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Thoughts on the politics of coastlines

Samizdata is a blog about ideas and about the human institutions that result from, embody, and spread ideas. Which ideas are good, which bad, and why? Almost every day at least one of us here will be telling you, or quoting someone else telling you, about some small or not so small aspect of this huge agenda.

But reality itself also has very contrasting consequences, in the form of the different versions of reality that prevail in different places, and in the form of the sort of the contrasting ideas that these contrasting circumstances encourage and discourage.

Consider coastlines. My friend Roger Hewland, who runs the CD shop where I must have bought about half of the enormous classical CD collection I now possess, is fond of saying that it makes a huge difference to a country how much of a sea coastline it has. Being a little older than me, Roger Hewland was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and the difference between Britain and Germany, in terms of the lengths of their coastlines, is a favourite example he offers of this contrast. A thoughtful child living through WW2 was bound to wonder why that huge war was happening. That Germany has only a rather short coastline compared to the length of its other borders, while Britain is surrounded by the sea, became part of Hewland’s answer. I disagree with Hewland about many things, what with him being a socialist albeit a congenially entrepreneurial one, but we agree about the political importance of coastlines.

This contrast, between seafaring and land-based powers, has dominated political and military history, both ancient and modern. Conflicts like that between Athens and Sparta, and then between all of Greece and Persia, and the later conflicts between the British – before, during and since the time of the British Empire – and the succession of land-based continental powers whom we British have quarrelled with over the centuries, have shaped the entire world. Such differences in political mentality continue to matter a lot.

Throughout most of modern human history, despots could completely command the land, including all inland waterways. but they could not command the oceans nearly so completely. Wherever the resources found in the oceans or out there beyond them loomed large in the life and the economy of a country or empire, there was likely to be a certain sort of political atmosphere. In places where the land and its productivity counted for pretty much everything, and where all communications were land-based, a very different political atmosphere prevailed.

You see this contrast in the difficulties that Napoleon had when squaring up to the British, and to the British Royal Navy. Napoleon planned his land campaigns in minute detail, like a chess grandmaster, and he played most of his military chess games on a board that could be depended on to behave itself. But you couldn’t plan a sea-based campaign in this way, because the sea had a mind of its own. You couldn’t march ships across the sea the way you can march men across a parade ground, or a continent. At sea, the man on the spot had to be allowed to improvise, to have a mind of his own. He had to be able to exercise initiative, in accordance with overall strategic guidance, yes, but based on his own understanding of the particular circumstances he faced. There was no tyranny like that of the captain of a ship, when it was at sea. But sea-based powers had many ships, so navies (particularly merchant navies), by their nature dispersed power. In a true political tyranny, there can be only one tyrant.

More fundamentally, the sea provided freedom, because it provided an abundance of places to escape to, should the tyranny of a would-be tyrant become too irksome and life-threatening. Coastal communities had other sources of wealth and power besides those derived from inland, and could hide in their boats from tyrants. Drive a sea captain and his crew mad with hatred for you and for your tyrannical commands and demands, and he and his ship might just disappear over the horizon and never be seen again. Good luck trying to capture him. If you did seriously attempt this, you would need other equally strong-minded and improvisationally adept sea captains whom you had managed to keep on your side, willing to do your bidding even when they were far beyond the reach of your direct power. One way or another, your tyranny ebbed away.

Other kinds of tyranny, or the more puritanical sort, were also typically made a nonsense of by seagoing folk, whenever they enjoyed a spot of shore leave.

Despite that last paragraph, however, I want to clarify that I am not here talking only about freedom in the modern sense, and most certainly not only about “libertarianism”. Not necessarily “freedom” for everyone. All that rampaging around the world’s oceans that British warriors and traders did, for instance, had somehow to be financed. Warships to protect or capture merchant ships did not pay for themselves. Much of British political history has concerned the ongoing conflict between landed and agricultural interests and London-based merchants who wanted their mercantile adventures partly paid for with quite heavy taxes, on land and on agricultural endeavours as well as on traders like themselves.

The freedom I am alluding to is the freedom of aristocrats and rich tradesmen and powerful operators to quarrel with governments and with kings, and live to tell the tale. I refer to a world in which wise monarchs take care not to offend lesser but still very powerful interests, rather than only the other way around.

