Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pat Buchanan's Fantasy of... His Own Private Idaho?

Pat Buchanan, after describing how nations that had been part of the USSR reclaimed their national identities, and in some cases balkanized afterward, and carrying on for a bit about various secessionist movements in Europe, conflates the secession of a region to create a new, independent nation state with the redrawing of political boundaries within a nation state.
What are the forces pulling nations apart? Ethnicity, culture, history and language—but now also economics. And separatist and secessionist movements are cropping up here in the United States.

While many Red State Americans are moving away from Blue State America, seeking kindred souls among whom to live, those who love where they live but not those who rule them are seeking to secede.
Buchanan appears to be conceding that the primary driving forces behind these secessionist movements, foreign and domestic, are ethnicity and culture. In the context of ending a civil war between ethnic groups with the bloody partitioning of a country, it's not really surprising that ethnicity and culture play a role in that division - it's to be expected. But there are no similar crises within the United States. Buchanan may be correct that the citizens of the regions he describes later in his editorial are concerned about protecting their ethnicity and culture, but perhaps the real problem is that they're too resistant to getting on board with the proverbial "great American melting pot".
The five counties of Western Maryland—Garrett, Allegheny, Washington, Frederick, and Carroll, which have more in common with West Virginia and wish to be rid of Baltimore and free of Annapolis, are talking secession.
I found Ilya Somin's "vote with your feet" concept to be a bit ridiculous, but I have to say Buchanan's idea is far more precious. Why move across a nearby state line when you can instead move the state line? Buchanan has given no apparent thought to the permanence of such an arrangement. Does he anticipate that states will trade counties like kids trade baseball cards? (Perhaps I should say Yu-Gi-Oh? Kids, it seems, have their own cultural secessionist movements every decade or so.) Perhaps he imagines a context in which any number of people who claim to be disgruntled with their state government can split off and form their own state? Could I be my own state, and perhaps serve as both senators?

Buchanan has something dead wrong in his earlier secessionist argument, suggesting that economics are now driving European secessionist movements. To the contrary, economics tend to hold back peaceful secession. When you live in a small, rural area you gain considerable advantage by being associated with a larger, more economically developed state. Such regions usually receive massive subsidies from their states, sometimes direct, and often in the form of government enterprises that exist only by virtue of state funding. Buchanan states,
Folks on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, bordered by Wisconsin and the Great Lakes, which is connected to lower Michigan by a bridge, have long dreamed of a separate state called Superior. The UP has little in common with Lansing and nothing with Detroit.
I'm not sure what Buchanan means by "The UP has little in common with Lansing", or if he even knows what he means. Or Detroit, for that matter, unless it's as basic as "skin color". Economically, many parts of the UP are quite comparable to Detroit. Baraga County in the Upper Peninsula has an 18.3% unemployment rate - comparable to Detroit's. Dependence upon public assistance is high. What keeps the UP's unemployment rate from being even higher? Six of the UPs fifteen counties are home to state penitentiaries, with the good-paying jobs that go along with them. The UP also benefits from the state's promotion of tourism, it's leading industry. A separate state of "Superior" would have to pay its own way, which may be part of why the most feverish part of the "long dream" of which Buchanan speaks broke in the 1970's. Also, given how easily Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow carried the UP, perhaps the political culture is not as removed from the rest of the state as Buchanan imagines. I wonder if Buchanan even knows about the Mackinac Bridge?

In any event, even if Buchanan's worst case scenario unfolds, and we have another G.W. Bush-type President or continued incompetent House leadership by the likes of John Boehner, such that "another Great Recession hits or our elites dragoon us into another imperial war", and we "hear more of such talk", so what? It's a pipe dream. Nothing is going to come of it. I guess it's a bit more peaceful than the violent, genuinely secessionist fantasies of some of Buchanan's more extreme peers, but let's face it: We're not going to allow small regions to form their own states, we're not going to give five sparsely populated counties of Maryland or nine similarly rural counties of Colorado statehood, along with a minimum of two U.S. Senators and three Members of Congress. And beyond the fantasy, counties that enjoy being heavily subsidized by their urban peers tend to wake up at some point to the reality of what their tax bills and public services would look like if they actually carried their own weight.

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