US District of Columbia – taxation without representation

I’m just back from a nerd’s tour of Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. I was fortunate to fit in about 20 visits to notable locations, mainly political. The highlight was numerous visits to the US Capitol, so much so that the police started saying “Welcome back” to me at the security check-in! In particular, I witnessed a vote in the House of Representatives, complete with a sighting of Nancy Pelosi. By the way, there is something quite spooky, but also quite thrilling, about being the only member of the public left in the huge, cavernous, marble-clad US Capitol late at night.

During my visit, one thing which became strikingly apparent to me is the outrageous democratic deficit of the people of the District of Columbia (DC).

The population of DC is 703,608, which is larger than the states Vermont (623,960) and Wyoming (573,720).

DC has no senators and one non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, who is currently Eleanor Holmes Norton. She may observe House debates but not vote. She may attend and vote on congressional committees. DC has three electoral votes for Presidential elections.

Compare that with Wyoming and Vermont, which have two senators and one full voting Representative each.

Residents of Washington DC pay federal taxes. So, as far as congress is concerned, they truly have taxation but no representation (a fact reflected on the district’s number plates – above). To add insult to injury, Congress has voted itself jurisdiction over DC, so it can veto the decisions of the city council, including its budgets.

This is a disgraceful situation. Believe it or not, Washington DC is a member of the “Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation” along with the likes of Iranian Kurdistan and West Papua.

One DC resident I spoke to, at the DC bar called “Eleanor”, which is heart-warmingly dedicated to Eleanor Holmes Norton, said the situation was “inexplicable”.

Well, actually, it’s not really inexplicable. DC is overwhelmingly Democrat-inclined. I could see that just by observing the stickers and posters around the neighbourhoods. The Republicans don’t want DC to have the same voting rights as a state, because that would give them (the Republicans) less power in Congress. It would also strengthen the case for Puerto Rico to become a state. And, guess what? Puerto Rico is overwhelmingly Democrat as well.

So, the plight of DC unempowered voters is basically just another continuation of Gerrymandering in the USA.

One knowledgeable person suggested to me that the only way to resolve the deadlock would be to bundle in the statehood creation of DC and Puerto Rico with other new states that are Republican inclined. He mentioned the possibility of hiving off Upper Michigan, which seems intriguing. Otherwise, Texas could exercise its right to divide itself into five states – which seems like great fun!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Peter Black 11th Feb '19 - 5:22pm

    Does DC elect members of the Presidential electoral college?

  • Nonconformistradical 11th Feb '19 - 6:17pm

    Paul – thank you for drawing our attention to the UNPO.

    I’d never heard of it. Looking at the membership criteria at – there are some requirements which don’t sit well with the UK as it is at present. e.g. I’m struggling to see in the UK much belief in the equality of all Nations and Peoples.

    Perhaps, since UK democracy has become such a joke, we should group together and sign up as an (almost) unrepresented people..?

  • @Peter Black

    Yes. (3 electoral college votes)

    There is also the question of the political status of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are limited US citizens but it is not a state (partly because Puerto Ricans wanted it that way until recently) and doesn’t take part in congressional or presidential elections – although I believe the Democrats and Republicans do hold presidential primaries there.

    Brexit solution? We become a state of the USA (well we never wanted to let it go!) – well may be not!

  • The DC problem is the ‘capital territory problem of federal states Canberra in Australia has a similiar problem.

    The ‘Texas can divide into 5 states’ thing is something of a myth though… Any state can divide itself provided the rest of the Union agrees. The myt is that Texas can do this unilaterally. If that was true it would have been an explosive possibility in the period 1845 -1860 when the admission of new states was tied in twth he ballance between Slave and Free states.

  • Daniel Carr 12th Feb '19 - 9:01am

    ‘Well, actually, it’s not really inexplicable. DC is overwhelmingly Democrat-inclined.’

    This doesn’t explain why the Democrats, when in control of both houses at various points over the last few decades, have never attempted to provide the district with more representation in federal government.

