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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Supercommittee’s Failure: Obama’s Too?

In the wake of the failure of the joint congressional committee that was tasked with coming up with a proposal to reduce federal deficits over a decade by $1.2 trillion, Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, said at a news conference, “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening.” The mayor may have been wrong. Take the word executive: literally it is to execute, or implement, which implies management rather than leadership. Put another way, implementation depends on a goal already established, presumably by a leader. To lead is to formulate a vision of social reality that is an ideal, and thus consisting of goals rather than actualities, and then to persuade others to accept that social reality. Once the directionality is established, the means, or strategies, can be executed by managers (i.e., those who manage the implementation).

Even Dan Pfeiffer the White House communications director at the time, may have conflated management with leadership in remarking, “A president’s job is to lay out a plan and then rally the country to that plan.” The word plan is key. A plan is a means to get from here to there. It is therefore not the same as a goal, which is only an end-point. So once again leadership, which is oriented to formulating and selling a vision, is being conflated with strategy, which belongs with management, which implements goals by making and executing plans. Pfeiffer went on to refer to the president’s $3 trillion deficit reduction plan, whose specificity renders it clearly within the executive purview of the chief executive, rather than the leadership function of the president. Whereas to preside is literally to sit before (from the Latin), which is consistent with formulating and selling a vision, to execute is to draw up (or have drawn up) specific plans and negotiate on the basis of them.

The U.S. Presidency is a strange bird in that it contains, among other roles, the leadership of presiding and the management of executing. It is no doubt a tricky business balancing these two hats (among others, such as commander in chief). If the chief executive gets too caught up in negotiating particular plans that require legislation, his leadership function can suffer, as can the separation of powers that is vital to the proper functioning of the U.S. Government. That is to say, if the chief executive becomes the chief legislator through his minute legislative-committee involvement, he has gone far beyond the minority role represented by his veto pen. That veto is a check on congressional legislative power rather than an encroachment on Congress’s main function. Therefore, the chief executive should not have been an active part of the “super-committee” on the deficits.

The plans that the chief executive draws up should be oriented to the post-legislative implementation, or enforcement, of legislation, with only advice given to congressional committees as per the minority role of the presidential veto. In a sense, the American President is both before and after the Congress; the leader’s vision is as though the tip of an arrow pointing where the country is to go, whereas the executive’s plans are means of implementing legislation, which is ideally in line with the leadership vision’s goals and principles. Admittedly, in a governmental system of separated powers, the broad directions and principles, strategies as laws, and executive plans are not necessarily in sync. Perhaps this is reason enough for the U.S. President to keep straight the distinctive functions of leading and managing.

Click to add a question or comment on the U.S. President’s roles as leader and executive.


Jackie Calmes, “Obama Weighed Risks of Engagement, and Decided to Give Voters the Final Say,” The New York Times, November 22, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/22/us/politics/obama-sidestepped-the-deficit-committee-debacle.html

Monday, November 21, 2011

The African Customs Unions and the E.U.: On Currencies

The East African Community (EAC) is Africa’s “most advanced regional trade bloc,” according to the Wall Street Journal. As of the journal’s report in late 2011, the EAC was already a customs union that guaranteed the movement of goods and the right to work across Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The parliaments were working at the time on synchronizing immigration and tariff laws. “We want to develop this corridor vigorously and collectively,” Mugo Kibati, director of a Kenyan government program, said. The journal notes, however, that the EAC and other trading blocs in Africa, such as the Southern African Development Community, were “backing away from one prominent aspect of Europe’s economic union: a common currency.” Aside from any vague similarities that the fiscal differences between Greece and Germany may have to those between Zimbabwe and South Africa, the currency question itself is out of place for a NAFTA-like trade agreement.

Treating the SADC or EAC, for example, as if it were commensurate with the E.U., rather than with the European free trade area (EEA) or NAFTA involves making a rather basic category mistake. Furthermore, characterizing the E.U. as an “economic union” is woefully misleading—to the point that ideology rather than simply ignorance might lie behind the label. Besides the fact that E.U. law is not limited to trade, institutions such as the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament are not economic in nature; rather, they are juridical and political organizations, respectively, that provide governmental functions in a federal system of dual-sovereignty.

Even just considering a common currency to go with a trade treaty or customs union demonstrates a lack of understanding in terms of the latter. Lest it be objected that the E.U. was not already a political union as of the date of the journal’s report, the claim can be put to any of the directly-elected representatives in the European Parliament, whose political function of legislating is not even limited in content to trade agreements. Furthermore, one might ask government officials in Kenya whether a hypothetical EAC court would be supreme over the Kenyan courts and the Kenyan constitution, similar to how the ECJ enjoys a supremacy clause concerning judicial review in the E.U. over state objections.

The A.U. (African Union) is in embryo-form of the same genus as the E.U. and U.S. The confederal design puts the A.U. closest to the U.S. under the Continental Congress (including under the Articles of Confederation),as distinguished from the relatively developed E.U. and (post-Articles) U.S. While it is possible that the A.U. could develop into modern federalism, federal theory is skeptical regarding that being possible as long as any of the African states are dictatorships rather than republics. Regarding a common currency, the A.U. would have to develop further. The U.S. Articles of Confederation were inadequate, and even the E.U.’s federal system in 2011 was not adequate in terms of fiscal policy. To bring in a customs union as possibly capable of housing a currency can thus be seen as misguided at best.

Contrasting the EAC trade agreement with the European Union as two qualitatively different things is useful in demonstrating that bad comparisons can result in faulty policy prescriptions. Even just saying that the fiscal imbalances between the independent states that are parties to the EAC agreement make a common currency a bad idea implies the erroneous assumption that the EAC is the type of thing that could otherwise have a common currency. It would be like an American politician saying that NAFTA is like the U.S. so it is within the realm of feasibility that NAFTA could have a currency. It would also be like a European politician saying that the EEA is like the E.U. so it is within the realm of feasibility that the EEA have its own currency. Part of why I am running these hypotheticals is so comparing “apples with apples” can be seen to be distinct from comparing “apples with oranges.” Relatedly, the strange policy prescriptions that can ensue from treating an apple as if it were an orange can be seen as well. It would be strange indeed were one to order orange juice only to get apple cider. It would be even stranger were one to not even notice the difference.

Click to add a question or comment on Africa’s customs unions relative to the E.U. and U.S.

Patrick McGroarty, “Africa’s Goal: Europe Without the Currency,” The Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2011.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203611404577045802628238864.html

Should the E.U. Represent Its States at the UN?

In 2010, it was proposed that the E.U. have an increased role at the UN in order to boost Europe’s profile as major player at the international level. One proposal would have given the E.U. the powers enjoyed by fully-fledged UN members, such as the right to make proposals and submit amendments, the right of reply, the right to raise points of order and the right to circulate documents. While there is no demand in the draft for a more prominent seating position for the EU, it was possible that the E.U. could have been moved to the center of the UN’s assembly chamber. Wherever the E.U. would have been situated, additional seats alongside a new European UN ambassador would have been made available for High Representative Catherine Ashton, the E.U. Foreign Minister, and her staff. Experts believed at the time of the proposal that such a role for the E.U. in the General Assembly would not significantly enhance the E.U.’s ability to influence policy at a UN level; instead, the proposal would have provided an opportunity for the E.U. to portray itself as a unified power on the international stage.
The complete essay is at "Is the E.U. a Federal System?"