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Post "Self-Determination Has No Logical End"
Created by John Eipper on 10/12/14 7:49 AM

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"Self-Determination Has No Logical End" (Jordi Molins, -Spain, 10/12/14 7:49 am)

Cameron Sawyer wrote on 11 October:

"As a rule I don't see the point of redrawing borders, which just changes one group of oppressors for another."

I almost always agree with Cameron. However, this post is an exception.

First, the statement above could be used in the same way as an argument against democratic elections themselves. If an election process just changes one group of oppressors for another, why bother with elections anyway?

The argument above has several flaws: on one hand, the fact that democracy itself serves not only as a tool to make public preferences more transparent, but as a game field to negotiate before the elections take place, such that political parties almost always want to become more "centered," less radicalized, in order to win the votes of the undecided citizens. On the other hand, "oppression" is not a binary variable, but a continuous one: I prefer the "oppression" of the Swiss democracy (citizens have the right to overrule their parliament through referenda; Swiss citizens agreed not to increase their holidays in a referendum not too long ago! This is one of the moments in which a human being may reconcile with the world) rather than a Communist or Extreme-Right dictatorship.

Second, even more important than voting in an urn, it is important to be able to vote with one's feet. Independence allows to do so more easily. Maybe Catalonia will become a country "oppressing" its citizens more than Spain does nowadays. I do not think so, but it is conceptually possible. However, if that is the case, Catalan citizens will be able to emigrate to Spain. Instead, currently this is not possible: if you are a Catalan Spaniard, you are doomed.

Finally, about Cameron's "self-determination has no logical end:" well, political negotiations have no logical end, and that is not a problem. We have elections every few years. And that is good. What makes no sense whatsoever is that currently, most developed countries decide everything what is important in a democratic fashion, except for one thing: national borders. National borders can only be changed by war. That is an anomaly. I hope there will be a new wave of freedom-seeking citizens trying to normalize that aberration. Democracy cannot be the only tool to provide freedom, but freedom without democracy is utterly impossible.

JE comments:  Good point:  why is it that national borders (largely) cannot be determined democratically?  The most recent exception(s) would be the Czech-Slovak divorce.  And Scotland, which decided to stay in the marriage.

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  • How Are the Catalonians "Doomed"? (Anthony J Candil, USA 10/13/14 3:30 AM)
    Sorry to say it, but I cannot follow the reasoning of Jordi Molins's post of 12 October.

    Why are Catalonian Spanish citizens doomed? Are they more doomed than the others? In what sense?

    In my view the whole of Spain is doomed if they don't change their political system sooner rather than later. But, do Catalonians have less rights than the others? Do they pay higher taxes than the others? Are they restricted from attending certain universities? Are they restricted to where and how they can live within Spain?

    I can understand their will to be a nation on their own, but not because they are a minority with less rights, because they are not. On the contrary we may feel from abroad that Catalonia is up to a point the most prosperous state or region within Spain, and that Catalonian business people are probably more skillful than others.

    Borders with Spain shouldn't be a problem but with France? Would a new Catalonia pursue an integration with the French Catalonian region as well? (I mean the so-called Rousillon, the present French department of Eastern Pyrenees and the Cerdagne.)

    From the point of view of creating a new country in southern Europe, it will be interesting to see it, though the French government may see it different and not agree.

    JE comments: Several WAISers picked up on Jordi's use of the word "doomed."  I also hope Jordi will clear up my confusion about his "vote with their feet" concept.  If Catalonia secedes, I imagine the rump Spanish state would not be very welcoming to Catalonians moving there, at least for a decade or so.

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    • "Voting With Their Feet" and "Dia de la Hispanidad" (Jordi Molins, -Spain 10/13/14 1:28 PM)
      When commenting Anthony Candil's post of 13 October, John E wrote:

      "I hope Jordi will clear up my confusion about his 'vote with their feet' concept. If Catalonia secedes, I imagine the rump Spanish state would not be very welcoming to Catalonians moving there, at least for a decade or so."

      Let me describe a simple model to show independence may be Pareto optimal (or close to it):

      Let us assume a country has 100 citizens. 16 of them are of the "small" region, and the remaining 84, of the "big" region.

      Let us assume there are only two ways to suffer oppression: "low oppression" and "high oppression." Let us assume the 84 citizens of the "big" region suffer "low oppression," while out the 16 citizens of the "small" region, 10 suffer "high oppression" and 6 of them, "low oppression."

      The bottom-line fact is 10 citizens in that country suffer "high oppression," which is bad.

      Now, let us assume the citizens in the "small" region manage to become independent (the majority of them, 10, feel "high oppression," so they have a strong incentive to get out of the country).

      Let us further assume the new country arising from the "small" region just reverses roles: the 10 citizens who initially were under "high oppression" are now under "low oppression," and the remaining 6 who were under "low oppression," now are under "high oppression."

      So, we have reduced the number of "highly oppressed" people from 10 to 6, but that is not enough. In order to accomplish Pareto optimality, the 6 has to become 0.

