Hello aspiring sovereigns! We’ll be meeting this Wednesday, October 23 at 6pm on Sovereignty Lounge, BBB B101 to discuss (among other things) this article on why countries don’t sell pieces of themselves like they used to?
As a matter of fact the last time this happened was in 1916 when the US bought the US Virgin Islands from the Danish (known until then as Danish West Indies). Over 100 years ago! Does a common international law dies when a custom stops? Or could we see a revival of such activity?
In trying to understand what happened, I learned that over the past century, international consensus started coalescing around the principle of self determination, which basically says that the peoples of a land are the ones that should choose on their sovereignty and international status. This does indeed stand in contrast with the scenarios where the parent nation (i.e. the central government) is unilaterally selling a piece of itself, as seems to have been the case on those land and sovereignty deals of the past.
However, does self determination preclude sovereignty sales? Turns out Joseph Blocher, author of our discussion article, published last year a 47 page treatise on the possibility of A Market For Sovereign Control. It is quite informative (and speculative), packed with hundreds of footnotes (in fact I believe most of the text consists of footnotes).
In short, they say that the current international system favours sovereignty changes only when a region is extremely mistreated (leading to violent secessionist movements deemed legitimate by the international community) or when peaceful and democratic secession is an option. But those who are only mildly mistreated, but would be better off under another government or on even their own, are left without recourse. The framework they propose aims to address this mid case, and as they put it:
Such a market would provide a mechanism for welfare enhancing border changes while accommodating both the self determination rights of citizens and the sovereign rights of nations to control their territory. It would permit a mechanism for peaceful secession. And by encouraging cross-border competition among governments, it could improve democratic responsiveness and increase governments’ incentives to treat their citizens well.
Ah! Nothing like free markets to solve all of the worlds problems.