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As you all know by now the eligible electorate of Scotland has voted “No”, against independence. At least 55 percent has. I think that the fact that this has occurred relatively peacefully and in a civilized manner should be edifying to all. Though I do not have great passion on this subject, I am broadly sympathetic to separatist movements within the European Union, as it strikes me that the existence of the European Union itself obviates many arguments for the gains of being part of a larger nation. Scotland though differs from the Catalans in that the United Kingdom is not part of the Euro, and the claims by the Scottish independence camp as to their ability to remain with the pound did strike me as disingenuous. In fact, I found the “Yes” camp ludicrous in terms of their economic arguments, and the “No” camp quite sensible and conservative in the literal sense. I am not particularly sympathetic to social democracy, and much of the pro-independence elite seems to have been arguing that their goal was to transform Scotland into a Nordic welfare state. But economists more sympathetic to the welfare state are also confused as to the cost vs. benefit calculation.

The issue here is that sometimes a cost vs. benefit calculation is not the point. The global elite, high earning cosmopolitans extracting incredible gains from free flow of capital, goods & services, and people, feel the modern nation-state to be simply a device which exists to enact and execute laws which can serve as a framework for the free market. In other words, the nation is a means toward economic welfare. From that perspective Scottish independence seems irrational. But the average Scot is not a part of the global elite. Of course the pensioners and much of the middle class seems to have voted against independence, so one can’t assert that resistance to separatism is just a feature of the wealthy elites. But it does seem likely that a larger proportion of those who voted “No” were voting to keep what they have, rather than looking toward future gains. It wasn’t passion or enthusiasm, but prudence. A bourgeois virtue, which has its points.

But a nation is more than the sum of utils. Would anyone ask that soldiers should sacrifice their lives for productivity gains? Should Britain have yielded to Germany in 1940 because of rational calculations? Or more to the point should the Scots have bowed down before bourgeois, when it seems clear that the odds beforehand were against them? What the global elite seems to not comprehend when facing ‘irrational’ nationalism is that their opponents do not share their premises. In the developed nations of the West there is a sense of ennui due to the lack of motivating spirit. The goal of economic well-being above and beyond basic needs has long been met. Now it is on to the bigger house, the bigger car, and so forth. This rush toward competitive consumption results in short term happiness, but it is often ultimately empty. The cosmopolitan elites may be wealthy in money, but they are also often wealthy in life satisfaction because of the nature of their careers, and the experiences which they can indulge in. They do not comprehend the vacuousness of the lives of the middle to lower classes, because they live lives with verve and excitement. But at some point they will have to face the reality that the 90 percent do not exist purely as means to the ends of the 10 percent. If a system is not sustainable, it will not be sustained.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Nationalism 
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  1. That pro-independence trailer at the top of your post is really bizarre. A highly selective view of history and a sense of victimhood is of course common to many nationalisms, but in this case it’s so obviously of recent manufacture, it’s really getting ridiculous.
    I also don’t understand how one can indulge the kind of nationalist sentiment shown in the trailer, with all its emoting over alleged prior glories and defeats of the nation, and then have some sort of bland social democracy with presumably high levels of immigration as the end goal. Seems contradictory to me.

  2. I think Nordic welfare states would be insulted to be associated with the American Left as in your post. The success of the Nordic states is as much from breaking from the traditional left/right dichotomy and finding mutually beneficial solutions. Something that I think has been facilitated in part by their electoral system. All Nordic countries use some form of (at least partly) open-list proportional representation. If you look at the 6 democracies that rank higher than the USA on nominal GDP per capita, 3 of them (Norway, Denmark, Sweden) are Nordic countries, and the other three (Luxembourg, Switzerland, Australia) all use open-list PR for at least one chamber of their parliament. All 6 have lower income inequality than the US, and all 6 were poorer than the United States 50 years ago. From both a right-wing and left-wing standpoint I’d argue that they are all more successful than the United States.

    I don’t know how much this sort of thing is in your wheelhouse Razib, but there’s a lot of interesting literature on the subject. The US is pretty much a textbook example of how to create a democracy with low GDP growth, high income inequality and ineffective governance. A lot of that was masked by the US being the oldest and also prototypical democracy, but a lot of countries have since taken the American model and improved on it substantially, while the US remains stuck using a 19th century constitution in a 21st century world.

    I think the idea that for Scotland would want to disentangle itself from a similarly dysfunctional constitutional situation in Britain is perfectly understandable. Where I think the Scots err is in pushing for a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Britain’s constitution is far more malleable than the United States’. This problem can still be solved.

    One paper on the subject. Can send more if desired:

    http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~iversen/PDFfiles/Birchfield&Crepaz1998.pdf?origin=publication_detail

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