    As Edis points out, this is not a unique issue. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has more representation in federal parliament though, as at least for the lower house seats are afforded on the same population basis as other states. The ACT will actually move from 2 to 3 seats this coming election. However, in the upper chamber the ACT is capped at two Senators, which puts an artificial limit on it’s upper chamber representation. The states on the other hand each get 12.

    The ACT’s assembly can also be overruled by the Federal government, for example it had its voluntary euthanasia legislation vetoed in the 2000s.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Feb '19 - 9:21am

    “Particularly in the early days, he surmised, the USA was “a bit like the EU” in terms of the state/national tension versus the federal cause.”

    Has much changed in this respect? I don’t think so.

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '19 - 9:55am

    @Paul Walter
    If the planes are still flying and the Federal security still working, I hope to be following in your footsteps at the beginning of April. However, I shall be eskewing politics as I am going to meet some long lost relatives for the first time (although I’m pretty certain that none of them is a supporter of ‘45’, as my recently retired ex social worker second/third cousin calls him).

    I have said before that the USA is hardly a paragon of democracy. Its political system, like our own, hangs on steadfastly to the mores of the 19th if not, indeed, the 18th century. Recently Paul Holmes, in another thread, eloquently explained some of the quaint practices in Congress.

    If you want a clear example, just take a look on YouTube at what happened a few years ago when George Galloway was ‘summoned’ to appear before a congressional committee in Washington. The expression on the Committee Chairman’s face, when the old world met the new, as George let rip, was a picture. Clearly, both systems need to be brought kicking and struggling into at least the 20th and, who knows, 21st century. But will it every happen?

  • @Daniel Carr

    Wikipedia does report there have been attempts to give DC voting representation in Congress – particularly the House of Representatives but it hasn’t been successful. There is also apparently some debate on whether it is constitutional.

    it would be of limited use for the House to the Democrats as it would only be one seat. Also traditionally the number of representatives has been capped at 435 although they could decide to increase it – if that was the case Democrats MIGHT effectively lose (at least) one representative from other states.

    Obviously it would be of more use to the Democrats in Senate where each State gets two senators regardless of size. But arguably it would be “better historically” and “fairer” to re-incorporate DC into Maryland. Maryland (and at the time Virginia) gave up the territory of DC to become the federal capital as having the federal capital in one particularly state was seen at the time to be potentially advantageous and biased in favour of that state. Although arguably having DC as a state would partially “correct” the “bias” in the senate against the Democrats who tend to do well in more populous states such as California and New York.

    Apologies BTW for only skim reading the original article and not seeing that it including info on DC and Puerto Rico.

  • Peter Martin 12th Feb '19 - 11:13am

    There are obvious anomalies with voting rights in the USA, which I wasn’t aware of before this article – so thanks for that, but generally speaking the country runs reasonably well.

    There’s a single Federal Government which creates dollars via the Federal Reserve, which is nationalised in all but name, and then it collects taxes, via the Federal system, to create a demand for the dollar. Federal laws override State laws. It’s a lesson for those who are in favour of “ever closer union” in the EU. The blueprint for what needs to happen in the EU is there is plain view right across the Atlantic.

    In other words countries like Germany, and Italy etc have to accept the same status as Georgia and Indiana. There needs to be a Federal Govt which overrides all others.

    Nothing less will work.

  • @John Marriott

    I actually think that USA is a pretty good democracy while I can’t claim to be a scholar of comparative political systems arguably among the best! A written constitution. Separation of powers. Plenty of elections. Free speech – that is arguably more constitutionally protected than in most countries. Primary elections. A federal system. Devolution to the states. Fixed terms. A legislature that can actually propose laws and legislate and is more independent of the Executive than we are. No unelected monarchy.

