Celebrate Secession!

by John Payne

(Editor’s Note: This a reposting of a 2009 article. Your Editor is in the back yard in the pool, throwing a tennis ball so the dogs can swim and retrieve it.)

I just posted this up at my personal blog, but I thought it might stimulate some discussion over here for Independence Day weekend.

To honor the United States’ secessions (yes, that is meant to be plural; up until 1865, it was the “United States are” not the “United States is”) from the British Empire, the good folks at A Thousand Nations have been blogging on the topic of secession all week. You can find an index of posts here, and I highly recommend them, especially for those of you who have never given much thought to breaking up the United States into more manageable units.

Although those contributions to the debate are ample, allow me to offer my own take on why secession is still a good idea.

1) The most basic reason for supporting secession is that it makes government more accountable to the people it governs. The smaller a polity is, the easier it is for an individual’s objections to be heard whether that be through voting, petition, protest, etc. It also becomes harder for one group to oppress another the more they have to interact with each other. Dehumanizing some distant group is very easy; it is much harder to do with your next door neighbor. In the words of my all time favorite libertarian hero Karl Hess, “Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany is a horror; Adolf Hitler at a town meeting would be an asshole.”

But even if some Hitlerian figure were to take over an independent state or town, it is far easier to flee a small polity than a larger one. Getting out of the old Soviet Union was extremely difficult; getting out of Missouri, not so much.

2) The harmful effects of bad policies are seen and felt far more quickly the smaller the polity. A huge nation like the United States or China can easily persist in wealth (or even life) destroying policies for generations because their benefits are concentrated at special interest groups that agitate to continue the policies while the costs are dispersed onto the rest of the population. This is why our government subsidizes corn so heavily. But it would be nearly impossible for Iowa to continue those policies if it seceded. There would be fewer people to tax and more people expecting benefits, leading taxpayers to demand subsidy reductions and corn farmers to care less about keeping them as each individual farmer’s share of the loot would drop.

3) The United States long ago ceased to be anything resembling the republic the Founders envisioned. When the Constitution was ratified there 30,000 people for every representative in Congress, and for many of the Founders, like George Mason who spearheaded the drive for a bill of rights, this number still seemed high. But now with over 300 million people in the country, and the number of representatives capped at 435 there are almost 700,000 people for every representative in Congress–a number that will continue to grow. It may be absurd to believe that one person can represent 30,000, but that just makes it all the more absurd to believe one can represent 23 times that much. It is the equivalent of six people representing the entirety of the American population at the time of the Constitution’s ratification.

We can only restore the level of representation circa 1790 in two ways: expanding the number of representatives from 435 to just over 10,000 or by dividing the country up into smaller polities. The first option raises the obvious question of how an organization of 10,000 could function and where they could meet, but it would also make each representative’s power negligible in exact proportion to how much it would strengthen each citizen’s power to influence her representative, making the whole point moot. The only possibility for each American to live in a representative republic (that’s not my ideal, but I prefer it to the monstrosity we live in now) is secession.

4) Many of our states are as large as most other countries. There are more people in California than Canada; more in New York than Taiwan, Australia, or North Korea; more in Florida than the Netherlands; almost as many in Missouri as Ireland; and more in Texas than Austria, Switzerland, and Isreal combined. Furthermore, our state economies are even larger than our populations relative to the rest of the world. Check out this map to see what country the GDP of each state matches up with; it’s pretty mind boggling. New Jersey is on par with Russia; Nebraska with the Czech Republic; North Carolina with that supposed paragon of social democracy Sweden. The most common objection I hear to secession is that the states are too small to survive on their own, but that position has no basis in reality.

So given all this, why not secede? What exactly do we have to lose but trillions of dollars in debt, an overly aggressive foreign policy that does nothing to keep us safe, and federal taxes that are sure to only go higher?

So citizens of America….uh, disunite?

Copyright © 2009 The American Conservative

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