ONTD Political

Column: A solution to secession fever -- federalism

10:15 am - 11/20/2012

Letting localities make their own decisions would stifle silly secession efforts.


12:18PM EST November 19. 2012 - Since the election, we've seen more interest in secession. Hundreds of thousands Americans in all 50 states have petitioned to secede. Is the United States breaking up?

Nope. No more than in 2004, when disappointed Democrats were talking about secession, and circulating maps of America divided into "The United States of Canada" and "Jesusland." (This formulation even inspired a not-bad futuristic novel by Richard Morgan about a United States that did split.) Seceding over a presidential election is silly.

So why talk about seceding? Well, partly to register disapproval. Though I doubt President Obama is losing sleep over it, that his White House petition site is full of calls for secession is certainly an indication that many aren't overjoyed by his re-election.

But people also talk about secession for more serious reasons. They feel that the central government doesn't respect them, forces them to live under laws they find repugnant and takes their money away to pay off its own supporters. You see secession movements based on these principles in places like Scotland, Catalonia, Northern Italy, and elsewhere around the world. Some might succeed; others are less likely to. But in every case they represent unhappiness with the status quo.

America has an unfortunate history with secession, which led to the bloodiest war in our history and divisions that persist to this day. But, in general, the causes of secession are pretty standard around the world: Too much power in the central government, too much resentment in the unhappy provinces. (Think Hunger Games).

So what's a solution? Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do -- national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights -- and then let the provinces go their own way in most other issues. Don't like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that's more to your taste. Meanwhile, approaches that work in individual provinces can, after some experimentation, be adopted by the central government, thus lowering the risk of adopting untested policies at the national level. You get the benefits of secession without seceding.

Sound good? It should. It's called federalism, and it's the approach chosen by the United States when it adopted the Constitution in 1789. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 45, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."

It's a nice plan. Beats secession. Maybe we should give it another try.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is professor of law at the University of Tennessee. He blogs at InstaPundit.com.

squeeful 20th-Nov-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
Except secession isn't even an option on the table. People can register petitions all they want; they can get people to sign them. It doesn't matter. The SCOTUS has ruled, back in 1869, that unilateral secession is unconstitutional; Texas vs White. So unless the US federal government decides that they too wish Texas et all to leave the union, IT AIN'T HAPPENING. Granted, they could still secede via armed revolution, but I doubt that is going to happen and in any case, if they do try, I hope they have fun with the treason and/or sedition charges. (TRUMP, I'M LOOKING AT YOU.)

I'm sure there are officials getting a good giggle over the petitions. They certainly are laughable, particularly the way the writers think they mean shit.
skellington1 20th-Nov-2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
It seems rather disingenuous to propose going back to a balance we had two hundred years ago without explaining why that balance changed.

The states-as-social-laboratories where legislation can be tested isn't a bad idea in theory, but in actuality I see two major problems with it. The first is that not everyone is financially able to just pick up their family and choose a different state (and as usual, the people least able to flee are the most vulnerable).

The second is that in order for the Sociological/Governmental Experiments to work, the rest of the country has to be able to learn from the results, and we have ample evidence that people aren't willing to do that. E.G,; teen pregnancy and abortion rates are lower in states with comprehensive sex education; that clear advantage isn't getting past the ideological barrier into the states that need it most. How long are you supposed to run the experiment, waiting for others to wise up?

For what it's worth, there are a lot of ways I'm for more local control, especially since I've seen out-of-state money influencing my state's elections to such a huge degree in the last decade, and bids by state-wide initiatives to strike down county-level voter approved taxes, and other such shit. But 'local control' looks a whole lot bett er when you happen to be in agreement with the majority in your locality. It can be pretty scary when you're in the minority.

tigerdreams 20th-Nov-2012 06:06 pm (UTC)
Sounds great, until you realize that (a) a lot of the most vulnerable and most affected people in states with bad policies can't afford to move, so they'd be effectively trapped in a state that was becoming increasingly dystopian, and (b) a lot of the things that many people want "the states to decide" on ARE "the protection of basic civil rights."

