EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?
Is the so-called European Union worthy of all the time, trouble and cost, all fully funded by the people of Europe? Firstly let me clarify the value-added components of a market economy worthy of the time trouble and cost of our United States of Europe. I refer to a secure, self-sufficient, free market economy consisting of a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials and energy, a relatively cheap labour force, innovative skills (excellent education), technology transfer skills, manufacturing, marketing, and with stable and effective financing (banking).
An economic definition of a Free Market Economy is a system in which decisions regarding resource allocation, production, and consumption, and price levels and competition, are made by the collective actions of individuals or organizations seeking their own advantage, i.e. profit. In all market economies, however, freedom of the markets is limited and governments intervene occasionally to encourage or dampen demand or to promote competition to thwart the emergence of monopolies. Also called free economy, or free market (ref: BusinessDictionary definition). But this can occur at the nation state level, or as a collective of nation states such as NAFTA.
The free market viewpoint defines ‘economic freedom’ or ‘economic liberty’ or ‘right to economic liberty’ as the freedom to produce, trade and consume any goods and services acquired without the use of force, fraud or theft. This is already embodied in the rule of law, property rights and freedom of contract, and characterized by external and internal openness of the markets, the protection of property rights and freedom of economic initiative.
However in this world of globalisation recent history has shown that uncontrolled greed by the few can have devastating impacts on the many. The most obvious of these is the banking crisis where a few greedy investment bankers, interested only in their personal wealth, saw the opportunity to use their banks as casinos. When they were winning everyone was happy, ignorant of the fact that it could not last. The effects of this have caused widespread hardship, putting excessive stress on all of the welfare initiatives inherent in a democratic system.
We also see this excess in the boardrooms of major corporates who award themselves excessive bonuses, pensions, and salary increases whilst the workers, who actually create the wealth, have to suffer wage increases below inflation, i.e. they get poorer.
Clearly entrepreneurs and wealth creation are at the heart of any free market economy and must be encouraged and rewarded. Furthermore it is arrogant of politicians in general to think that they can outsmart the clever people whose sole intent is to make money regardless of consequence, and avoid or even evade taxes where possible. However united political systems throughout the global economy can take steps to close many of the gates to ensure that such excessive freedom is not available. For example investment banking is a global business so governments throughout the world need to legislate in tandem that banks cannot act as casinos, and must contain their activities to creating economic value and global liquidity. We need the creativity of investment banks, but we do not need their casino activities.
Likewise we now see moves by various governments to give stakeholders, the owners of the company, more powers to curb the excesses of the executives. However this is not the part of a market economy that I wish to address in this essay.
I want to refer to our template of the USA and examine the parameters that fuelled their economy, especially throughout the 20th century. If we refer back to the opening paragraph of this essay we will see a definition of a secure and self-sufficient, free market economy. If we examine the components of this definition there is one which can be considered as deficient within the EU as it is today, i.e. a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials and energy. My use of the word ‘sustainable’ in this context relates to volume rather than the Kyoto concept of ‘renewable’, especially for natural minerals. This component was fundamental to the industrial development of the USA and, indeed I am aware of expansionist plans of the USA to restock when they are close to exhausting their own supplies. For example we see how fast the USA has embraced fracking for both oil & gas exploration and development resulting in the material reduction in energy costs in the USA. This enables the USA to resume as a competitive manufacturer and supplier, thus reducing imports. This is a win-win-win for the US economy and its people. It is very refreshing to see that David Cameron has fully embraced this technology as a counter to the usual doomsayers who would have people starve rather than benefit from this technology.
So where does the EU find secure supplies of raw materials? The logical choice is to look east to our neighbours in the outposts of Eastern Europe. Russia has already demonstrated that it does not understand how to engage in secure supply, thus can only be considered a secondary source for the time being. It is possible to engage with countries such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan albeit with caution bearing in mind their continued alliance with Russia.
We cannot assume that the plundering the natural resources of third world countries as with Bougainville Island can continue. For those who do not know this story Bougainville is a small island state near to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific south of the Philippines. Before the war it was placed under administration of Australia under mandate of the League of Nations, but was invaded by the Japanese during the war. After the war Australia did not officially resume its role of administrator but, as soon as Rio Tinto found that Bougainville had enormous reserves of copper ore and gold in the 1990’s Australia went into business with Rio Tinto and passed statutes giving the mining rights to Australia who then gave Rio Tinto the exploration and development agreements without any regard to the people of Bougainville. The process of extraction polluted large tracts of the island until the people of Bougainville forcibly removed the Rio Tinto personnel (who were supported by Australian police and the Philippine army) from the island, with many dead. There is much on the internet about this tragedy for those interested. Rio Tinto and Australia are still looking at reparations of some USD 8 billion to the people of Bougainville.
