Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thinking the unthinkable

EBM notes that Iceland's government serves the people, while our government serves the banks. I point out that Iceland's entire population is smaller than the typical mid-size city, and it's easy to have a government responsive to the people when your population is so small. At which point the obvious question becomes, "if the population of the USA has grown so large that it's impossible for the government to be responsive to the people, is it time to break up the USA?"

In 1861 Abraham Lincoln looked at Benjamin Franklin's statement from 1776 -- "we must all hang together or we shall most assuredly all hang separately" -- and pronounced it still operative. The European powers were in the process of divvying up most of the world between them. The United States had vast resources but also comprised a vast area that was sparsely populated. The example of India would have especially been on Lincoln's mind. The British Empire had just assumed direct control over India in 1858 in the wake of a rebellion against the East India Company and had never had a significant number of soldiers on the ground. Instead the British had conquered India via a divide-and-conquer strategy where the various princedoms were pitted against each other and the majority of "British" troops were actually Indian troops under the command of British commanders. Britain had, in effect, conquered India almost for free, using primarily Indians to do the job. All of which was possible because India had not been a unified country at the time that the British arrived on the scene and thus the various nation-states that comprised India were easily set against each other and the loser often enough preferred giving up their sovereignty to the British rather than accepting subjugation by their hated rival across the river.

What would happen to the United States if the South were allowed to go its own way? Lincoln saw the former United States breaking up into dozens of smaller nations if this were allowed to happen, because both the rump USA and the CSA had their own divisions within their ranks -- Texas, for example, had once been an independent nation and had enough differences with the rest of the CSA that even during the war it effectively operated as an independent country. Utah, for another example, would have happily seceded and become the nation of Deseret if allowed to do so, the Utah territory had its own unique religion and culture that were in some respect alien to that of the USA. And what then? Well... the British were to the north. The French were to the south, setting up Emperor Maximilian as their proxy in Mexico. One or the other was sure to try the India strategy against a fragmented United States. And the chances of it being successful were far too great for a patriotic citizen of the United States to countenance.

Thus the American Civil War, on the surface a war to subjugate the South, but on a larger level a war to prevent the United States from undergoing the fate of India -- forcibly de-industrialized, looted, used solely for its resources, with any independence of any rump states being only nominal. But that was 1861. What about today? What would happen if the USA spun apart into multiple nations today?

First, there are no longer any colonial powers. Colonialism died with the collapse of the French empire in the aftermath of WW2, as first Indochina then North Africa escaped their grasp, or if you wish to be pedantic, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, though the Soviets weren't particularly a colonial power (their rule over eastern Europe was more about creating a buffer zone against a renewal of Western militarism, i.e. creating more defensive depth, than about conquest). Secondly, globalism means that economies can continue to be integrated even if the nations that comprise the economies retain their independence. In short, there is little chance of conquest being an issue.

The bigger problem would be dealing with current federal programs like Social Security. Even that could be dealt with -- when Czechoslovakia broke up into the Czech Republica and Slovakia, they simply divided the assets of the state pension funds by population. This probably was unfair to the Czechs, who were generally more affluent than the Slovaks and thus probably had contributed a larger percentage of the funds, but they felt it was well worth it to get rid of their backwards rednecks to the east. The military would also be an issue. But the dissolution of the Soviet Union shows how that can be done too.

In short, what was once an unthinkable idea is quite thinkable today, if you're thinking outside the box. The USA today is one nation united only out of habit, not any real reason, and the various regions don't seem to like each other a whole lot. Why not just let regions secede? As a Californian, a resident of a state that sends far more to the Feds than we'll ever get back, it seems almost a non-brainer.

-- Badtux the Thinking-outside-the-box Penguin


  1. When I lived in California in the 1980's there was an idea floating around to split it into two, Southern California and Northern California and one to split into three, Northern California, Central California and Southern California due to size and differences of outlook. How prescient.
    Personally I now wish we had lost the civil war and allowed Jesusland to go its own way. The South causes more problems than its worth.

  2. The last thirty years has got me thinking that the US has actually outgrown its ability to govern itself. Given the opportunity, the American public has chosen to elect an unbelievably incompetent congeries of liars, thieves, flim-flam men, and idiots; the Capitol rivals Mos Eisley as a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It'd be understandable if it was the first time around, but we have the example of the Gilded Age and the Depression in front of us and we STILL managed to screw that pooch.

    I don't think it would happen because of the combination of tradition and inertia you cite. But I think in a sane world it would be worth a thought. I feel the same way about the Northwest; I'd be prouder to live under the Cascadia flag if our government was in the business of serving the people rather than the plutocracy and their interests...

  3. I wonder if Canada would be willing to accept Michigan's Upper Peninsula as an addition to the province of Ontario? Or maybe as a protectorate? I wouldn't mind seceding, but don't think we've got the resources to go it alone.

  4. There is a good deal of merit to your suggesstion. I could see a transition period where each (state/Region) accepted US currency until they got control and printed their own. The real problems would be the states (mainly Republican) who decry the evil federal government who receive more in federal monies than they pay in. What would their reaction be when the spigot was turned off?

    I as a member of a producer state would love to get rid of Mississippi or Alabama. And I think there's a benefit to wiping the slate clean and saying 'Even though I subsidized the ENTIRE infrastructure of Alabama, including allowing you to lure FOREIGN Companies with US Tax dollars (Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama ensured Mercedes -Benz received $253 Million USC, Honda $158 Million USC and Hyundai $234 million USC tax breaks for building plants in in his state, Republican scum Bob Cooker gave Volkswagon $577 million USC for a factory in Tennessee and "Mississippi paid $284 million for a new Toyota plant; Kia got $324 million from Georgia. Texas had to fork over only $133 million for Toyota's Tundra plant in San Antonio, while Tennessee gave $197.6 million so Nissan would move its American headquarters to Nashville.) Let's move on and you can go your own way.'

  5. Let the South go, Yes. There would of course be a lot of inter area moving, such as black people going North for good and the crackers finally leaving Ca. alone. It would be interesting tho if it got to say the south firing again on the North? We'd have to be like Israel with all able bodies being forced to serve.
    Interesting idea, probably work after a lot of adjustments. Not working now, for sure.

  6. Yah, Grung-e, that's why it isn't happening -- the welfare states ain't gonna let it happen. It'd be the South sending troops to the North and West to force the North and West to rejoin the nation rather than the other way around this time.

    Whiterose, I think I explained quite adequately why there would not have been an independent United States within thirty years of the South winning the Civil War. That precedent would have in turn spun apart the USA and CSA, and the French and British would have swooped in using divide-and-conquer to split up the squabbling mini-states between themselves.

    FDChief, various states have managed to govern themselves reasonably well despite all that. The problem is that even if you govern yourself reasonably well, then you have the Feds coming in and stomping all over you, like DOMA meaning that gay marriages in states where they are legal not being accepted as valid on the federal level... it's a conundrum, and one that isn't going away.

  7. Tempting, but the South is too militarized and too paranoid. War would break out almost immediately, and would go nuclear quick.

    Also, democracy degenerated into mob rule in ancient Athens, with a population probably smaller than Iceland's. I think the difference is not size but time and peace. Time allows factions to get better at protecting their turf, which leads to paralysis. Peace (defined as absence of real threat to the state, not absence of remote conflicts) allows people to concentrate on supporting their faction, rather than supporting the whole society.


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