Edited at 2012-11-20 06:07 pm (UTC)
tilmon 20th-Nov-2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
Unless the "provinces" are individual counties, this is, to be brief, a really stupid plan that usually goes by the name "states' rights". Now, if what he is doing is proposing a return to the days when elites in individual states could run roughshod over the concerns of citizens, then it's the perfect plan for that. But for any other purpose, it is absolutely foolish and won't work. It's been shown not to work. Exactly how would a central government protect individual and minority rights in a system where it has no power? How would it protect waterways that inevitably feed into different states? As far as I'm concerned, he can go stick his states' rights argument right back in the sphincter from which it emerged.
teacoat 20th-Nov-2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
They feel that the central government doesn't respect them, forces them to live under laws they find repugnant and takes their money away to pay off its own supporters.

Except that most states that do want to secede actually receive more in aid from the feds than they pay in in taxes.

Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do -- national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights -- and then let the provinces go their own way in most other issues. Don't like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that's more to your taste.

Good thing that everyone can afford to just up and move to another state at the drop of a hat!

Edited at 2012-11-20 06:11 pm (UTC)
sashok_privetov 20th-Nov-2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
Well, there you go--it would be a great way to force states to live within their means, instead of mooching off others.

Moving is not difficult, it is a pain in the ass. I've moved from state to state 3 times now.
Historically, it happened also--the farmers in the dust bowl, blacks during jim crow era... which is where the phrase "voting with your feet" comes from, I believe.
miss_almost 20th-Nov-2012 08:04 pm (UTC)
moving is not difficult if you have the means.

but coming up with money for the moving truck rental, coming up with the new deposit and the first months rent on a place to live. the luxury of being able to actually see the space before moving in to it, etc. are all next to impossible if you have no money, or are living paycheck to paycheck and cant save hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

and im not even counting the lost wages/hours spent moving, any new deposits once you get there. my electric bill deposit was $250.
moving is expensive, there are a lot of upfront costs.
sashok_privetov 20th-Nov-2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
Where there's a will, there's a way.

It's not cheap, but it's not as expensive as you make it out to be. My electric bill deposit was $15, in VA. I don't know why yours is so high. It must differ from place to place.

I have moved from state to state, and me and my family even from one country to another. We were never rich, though this country afforded us some upward mobility.
And I doubt those farmers in during dust bowl, nor the blacks during jim crow era were rich either.

I have found out that in this country people are a lot more helpful than elsewhere, all you have to do is ask.
miss_almost 20th-Nov-2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
i dont even know where to begin with this comment.

yes, the electricity deposits differ from place to place. i live in nebraska and my entire apartment runs on electricity, so a $250 deposit is not quite enough to cover the heating bills in the winter if i decided not to pay the electric company. that cost is nonnegotiable.

it is not acceptable to have moving standards even remotely comparable to the experiences of farmers during the dust bowl or blacks during jim crow. and it is a tragedy to expect people to be faced with those kinds of hardships just so they can live somewhere where they arent persecuted.
sashok_privetov 21st-Nov-2012 02:43 pm (UTC)
It may not be acceptable, but it happens, and unfortunately, quite often through history. It happened to me.
On the other hand, it is cheaper than changing the administration, and forcing people who like living under the status quo to live by your demands. I think it is better to set up two equal in most respects ideological entities, with their respective ideological rules and see what happens. Kinda like CA and TX...
liliaeth 20th-Nov-2012 08:32 pm (UTC)
I have moved to a new place in the city I live in, and I woudln't have been able to do it, if the OCMW (aka the Belgian social welfare agency) hadn't lended me the money to do so.

Moving is far more expensive than you seem to think.
hinoema 20th-Nov-2012 11:02 pm (UTC)
Where there's a will, there's a way.


Yeah, ok.
lovedforaday 20th-Nov-2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
Don't like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that's more to your taste.

