The EU and Us

Having had my fun at the European Union’s expense, perhaps it’s time to move past Lufthansa jokes (although I do have a few more) and pay more serious attention to the EU and its federalism. There’s little room for American gloating or Schadenfreude: the ongoing EU disaster is hanging over our economy; and besides, our own federalism isn’t in such terrific shape, either.

The EU’s principal problem has nothing to do with economic policy; it is constitutional. The true and correct analysis appears in Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 15. You may want a league or alliance among independent states (not Hamilton’s prescription for the United States; but “there is nothing absurd or impracticable in the idea”). Or you may want a federal Constitution and, under it, a government that governs you directly, as individuals, citizens, and taxpayers.  What no sentient citizen should want is the “political monster” of a “government over governments” rather than individuals; an “imperium in imperio.”

The EU is quintessentially a government over governments. All its troubles stem from that defect, as explained here.

To America’s good fortune, Hamilton and his pals won the argument back when. Washington may not “commandeer” the states; if it wants to tax and regulate us, it must do so directly. This is what Madison called the “compound republic” and later generations, “dual federalism.”

For better or (mostly) worse, however, the levels of government may bargain around the initial entitlements. Washington may pay the states to do its bidding, and the states may request and accept the bargains. Funding programs of this sort took hold under the New Deal and have since grown steadily; they are the warp and woof of our “cooperative federalism.” Education, health care, infrastructure: it’s hard to think of a state activity that isn’t federally funded.

Principally for this reason, American federalism has come to display “European” debilities: an erosion of democratic government and political accountability; state gambles on federal bailouts; unsustainable public debts at all levels.

The most monstrous embodiment of this pathology is (drumroll!) Obamacaid. Its driving force isn’t federal coercion; it is intergovernmental collusion. What we need is a constitutional theory and a political strategy to contain that force.

Michael S. Greve is a professor at George Mason University School of Law. From 2000 to August, 2012, Professor Greve was the John G. Searle Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he remains a visiting scholar. His most recent book isy The Upside-Down Constitution (Harvard University Press, 2012).

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Comments

  1. Vlad says

    You do have a point there (about the democratic deficit and the rule of law), but you also show zero understanding of Europe and its history (hence your delusion that you understand the situation better than the EU elites).

    What you’ve missed is that fact that the Alexander Hamilton plan for Europe (that you favor) has been tried again and again over the centuries and it has always failed miserably. WW2 itself was the latest attempt to implement it. Napoleon’s conquests were the earlier attempt. An so on and on back in time all the way to the fall of the Roman Empire.

    Europe is very different from United States in terms of cultural heterogeneity and petty nationalism. The belief that somehow the ethnic identities will lose their importance and EU citizens will start to feel some sort of pan-European identity and vote in European-wide election for European politicians who abandoned their national identities is pure delusion. This is why such comparisons between the EU now and the early US completely miss the point. There are very important differences that your article has ignored.

  2. John Kettlewell says

    I’ll agree with you Vlad, but you must be aware that this was not an in depth article, if it were ‘culture’ would have to be a top concern. The EU technocrats think they can address diverse unity thru ‘multiculturalism’, that is the conveyance to get where they want to go. Ironic as it seems, the more groups created, the greater chance for conflict, and less for unity.

    Egotism, Arrogance, Megolomania, Psycopathy…I don’t know how many reasons one can give for the inevitable failure of the EU. They want to be Gods Among Men. Their ideas are never wrong, just the implementation. Always something more to do.

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