    The biggest fault is its use of first past the post. Although there is some movement on that in states such as Maine with preference voting and allocating their electoral college votes (partly) by congressional district rather than state-wide. And the second biggest reform I would have would be for the individual states to have independent electoral commissions to prevent the political gerrymandering of congressional districts etc.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Feb '19 - 11:51am

    @Michael 1

    “I actually think that USA is a pretty good democracy”

    Oh please! A democracy utterly perverted (even more than in the UK) by obscene amounts of money!

  • @Peter Martin

    Guess what we are back to the EU in an LDV thread – quelle surprise! I think one of the frustrations with the EU debate is we have a very narrow conception of a nation state. Basically we think a nation state is everything.

    We give up “sovereignty” in a whole host of ways. The Council of Europe (separate from the EU) defines and “overrides” our human right legislation. The UN through such things as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has changed UK law. NATO means that British soldiers are sometimes not under the command of British generals etc. There are a whole of host of world standards bodies that define standards.

    Equally we have not basically not had the coming together of many countries into one country freely with the exception of Scotland – and that was not that recently and was only one and very much smaller than England. But those that have understand more that it is not a question of the nation state being all powerful and generously devolving some powers. But regions coming together to co-operate together. This does NOT mean that the EU will ever be a country – it will not. Just as the COE, UN or NATO will not be a country. Indeed I suspect that the agenda of an “ever closer union” is dead and we will essentially see a wider EU rather than a deeper one with quite a lot of “pick and mix” – over the Eurozone, Schengen, the UK/Ireland common travel area, and regional co-operation within the EU such as the Nordic council, Benelux, the Baltic council etc.

    I appreciate as soon as you mention the USA, people say “oh you want the EU to be a country” and I don’t and wouldn’t go as far. But it does show how a region can come together to all their mutual benefits and actually also have very clear demarcation. The federal government in the USA is very clearly proscribed in what it can do and indeed often it is a frustration for some campaigners that federal law does NOT override state law. My vision is one of limited competency for the EU and greater devolution/subsidiarity. But the fact is it is pretty clear now that we will be de facto following EU standards, regulation and law, the question is whether we will be in there shaping it and whether or not we bury our heads in the sand and ship a lot of jobs in some of our biggest industries such as car manufacturing and financial services over to the continent.

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '19 - 12:12pm

    @Michael 1
    Funny, from your many quite lengthy contributions to LDV you have clearly demonstrated a scholarly grasp of most things political. Incidentally, how do you get so much published? If I try more than a few short hopefully pithy asides, I invariably get the ‘flood alert’.

    But back to the topic. Yes, you can quote the Written Constitution and Federalism etc., and few would disagree. But there has got to be something fundamentally wrong when in quite a few states and districts gerrymandering has reached a point where it would appear that the candidate of the controlling party gets in virtually unopposed. Now I know we have ‘safe seats’ over here – I live in one – but at least the other parties make a token election of it, even though they are basically wasting their time.

    And finally, how do you justify an electoral college that has at least twice, possibly more times, in living memory (I’m sure you know the answer), delivered a result that is clearly at odds with the popular vote? No need to mention the fact that, as far as I know, no single party British Government, certainly in living memory, has ever got over 50% in General elections (I think the 1945 Labour ’landslide’ Government got 47.7% while the 1906 Liberal Government came closest with 48.9%.)

  • @Nonconformistradical

    “Oh please! A democracy utterly perverted (even more than in the UK) by obscene amounts of money!”

    🙂 ! I appreciate the point. I think it is partly the perception that we have in Britain. Firstly I see nothing wrong in spending money to persuade my neighbours and fellow citizens to the rightness of my cause. I have trudged the streets delivering Focuses, and spent money getting them printed etc.

    There is the issue that it is perceived that corporate lobby groups in the US have great power. And there is some truth in that. But in general there tend to be a number of powerful lobby groups on all sides of a debate. The trade unions, organisations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Environmental lobby groups etc.

    I am partly a Lib Dem because I value our independence from vested interests. But these vested interests – the Trade Unions and big businesses represent individuals and their industries and workforces.

