There is no problem of viability

My previous post about HMRC tax receipts from Wales inevitably raised the old question about whether Wales can "afford to be independent". In one of the comments I made the point that one plank of the argument for independence in Scotland and Catalunya is that they can afford to be independent; but for us in Wales the argument is that we cannot afford not to be independent. In fact I would go so far as to say that Scotland's current prosperity—if that were the only thing that mattered, which it isn't—would in fact be an argument for it remaining part of the UK. On purely economic grounds, Wales needs independence much more than Scotland does.

As this runs contrary to much of the way the debate on Scottish independence has been framed, I thought it might be good to quote what E F Schumacher said about why a smaller country like Wales would want to be independent from a larger and comparatively richer state. This is from a lecture entitled A Question of Size given in 1968 and included as one of the chapters of his seminal book, Small is Beautiful.

Imagine that in 1864 Bismarck had annexed the whole of Denmark instead of only a small part of it, and that nothing had happened since. The Danes would be an ethnic minority in Germany, perhaps struggling to maintain their language by becoming bilingual, the official language of course being German. Only by thoroughly Germanizing themselves could they avoid becoming second-class citizens. There would be an irresistible drift of the most ambitious and enterprising Danes, thoroughly Germanized, to the mainland in the south, and what then would be the status of Copenhagen? That of a remote provincial city. Or imagine Belgium as part of France. What would be the status of Brussels? Again, that of an unimportant provincial city. I don't have to enlarge on it. Imagine now that Denmark a part of Germany, and Belgium a part of France, suddenly turned what is now charmingly called "nats" wanting independence. There would be endless, heated arguments that these "non-countries" could not be economically viable, that their desire for independence was, to quote a famous political commentator, "adolescent emotionalism, political naïvety, phoney economics, and sheer bare-faced opportunism".

How can one talk about the economics of small independent countries? How can one discuss a problem that is a non-problem? There is no such thing as the viability of states or of nations, there is only a problem of viability of people: people, actual persons like you and me, are viable when they can stand on their own feet and earn their keep. You do not make non-viable people viable by putting large numbers of them into one huge community, and you do not make viable people non-viable by splitting a large community into a number of smaller, more intimate, more coherent and more manageable groups. All this is perfectly obvious and there is absolutely nothing to argue about.

Some people ask: "What happens when a country, composed of one rich province and several poor ones, falls apart because the rich province secedes?" Most probably the answer is: "Nothing very much happens." The rich will continue to be rich and the poor will continue to be poor. "But if, before secession, the rich province had subsidized the poor, what happens then?" Well then, of course, the subsidy might stop. But the rich rarely subsidize the poor; more often they exploit them. They may not do so directly so much as through the terms of trade. They may obscure the situation a little by a certain redistribution of tax revenue or small-scale charity, but the last thing they want to do is secede from the poor.

The normal case is quite different, namely that the poor provinces wish to separate from the rich, and that the rich want to hold on because they know that exploitation of the poor within one's own frontiers is infinitely easier than exploitation of the poor beyond them. Now if a poor province wishes to secede at the risk of losing some subsidies, what attitude should one take? Not that we have to decide this, but what should we think about it? Is it not a wish to be applauded and respected? Do we not want people to stand on their own feet, as free and self-reliant men? So again this is a 'non-problem'. I would assert therefore that there is no problem of viability, as all experience shows. If a country wishes to export all over the world, and import from all over the world, it has never been held that it had to annex the whole world in order to do so.

E F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, 1973 – Part 1, Chapter 5

I would expect Small is Beautiful to be on the bookshelves of most people who read Syniadau. But if it isn't—or if you believe that small bookshelves are beautiful—there is a pdf version here.

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Anonymous said...

MH - if you'll allow me, I try to make similar points in my book, 'The Phenomenon of Welshness II: or is Wales too Poor to be Independent'.

It's being launched this Saturday 12 Oct, at 12.30, Aberystwyth Arts Centre with Adam Price and Mike Parker. All welcome.

It's on sale in all good bookshops as they say or online from Gwasg Carreg Gwalch (and other non-tax paying online book sellers!).

Worth giving Leopold Kohr a mensh too - author of The Breakdown of Nations (which should have been titled, 'The breakdown of states').

Siôn Jobbins

Welsh not British said...

Unfortunately many people in Wales (and elsewhere) associate nationalism the same way the English do. They think it's about empires and conquest. For us in Wales nationalism is simple, it's about protecting our people, our culture, our natural resources and our future generations from the exploitation, colonialism and destruction we are experiencing today.

MH said...

You're very welcome to promote your book, Siôn. It looks like fun. If someone wants to write a review of it, I'd be happy to put it on Syniadau.

Yes, Schumacher and Kohr were A Pair of Cranks. Leopold Kohr was quite close to Gwynfor Evans and Is Wales Viable? is well worth reading.


I fully agree, Stu.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we should not forget Leopold Kohr. He was the man who first told Schumacher that Small is Beautiful.

At a lecture in the Temple of Peace in Cardiff in the late 60’s he pronounced that “the problem is the size,” said with an Austrian accent as “Ze problem is ze Sais. Fortunately he didn’t hear the tittering from his audience – he was as deaf as a post.

MH said...

Hear, hear!

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