Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Interesting piece on secession in the US, with interviews with folks I have met. Indeed, I got to discuss these issues at a Liberty Fund event a few years ago with two of the people in this article (Sorens and Naylor). Given what I have said in my blog about Quebec separatism, you can guess where I stand on Vermont secession, Texas separatism and the like.

I joke these days that I wouldn't mind seeing the South secede today. It would alter the balance of American politics and perhaps return the Republican Party back to being an reasonable alternative. But it would be very bad for those who are on the losing side within the secessionist states. Politicians would then cater to narrower audiences and not have to worry about the constraints of US federalism: the Supreme Court, the Fed, other interest groups, etc.

The piece mentions the League of the South, which is pretty much what you imagine it to be. The Vermont secessionists hate to be in the same category. But they are. What they share, in part, is frustration with being on the losing side in a democracy. But democracies require majorities to win and minorities to lose. The key to a functional democracy is to make sure that: a) people are not always on the losing side; b) losers are protected from the arrogance of the winners.
For the former, one can be on the winning side at the local level from time to time while losing at the national level or vice versa, in addition to having different parties win over the course of time at the national level.
For the latter, division of powers, bill of rights, courts and the like can prevent tyranny of the majority.

So, my basic attitude towards these secessionists is that they really are sore losers that don't have much to complain about. Their lives are far better than those of secessionists elsewhere in the world, they have remedies to improve their lot, and you cannot always get what you want. They idealize their own political unit, but independence would probably not solve their problems (since they are inherently cranky people) as most of their dreams would not be realized.

The big question to ask all of them is: how are you going to pay for that? While there may be some diseconomies of scale with being a large political unit, there are also economies of scale as well. And many of those political units that want to flee are subsidized not subsidizers (the south, for instance, like Quebec).

The article is part of a larger navel-gazing exercise about what could destroy the US over the next one hundred years. Secession could happen. It is just going to take circumstances that would be extreme dire. The folks who imagine secession today and are organizing for it just are not going to get much traction for the time being--even with this economy. There is no concentration of interests and identities, and the US government is just not that threatening, even under Bush, to its own people, compared to those places where secession has played out.

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