    One of the interesting aspects of American politics is the dwindling power of big money. Trump spent next to nothing on his primary campaign against Jeb Bush who had a lot of money and completely bombed. Bernie Sanders only had small individual donors and would have won the primary against Clinton if the national Democrat Party hadn’t unfairly favoured her through super-delegates etc.

    I am not saying there are not issues on money – politicians getting well paid jobs in the private sector, making obscenely well paid speeches, the funding of parties and campaigns. SOME of this is legitimate – getting your message across just as we wish to do, SOME less so. But I would suggest that there is no democracy that is unaffected by this and there have been issues and indeed scandals in many (all?) democracies.

  • @John Marriott

    Thanks for your further points. The Electoral College is subject to much debate in the USA. My understanding is that the American founding fathers had a debate on whether it was if you like a federation of mini-countries coming together or not. They decided in the Senate that it was so each state has the same number of senators regardless of size but not in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College follows that and so smaller states are over-represented. Every country in the UN for example has one vote regardless of size. And of course the winner scoops all the electoral votes in a state even if they only win by one vote – although this is a state and not a federal decision and there are some moves to change it.

    And until devolution, Scotland was over-represented in the Commons but could have Scotland-only measures “foisted” upon them by English MPs and now England despite some degree of EVEL suffers somewhat from this by Scottish MPs. So there is always a democratic debate to be had.

    Trump made the point and it is not WHOLLY without merit that the campaign would have been different if the rules were that it was the popular vote with more attention to California and New York.

    On “safe seats” I appreciate the point. As we discussed on LDV after the mid-terms there are quite a few state-wide elections where Governors & Senators buck the political trend of their state. Arguably there is more scope for that in the US than here – even in House elections – senators, representatives and presidents can all stand on their individual platforms more tailored to their electorate or locality whereas in the Parliamentary system you are electing the Executive and your local representative at the same time. Obviously most gerrymandering is in House elections – you can’t by definition gerrymander state-wide elections. It tends to be more in Republican states and they have run more states in the past ten years but my recollection is that in 2018 elections the Democrats got close to the same percentage of House seats as votes.

    Of course gerrymandering, the Electoral College, FPTP are strikes against the US system. But you have to weigh pluses and minuses.

  • @John Marriott

    On comments

    I understand from the page on LDV’s commenting policy that comments are limited to 2,500 characters. It may help you to compose your comment in a word processor where the word count will give a rough indication of characters – but shorter comments I am sure are more widely read! I normally at least copy (and paste into a word processor) my comment in case it is lost through being too long or the Wi-Fi etc. going down.

    Those that run LDV can give details. But the “flood protection alert” is I believe is on the NUMBER of comments not their LENGTH. And I guess you are allowed different numbers of comments within different time periods. While it may surprise you – I am often quiet for several days at a time – so say my seven day allowance has not been already partially used up when I do have a rush of blood to the head 🙂 ! Certainly there are quite a few here who do comment more than me.

    Thanks for your kind words. Google does though allow you to be an “instant expert” these days. And I apologise for boring the pants off people or arguing the toss but being a Lib Dem I can’t see a fact or an argument without thinking is the opposite actually the case ! – at least you don’t have to read me. And commenting has kept me at least somewhat sane and helped reduce the amount of times that I have had to replace my TV through commenting here and not throwing a brick at it and the politicians sounding off on it 🙂

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '19 - 4:50pm

    @Paul Walter

    You reckon that you are ‘a great fan’ of the US political system and yet what follows is a pretty efficient demolition job of it, in my opinion. But, as you say, neither system is perfect. It’s just that, in my untutored opinion, they are both ripe for reform, although, unlike many of us over here, most Americans appear not to be prepared to hear a word against theirs! I can see why the cult of the ‘strong man’ has not gone away. Having said that, I am still reminded of JFK’s words at the Berlin Wall. They went something like; “Democracy isn’t perfect; but we don’t need a wall to keep our people in.”

