The Corruption of Cooperation

UK prime minister David Cameron has promised to support a referendum on the UK’s future within the European Union if and when he wins the general election in 2015. Politicians across Europe are reacting negatively to Cameron’s speech, citing their support for the Union’s economic, social, and political cooperation. My question to them would be: Why must this cooperation be directed by a centralized power?

The concept of cooperation is misunderstood by many. Cooperation is based on the realization of individual actors that a peaceful and joint venture is beneficial to all parties. Having a leader in this case could arguably be more beneficial but delegating all decision-making powers to one actor hardly seems a necessary prerequisite to calling something cooperative. Yet pro-Europe politicians maintain the opinion that a centralized institution is necessary to foster interdependence. Either this means individuals are too dense to realize the advantages of cooperation or that there is no actual beneficial outcome to be attained. Either way, calling this situation “cooperation” is very troubling.

Supra-national politics is not the only area in life where the meaning of cooperation has been skewed. Apologists for capitalism rightly claim that economies require cooperation between labor and capital. However, they continue by saying that owners of capital must receive exclusive decision-making powers to make the cooperation fruitful.

The same principle exists in our culture’s view of romantic unions. No matter if you’re gay or straight there is always the question of, “Who wears the pants in this relationship?” We thus arrive at the worrying conclusion that the concept of cooperation has been entirely corrupted by viewing the delegation of authority as a prerequisite for its existence.

Although it is unclear what Cameron’s own opinion on the matter is — whether he would vote for the UK to stay in, or get out of, the European Union — it is clear that he dislikes the direction in which the EU is heading. He says, “Put simply, many ask, ‘Why can’t we simply have what we voted to join; a common market?’” After all, the European Union is based on the European Economic Community, often known as the Common Market by the English-speaking world. If there are benefits to cooperation between governments and individuals across national borders then the only acceptable function of the European Union would be to help governments and individuals realize these benefits.

Of course this whole issue would be irrelevant if there weren’t national economic and migratory borders to start with. However, this idea is conveniently left out of the discussion for obvious reasons.

It also brings up another issue of supra-national organizations: Whether they eliminate borders or rather expand them? On a related note: Are the anti-EU sentiments of many Europeans a sign of a new anti-authoritarian movement or merely symptoms of fervent nationalism? These are the questions we should really be asking. How about a referendum on them, Mr. Cameron?

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory