the states for approval, of which ten, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified.  The first nine stipulate the rights of the individual vis-à-vis the federal government.  The tenth limits the power of the federal government vis-à-vis the states.   The framers of the Constitution were concerned that the federal government would tend to grow over time, infringing on the rights of the people and the powers reserved to the states.

Amendment X:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

As recently as 1929, the federal government taxed and spent about 3% of the gross domestic product of the U.S.  State and local governments taxed and spent about 7%.  The founders’ intent remained largely intact for about 150 years.  Too, there were only a handful of federal regulatory agencies before World War II. 

During the past 30-40 years, federal taxes have averaged about 17-18% of GDP and federal spending about 22%, six to seven times their share in 1929.  State and local government taxation and spending have doubled to about 13-14% of GDP.  The alphabet soup of federal agencies has grown by dozens.

In addition, the Supreme Court has made a number of decisions that expanded the power of the federal government at the expense of the states.

Now to Brexit, and the threat of Scottish exit from the United Kingdom that would enable an independent Scotland to join the EU.

Britain as a sovereign state (much like the 13 sovereign states that assembled to draft the U.S. constitution) has witnessed a decline in autonomy as more and more of its legislative, executive, and judicial powers have been transferred to the EU.

Since the EU was founded, it has grown in its powers, steadily replacing sovereign European parliaments as the basis of national law, regulations, tax regimes, and so forth.

The EU budget has steadily grown and is projected to continue to increase.

EU legislation and implementing regulations increasing supersede those of member nations.

Extrapolating these general trends presages further reduction of British sovereignty, regardless of the reliefs Prime Minister David Cameron received from the EU in February.

Three additional factors favor Brexit.  First, England is home to the common law, which is far superior in every respect to continental law.  Allowing the EU Parliament and executive agencies to legislate and regulate an ever-increasing share of British life is a big mistake.

Second, English history, culture, customs, and its economy, based on liberties rather than continental-style restrictions, are superior to their counterparts in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and other EU nations.  (I use “England” and “English” advisedly in the event that Scotland exits the UK and joins the EU.)

Proponents of Bremain point to the economic dislocations that Brexit would cause in Britain; better to keep its mess of pottage than retain its historical liberties.  No one can forecast the net economic benefits or losses from Brexit, so those in the Bremain camp could be wrong.

Proponents of Bremain also contend that Britain’s membership in the EU is necessary to keep the European Union from unraveling.   An unnatural arrangement is just that.  Sustaining a failed model of uniting countries with different languages, cultures, fiscal and economic systems, and different levels of development is a recipe for more troubles tomorrow.

The EU is the Borg.  If you Bremain, you will be assimilated.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hong Kong's New Reality

Britain transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China (HKSAR).  It was to be governed by a Basic Law, a mini-constitution, in accordance with Deng Xiaoping's formula of "One Country, Two Systems." Hong Kong was to enjoy a high degree of autonomy.

Freedom from mainland control is stipulated in Chapter I: General Principles.  Article 5 states that "The socialist system and policies [of The People's Republic of China] shall not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remained unchanged for 50 years."

In the past few years, China's Central Government has increasingly encroached on Hong Kong's liberties.  These violations were forecast in our book published twenty years ago in 1996.

Monday, February 8, 2016

China’s President Xi Jinping Channels His Inner Mao Zedong

In the February 2, 2016, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Browne published a very interesting article on current political trends in China entitled “Self-Criticism Makes a Comeback in Xi Jinping’s China.”  Contrition, practiced in Mao’s time, has returned as a humiliation ritual, broadcast on national television—even including foreigners accused of various crimes against the state.  These shows are known as jiantao (political theater), a joint production of China Central Television and the security police.

Since his ascension to the presidency of China, Xi has mounted a national campaign against corruption (especially among his political opponents) and dissent against the Communist Party.  Browne writes about Xi’s campaign, that, “it goes hand-in-hand with his efforts to purify modern Chinese society by infusing it with old-fashioned socialist values (rejecting Western values) and Confucian ethics.”

Other relics of Mao’s socialist era have made a comeback, among them the iconic Lei Feng, “a selfless soldier who darned socks and carried manure” until his death.

It so happens that I was a Chinese language student at Hong Kong University from March 1, 1963, through January 16, 1964.  My arrival in Hong Kong was six months after Lei Feng died (August 15, 1962), after supposedly being hit by a falling wooden pole.

My focus was on contemporary Chinese politics.  My principal texts were People’s Daily and Red Flag (the Chinese Communist Party theoretical magazine, which was renamed Seeking Truth, to focus on current developments, in 1988).

In July I decided to translate several poems to get a first hand impression of Chinese realist literature.  The following is my translation a poem in the spirit of Lei Feng, which appeared in People’s Daily on July 16, 1963.  (I verified the translation with several of my teachers.  I left Chinese punctuation intact.)  I have no knowledge of the poet’s whereabouts or if he is still alive.

Ode to a Manure Basket:  Dedicated to the Commune Leader

Oh manure basket,
Is it worthwhile reflecting on your virtues?
Your manure basket on the contrary,
Is unusual!

Its bottom has often been changed,
And its sides repaired so frequently?
That everyone cannot but know
That the handle has been worn slick?

When you were an ordinary commune member,
It always followed you,
Every day winding through the big streets and small alleys,
Every hour reaching the village and riverside.

When you became a commune leader,
Whether busy in the wind or rain,
The manure basket, however, never left your hands,
Accompanying you to meetings, joining you in the harvest.

You need not waste talk,
Urging the accumulation of manure like the collection of grain;
The manure basket is your link with the masses,
Erecting a bridge of corresponding will!

Times have changed in the past 53 years.  Confucius had made a full recovery.  Is the manure basket just over the horizon?

(WSJ article is gated)