However, there is surely a connection between the freedom of a duke to disagree with the king and freedom for the rest of us to be similarly non-deferential towards all such grandees. I, and surely many other Samizdata readers and writers, believe that a place where aristocrats could always at least hope to quarrel successfully with kings is a place that will later be far more ready to entertain the idea of freedom for everyone. The reverence felt by all classes of English people over the centuries for Magna Carta, which at the time was about the rights of a few aristocrats rather than about the rights of the common man, attests to this widespread idea that freedom for the rich and powerful from monarchical tyranny leads on to freedom for all.

At about the time I got to this point in this posting, I went through the above paragraphs turning present tenses, as they had been in in the early drafts, into past tenses. This is because the sea now offers and encourages a lot less liberty than it used to. More recent developments have served to moderate, almost to render invisible, the ancient political force of the sea. (Which make the phenomenon, while it did last, all the more worth noting. It’s the sort of thing a lot of people no longer know about.)

The development of mechanically powered ships, since Napoleon’s time, served to make the deployment of ships at sea a lot more like marching them about on a parade ground. First, the significance of the wind and its often unpredictable direction is pretty much negated. And mechanically powered ships are also, especially in the days of coal power, much more dependent upon land-based installations, the arrangement of which demanded Napoleonic logistical virtuosity. Much of late British imperial politics only makes sense if you factor in the compelling need for coaling stations to feed ships. Sailing ships don’t run out of fuel. Modern ships do.

The impact of modern telecommunications has also been crucial. This happened in two phases. The first phase involved the sending of instant messages along fixed wires. This first sort of telecommunication greatly intensified the ability of a land-based tyrant to tyrannise. It certainly made tyrants believe that they could be a lot more tyrannical. But fixed wire communication only indirectly impacts on sea travel, in the form of communication between a centre of power and the presumed destination of a ship, using trans-oceanic cables. That is already a big change, but nothing like the change ushered in by phase two of the telecommunications revolution, in the form of twentieth century radio communication. That brought a new maritime world of detailed orders continuously imposed upon those former monarchs of the sea, the captains of ships. (There is now even talk of cargo ships becoming robots, entirely controlled by operators on the land.)

So, are the contrasts I allude to, in contrasting political atmospheres, destined to be a thing of the past? Perhaps so. But, maybe the contrast will moderate, in the direction of freedom being an idea that is taken quite seriously everywhere. If there is hope along such lines, it is to be found partly in how ideas that at first were merely nurtured by circumstances take on a life of their own. They acquire momentum.

In this connection I find the history of the USA especially interesting. A look at the map suggests that the USA, if it existed as a united political entity, would be destined for something a lot like land-based tyranny. Look at those vast lands and vast rivers. But, the political ideas which animated the founders of the political entity that did materialise in this place were inherited from a very anti-tyrannical intellectual tradition, nurtured by relatively far longer sea coasts, which at the time of its transfer to the USA, was at a peak in its self-confidence and persuasiveness. Subsequent American political debate can be understood partly as a dialogue between this anti-tyrannical tradition and various forms of more centralising ideas that have swept across the world.

A particularly intriguing American innovation was the idea that freedom itself, in all its various forms, need not merely be allowed to happen, but that it could be imposed, by a continent-wide federal government and a Constitution. Magna Carta, when originally signed, asserted (among other rights) the right of Britain’s aristocrats to treat their personal underlings as they saw fit, without the King interfering. Magna Carta only later mutated, in the minds of our ancestors, into the idea that aristocrats could not do as they pleased to their human possessions. Those different meanings of “freedom” played out with particular portentousness in the new world.

They have also played out in Europe, which, like Greece, and for all that Europe possesses many great swathes of land, also, collectively speaking, has a long coastline. Europe, down the centuries, has nurtured many tyrants, but the tendency has been for them to compete with one another rather than for one to emerge triumphant, despite a few notable efforts along those lines. Is Europe bound to remain fragmented and mutually competitive, like the old Greek city states? Or could it be politically united? And if it is united, will that arrangement stick?

What if people like us Samizdata scribblers are merely postponing the end of the kind of free thinking, freebooting political impulses that this posting has been about, rather than to render them indestructible. I am sure some commenters will think this, because some of our commenters always do think such things. Me, I’m not so pessimistic, if only because that is my nature and nurture.