    Having said that, it’s interesting that the GDR used to refer it it as the ‘anti fascist wall’, implying that it was there to ‘defend’ its people against the corrupt fascist West – a bit like 45’s* reasoning behind that infamous southern border wall.

    *That’s apparently how many Americans refer to their 45th President.

  • @Paul Walter

    Some good points.

    For clarity I don’t think necessarily that it is UK bad / US good. Indeed I listed some of the bad points IMHO about the US. It is though somewhat trendy to say how terrible politics is in the USA and it is obv. not perfect but actually a lot better IMHO than can be commonly thought on this side on the pond. I do, I have to say, find very little to defend about the British system but may be that is not surprising for a Lib Dem.

    Both do suffer from a massive drawback of non-PR electoral systems. And this is both symptom and feeds into our general adversarial conduct of public life. Proving you wrong doesn’t prove me right – and highlighting the merits of my case doesn’t mean that there is an even better way forward.

    On advertising I am I guess in a small minority among Lib Dems in that I would like to see political TV advertising. As the EU referendum showed we are getting in on the internet anyway. But I think you do need to be able to sum up your case – or the weaknesses of your opponent’s pithily. And it has traditionally been a weakness of the Lib Dems.

    On debate in our chambers. I am not sure either the UK or the US is particularly good and frankly no-one watches it in either country anyway. I appreciate the points made by Paul Holmes over PMQs but it is reasonably easily navigated by the PM. William Hague was probably the best opposition leader of recent times at PMQs but as he said at the last one it did him no good at all. To make up for a poorer debating chamber, the US prob. has better scrutiny in committees and presidential and primary debates.

    I would concede the point on political interfering in the conduct of elections – although it is variable by state in the US. And the UK is not entirely blameless in this. The rules that the Tories set on seat sizes favoured them. Politically run committees in councils set the location of polling stations. And my impression is that there is a greater effort and more money spent on getting people who traditionally don’t register to vote and are probably less likely to vote Tory in non-Tory run councils than Tory run ones.

    @John Marriott

    It is the computer that says no (or yes)! Be nice to it!!!!

  • Paul Holmes 12th Feb '19 - 6:30pm

    The ‘Checks and Balances’ of the US system effectively mean stalemate most of the time. Obama was blocked on a great deal by a Republican controlled House/Senate and Trump is now about to face the same situation ref a Democrat controlled House of Representatives. Yet the admirers of the US system in this thread are appalled at the current and unusual stalemate the UK Government faces in the Commons.

    ‘Pork Barrel Politics’ (such as May offering extra investment in some/all? Labour Leaver constituencies in return for Labour MP’s supporting her Deal) has been condemned on LDV recently yet it is an institutionalised part of the US system. It is quite common to see a US Bill on say building a new generation of military equipment of some kind with sub clauses written in about also finding money to build a new road or a bridge in this or that Congressional District -a straight bribe to get the vote of an Opposition Representative here and another one there. Yet we look askance at Trump attempting exactly the same thing on a larger more public scale with his $5Billion for my wall or we will not vote for funding for Air Traffic Controllers/ Secret Service Agents and National Park staff to be paid.

    The role of money in US Politics is vast -on an obscene scale that here in the UK we just cannot conceive of. Although we are moving down the first part of that slippery slope not least because of more recent finance rules about National Electoral Spending which allow the strict Constituency spending levels to be massively swamped by national spending. I met one Republican in California who had just spent $100,000 simply to get elected to the School Board but saw it as money well spent as the first small step towards first the State Legislature and then Washington.

  • Paul Holmes 12th Feb '19 - 6:30pm

    Turnout in US elections is extremely low. The famous Town ‘Rat Catcher’ et al elections can go as low as 8-12%. The equally famous Town Meeting beloved of everything from Jimmy Stewart movies to the Gilmour Girls, have tiny attendances. Obama’s much lauded record Presidential turnout in 2008 was around 62% which in the UK we thought was an appallingly low level in our 2001 GE. Obama also spent more in that election than any Presidential candidate in history.

