Saturday, January 29, 2011

Two Pieces on Power

. Saturday, January 29, 2011

A couple things on power. First, Joseph Nye makes the case for European power in an excerpt from his new book:

The closest thing to an equal that the United States faces at the beginning of the 21st century is the European Union. ...

In military terms, Europe spends less than half of what the United States does on defense, but has more men under arms, and includes two countries that possess nuclear arsenals. In soft power, European cultures have long had a wide appeal in the rest of the world, and the sense of a Europe uniting around Brussels has had a strong attraction for its neighbors. Europeans have also been important pioneers and played central roles in international institutions. ...

The political scientist Andrew Moravcsik makes a similar argument that European nations, singly and collectively, are the only states other than the U.S. able to “exert global influence across the full spectrum from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ power. Insofar as the term retains any meaning, the world is bipolar , and is likely to remain so over the foreseeable future.” ...

In terms of relative power, if the EU endeavored to become a global challenger to the United States in a traditional realist balance of power, these assets might counter American power. But if Europe and America remain loosely allied or even neutral, these resources could reinforce each other.

The future of European power depends on deepening European integration. Does that process appear healthy right now? I don't think you can even characterize Europe as a unified pole, so I disagree with Moravcsik that the world is bipolar. I actually expect Europe to continue to centralize political authority, but it will be a slow, murky, uneven process. I do agree that the realist expectation that the EU should be balancing the US -- and the obvious fact that it isn't -- drives the nail even deeper into that grand theory.

Elsewhere, Kevin Drum summarizes his view of American political economy:

I am, fundamentally, old fashioned about this stuff: I think of the world as largely a set of competing power centers. Economics matters, but power matters at least as much, and I think that students of political economy these days spend way too much time on the economy and way too little time on the political. This explains, for example, why I regret the demise of private sector labor unions. It's not because I don't recognize their many pathologies, or even the fact that sometimes they stand in the way of economic efficiency. I'm all in favor of trying to regulate the worst aspects of this. But large corporations have their pathologies too, and those pathologies are far worse because there's no longer any effective countervailing power to fight them. Unions used to provide that power. Today nobody does. ...

It's worth noting, by the way, that corporations and the rich know this perfectly well, even if lots of liberals have forgotten it. They know exactly what the biggest threat to their wealth is, and it's not high tax rates. This is why the steady erosion of labor rights has been, by far, their single biggest obsession since the end of World War II. Not taxes, unions. If, right now, you were to offer corporations and the rich a choice between (a) passage of EFCA or (b) a return to Clinton-era tax rates on high incomes, they wouldn't even blink. If you put a gun to their head and they had to choose between one or the other, they'd pay the higher taxes without a peep. That's because, on the level of raw power, they know how the world works.

I'm not convinced that unions are always, or even usually, a force for good or even on the side of "workers". Unions can also be cartels, and they can capture and distribute rents to relatively small numbers of people rather than the masses. They certainly put up barriers to entry. But I agree with the fundamental point that power is important but often ignored, and that the current American system is essentially corporatist.


Two Pieces on Power
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