I’ve been slow to finish following up on a post of June 1st, ‘Europe and Liberalism: Beyond the Clichés’. I made several numbered points in response to some over familiar ways of criticising the European Union, on a post identified in my original post, using a classical liberal point of view. I’m expanding on those points, one post for each point, within the framework of my own version of classical liberalism, or libertarianism.
2. The post compares the political arrangements of the early United States with the economic arrangements of the European Union. A comparison of limited use.
The Constitution of the United States entrenches a unified market between the 13 states which made up the original union. The Commerce Clause should be seen in this light, it grants the federal power to ensure there is an open market. The Constitution also sets up a Post Office to ensure communications across the union. According to Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, for example the existence of the post office was a profound influence in making Americans aware of belonging to a single country, and did enormously facilitate communications as the main form of communication.
So the Constitution of the United States of America was set up for 13 states with a very limited sense of common nationhood. Just as importantly, these were rural economies, and sadly in the southern states that meant a large amount of slave labour on plantations. Back to the slavery issue in later posts. The major point here is that the US constitution was strongly constructivist if we look at its historical context now, not its use to prevent economic interventionism from the late nineteenth century onwards.
The European Union originates in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, 168 years after the US Constitution came into force. The six original members of what was then known as the European Economic Community, established to ‘lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’, were already industrial nations, as are all stares which have joined the EU since. They already had integrated national markets, in law and in practice. In the late eighteenth century, we cannot say that even the states of the American union had national markets in the same way, as much more economic activity was about people feeding themselves and providing their own basic needs. Communications were not good enough to allow markets as we have them now, though the institution of a post office was one part of overcoming this, as was the largely private building of railways in the mid-ninetheenth century. These episodes have come and gone by the time of the first version of the European Union.
That should be enough to confirm the basic point here, which is that what it meant to have a national integrated market was very different at the time of the US Constitution. With that in mind, the Constitution is itself a constructivist document. To condemn the Treaty of Rome, or any other EU treaty since then, including the Maastricht Treaty, which established the Euro, is quite wrong and is an argument made on the bassi of a complete failure to consider historical context.