Taking into account human nature

Simplified scheme of human evolution, it does not try to be trustworthy, but a symbol of this process (picture José-Manuel Benitos)

Simplified scheme of human evolution, it does not try to be trustworthy, but a symbol of this process (picture José-Manuel Benitos)

A discussion last night lamenting what had happened to the euro with professional colleagues from some other European countries (these are people with no particular connection with the pro-European case).

“A nice vision,” they said, “but it hasn’t been done well.  These problems should have been foreseen.”

And somebody added:

“They did not take into account human nature.  Everyone wants to give only a little but to get a lot.”

I was in listening mode rather than feeling argumentative – these were professional colleagues, after all – but if that is a description of human nature, then the EU is entirely intended to take this into account.

Left to ourselves, each of us will demand more than our fair share of whatever resources are available.  Some of those resources are expandable by that excess demand – wealth, for example – but some of them, such as the ability of the atmosphere to absorb carbon dioxide – are not.  Not everyone can have more than their fair share.

The state has the task of deciding upon how to allocate those limited resources among the competing demands, and federalism applies this concept to states in the same way as states apply it to their own citizens.

(As to the distinction between those resources that can be expanded and those that cannot, this is something that the state needs to identify and respect, although many resources in fact are both limited in the short-term and possibly expandable in the long-term.  For example, what if there were a technology that could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?)

In the case of Europe, our history is littered with examples of countries that wanted more than their fair share, countries that wanted to get a lot but give only a little.  Ensuring that those experiences remain historical and not current was a major incentive for the creation of the European Union.  And it remains a major reason for the EU remaining in being: I don’t think that need has gone away.

Taking into account human nature, therefore, the European Union (and its currency union) needs to survive.  Whether it can, of course, is becoming another matter entirely.

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