Tag Archives | secession

How Best to Secede from a State

Some spirit of secession has spread across the land, with various areas in Maryland, Colorado, Texas, California and elsewhere discussing seceding from their states, because of political alienation arising from significant differences in values and preferences. I don’t take the political prospects of American secession movements too seriously, and assume their principal purpose is to gain leverage for their preferred policies within their state governments.

These secessionists have an advantage over those seeking outright separation from the Union – and a big disadvantage. On one hand, they don’t have to deal with the Confederacy/slavery baggage that tends to confound discussions of secession in the U.S. On the other hand, the Constitution, Art. IV, sec. 3 clearly forbids the creating a new state in the territory of an existing one without the latter’s consent, and the consent of Congress. That is a high bar, practically insurmountable.

But there may be an easier way for those who seek to secede from their state – instead of creating a new “51st” state, secede to join an existing state. The Constitution’s requirement of home-state and congressional consent only clearly applies to the creation of a “new state”:

… no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The language of the provision is a bit unclear. Does the second clause above (“nor any State be formed”) refer back to, and continue the discussion, of “new states”? That would mean that the provision does not govern the transfer of territory from one state to another. The interpretation probably depends on what it means for […]

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Homage to Catalonia

Voters in the Spanish province of Catalonia yesterday gave a large majority to pro-independence parties, who now command 2/3 of the seats in the regional parliament. The practical impact may be attenuated, because the secessionist movement is weakened by being spread across four parties: separatists can’t unite.

Madrid vows to resist any split. Spain apparently only likes two-state solutions when they involve other people’s states. And they are not alone in that. [UPDATE: More on this in the comments.]

Secession in the U.S. has historical baggage that leads it to be associated with reactionary and regressive tendencies. Interestingly, the historical valence of Catalonian separatism is progressive and Communist. The region was a hotbed of Anarcho-Syndicalism in the early 20th century. It was one of the last Republican strongholds in the Civil War (yes, the other one, and the other Republicans). Separatis movements through Spain were suppressed after the war. Orwell’s memoir that provides the title for this post criticized the Soviet domination of the anti-Fascist forces. So if opponents of secession in the U.S. may be the legatees of Lincoln, are the unionists in Spain followers of Franco?

UPDATE: The E.U. has been coy about whether it would accept a Catalan state, and as readers noted, EU rejection would put the kibosh on independence. The EU’s reaction is predictable: it is a country cartel, many of whose members face similar separatist drives. It wants to discourage this kind of thing, and I expect its threats of exclusion will mount as independence seems more likely.

On the other hand, part of the ideology of the Union is its continental nature, its scope – thus the persistent expansion to include even unlikely or remote members. Another part is its inevitability – that is why minor retrogression, like Greece dropping the Euro, is […]

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Secession, Family Law, and Political Science

Discussions of secession in the U.S. are weighed down with the baggage of the Civil War. This legacy may not just burden American’s view of secession as a domestic issue, but also the general concept. The U.S. has opposed secessionist tendencies abroad, even when they were obviously salutary, such as the break-up of the USSR and Yugoslavia, and continues to oppose the break-up of Iraq and other unhappy unions.

Important recent work in political science has helped us better understand the economics of state size. At the same time, secessionist movements have gained broad followings in major Western European democracies, even at a time that nationalism in Europe is thought to be at a nadir. These developments (and not the various U.S. petitions, about which Eugene recently wrote) motivate this post.

Secession seems a good idea on libertarian grounds in that heterogenous preferences can be better accommodated on a smaller scale. Alesina and Spolaore famously theorize optimal state size as optimizing between economies of scale and heterogenous preferences of nationals: the former is increasing on size, the latter decreasing. For optimality to be maintained, there must be some process shaping the size of state other than accretion. Otherwise, one would expect that all countries in equilibrium would be too big.

Usually, secessionist movements start in the wealthier area of country (or an area that would be wealthy if it could completely control local fuel resources) – Northern Italy, Slovenia, Catalonia, Flanders, Biafra, Puntland, Somaliland. This seems especially true of non-violent secession movements — those not formed against the backdrop of massive intergroup violence.

The European Union changes this dynamic somewhat by lowering the cost of secession. EU membership confers significant benefits on the new country (assuming it gets to join the Union) and this is thought to explain the […]

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The Opposite of Secession

While secession by U.S. states is often seen as the domain of kooks, America also has an accession movement – and a parallel succession movement that seems to have relatively significant support in its locality and is certainly not treated as kooky.

One of the more significant, but less discussed questions in the last election was the question of Puerto Rican statehood. The matter was put to the island’s inhabitants; 54% of voters said “no” to an up/down question about maintaining the current territorial status. A second question asked about preferred alternatives; a clear majority favored statehood over full independence or some kind independent associative status.

(The formulation and ordering of alternatives is key here, as the three alternatives introduce the possibility of intransitive collective preferences. The coming Scottish independence vote could turn on a turn of phrase.)

The United Nations has long described the U.S. control of Puerto Rico as a form of colonialism, and demanded that the island’s inhabitants be allowed to exercise their rights to sovereignty and self-determination. (Americans tend to laugh off such decisions, but it is a fairly typical exercise at Turtle Bay.)

The Puerto Rican vote raises many interesting questions about accession. First, is a simple majority enough to determine the will of the Puerto Ricans on this matter? Here, the rules of secession are important for determining the rules of accession. Normally, a simple majority, or even a plurality, is good enough for most democratic decisions. However, if those decisions become automatically entrenched (require a supermajority to reverse), they should and generally do require a supermajority to enter as well

If succession is illegal, as Eugene and the Supreme Court have suggested (a matter I will question in subsequent posts), joining the Union as a state is an almost irrevocable […]

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