The Great State of Northern Virginia

by on April 26, 2006 at 7:15 am in Economics, Political Science | Permalink

Competitive federalism has many advantages.  Citizens can move to communities that better reflect their preferences for public goods, they can vote with their feet, thereby penalizing poorly performing governments, and they can serve as a salutary example for others by trying out new ideas in governing.   

Yet, in 1789 the United States had 13 states and four million people.  If the number of states had grown as fast as the number of people or if
we in the United States had about the same amount of federalism as do
the contemporary Swiss we would today have about 1000 states.

I think we need more states.  If 1000 sounds extreme why is 50 the magic number?  And why is 50 the magic number when the population is 150 million as when it is 300 million?

James Buchanan (my colleague not the one who was President) once asked, "Who will join me in offering to make a small contribution to the Texas Nationalist Party?  Or to the Nantucket Separatists?"  I side with Jim, in saying sign me up!

spencer April 26, 2006 at 8:12 am

I believe Texas has the legal right to split into several sttes.

Matt McIntosh April 26, 2006 at 9:23 am

Arnold Kling floated exactly this idea last year.

Martin April 26, 2006 at 10:07 am

Slocum suggests that we might “devolve more power down to the regional level.”

The problem with this idea, a good one at face value, is that the exact opposite has been occurring naturally. Why one wonders?

Liberals and perhaps libertarians as well would suggest that it may be the role of money in politics. Large players have more to gain from having a larger affect on a larger base. Call it cost efficiency combined with critical mass.

Or another tack, government is organized, among other things, to regulate commerce. When commerce was predominantly the family farm, the county government unit was the best fit.

As a native Californian, I would be personally happy if the fantasy that our state might be split into two, better yet three, new states came to pass. But in spite of the cultural differences between say the OC and the SF Bay Area, this ain’t Yugoslavia (yet) and it ain’t going to happen.

Daniel Wolf April 26, 2006 at 10:44 am

Prior to admission, there were serious discussions of the divisions of the present California and Texas into several states, in the case of California two or three states, and Texas, up to five. These discussions were framed around both national and local issues: slavery and the status of the Missouri compromise was the dominant national issue, while migration, density, long-term interests vs. interests of recent migrants, familiarity with US institutions, and taxation were the dominant local topics.

For an excellent discussion of California’s statehood process:

http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/publications/journals/shq/online/v017/n2/article_1.html

Brock April 26, 2006 at 11:14 am

Too bad splitting up States is specifically prohibitted in the Constitution.

Maybe government services could be allocated, and regulated, by Congressional district?

A Tykhyy April 26, 2006 at 11:30 am

salutAry

Gee, even economists make spelling mistakes. Seriously, the amount of bad (English) spelling in the world has reached simply obscene proportions. I wonder what an economist would do about that.

John Thacker April 26, 2006 at 11:59 am

At the very least an increase in the number of Representatives seems reasonable. There’s no reason for it to be fixed. New Hampshire has a decent idea.

ptm April 26, 2006 at 1:05 pm

“Who will join me in offering to make a small contribution to the Texas Nationalist Party”

The DNC.

A Tykhyy April 26, 2006 at 1:48 pm

R.Schwartz: drawing boundaries along watersheds is a very sensible idea. In poorer parts of the world, water rights are frequently the cause for violent conflict, but this is a problem in every place which uses irrigation for farming.

A Tykhyy April 26, 2006 at 2:03 pm

I wonder if anyone has explored the idea of having several states/governments over the same territory, with different citizens and firms participating in different ones. Actually when I think about it, that’s partly what Mafia is, an alternative government although probably not fully functional.

Will Baude April 26, 2006 at 3:50 pm

Two points of order.

1, the Constitution doesn’t prohibit creating some states out of old ones, it just requires that this creation be done with the consent of the original state. (Thus, the constitutionality of West Virginia).

2, The United States consented to the Texas-split-up when Texas was admitted into the union, and to my knowledge has never repealed it, so Texas could probably split by unilateral action.

Michael Stokes Paulsen and Vasan Kesavan have written on both of these topics.

MIke April 26, 2006 at 8:37 pm

     Indeed it the Constitution does not prohibit the partition of states. In Article IV, Section 3 it explicitly provides that:

New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states 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.

