Thursday, December 19, 2013

Western Secession 4 - US Partitions, Background

Proposals for partitioning the United States have a long history (including, of course, a serious attempt by a group of states to implement such a partition in 1861).  This post looks at some more contemporary suggestions that either predict a partition, or look at various cultural divisions within the US that might be considerations if someone were planning a partition.  Consider this to be background material only; my own proposal for a partition that separates 11 western states is based on different criteria.  Still, it is useful to start thinking about the premise that there are cultural differences between regions of the US, and that in a future where long-distance transportation is more constrained, those differences may matter even more than they do today.

One partition is that of Russian academic Igor Panarin, who predicted that the US would fall apart by 2010 (clearly, that hasn't happened).  Mr. Panarin's perspective was summarized by the Wall Street Journal late in 2008.  Some aspects of this partition seem peculiar to me.  He ignores obvious cultural influences: it is more likely that Arizona would align with a Mexican influence than a Chinese one.  The partition ignores some geographic considerations: Kentucky and Tennessee are on the other side of the Appalachians from the rest of Atlantic America, and the California Republican stops short of the Rocky Mountains.  Relative sizes argue against much of the whole premise.  His Central North-American Republic, which is either part of Canada or under Canadian influence, has double the current population of Canada. His Texas Republic of nine states, predicted to be either a part of Mexico or under Mexican influence, has a GDP almost triple that of Mexico [1].  Generally speaking, poor countries don't acquire or overly influence much richer ones, nor do that to territory with double their own population.

Another approach to re-partitioning the US that appears regularly is electoral maps with 50 states of approximately equal populations.  The motivation is the usual complaint that states like Vermont and Wyoming are grossly overrepresented in the US Senate.  Fundamental to such partitions is the notion that the original purposes of the House and Senate — the House represents people; the Senate represents states — is no longer relevant.  The map shown here was prepared by Neil Freeman in 2012.  Mr. Freeman is upfront that this is a work of art, not a serious proposal, but I'll criticize some aspects of it anyway.  The new state of Shiprock spans more than a thousand miles from east to west, three time zones, and multiple mountain ranges; that's a difficult situation for a state government to manage.  Another interesting case is Ogallala, which consists of the Front Range area of Colorado and a whole lot of mostly empty space.  I've written recently about how northeast Colorado would like to separate itself from the Front Range urban area; Mr. Freeman has grafted on a whole bunch of additional area that would presumably feel the same way.

A common approach is to divide the country (or continent) along perceived cultural lines.  In The Nine Nations of North America, published in 1981, Joel Garreau argued that most US state boundaries are arbitrary or based on historical accident, and that looking at the nine regions that he defines gives a better understanding of cultural and economic differences.  One of Mr. Garreau's observations is increasingly true today: for that portion of the Empty Quarter within US boundaries, water is a limiting resource.  As he put it, in most of those areas there's enough water for only one of three things: wilderness, agriculture, or industry (a synonym in my reading of the book for "cities").  He asserts that a few places could manage two of the three, but no place could support all three.  There are reasons to suspect that creating countries based on this partition would have problems.  The Breadbasket, with very large grain exports, is isolated from the Mississippi River mouth necessary for exports to the rest of the world. A number of historians have suggested that recognition of the Midwest's economic dependency on access to the Mississippi mouth was one of the motivations for Abraham Lincoln's desire to stop an independent Confederacy.

Colin Woodard criticizes some of Mr. Garreau's regions as ignoring history, and defines 11 regions of his own in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, with some of the arguments summarized in a Tufts Magazine article.  Mr. Woodard argues that the groups of people who historically settled these regions account for the very different attitudes towards issues like violence and gun control in the US today.  More interesting is Mr. Woodard's argument that American mobility is reinforcing the divisions as people self-sort by moving to regions where the cultural attitude more closely matches their personal preferences.  That's an important idea, but one I would consider more important in the growing urban/rural divide: the differences between urban and rural areas within these regions is often greater than the differences between the regions.

[1] Consider also the Department of Defense's 2010 Joint Operating Environment document, which identifies one of the potential risks to be planned for as Mexico becoming a failed state unable to manage its own affairs.

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