Thursday 24 March 2022

Nights - the recommencement of history?

For this week's chat on RNZ Nights, Bryan wanted to talk about Ukraine and revisiting the End of History. Not my specialty - it's rather Oliver's, but I'm always game. 

I'll usually put together a short set of notes before the chat, just to sort out my own thinking and to provide a bit of a heads-up about how I'm seeing things. 

These were this week's notes. I've tidied things slightly and added a few links. 

  1. Libertarianism has always had less to say about foreign policy than about domestic policy. The main bottom lines have been:
    1. Foreign adventurism is bad, and makes its way back home (see for example US police departments kitted out with army surplus stuff like armored personnel carriers);
    2. Free trade is good in its own right, and also fosters friendlier relationships;
    3. Open borders, or as close to it as possible, are also good – though there is a reasonably-sized cohort of anti-immigration libertarians;
    4. Be sceptical about government calls to go out on foreign adventures. War is the health of the State, and the State will go looking for reasons for having wars.
  2. It’s also an area where you’d have one of the more major splits between libertarians and, for want of a better term, neoliberals.
    1. Libertarians will often try to start from a principle of non-aggression: that initiating the use of force is always wrong. You can hit back, but you can’t hit first. And what holds for people holds also for governments. There is a deep pacifism built into libertarianism. If it’s wrong for me to go out and hit somebody, it’s also wrong for the state to do it.
    2. That leads to arguments that foreign intervention that isn’t requested has to be wrong, that regime-change and nation-building programmes are wrong per se rather than that they just are prone to going badly and too risky to be a good idea. Free trade with all and entangling alliances with none as general principle. They warned that US bases in Europe and elsewhere did more to provoke harm by annoying locals and discouraging them from building up their own defences.
    3. ‘Neoliberals’ have been happier to support the web of institutions that make up the global international liberal order, including alliances like NATO.
  3. End of end of history?
    1. I am not a Fukuyama scholar; I’ve only had a passing reading. But he pretty clearly meant something different than how he’s popularly portrayed. He wasn’t saying that events would stop happening. Rather, that there was no successor ideology – a broad view saying how a polity and its economy should be structured - offering competition to broad western liberalism at the end of the 1980s. There could be particularistic ones, but nothing with the claims to global applicability that each of Marxism, Fascism, and Liberalism pretended. Marxism had obviously collapsed from within; the Soviet Union was still there but nobody living there believed in it and, more importantly, they all knew that none of them believed in it. Fascism had failed. Nationalisms are particularistic: you don’t get a global Canadian nationalism. And Islamism held little appeal for non-adherents.
    2. Fukuyama did argue against Krauthammer’s suggestion that Russsia could revert to a nineteenth century imperial version of itself – which it’s now looking like. But again, is it a competing ideology? There are a few fans of Putin internationally, but it’s not really an ideological system that says how a state and economy should organise itself. And it’s manifestly unclear at this point whether Russians at large are Putinists. It seems rather a failed gamble by a personalistic despot whose domestic support was waning under a weak economy. I really don’t think Russia provides any aspirational model for others. They’ve a hollowed out economy, largely reliant on natural resource extraction that’s easy for the state to dole out as favours. And they’re so rife with corruption that their army’s a mess.
  4. Libertarian and neoliberal prescriptions?
    1. First big caveat that this ain’t my field. I’ve got reckons. In economics, I know what I’m talking about. Here, I’ve got reckons. But at least the things I'm suggesting won't do any harm.
    2. If we start with nervousness about interventionism, worries about militarism, and we don’t want to provoke a nuclear exchange, a few things seem to follow from that.
      1. Libertarian Bryan Caplan has suggested payingfor defection. Offer $100,000 plus EU Citizenship to any Russian deserter. Surrender to Ukrainian forces, get a ride to the border, get your money, start a new life.
      2. Even if you paid off 200,000 Russian troops, that’s only $20 billion. Less than a fifth of what Germany’s now planning on spending on defence in 2022 alone.
      3. The Cato Institute has echoed that suggestion, urging that America take in every possible refugee not only from Ukraine but also from Russia. The UK’s Adam Smith Institute has argued the same point: waive all visa requirements for all Ukranians for at least 5 years, with paths for asylum, longer term visas and citizenships. Let them live, work and study in the UK. And they argued for making it dead simple for highly skilled emigrants to flee countries suffering from conflict or oppressive regimes, including Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. That exodus would weaken the Russian state as much as anything. Remember that the Soviets had to put up walls to keep people from fleeing, because they knew the damage that would do.
      4. One story last week showed how Ireland was making part of it work. Ukrainian refugee teachers were being hired into Irish schools to help teach Ukrainian refugee children. I love it. Here they’d be tied up in arguments about professional certification and licensing for a decade before they’d be allowed to do anything.
      5. NZ has done some good on this front. Ukranian family members of Kiwis can come in. But could we do more? Could we expand the trial refugee sponsorship regime to let those without families in Ukraine also sponsor people to join us? We would want to ask Poland whether we do more to help by bringing people here or by sending them money to help accommodate refugees there, but we should consider those options.
      6. Part of the overall problem has been European and western reliance on Russian oil, and Europe’s shuttering of nuclear plants in response to environmental activism that now seems to have been at least part-funded by Russia. New Zealand’s oil and gas exploration ban: does it do more to reduce global net emissions, or to increase the world’s relative reliance on places like Russia and Saudi Arabia?
  5. Finally, it has been encouraging to see the West as West reasserting itself – and again West as ideal rather than geography. Japan is West. European Belarus is not.

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