The other big source of optimism for the idea of freedom in the modern world, besides mere intellectual momentum, is that modern technological civilisation demands something a lot like freedom to function successfully. Communism, which, contrary to Marx’s prophecies, had its most devastating impact in those great land-based tyrannies of Russia and China, can be seen as a huge experiment to test the idea that an advanced industrial economy can be bossed successfully by one tyrant. Communism asserted that such bossing would be an improvement. Only fools (admittedly a species of human always very abundant) now deny the very different truth. The ever increasing complexity of modern technological society positively demands the dispersion of power. It cannot be technological, that is, unless it is also commercial.

We lovers of freedom, then, do not depend on the mere momentum behind anti-tyrannical political ideas, momentum derived from a former age of sovereign sea captains, now pretty much vanished. Modern life itself is fuelled by these ideas. As modern centralised command over the oceans increased, and as the oceans ceased therefore to nurture freedom by the mere force of circumstances, other circumstances arose, circumstances that included the very technological processes that had diminished the sea’s ability to liberate, that demand that freedom be preserved and expanded. These new circumstances do not guarantee that freedom will be preserved, but they do give us cause to hope. If we all become very unfree, we will also become hugely poorer. And that won’t be at all popular.

I’m looking forward to reading any comments on this. I expect several to be along the lines of: It’s more complicated than that. Which it surely is. (I had a big paragraph in an earlier draft about those other offshore islanders, the Japanese. Cut. Too complicated.)

Also, this posting has been severely lacking in links, a deficiency which I tried to correct with some googling, but my googling skills proved insufficient. It was, you see, provoked by some mere conversations, between two old guys who disagree about a lot but who also discovered a shared opinion, having surely had help but having forgotten what it consisted of and who had provided it. The only link in this posting so far is to the shop where my CD-selling mate and I were agreeing with one another. Yet I am certain that others have had plenty of thoughts along the lines I have sketched, and I am certain that I have myself been informed and influenced by such thoughts. Comments about and links to any relevant writings would be particularly welcome. I should not be surprised to be reminded about postings on this sort of subject here.

Speaking of offshore islanders, note to self: I think I own, somewhere, a copy of Paul Johnson’s book with that very title. Time for me to try to find it, and if I do, to re-read it. Or, I could just get another copy. There you go: a relevant link.

23 comments to Thoughts on the politics of coastlines

  • rxc

    I am glad that you mentioned the Japanese, because I would mention Italy, Spain, Greece, Denmark, Normay, Sweden, Canada and Indonesia. All of which have a very high ratio of seacoast to land mass, and also do not have much land that is far away from the sea because they have lots of islands or because the country is long and thin. Chile also comes to mind, even though it is not surrounded by water.

    France is also an outlier becuase they have excellent access to two significant bodies of water with wonderful ports, lots of people making their living from the sea, and a culture that is attuned to the sea. I believe that the British government really liked to keep French warships that were captured during the Napoleonic wars, instead of selling them, because they were so well made.

    It is complicated. Perhaps it has something to do with the whole culture itself, and how the people organize themselves to perform tasks that require considerable amounts of discipline and rigor. Or perhaps it has to do with leadership that is comfortable with risking significant assets in situations where the leaders might themselves feel uncomfortable. Both Napoleon and Hitler were reluctant to commit to large navies, and the navy of the Kaiser was designed to perform coastal duties, not travel the world. One Russian admiral (Gorshkov) tried to build a blue-water navy, but the rest of Russian really did not have the heart for it, so it peaked and then gradually rusted/decayed away. The CHinese (supposedly) made one major foray across the Pacific, but then changed their minds and never came back (Maybe they landed in LA and were frightened off by the natives).

    As I see it, only the UK and the USA have produced navies that are capable of freely roaming the world, with all the infrastructure in place to support them. And even those are in danger, due to budget issues and the desire of people to not get involved in any more wars.

    I do think, however that the merchant fleets may have more to do with this than the navies or the coastlines. The Dutch and Portuguese did very well, and I think that much of the UK and American focus on freedom (compared to, for example, the French) may have to do with the free trading and risk taking mindset of UK and American ship owners.

    It is complicated.

  • QET

    The ever increasing complexity of modern technological society positively demands the dispersion of power. It cannot be technological, that is, unless it is also commercial.