Don't you think that some of us would have moved by now if we had the wherewithal to do so? The shit some of the states do is bad enough now, how shitty will it be if their wildest ~states rights~ fantasies come true.
nitasee 20th-Nov-2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
sashok_privetov 21st-Nov-2012 06:10 am (UTC)
??? We did it. Granted, we are Jews, and we were hated by the USSR, and the country let us go with 500 rubles in our pockets, but we left. To an uncertain future. We didn't know anything about life in US. We did have help from a charity that we had to pay back. Asking for help is not shameful. There are charity for anything nowdays.
valarltd 20th-Nov-2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
I wrote a DisUnited State novel as well, where we apparently fell apart under our own size. Nikolai
(except that it was orchestrated by an illuminati style cabal)

"Just move someplace you like" is the voice of privilege. I have a friend who is working hard, saving every penny and STILL doesn't know if she's going to manage to move in January. People stay where they are for many reasons, and money is a major one.

I am not a believer in states' rights. We are a country or we aren't. We all get the same rules or we don't.
furrygreen 20th-Nov-2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
But people also talk about secession for more serious reasons.

Wait. You mean people who want to secede, given our history, don't mean it in the "let's hold hands and sing hymns" way? DO TELL!

Anyway, I have a better option: let's just give them Texas and be done with it. They want to secede anyway. Texas is almost the Southerner's mascot state anyway. We could call it "Texanistan" or something.
nitasee 20th-Nov-2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
No no no no NOOOO!

I live in Texas. God help me if I had to live in "Texanistan"! Being part of the US is the only thing saving me and others from the crapfall of that would be Texas government without federal restraint.

I did hear that some folks in Austin made a counter-petition for their city to stay in the US if Texas secedes. I'd like to think my city would do the same, just Austin weird beat us to it.

bushy_brow 20th-Nov-2012 07:47 pm (UTC)

Not to mention, more Texans voted for Obama than people in Illinois! Forty-one percent of us! Texas isn't the bastion of secession-wannabes that some people seem to think.

ETA That's 3.2 million of us, btw, to IL's 2.9 million.

Edited at 2012-11-20 07:49 pm (UTC)
furrygreen 20th-Nov-2012 08:25 pm (UTC)
How about Alaska then? There they'd have to live with God's "whimsical" moods and what have you. Oh! And imagine the horror they'd fell about being next to the bastion of a "welfare state" that is Canada. Their horror and contempt would keep them busy for decades. What could they do in all that snow? Imagine the shoddy fence they'd try to build.

Ah, good thoughts.
bushy_brow 20th-Nov-2012 08:43 pm (UTC)
See, I like this idea -- if only because the $X all residents get paid annually would be divided by that many more residents, and then the native Alaskans would get all pissed off about their government handout reward for being so awesome going down, and there'd be a huge, dare I say, CIVIL WAR. Heh.
furrygreen 20th-Nov-2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
We'd naturally moved the sane people to the states! There'd be lots of free housing to boot and probably universal healthcare! Imagine driving down the highway and not seeing a batshit crazy billboard quoting some bible passage or another. I'd never have to see biblical quotes when I have to renew my drivers license at the DMV!

It would rock!
paksenarrion2 21st-Nov-2012 05:20 am (UTC)
I say if we make Texass their own country, anyone that wants to become a citizen of that country can move their but using their own money. And anyone that wants to remain a US citizen gets moved out for free-subsidized by the new citizens of Texass.

Win-win for everyone. Oh and Texass has to come up with their own money, own army (all the hardware, etc on the military bases in their borders comes to us) and etc. If they need assistance or help? They have to ask for it like any other country.

Ten bucks says they ask to become a State again within five years.
nitasee 21st-Nov-2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
Five years? That's about right. Unless really,really stubborn (or stupid, but that goes without saying).
sashok_privetov 21st-Nov-2012 06:15 am (UTC)
Well, Hong Kong did fall apart in roughly fifty years, when it was given to the Chinese.
sashok_privetov 21st-Nov-2012 02:28 pm (UTC)
"Becoming part of": They were forcibly transferred from a free society to a totalitarian regime that put an end to the Hong Kong way of life.

