Results for “secession”
42 found

What is the best way to think about secession?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

When an empire is crumbling, and the rulers are very bad, the libertarian approach to secession makes good sense. That said, it’s not a fully general principle.

Sometimes a region wants to leave a country because of differences of ethnicity, religion, language or background culture, as is the case with the Scottish independence movement and the Catalonian secessionists. In those instances, it’s not obvious whether a unified or a newly independent government would result in greater liberty and prosperity. And for all the strong feelings you will find, I am not sure there is an objectively correct moral answer as to whether there should be one nation or two.

We do know, however, that political tensions rise and emotions tend to flare as such secessions approach the realm of possibility. For instance, there is a chance the government of Spain would react aggressively to what it perceives as an unconstitutional Catalonian secessionist attempt. Madrid might institute legal sanctions against Catalonian leaders or, in an extreme case, send in troops. The final result could be no independence and less liberty in all parts of Spain.

The problem is that people are often overly passionate about political boundaries, and an extra dose of irrationality isn’t exactly what the world needs right now. To cite another example of this problem, the Brexit referendum seems to have lowered the quality of debate and governance within the U.K.

There is much more at the link, including a discussion of why the American Revolution might have nonetheless been a good idea, and also why the libertarian approach needs to be supplemented with conservative ideas.

How democratic was Southern secession?

Perhaps less than you might think.  There is a new paper by Mario L. Chacon and Jeff I. Jensen:

We use the Southern secession movement of 1860-1861 to study how elites in democracy enact their preferred policies. Most states used specially convened conventions to determine whether or not to secede from the Union. We argue that although the delegates of these conventions were popularly elected, the electoral rules favored slaveholders. Using an original dataset of representation in each convention, we first demonstrate that slave-intensive districts were systematically overrepresented. Slaveholders were also spatially concentrated and could thereby obtain local pluralities in favor of secession more easily. As a result of these electoral biases, less than 10% of the electorate was sufficient to elect a majority of delegates in four of the six original Confederate states. We also show how delegates representing slave-intensive counties were more likely to support secession. These factors explain the disproportionate influence of slaveholders during the crisis and why secessionists strategically chose conventions over statewide referenda.

Not entirely unlike the first American secession!

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Secession threats magnify petty resentments (there is no core, ultimately)

Here is the latest:

David Cameron faces a “bloodbath” at the hands of Tory MPs after all three parties pledged to continue high levels of funding for Scotland if it rejects independence.

The Prime Minister is facing mounting dissent among English backbenchers after promising that Scotland’s special funding arrangements will continue even when the country is given control over its own taxation and spending.

One Tory MP said the promise to Scottish voters, issued by Mr Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in the Daily Record newspaper, “smacks of desperation”.

Under the Barnett formula, devised in the 1970s by Labour Treasury minister Lord Barnett, spending is allocated according to population size, rather than the amount each country actually needs.

Critics say this gives Scotland an unfair share of government spending and even Lord Barnett has called for it to be replaced.

According to research at Stirling University, England loses around £4.5 billion of public spending every year because the money is handed to Scotland instead

In other words, this story will not end with a “no” vote from Scotland, unless it is strongly decisive.  Regardless of the result, allowing this referendum to go forward likely will go down as one of the greatest unforced errors in recent times.

Andreu Mas-Collel calls for Catalonian secession

The article, in Spanish, is here.  He refers to staying in Spain as “el camino de la decadencia.”  By the way, he is now the finance minister of Catalonia.

He taught me Ph.d Micro I at Harvard, so it’s too bad he wants to wreck both Spain and Europe, and for so little in return.  Didn’t one of his theorems suggest this was a bad idea?  It’s not as if Catalonia is treated like Tibet.  (Haven’t I spent a few nice days walking around Barcelona in my time?  Didn’t Air Genius Gary Leff get a decent meal at El Bulli?  Didn’t they once make a young people’s movie about the place in which no one has to do any work?)  Don’t we have bigger problems to worry about?  How easily does he think negotiations for separation can go, especially with entire eurozone deals at stake and a Spanish history of sending in troops?  He mentions that the territory is subjected to «humillación constante» de España.  Maybe he’s been misquoted, but from what I see I take this as a paradigm example of how a really smart person can be taken in by rather primitive tribal arguments.