    This, to me, is the crux of the biscuit. “Modern technological society” means different things in different times, and because technological development in an earlier era caused or was the effect of (an interesting question in its own right) greater dispersion of power, it does not necessarily follow that technological advance must at all times have that attribute. It seems pretty clear to me that the state of technology in 2016 is facilitating the concentration of power. Our day’s “modern technology” has resulted in the erection of a vast surveillance panopticon apparatus that Jeremy Bentham could not have imagined. And we the people have built it ourselves, with our own hands, eagerly and self-congratulatorily.

    Modern technology in 2016 facilitates herding and herd management. When you picture a herd of bison thundering across the Great Plains, do you see freedom, or do you see a herd?

  • RRS

    Some 80 years ago, at around age 12, I read about the “Marches” (Borders) of “nations” (differentiated peoples)and the greater intensities of those differentiations at the boundaries (Marches).

    Where a greater proportion of the boundaries are with a body of water, the “Marches” effects might be diminished (but the “internal” (regional) differentiations might be enhanced [Eire, Scotland and Japan e.g.](Omit the oft invaded Angleterre for ease of discussion).

    The proportions of populations in Marches to those in “coastal enclaves” might offer a more useful set of comparisons.

    We can observe something similar in the “political” antagonisms of the U.S., which “grew” from coastal enclaves into a proportionately larger, but less dense, internal (un-bordered) population. So, proportional coastal densities may have more effect than simple linear measurements.

  • Alsadius

    The other big thing to consider is that, for the entire span of human history, transporting goods over water has been cheaper than doing so over land. This means that maritime empires can be wealthier, and wealthier empires tend to have more people who are rich enough to do political theorizing instead of just worrying about survival. There’s a reason that the English and Dutch and Greeks have historically been so much more democracy-minded than Russians or Germans or Mongols.

  • You focus on coastline where I would focus on being an island versus having a large land frontier. France has long coastlines – but also a long land frontier which they had to defend often. Therefore France had to have a large army to defend itself. George Orwell remarks that there are many military dictatorships but no naval dictatorships.

    History determines whether a given area is unified. Italy has a larger coastline than land frontier but, over and above the fact that it had a a land frontier, for much of its history it was not a unitary state.

    Switzerland has no coastline but it has mountains.

  • Fred the Fourth

    Brian, excellent, but I think one should not underestimate the level of technology and on-shore logistical support required by e.g. the Royal Navy in 1800.
    (Somewhat earlier, see Sam Pepys’ diaries for his analytic approach and his love of techie devices.)
    I think you hit the nail on the head with your remarks about comms technology trends vs. the historical tyranny of the captain at sea.
    As an aside, one of my governmental coal-mine canaries is in the US Federal Aviation Regulations. FAR 91.3.a reads, in whole:
    “The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.”

  • Alisa

    But then what about Japan, Niall?

  • Shlomo Maistre


    As this reviewer has noted in previous reviews of Dugin’s books — Putin vs. Putin and his Fourth Political Theory — Aleksandr Dugin views the confrontation between the United States and Russia in no less than apocalyptic terms and has sought to frame the contest between the two countries as the latest phase in an ancient war between the “powers of the Sea” and “powers of the Land.” One of Dugin’s most recent books to be translated into English is Last War of the World-Island — The Geopolitics of Contemporary Russia, and in this book, the author continues to advance this apocalyptic theme. In Dugin’s words, “This geopolitical meaning remains, on the whole, unchanging in all later stages of Russian history: from the Muscovite Czardom through the Romanov Russia of Saint Petersburg and the Soviet Union to the current Russian Federation. From the fifteenth to the twenty-first century, Russia is a planetary pole of the ‘civilization of the Land,’ a continental Rome.” Dugin attempts to give a scientific cast to his categorizations by declaring the “civilization of the Land” to be a tellurocracy, while the “Anglo-Saxon world … ‘the civilization of the Sea’” he deems to be a thalassocracy. Dugin’s Eurasianist distinction between these two categorizations thus replaces all other ideological distinctions across the whole sweep of the modern era

  • Laird

    One small point: large coastlines make for ease of smuggling. It’s certainly possible to smuggle across land borders, but it seems easier via water. And the more smuggling which goes on, the less respect the people have for political authorities. This leads to greater resistance to oppression and, ultimately, heightened liberty and decentralization of government. At least, that’s how I see it.

