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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

It’s the Sovereignty, Stupid

State of the Union: Economics and politics have distinct ends.
Washington,Dc,,Us,Capitol,Building,In,A,Sunny,Day.
Credit: Lucky-photographer

I wanted to underline a point from my column of yesterday. The kernel of the argument is that economics are ultimately subordinated to politics, which is the life of the nation-state. There are decisions that may make the numbers go up—may be the optimal economic decisions—that compromise politics of a state by subjecting them especially to foreign influences. In purely material terms, the forcible opening of Japan was a terrific thing for all involved. In political terms, it threatened the sovereignty of the Emperor and the Japanese state. That is why Japan spent a century deliberately catching up with the West, especially through protectionist economic policies, instead of assuming the role of a fat and happy satellite.

Democracies, broadly understood, are even more jealous of their sovereignty than other states, since they self-define by their popular sovereignty (or, in the case of Britain, parliamentary supremacy). Hence the broad disillusion with and disaffiliation from international projects, as exemplified by Brexit. Brexit was a painful economic decision, but it’s not about economics. It’s the sovereignty, stupid.

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While there are economic benefits to industrial protection, the pro-tariff camp is primarily advancing its policies to protect American sovereignty. The state’s—which is to say, as this is a democracy, the people’s—liberty to wage war and cultivate its infrastructure should not rely on whether the Chinese or the Germans want to give us the material goods to do it on a given day. If this demands material sacrifice, so be it. Live free or die.

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