     West Virginia came about as a state in a fashion similiar to the anecdote about the Republic of Winston. A shadow government of sorts in the original state of Virginia was set up in the northwest of Virginia (comprising by-and-large what we know now as WV) where the secessionist, Confederate government wasn’t able to assert itself and after a time into the Civil War this shadow government declared that it wanted to partition Virginia into Virginia and West Virginia and since president Lincoln and the Union Congress recognized this shadow government in Charleston as the real government of Virginia, consent to the partition and welcomed the new State of West Virginia into the Union and Congress seated the Representatives and Sentators thereof as any other member of their body.
     It isn’t very likely that even if a state legislature decided it wanted to partition its state into several states that Congress would consent to it for the obvious reasons of diluting the representation of larger states.
     Back home in Iowa the reverse debate is going on: there have been numerous movements over the past 10-15 years to merge county governments or county courts or rural school districts and almost every time any such measure is proposed it is soundly defeated. The public justifications for keeping 99 county governments in Iowa is usually something spurious along of the lines of, “How are the elderly and invalid supposed to have access to their government services if the seat of local government is more than the present half-days horse ride?”

washerdreyer April 26, 2006 at 10:46 pm

I was going to mention the constitutional and Texas-related items that Will did, but he beat me to it.

Also, the above comment on increasing the number of representatives is something I generally agree with (even doubling it wouldn’t be particularly extreme), though it greatly increases the oppurtunity for both partisan and sweetheart gerrymanders, so something would have to be done to counteract that effect. Both historically (within the U.S.) and globally (compared to other democracies) we have an extremely high number of electors per lower house representative (adding in the number of Senators because many democracies are acutally or functionally unicameral doesn’t substantially alter this comparison of ratios).

Patrick April 26, 2006 at 11:01 pm

Australia regularly has a similar debate, and one significant factor that everyone hints at, but never outright states, is that local governments are more corrupt.

This is probably due to media exposure. Every media outlet in the country would love to reveal that the prime minister accepted bribes, or that his cousin owns the company that just benefited from the new rules on X.

Every media outlet in the state would do the same thing to the state government, though other states would only cover it on a slow news day, or in a “see what the fools who live in South Australia are like” type story.

The local council? IF your town still has a local paper you might get a story, providing the editor wasn’t the mayor’s cousin on the other side of her family, not that any voters would read the local paper anyway.

We all see this, and so, we just don’t trust the local governments. And we trust states less than the feds. Hence no real fight whenever power is pushed further up the tree to state or federal gov.s. Such a power grab is often done just after a local scandal of some sort provides an excuse.

Nathan Zook April 27, 2006 at 10:13 am

Patrick, I’ve never considered your suggestion as the explanation for the death of federalism. I’ll need to mull on it.

The Texas breakup ain’t happening.

1) All statewide elected officials (and all who see themselves as likely to become such) including the Speaker of the House, will loose power, and several of them would effectively have to personally consent.

2) Texas’ treaty of admission (indeed, no treaty at all) can be a side agreement to the constitution. The supremacy clause, which grants eforcement authority to treaties, is also the clause that Jay argued granted the courts constitutional review. A treaty which violates the constitution is unenforceable in its unconstitutional clauses, just as is a statute. The subdivison clause of the Texas treaty clearly contravenes the no reduction without consent clause of the constitution.

3) Any special rights of the confederate states would have been lost upon readmission, barring a restatement. I doubt that the subdivision clause was restated.

Anthony April 27, 2006 at 5:16 pm

There’s an interesting website which attempts to locate communities of interest across the US: Common Census.

A lot of organizational behavior appears to scale roughly with the square root of the population; that would make the optimum number of states about 110-115, assuming that 13 was optimum in 1790.

Robert Book April 28, 2006 at 2:23 am

One thing that’s always puzzled me is why it seems that larger states seem to have higher taxes (and thus presumably higher per-capita spending) than small states. Non-economists always say “it’s because they have more people, so they have more expenses” but that’s obviously wrong — they also have more people to tax, so the tax rates should be at most the same.

It seems there are diseconomies of scale in state population. Any idea why?

Bob V May 12, 2006 at 10:01 am

I largely agree, but I can think of at least one disadvantage to competition in government. Currently, very large companies can shop around states and cities for those that will offer them favorable tax treatment. This sounds good because it exerts pressure to reduce taxes. However, firms choose their new locations based on the specific tax package that is offered to them, not to the tax climate of the location in general. In accordance, states raise taxes on small businesses, property owners, and citizens in order to subsidize the tax exemptions they provide to large businesses. It is unfair, if not also inefficient.

If more states led to more of this, I would oppose it.

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Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 1:21 am

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