Seth Barrett Tillman: The Libertarian/Popperian Case for Brexit: A Response to Professors Somin, Levy, Norberg et al.

The so-called libertarian case against Brexit works like this. Nations do bad things. E.g., tariffs. And the European Union (“EU”) blocks some (perhaps many of) those bad things. Indeed, the EU has set up a tariff-free free trade zone. That’s a good thing. Therefore EU-good & Brexit-bad. This position is not entirely wrong, but it is only half the story.
First, the EU (and EFTA) free trade zone extends to EU (and EFTA) member states and their dependencies, and also to a few nearby non-member political entities (e.g., San Marino, Andorra, etc). This tariff-free free trade zone does not extend to the world. So when foreign goods are imported into the “tariff-free free trade zone” across the EU’s external borders, EU law mandates a “Common Customs Tariff”. In other words, hand-in-hand with the absence of tariffs among member states is an EU-imposed tariff against non-members’ exports. Whether this situation is a net gain for the people of Europe is a complex empirical question. That question is not answered merely by parroting the EU’s line: we promote tariff-free free trade. No, that question is not so easily answered because although the EU promotes some free trade, it positively discriminates against non-members’ exports.

Read the rest.

This is a long and well reasoned post that is worth reading in full. The gist of Seth’s argument is that the political phenomena lumped together as “Brexit” should be evaluated empirically rather than according to someone’s interpretation of libertarian doctrine; there are good reasons for supporters of freedom and open societies to favor Britain’s exit from the EU.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin responds. The reader is invited to evaluate Somin’s full response for himself, but I was struck by this line: “Tillman’s discussion of immigration is notable for its implicit assumption that we can assess immigration policy while completely ignoring the freedom and interests of potential immigrants themselves.” Has there ever been a country that framed its immigration policy in any terms other than its own self-interest?

3 thoughts on “Seth Barrett Tillman: <i>The Libertarian/Popperian Case for Brexit: A Response to Professors Somin, Levy, Norberg et al.</i>”

  1. The biggest problem now with the supranational European Union from the libertarian perspective is it violates one of its founding principles, subsidiarity, the concept that political and economic decisions should be made by the most immediately local organizations possible in order to ensure the most efficient and freest decisions.

    Free immigration and open borders may be suitable in some instances. For example, the Berlin Wall, an artificial boundary imposed by an oppressive foreign invader, divided family and friends for decades. An open border between the two halves of the city was clearly in the best interests of Berliners, so they tore down the wall when they finally gained freedom from Soviet occupation.

    On the other hand is Cyprus. It’s composed (mostly) of ethnic Greeks and ethnic Turks, two groups that interact like oil and water. The only way they could stay on the same island and not kill each other was to be forcibly restrained by a more powerful imperial hegemon. This was clearly against the wishes of the local groups, and they demanded their independence. When Cypriots became free to determine their own fate, Greeks and Turks eventually turned on each other with the result being a closed border between them.

  2. Economic prospects for the world include plenty of turbulence. There will be real advantages to having a nimble government. The UK might be nimble, the EU can’t possibly be.

  3. The so-called libertarian analysis seems to have ignored the establishment of a super national bureaucracy lacking accountability, free to impose all sorts of costly, ineffective regulations and special interest pandering. These are dal dead weight economic costs as well as a reduction of individual liberty. More (including more levels of) government has little hope of increasing liberty. Quite the opposite once we get past the bare essentials.


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