    There is absolutely no comparison between the work of our neutral Boundary Commission and the blatant Gerrymandering of the US system.

    The US Supreme Court is openly political. Civil Servants as we know them barely exist with all key posts from Washington down to State and City Legislatures being openly Democrat or Republican appointees -whoever wins a set of elections sweeps out the previous political staff and brings in their own. Elected (and so political) Sherrifs and DA’s are absolutely not something we want here in the UK. Local corruption and Machine Politics is notorious (and lets not be partisan -Democrat Chicago under Mayor Daley anyone?).

    I have to say that on my various visits to study US Politics in action I have seen very little if anything I would want to import back home.

  • @Paul Holmes

    On “pork barrel” politics:

    It is surprising – or may be not how infrastructure projects here do tend to be constructed near to marginal constituencies or “special development areas” as Jim Hacker calls them in Yes, Minister. The aircraft carrier contract worth billions of pounds just happened to be awarded to Rosyth near to Brown’s constituency. Motorways tend to be rather better in this country going to areas where civil servants and ministers/MPs want to go than where they don’t. Obviously MPs have less control over the purse strings than Congress has. But I suspect over the years, many MPs have had it gently pointed out to them by the whips that the decision on which road schemes are to get the go-ahead is about to be taken and of course, totally unrelatedly, there is this vote coming up. Some might see it as the role of local representatives to fight for money and opportunities for their area but if you don’t then fair enough. The advantage of the American system is that they can do without the fear of career advancement or rejection by the Executive.

    On turnout. Turnouts are comparable if SLIGHTLY lower in the US. I believe it was 50% in the recent mid-terms which would be high in this country although arguably state Governments and indeed Congress is more important than local councils. And there are many council wards which struggle to reach 20%.

    On money. More money is spent in the US but arguably not massively so. I estimate it is around £2 per head in this country if you include PPBs which I appreciate don’t have to be paid for against £3 on presidential elections in the US but you could argue for more in the US and less in the UK. As I pointed out actually the ability to raise money from big donors seems to be getting significantly less important in winning in the US.

    On Executive/Legislature separation. You take a view on that if you don’t like it fair enough. I increasingly dislike our system and the domination by the Executive of the legislature. But Presidential and Parliamentary systems both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    With FPTP. Both countries suffer from marginal seats/states being more important and having more attention lavished on them.

  • John Marriott 12th Feb '19 - 8:25pm

    @Paul Walter
    You know what Oscar Wilde was supposed to have said about patriotism. Your reaction to ‘the pledge’ reminds me of the bumper stickers my wife and I encountered all over California at the height of the Vietnam War in the Summer of 1971. They read “My Country – Right or Wrong”. Perhaps this was an early version of “Make America great again”.

    Don’t get me wrong, without US intervention in both world wars, we might all be speaking German now. However, that shouldn’t prevent us being a critical friend, not that the US takes criticism that well.

  • Paul Holmes 12th Feb '19 - 8:59pm


    You need to compare like with like -Congressional Elections are comparable to a UK General election and a turnout of 50% would be truly abysmal in tHE UK.

    No I don’t think pork Barrel politics -selling your vote, regardless of principle, to the Government – is remotely acceptable.

    I don’t know where you get your electoral cost figures from? The cost of the Mid Term US elections in Nov 2018 alone was $5.2Billion US Dollars. I read at the time of one contest alone that cost as much as the entire UK General Election of 2017.

  • @Paul Holmes

    Turnout in US Presidential elections since 2004 55% – 58%
    Turnout in British General elections since 2005 59% – 69%.
    So yes – slightly lower in the US but not dramatically so.

    Wikipedia has spending – their campaigns and outside groups – by Hilary Clinton at $639 million. Donald Trump at $302 million. Approximately $4 or £3 per head. Significantly Trump spent half of what Clinton did. As I said with Trump in both the primaries and general election and also candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke raising a lot of money from big donors has become less important. But I readily concede that there is more money in US politics.