Parts of Africa are also rich sources of minerals, but the Chinese have secured much of these for their own industrial requirements, as is the case with Brazil.
Thus the EU will primarily have to compete in the open market – not the strongest base on which to build a United States of Europe, especially with competing countries as large as China and India, both willing to secure as many resources as they can find to fuel their own needs.
It is worth returning to the situation in Brazil, one of the so-called BRICS, as an example of not understanding the economics of owning raw materials. Currently in Brazil they mine their raw materials and export them to countries such as China at Rial:USD exchange rates that do not optimise value to Brazil. They then have to import finished goods made with these raw materials thus consuming more than their receipts from the raw materials to satisfy their own internal market demand for goods. This is a sad reflection of a country with outdated fiscal and social policies, woeful internal transport systems, and that cannot attract large-scale manufacturing industry because cost of production could not be competitive at current exchange rates. Contrast this with the USA who would use their capitalist economy to convert these vast reserves of raw materials into goods for both internal consumption and export thus reducing the need to import, and receiving export income. Think of the employment difference between Brazil and the USA – Brazil only engages nominal labour in mining the materials, whereas the USA would also engage the manufacturing design and process people, distribution, etc. The market economy of the United States of Europe needs to resemble the USA model to satisfy the definition that I have proposed. Indeed if Brazil were a direct neighbour of the EU they would be a ‘must’ to be a member as the EU could provide all of the market support to Brazil that it lacks in exchange for its raw materials – this would be a fantastic outcome for our United States of Europe. It does not matter that Brazil is a developing economy as the capabilities within the other member states could rapidly transform Brazil into a vibrant economy having all of the infrastructure necessary for a 21st century country.
Therefore I would suggest that we consider the current 28 member states as phase I of European integration, or even phase I and phase II if we adopt a more pragmatic plan of integration. I see phase II (or III) as the inclusion of Ukraine: (coal, iron ore (5% of world reserves), manganese, nickel and uranium, mercury ore (2nd largest reserves in the world) and sulphur (largest reserves in the world)), Azerbaijan: (rich variety of minerals, oil & gas), and Turkey: (many types of minerals, and close links to the Kurds in northern Iraq and their large oil & gas reserves). Before anyone asks, Turkey would have to commit to continue as a fully secular democracy as part of membership, but having worked with Turkey since the late 1970’s I do not see this as a problem, and as is evidenced with the current unrest in Turkey. Just as we have seen in Egypt the majority of people in Turkey value a free secular society, and will fight to keep it.
Ultimately I see the integration of Russia with its vast mineral wealth (our local equivalent of Brazil) thus placing the United States of Europe as a significant self-sufficient market able to compete with any other economy in the world. As improbable as this seems today, if Europe can achieve a United States of Europe similar to what is proposed in these essays, then a more pragmatic regime in the Kremlin will see the advantages of being within, rather than the vast costs to create their own economic system – especially if Europe can substantially reduce its need of oil & gas supplies from Russia.
The value of a market economy, as per my definition in the opening paragraph, to our United States of Europe is the lack of dependency (and thus exposure) to any other country for the supply of materials strategic to the economy of the nation. This is also applicable to agriculture, but in this regard I do not anticipate any problems with capacity to feed the people of the United States of Europe today or in the foreseeable future. For example we have not yet begun to properly and fully exploit the vast black gold agricultural regions around the river Danube throughout the former Yugoslavia and Romania, and which could potentially produce a significant amount of the produce required. They call the soil in that region ‘black gold’ for a reason, and most of this region is organic soil.
Thank you for your continued interest in this European venture.
This blog is part of a series of blogs called ‘EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?’ and which examine the framework for a truly United States of Europe, and what would be needed to achieve it. Look at the archive index to find other blogs in this series.
I hope that you found this blog interesting, and will give it the Like It ‘thumbs up’ below, and/or become a follower so that you receive notice of further essays in this series.
You can also use the share options below to share your interest in this blog with others you know.
These blogs are intended to provoke thought and ideas so I look forward to any comments about the content. Just move to the beginning of the blog, click on ‘Comments’ and you can record your views, or ask questions.
- Chinese company warned over Bougainville mine (abc.net.au)