The only way to defend this move is a kind of Leninist “things must get worse before they get better” approach to the eurozone.  Even if that is true, this hardly seems like the smoothest way of traversing that path.

For the pointer I thank @AlexFont.


In advance of July 4, Patri Friedman and co-bloggers are discussing secession (remember, we call it the American revolution they call it secession) at Let a Thousand Nations Bloom.  Here is Patri on secession as a startup

America did not merely secede and copy the governing documents or style of the United Kingdom. Rather, it innovated, creating a system based on the English Common Law, yet different, one with explicit checks and balances to restrain government, and with no place for a monarch. It was an experiment with a more radical form of democracy than existed anywhere in the 18th-century world.

And it was an incredibly successful experiment, as the combination of that innovative rule-set and the empty frontier resulted in America growing rapidly in population, wealth, and influence. During the open immigration periods of the 19th century, some years saw over a million new immigrants arrive “yearning to breathe free”. As a result, the new American state had influence far beyond its shores.

This influence occured in two major ways. First, America served as a test of the brand-new American Constitution, and the Founding Fathers’ philosophy about the role of government. By showing that it worked well in practice, political philosophers, politicians, voters, and revolutionaries around the world were (slowly) convinced that this was the best government technology to be had. Second, America dramatically outcompeted existing states, based on the simple metric of net migration. Those million+ people a year who went to America can be thought of as customers of government services voting with their feet, which means that other countries were losing market share.

You may not be used to thinking of government in this sort of economic and business framework, but it is a core part of our philosophy here at Let A Thousand Nations Bloom, and we find it provides a unique and refreshing angle on government. In this case, it shows us the invisible, long-term effects of the American Revolution.

They are covering a lot of other related material such as the optimal size and number of nations this week as well.  Here is a guide.  On a related point, I argued earlier for The Great State of Northern Virginia.

Finally, don’t forget: If at first you don’t secede, try, try again.

The economics of secession

The classic paper is Buchanan and Faith, AER 1987.  Here is a recent extension of this classic work, with a dash of economic determinism:

Secessionist movements present themselves to the global public as analogues of colonial liberation movements: long-established identities are denied rights of self-determination by quasi-imperial authorities. Self-determination is presented as the solution to the challenge of peaceful coexistence between distinct peoples. The global public not only accepts this message but reinforces it: both Hollywood and diasporas relay it back to populations in developing countries. In this paper, we will argue that the discourse of secessionist movements cannot be taken at face value. We will suggest that a more realistic characterization of secessionist movements is that their sense of political identity is typically a recent contrivance designed to support perceived economic advantage, if the secession is successful, and facilitated by popular ignorance.

There are, of course, plenty of successful secessions.  Slovakia has been successful nation because of a language and a desire to be free of Czech rule, backed by EU free trade, EU largesse and political precommitment.  Or secession can help you break free of an evil empire, such as when Georgia left the former Soviet Union.  The most likely American state to make a success out of secession is, I think, Texas (or offer up your pick in the comments).  A Texan nation is hardly a good idea, but at least the state is big, has a diversified economy, has an outlet to the water, has a history of independence, and has a border with another nation, namely Mexico. 

The least likely American state to make a success of secession is, I think…Alaska.  The state takes in lots of federal money, has only a small natural population base, and is not too far from Russia.  Here are some data on which states receive the most on net from the federal government.  According to these numbers, only the state of New Mexico benefits more in (proportional) fiscal terms.  The states which fare the worst from federal transfers are New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Illinois.


Recently Killington voted to secede from Vermont and join New Hampshire. Some people find this desire quixotic since Killington is smack dab in the middle of Vermont. The classic Tiebout argument says that voting with one’s feet helps to discipline government and provide a better match between government and citizen preferences. But why should the dissidents have to pack their bags? It’s the Vermont taxes that the residents of Killington want to escape not the skiing. Wouldn’t it be less costly to switch governance rather than citizens?

Does such a system sound crazy? Perhaps, but it is essentially the same supra-competitive federalism that has worked well for corporate law, so maybe we ought to give it a try.

And remember, if at first you don’t secede, try, try again.

Nothing Secedes Like Secession

I’m in Tucson for a conference. Haven’t been here for a while and it’s striking how different the world looks here in the Southwest compared to the East Coast and most everywhere else. Desert. Cacti. The architecture. Javelinas–little wild boars. Saw some on the 18th hole of the resort’s golf course, wandering around. Even the squirrels are different here.

