map from a deleted Reddit account, with one example of how the US might be broken into logical independent nations
Our Southern neighbours have been in a civil war — words, angry demonstrations, skirmishes, polarization, new hate laws and repression tactics etc — being played out mostly in the media, for years now, inflamed by the deranged ex-president and rapidly accelerating in tone and tactics.
The last civil war ended in horrific bloodshed, and, like most wars, resolved little if anything. It didn’t end de facto slavery, racism or any of the other issues it was supposedly fought over. It didn’t end the resentment among the secessionists. Had the southern states seceded successfully, as the last developed nation to allow slavery, it would have been so ostracized by the global community it would have eventually had to ban the outrageous and inhuman practice anyway. And it would have suffered such a massive brain drain that it would have evolved to be just another warm-climate banana republic. Kind of what, outside its big cities, it has actually become.
Scotland, infuriated by Brexit and the patronizing English, are readying for another independence referendum, though their English overlords are so far prohibiting it. Northern Ireland is again in turmoil over its status as an anachronistic English enclave in the Disunited Kingdom. Belgium may soon be two nations, while Québec, which nearly succeeded in its last independence referendum, seems to have backed off from the idea for now.
What is it about a country’s breakup that so often leads to hostility and war? The Soviet Union collapsed only because it became too large and unwieldy to afford to keep together. And even now it’s fighting wars to keep some of the remaining ‘republics’ in its federation from seceding. China is desperately trying to ‘re-educate’ the people in its outposts to prohibit and undermine their aspirations for independence.
It’s easy to say that opposition to independence is all about money and resources — lost cheap labour, oil, minerals, cropland. But my sense is it’s more about nationalistic pride than anything. Like in a marriage breakup, it seems to be taken as an admission of failure (the reason why many religions prohibit divorce) rather than a simple acknowledgement that the relationship just wasn’t working for one or both parties anymore. Any kind of divorce or secession is, of course, expensive and time-consuming, another reason to deny the obvious signs it’s time to move on independently.
As a Canadian, I can see few reasons for the Disunited States of America to stay as a single nation, and lots of good reasons for it to break up, the sooner the better. Here are ten of them:
- The diseconomies of scale: Despite all the neoliberal myths, bigger is neither better nor more efficient. Size is actually all about power. It’s about the capacity of giant corporate oligopolies to control markets, eliminate competition, and own politicians, and have laws written in their interests (profits), not the interests of their customers. Research has repeatedly shown that bureaucracy explodes exponentially as size grows linearly, and that centralization increases, rather than decreases, per-capita costs of doing the same thing. Over 90% of mergers, both of corporations and of political entities, actually “destroy value” (the whole is less than the sum of the parts). And research also shows that, beyond a certain size, ‘representative’ democracy ceases to be either representative or democratic. Collapsing the massive bureaucracies of the US would free up billions in wasted money and resources to spend on local needs.
- Safety: Because jellyfish were gumming up desalination plants, the Japanese made robots to swim around the facilities cutting them up. The result? The pieces grew into independent jellyfish, greatly worsening the problem. The US is currently a symbol, not of freedom and democracy (if it ever was) but of power, oppression, greed and destructiveness. So it is a target for symbolic anti-oppression actions — hacking, attacks on buildings, sabre-rattling etc. Devolution of the US into a bunch of independent nations would actually improve each nation’s image and security, re-set the bar.
- No need to abandon one currency or border security: The ongoing EU experiment has shown that, in this day of mostly electronic trading, the currency you use is not terribly important. The independent nations could have both their own national currency and a regional American currency, so if one were to fail, the other could still be used. And the new nations could have bilateral agreements to protect shared borders while keeping the borders between them wide open. Again, the EU has showed how this might work.
- Diversity and cultural growth: The cultural polarization in the US has reduced every issue to a suffocating binary preference. In most of the possible ‘nations’ pictured in the map above, there is no such fierce, incapacitating internal disagreement, so each nation could pilot its own laws and programs, allowing others to see which ones work, and adopt or tailor them, or do their own thing.
- Agility: Decentralization nearly always increases the agility of organizations and states. Issues, whether emerging (economic & debt crisis, climate/ecological crisis) or old (abortion, health care, right-to-die, drug laws, poverty, inequality and homelessness) that have paralyzed and polarized the US, could be dealt with much more effectively at a regional level where citizens’ situations and values are much more coherent and shared.
- No longer a need for contiguity: When all business was done in person, and travel was a constant challenge, nations had to be physically contiguous. Almost no discontiguous nations have survived in past. But that is no longer the issue it once was. If it made sense, from a cultural, economic, ecological or values perspective for a nation to have two or more discontiguous parts, connected ‘virtually’ (and, while it lasts, by city-to-city air travel), I think that is doable in a way it never has been, and would be a fascinating model to watch.
- Eliminates one or more levels of government: I would foresee the current 3-4 levels of government Americans now have to deal with, being reduced to just two: the national and the local (county or municipality, whichever its residents choose). Devolving power in this way will almost of necessity improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of administration, reducing cost and bureaucracy. Coordination is always cheaper than integration.
- ‘Nature states’ vs ‘nation states’: As economic and ecological collapse worsens, we’re all going to have to become more locally self-sufficient, and not depend on imports for our well-being. That starts with awareness of our local ecology, its challenges and what it can reasonably support. Nations that share a common ecology will inevitably be able to grapple with these issues better than a nation whose boundaries reflect imperialist, expansionist history, not common ecology.
- How problems are actually solved: Whether they are political, social, economic, system or technological problems, most problems are solved at local scale, with the focused effort of people who deeply understand and care about the issues. When organizations get too large, hierarchy replaces collaborative problem solving, top-down replaces bottom-up decision making, and ideology replaces local knowledge as the basis for understanding and improving things, to everyone’s detriment.
- The US as a nation just doesn’t work: The federal and many state governments are dysfunctional, failing to represent anyone except the richest 1%. The transportation system is dysfunctional. The education system is dysfunctional. The health care system is a disgrace. The military is so bloated and out of control that it fails every year to pass a basic audit of responsibility for the trillions it spends. The US has been constantly at war with multiple nations, none of which the majority of citizens supports. How could breaking up the country into more manageable sized nations not be an improvement?
I’m not saying the map above is the best, or even a viable, way of breaking up the US. It’s just an illustration. As a Canadian who’s lived across the country, the five ‘nations’ touching the Canadian border line up well with the sensibilities of Canadians I know in the adjacent Canadian areas, so this map isn’t totally out to lunch. But with an appropriate citizen consultation process, I really think the break-up of the US in some way or another would be a good thing for all concerned. Easy for me to say. If it actually happens, it will more likely be because of bankruptcy, like the Soviet Union and the British Empire, than through civil war or negotiated breakup. Still, interesting to think about.