    QET, I wasn’t aware that biscuits had a “crux”. Live and learn! 😀

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Allow me to present another scenario for the future- Sky-power. Not Air-power.
    The sky could be considered as all the air above the mountains.
    Has anyone noticed a solar-powered plane called The Solar Impulse? It is making its’ way around the world, on solar power, relying on batteries at night. I think that this shows that solar panels are becoming light enough to put on balloons, or dirigibles.
    The major drawback to hot-air ballooning is the need to keep the air hot. If you could have a dirigible which was composed of solar panels, and with lithium batteries to store power, then you would have a craft that could go anywhere! (Good-bye, coasts!)
    The major drawback would be the size. I call these Solar-powered Hot-air Airships, solairships. Air has less lifting power than light gases, so you need more of it.
    The benefits should outway the drawback. No need to worry about supplies of lifting material, nor fixed destinations. In military terms, you could have a Sky-port above the land you wanted to control, with helicoptors or drones as your weapons. In commercial terms, no need for ports or customs, since you should be able to safely land anywhere.
    Just wait for solar panel prices to come down, and Solairships should be feasible.

  • Rich Rostrom

    The extensive coastlines of Italy did little to further liberty there, AFAICT. One might argue that the coastlines fostered the mercantile republics of the Renaissance, but there was no such effect in southern Italy, the more coasty part, and after 1600 or so, all of Italy was under authoritarian rulers.

    The despotic Ottoman Empire had a very high ratio of coasts to land. Spain remained autocratic despite being surrounded by water, and being extremely dependent on maritime activities.

    And as others have mentioned, Japan, which is not only surrounded by water but divided by it. Korea too was largely surrounded by water, but remained a reactionary autocracy until prised open by 19th century imperialism.

    So I don’t see the correlation.

  • Bruce

    The Portuguese did some amazing voyages in really dodgy ships.

    The French were no slouches at ship-building and the Dutch built some very fine, seaworthy vessels, a fact not lost on England, who responded in an interesting way. They set out to not only develop a programme of exploring, trading and “empire-building” (first commercially and then politically), but, they seemed to have put a lot of effort into improving their navigational equipment and charts and especially their vessels seaworthiness, as an early sort of “integrated package”.

    James Cook’s “Endeavour” was essentially a glorified ocean-going coal barge, but it survived a spectacular global voyage and ended its days as a “blockade” ship (renamed “Lord Sandwich 2”), and was scuttled near Rhode Island in 1778.

  • Watchman

    I think the mistake with this piece is to differentiate sea-going ships from modern technology. In their time, sea and ocean-going ships were modern technology, and in the same way as modern technology messed with the established order of the time. The Vikings would be an excellent example of this – a small collection of ships and someone could form an army that could threaten to destabilise local powers and could allow the owners to move away from tyranny (indeed, the foundation myth of Iceland is based round that topos).

    What happens is basically that those who would impose control (not all tyrants, as democratic government also does this) will extend it to react to newish technologies, but the nature of those impose control is that they have to react (when they are proactive, they tend not to pick winners) so can’t deal with the frontier of technology until after they have happened. So for a long while improvements in maritime technology (alongside other order-busting developments such as the printing press…) would challenge the ability of those seeking control to manage things, whilst most people on land did not have access to the same sort of technological advances.

    I would also suggest that the piece is correct about definitions of freedom – pirates and terrorists are as much beneficeries of technologial advances as are libertarians. It is that dynamic that means many people find Theresa May or Hilary Clinton, with their obvious hatreds of freedom, to be appealing candidates to run supposedly free countries – freedom is dangerous for all of its appeal, and people are clearly aware of this. Despite this though, the picture is indeed optimistic – it is impossible (in a democracy, or a Chinese or Singapori-style dictatorship) to stop technology developing, as it is required to keep producing wealth. So expect another wave of freedom around 3d printing or whatever in the near future, and then an attempt to control that soon after.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Rich Rostrum- you need harbours as well as coastline. Africa has no harbour to compare to Sydney Harbour, to give just one example. I don’t think Japan has much in the way of natural harbours, either. Also, Japan was distant enough that it could keep foreign culture out of its’ own culture.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    In line with my earlier thoughts, Solar-powered Hot-air airships to be used in the sky should be called Skyships, and Skycrafts, not Solairships. I still think their time is about to come, and this may be where Australia can take over the world! The rest of you have had a go, so why not Australia?

  • Regional

    Being a Bogan I have a question mark over my head, why haven’t canals been mentioned?