      But now there is an advantage: the Constitution of the original country continues giving citizenship to the 6 "highly oppressed" individuals in the new country. As a consequence, these may "vote with their feet" and move to the rump state. There, these 6 individuals become "low oppressed" again.

      Bottom line: now there are no "highly oppressed" citizens anymore, despite the fact that the new country is no better than the original one.

      Why is then the "world" better off (in fact, in a Pareto optimal state) after independence? The reason is citizens are able to vote with their feet, unlike before, when the 10 "highly oppressed" people could not do anything about it.

      Anthony J Candil asks if Catalan people have less rights than other Spanish citizens. This is equivalent to asking if the "high oppression" state exists.

      My answer is positive, since discrimination is not only due to specific laws hard-coding discrimination, but most importantly, how those laws are applied. For example, yesterday it was the "Día de la Hispanidad" in Spain. In Barcelona, there were two demonstrations, the "radical" one and the "moderate" one.

      In the "radical" one, there was the proposal to bring the Catalan president, Artur Mas, in front of a "firing squad" if the 9-N consultation takes place, at 2:55 of the following video:


      In the "moderate" one, several individuals cried "¡Artur Mas, a la cámara de gas!" ("[Catalan President] Artur Mas, to the gas chamber!"), at minute 0:48 of the following video:


      Every year we have the same kind of threats during the "Día de la Hispanidad" in Barcelona, and nothing happens to these neo-Nazis, who can act with complete impunity. Please note the identification of the individuals is trivial through the videos.

      Despite the fact the Spanish law says all Spaniards are equal, in practice that claim does not hold. There are different qualitative and quantitative standards for different people, depending on their political opinions.

      JE comments:  I know it's just a model, but the notion that the six previously "low oppressed" people would become the highly oppressed minority in the new state is troubling.  I'm trying to think of a real-life historical example.  Zimbabwe...?  In a nutshell, if people have to emigrate to achieve universal "low oppression," it's not a good thing.

      It's very interesting how the Spanish extreme Right has co-opted the figure of the Savonese mariner, Christopher Columbus, as a way to celebrate their Hispanidad.

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      • Nationalism Again; on Models and Their Limitations (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 10/14/14 7:58 AM)
        Regarding Jordi Molins´s model description trying to explain the "vote with their feet" concept (13 October), it might be useful to clarify some facts. The model seems to be convincing. However, it lacks perhaps fundamental consistency and is merely rhetorical.

        To describe a model properly, it is necessary to clearly define the assumptions which it is based upon, not only the description of how it works.  Jordi's model is based on the concepts of "oppression" and two distinguishable concepts: "suffering" and "feeling." The first is a real physical felling of an unbearable kind, most likely the product of a painful experience, allowed or tolerated; the second is merely a subjective perception from senses, emotions, attitudes and/or sentiment.

        First, it is difficult for me to assume everybody in a country "feels" or "suffers" oppression in the more general sense of being subjugated by cruelty, force, torture, or any sense whatsoever which would imply that the whole territory is subjected to a criminal regime or dictatorship; second, that there are people suffering or feeling cruelty or torment on a "low" level and, simultaneously, on a "high" level in the same country under the same criminal government; this seems to be very unlikely and simplistic.

        To measure oppression with these parameters to explain an idea is also inappropriate, if not harsh or excessive, to describe a very complex real world context, which is the ultimate reason Jordi uses to justify Catalonian independence because of the alleged "oppression" by Spain´s government and the referendum problem. Perhaps it would have been better to use another term than "vote with their feet"?

        Anyway the assumptions and conclusions of the model are rhetorical and even pretentious, based on discrimination, intolerance and unfairness. The people "suffering high oppression" in the independent region, in order to "suffer low oppression" must have to emigrate to balance and optimize the model´s equations for a better outcome. This conclusion is unfair and discriminatory.

        It would be very useful to understand better Jordí´s model if he explains the concepts used as assumptions, and how they relate to real-world or actual circumstances in Spain. For instance, what is the "high oppression" of Catalonians, and what makes them different from any other Spaniard from other regions suffering from "low oppression"?

        Jordi claims that "despite the fact the Spanish law says all Spaniards are equal, in practice that claim does not hold." This is probably and unfortunately true in Spain and in any other country in the world. In practice in the real world, citizens are "all are supposed to be equal, but there are some more equal than others."

        However, if Jordi is referring to demonstrations and acts of intolerance against Catalonians from radical and minority sectors, on the other hand I know for a fact and reports from Catalonian friends and newspapers that there are also violent harassments and persecutions of Spaniards or Catalonian unionists by pro-independence activists, tolerated and maybe instigated by the Generalitat.

        Unfortunately, intolerance is a social disease.

        JE comments: There's the famous economics maxim that all models are wrong, but some of them can be useful. Who said that? (I could look it up, but perhaps my ignorance will spark a good discussion.)

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