    One person’s “unprincipled selling of votes” is another’s getting the best deal for their local area. To say that it doesn’t happen in British politics – and some of ways I outline – is naïve at best.

  • John Marriott 13th Feb '19 - 7:05am

    It’s been an interesting thread. Where would certain contributors be without Wickipedia? The problem with bombarding people with ‘facts’ and statistics reminds me of the old joke, which I have used before on LDV. It goes something like this : ‘Experts’ often use statistics like a drunkard uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination.

    Here’s one more: They say that money talks. It certainly does in politics on both sides of the pond. The problem is that all mine seems to say is “Goodbye”.

    And “Goodbye” to this thread as well, unless ‘Michael 1’ has more to say from his researches.

  • @Michael1 -Firstly, I did not say that ‘selling your vote’ was unknown in UK politics (although it is certainly not openly institutionalised in the passage of Bills as in the USA). I said that to me it was an unacceptable way to practice politics.

    Secondly, you are still not comparing like with like on elections costs. The Presidential election is simply one part of the process, which we have no equivalent of, and cannot be quoted in isolation. In any case the Washington Post analysis of 2016 US election costs had the Presidential campaign (including the expensive Primaries) at $2.4Billion and the Congressional elections at $4.1Billion -so a total of $6.5Billion for that years elections alone. An absolutely astronomical sum that has not the remotest equivalent in UK elections.

    You also say that ‘big money’ is becoming less important in US elections. In fact it is becoming more so. The Congressional elections of 2016 cost $4.1Billion but those of Autumn 2018 cost $5.2Billion. Remember too that the US ‘Parliament’ is elected in 2 phases so to get the equivalent of a UK General Election you would have to add together the $4.1B of 2016 with the $5.2B of 2018.

  • Peter Martin 13th Feb '19 - 9:06pm

    @ Michael 1

    This does NOT mean that the EU will ever be a country – it will not. Just as the COE, UN or NATO will not be a country.

    OK but the Council of Europe, the UN and NATO don’t have a common currency.

    A common currency means a single country. It doesn’t work any other way.

  • John Marriott 14th Feb '19 - 7:55am

    @Peter Martin
    “A common currency means a single country”, hey? Well, does that apply to places like Ecuador, El Salvador and Zimbabwe, to name just three countries that use the US dollar as their official currency ?

    Time to change the script?

  • @Peter Martin

    Thanks for your comment.

    I would suggest that if we were in 1919 rather than 2019 we would all say that the legal system, armed forces and product standards were all the role of sovereign countries. Largely there were no other feasible bodies to take on the role. Today we subject our human rights to supra-national conventions. Often the nation state is an actor in denying human rights. We are safer with some troops under NATO joint command or as part of UN peacekeeping troops. Product standards are set internationally, regionally and nationally. I don’t hanker for the “good old British” USB port. Today, we can take a more nuanced view that we actually benefit from sharing some “sovereignty” than allegedly “taking back control” – which actually doesn’t.

    On the Eurozone. If we remain in the EU, the UK will NEVER join the Euro – well not in the next 50 years which is much the same thing.

    Ignoring for the moment a central bank and exchange rates. A currency/money only needs to be a store of value, widely accepted and (preferably) convenient. In the past only national Government backed currencies have offered this. But going back a variety of things have been used. I could go around paying in slivers of gold – it would be fairly widely accepted if not convenient. Some shops in the UK accept Euros. I could choose to be paid in euros or dollars and then order on the internet. There is the emergence of currencies such as bitcoin. Trading in commodities within the system itself happens in dollars. As @John Marriott points out people may not trust their national currencies. And so on.

    The question as in the other areas is whether if Governments share sovereignty on a common currency, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I believe your view is that Germany is too dominant within the Eurozone. With a common currency countries abandon the ability for exchange rates etc. and some individual Government levers to adapt to their particular economy. They gain some influence over the ECB and eliminating the costs and frictions of having different currencies.