  • Fen Tiger

    “George Orwell remarks that there are many military dictatorships but no naval dictatorships.”

    Admiral Horthy being the exception that proves the rule.

  • Mr Ed

    Fen Tiger,

    Yes, Horthy, but as dictator he didn’t have a navy or even a coast, just Lake Balaton and a bit of the Danube. I suppose he might have had a few marines or naval infantry knocking about, anyone know?

  • Fen Tiger, October 21, 2016 at 8:09 am: ““George Orwell remarks that there are many military dictatorships but no naval dictatorships.” Admiral Horthy being the exception that proves the rule.”

    No. Orwell knew of Horthy – he’d been in power for a couple of decades when Orwell wrote that. (From wikipedia): “In 1919, following a series of revolutions and external interventions in Hungary from Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, Horthy returned to Budapest with the National Army and established a regency government.” Note the words ‘National Army‘.

  • Mr Ed

    Horthy’s son was kidnapped from the government palace in Budapest by Otto Skorzeny’s commandoes c. 1944 in one of the more blackly comedic incidents of the war, reportedly he was carted out rolled-up in a carpet, for use as a bargaining chip so as to ensure his father did not waiver from support for the Reich. I am sure that Orwell would have known of the Admiral as Head of State as Niall says.
    I read once of an apocryphal exchange in the State Department one chilly December morning in 1941 as the Hungarian Ambassador delivered his country’s declaration on war against the United States, it went something like:

    ‘The Kingdom of Hungary regrets to inform you that it is at war with the United States.’

    So Ambassador, your King is displeased with the United States?‘.

    ‘We do not have a King. Our Head of State is an Admiral.’

    An Admiral: so our Navies shall be at war.

    ‘We do not have a Navy, the Kingdom of Hungary has no coastline.’

    So you have a quarrel with the United States?’.

    ‘No, we have no quarrel with the United States, our dispute is with Roumania’.

    So you are at war with Roumania?

    ‘No, we are not. Roumania is our loyal ally in our fight against the Soviet Union’.

  • David Graeme

    To get back to the matter of coastlines … two places I know well have very high coastline-to-interior-mass coefficients, as it were, but are totally different in their power projection: Bermuda (seriously) and Chile. Bermuda is basically all coastline and since it was first permanently settled by the English in 1609 has always had an active, vigorous and outward-looking commercial and maritime identity – Bermuda created its own colony, Turks and Caicos, which was settled from Bermuda by sailors raking salt to sell in the Atlantic triangle trade, and now, while it no longer sends ships all around the Atlantic, it has become the world center for reinsurance and a powerful element in the global financial industry. Chile, by contrast, is very different: while it is also basically all coastline, and has the world’s most prolific fishing grounds all up its western side in the Humboldt Current, it is walled off to the east by the highest stretches of the Andes, to the north by the Atacama Desert, and to the south by Antarctica. Chile’s navy (a Spanish-speaking Royal Navy) and its army (a Spanish-speaking Prussian Army) have fearsome reputations and have thumped all their neighbors repeatedly, but Chile is not the first country one thinks of when considering the potentially powerful effects of a long coastline. I think the reason is something else very fundamental, that has not been mentioned yet: the two places have very different legal systems and frameworks – Bermuda has always used basically English common law, especially admiralty (marine) law, which allows for disputes to be settled through long-established but flexible frameworks; while Chile uses Roman/Spanish/statute law, which is much more rigid and harder to modify as circumstances require. The Bermuda archives are stuffed with centuries-worth of records of litigious shipowners, captains, bankers and insurance agents wrangling over the sea and its problems, while Chile’s courts basically kept referring maritime problems to another court. So where would you rather do business? Of course, Bermuda is basically slap in the middle of one of the world’s most active economic zones, while Chile is stuck on the far rim of the world. Tough, but that’s how it is.

  • Mr Ed

    On a more serious note, this post made me think of Chile, Portugal and the Netherlands. All three hemmed against the sea by more powerful neighbours. Portugal facing the suffocating embrace of Spain to which it succumbed 1580-1640, losing Ceuta and later Olivença; Chile with the often menacing Argies to deal with, as in 1978-1982; and the Netherlands with latterly Germany menacing.

    Portugal has never really shed its statism, Chile hasn’t been bad relative to neighbours and the Netherlands seem to be these days a monolingual Belgium with bland cheese.