The Rise of Movements Seeking to Create New States Through Secession

Over the last week, secession movements seeking to create new states have made some progress in northern California and rural Colorado. Back in 2011, I wrote about the secession movement in southern California. All three movements are examples of rural jurisdictions seeking to secede from state governments they perceive as dominated by urban interests and values.

The Colorado movement strikes me as more serious than either of the California ones. But none of the three is actually likely to succeed, given that the Constitution forbids creating new states out of the territory of existing ones, without the latter’s consent. In my 2011 post on the southern California secession movement, I gave some reasons why we should consider making state secession easier to achieve:

Seceding from a state should not be easy. But it also should not be as impossibly difficult as the Constitution currently makes it. Some of our present states are probably too big, and California is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon.

Normally, dysfuctional state policies are constrained by the possibility of “voting with your feet.” If a state imposes overly high taxes, adopts flawed regulations, or provides poor public services, people and businesses will tend to migrate elsewhere, thereby incentivizing the state government to clean up its act in order to preserve its tax base….

In California’s case, however, this dynamic has been undercut by the state’s size and favorable geographic location. Because California is extremely large and controls most of the warm-weather coastal territory on the West Coast, people have been willing to put up with a lot of bad policies for the opportunity to live there. Competitive pressure on the state government would be much greater if there were three or four states occupying California’s present territory instead of one…

[W]e would not want states that are too small. However, California and a number of other states have several times more people than many European countries whose governments function as well or better than those of other democracies, including Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden. Indeed, California has many more people than Canada….

It’s also worth noting that secession from a state doesn’t raise nearly as many difficult moral and political issues as secession from the Union. People who secede from a state would still be under the federal Constitution and would still enjoy its guarantees of individual rights. They will also still be subject to other federal laws. So even if you are more skeptical than I am about secession from nation-states, you can still favor loosening restrictions on the formation of new states within a nation.

Breaking up some of the larger states would be beneficial, because it would make it easier for people to exercise political choice by “voting with their feet,” which often leads to more rational and better-informed decisions than ballot box voting.

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