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '19 - 9:03am

    @ John Marriott,

    ” Ecuador, El Salvador and Zimbabwe” ???

    I’m surprised you chose these! You could have included Kosovo with the euro and Puerto Rico with the dollar. So it’s not impossible but at the same time none of these countries is doing particularly well – partly because they are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage. The US government can create dollars. Ecuador cannot. It can only get the dollars it needs to run its economy by always selling more to other countries than it buys. So it might be possible for a few countries to do this. But it cannot be a general model. Not everyone can run a trade surplus.

    @ Micheal 1,

    I wouldn’t say USB ports is a good analogy. We’ve always co-operated, internationally, to have an agreed scale of weights and measures. Or failing that we’ve, for many years now, have agreed the conversion rates. For example, that an inch is exactly the same as 25.4mm. There’s no approximation. Engineers have tried to persuade everyone, with some measure of success, to standardise such things as screw threads and pitches. That’s all fairly straightforward.

    We’ve been through a phase of trying to agree conversion rates for currencies. The last time the UK tried to peg the pound to the DM in the late 80s and early 90s we ended up with Black Wednesday and a few years of recession. However once the £ was allowed to float again the economy recovered relatively quickly and continued to do so for the next 15 years or so. So there’s a bit more to currencies than that they should be an accepted store of value and means of exchange. The pegged pound met that criterion so why didn’t it work for the UK economy? It’s not quite so straightforward to define the pound against the DM in the same way as a conversion factor between a yard and metre.

    Argentina made the same mistake around the turn of the millenium. Once the peg to the dollar was removed their economy quickly recovered. A shared currency is just one step worse than a peg. At least you can remove the peg if need be!

    There won’t be any improvement in the eurozone unless and until there is a single government to administer a single currency.

  • John Marriott 15th Feb '19 - 9:26am

    @Peter Martin
    Why don’t you just say; “Sorry, I was wrong” and spare us the hole digging?

  • Peter Martin 15th Feb '19 - 11:43am

    John Marriott,

    I was wrong the other day. Totally contrary to my prediction, my favourite football team managed to win away against a team much higher than they in the league!

    But I’m not wrong about the euro. The USA isn’t perfect as Paul Walter describes in his article, but it is a viable blueprint for how the EU needs to function.

    I can’t claim any personal credit for this insight. It’s just a matter of reading the right people on the subject. See for example the quote in the link below starting:

    “In 2001 Warren Mosler described the liquidity crisis that the Euro would lead to……

  • @Peter Martin

    The point on the USB port was on co-operation generally not currencies and how things we think of as the preserve of the nation state are less so now but that does not diminish our British culture.

    On currencies. I am agnostic on the Euro. I was pointing out that there are quite a lot of – well OK a little bit but increasing – use of the currencies other than the local national governments’ currency. It will be interesting to see whether bitcoin or something like it takes off or not. More is happening at a world and regional level but also at sub-national level as well. Scotland – shock horror – is now allowed to set its own income tax levels.

    There are people who work in London and live in Barcelona because it is cheaper overall. For them it might well make sense to be paid in Euros and indeed for their company to pay them in euros. People will take a view but it is a bit illogical that I can easily make my home 30 miles one way but not 30 miles the other way and there are increased currency conversion costs because it happens to be in a different country. The UK has our “moat”. But if you are a small country or are near-ish to a border than it makes sense to have greater freedom to live in another country or sell goods to nearby residents from other countries – without barriers. And a common currency facilitates this. I appreciate the article you highlighted by Milton Friedman that it is more difficult to move around Europe than the USA due to greater cultural and language divergence.

    Other countries are affected by large neighbouring economies such as Germany even if they have different currencies. I do though appreciate that national currencies gives them some levers to may be counteract it. There is also the question that even with nations you could argue that different regions should have different monetary and fiscal policies and therefore different currencies – the North of England versus the South. But the North benefits from sharing in an economy with the South without friction and costs.

    It is a question of weighing the benefits and costs and I don’t know what the answer is!

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