That out of the way, that comment was in response to your "Republicanland a reality it would fall apart in less than fifty years" comment. Hong Kong is the most outstanding example of Republicanland, by which I assume you mean, regulation-free, Austrian school, laissez faire economy that Milton Freedman praised so much. They set upon that course after WW2, and during that time rose from essentially a fishing village to a foremost economic power.
So I doubt about your predictions of "Republicanland" disintegrating withing 50 years.

In fact, if you look around the world and through history, we see the opposite--socialist regimes falling apart, consistently.
Starting with the Roman empire, through Pilgrims who initially employed full on communist structure which failed, famously onto USSR, and every other communist plot of last century, continuing with the woes of Europe of today. And then there's the contrast of N/S Koreas, Marxist Africa and Capitalist Indonesia, rise of same Hong Kong and fall of Cuba, Finland vs. Estonia, etc.
Even domestically--CA is bankrupt with highest taxes in the nation, while TX is prospering with some of lowest taxes in the nation. Detroit is a shithole, while NYC was turned around by Giuliani.
nitasee 21st-Nov-2012 09:15 pm (UTC)
I think it would fall apart in a lot less time than that. 10 years, tops.
danger0usbeans 20th-Nov-2012 08:29 pm (UTC)
Well, yes, it would likely stifle those silly secession efforts. It would also stifle those silly civil rights, and that silly equality. Good lord.
sashok_privetov 21st-Nov-2012 06:16 am (UTC)

"Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do -- national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights"
eyetosky 20th-Nov-2012 08:30 pm (UTC)
"Too much power in the central government, too much resentment in the unhappy provinces. (Think Hunger Games)"

crossfire 20th-Nov-2012 10:11 pm (UTC)

Oh man. Those Onion articles get me every time. *wipes tear* Wow. That was funny.
keestone 20th-Nov-2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Well cute, but it seems that most of the things that the (very few) people are screaming secession about tend to fall under "basic civil rights". (Well, and taxes . . . which are explicitly mentioned in that Madison quote to begin with.)

Also, considering the "conversation" I had on FB where a political sore loser insisted that California should leave the USA because it was too populous and had too much influence . . .
Um yeah. When it's a perpetual joke that it's hard to find someone actually born in a place, it suggests that (those ultra blue) states like CA and NY kind of have really large populations because people left other states and moved to the cities in those states for a better chance or quality of living (whether economic , because they thought they might be more accepted, or some other reason). Which means that lots of people are already (or still) moving to areas more to their taste, and arguing for a return to what's already happening (except for the people who can't or don't move) is just silly. And you still get the loudmouth bigots who pushed droves of people out of their home states complaining that the places their former neighbors left for have too many people in them and therefore too much power. Perfect solution, clearly.

(Yeah, I know the above is silly and oversimplified, but it's still way more logical than comparing Scotland's political history to a very small but obnoxiously loud group of people who aren't happy that a plurality of their fellow citizens voted for a President they don't like and don't want to treat people who aren't rich, able-bodied, straight, white cis-males like humans.)
wrestlingdog 20th-Nov-2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
Why are you still here?
spyral_path 21st-Nov-2012 01:00 am (UTC)
Came here to say this.
tabaqui 20th-Nov-2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
hey feel that the central government doesn't respect them, forces them to live under laws they find repugnant....

Basically - i can't discriminate against all minorities and my religion isn't the state religion.

If you find the granting, exercising and protecting of basic, human, civil rights 'repugnant', than you can fuck right off to an island somewhere, because really? That's just too damn bad.

For you.
kishmet 21st-Nov-2012 07:45 am (UTC)

Since this calls them silly secession efforts I'm not sure why we're supposed to cater to a few secessionist fools, but keep on rockin' with this weird logic
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