We take it for granted that this is part of America. But this nation from sea to shining sea could easily be lots of different countries a la Europe. Jay Winik in April 1865: The Month That Saved America talks about how unlikely it appeared in say, 1790 or 1820 that the US would become what it is today. Before the Civil War, the Whiskey Rebellion threatened to split off the western part of the United States. New England almost signed a treaty with England and split rather than join in on the War of 1812. California and Oregon considered forming a Pacific Nation.

By the end of the 1820s and into the early 1830s…when many Americans spoke of the Union, however much they had come to love it, they spoke of “our confederacy,” or more simply of “the Republic.” The Constitution, however revered, was a “compact.” The United States was just as often “the states United,” or “the united States,” or even “a league of sovereign states,” and was invariably spoken of as a plural noun.

Would it make any difference if Arizona were another country? Besides the hassle of going through customs for this conference, it might make a lot of difference. It would depend on the institutions and culture. Without American culture, trust, legal system and so on, there might not be a resort here, there might not be a booming Tucson. And of course, it could be even better. And had Arizona or other states broken away, it would have changed how the rest of the country evolved along the way.

Here’s David Friedman’s theory of the size and shape of nations.

How Mexico built a state (that was then, this is now)

Mexico in the nineteenth century presents a dramatic example of this problem. Mexico suffered extreme political instability and strife in the nineteenth century. There were 800 revolts between 1821 and 1875. Between independence in 1821 and 1900, Mexico had 72 different chief executives, meaning that the average term was only a little more than one year long. Likewise, the country had 112 finance ministers between 1830 and 1863. In addition there were several invasions and secessionist movements.

The country also experimented with several different forms of government, including two empires (one headed by a French-backed, Austrian-born member of the Habsburg dynasty), one disputed period where there were presidents from both main parties, four republics, one provisional republic, and a long dictatorship. President Guadalupe Victoria was the first constitutionally elected president of the country, and the only one who would complete a full term in the first 30 years of independence.

Some other examples: There were four Mexican presidents in the years 1829, 1839, 1846, 1847, and 1853, while there were five in 1844 and 1855 and eight in 1833. Antonio López de Santa Anna, who was President of Mexico on ten separate occasions, was president four different times in a single year.

Mexico faced constant challenges to its sovereignty in the first 50 years of independence, from the secessions of Texas and Central America, to the secession attempts of the Yucatán, as well as numerous smaller rebellions.

Here is more from the excellent Robin Grier, from Works in Progress.  There are further points of interest in the piece.

The politics of neuroticism and unhappiness

I’ve said this before, but the evidence for the proposition continues to mount: current political debate in America cannot be understood without the concept of neuroticism — as a formal concept from personality psychology — front and center.

And also as I’ve said before — neurotic isn’t the same thing as wrong!

Perhaps more importantly yet, even if a political ideology has a dominant vibe, the variance of temperaments within that ideology remains high, and high relative to the differences across ideologies.  I wonder whether, as the “vibes” of particular ideologies become more public and more salient through social media, whether this does not lead to partial secessions?  (Is Nate Silver one example of this?)

Imagine a future — or how about a present — where “people with a positive attitude” is actually an organizing intellectual and ideological principle?  Yes, that world can be ours, we need only to will it so.

Thursday assorted links

1. Agglomeration is good for research scientists, even taking costs into account.

2. The demand for secession is more about identity than income.

3. Will Germany succeed in building a new LNG terminal swiftly?

4. Publishing statistics, and how many copies a book actually sells.

5. Single-use plastic grocery bags are pretty environmentally friendly.

6. Health insurers just published nearly a trillion pieces of  health care price information.

7. Summers responds to Krugman.

Might the status of India and Pakistan fundamentally change?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the LiveMint version, here is one excerpt:

The status quo between India and Pakistan is temporary. The world should start thinking about a future in which the two nations have a fundamentally different relationship.

Full reunification, of course, is difficult to imagine. But there are many possible options that fall short of that: a loose confederation, a NAFTA-like trade structure, a military alliance, even a broader regional reconfiguration under which each nation loses some territory but the remaining parts move closer together.


What about arguments on the other side? They are mostly longer-term.

First, it’s worth noting that major changes in borders — whether through conquest, secession or unification — are the historical norm. In this respect, the post-colonial era is an anomaly. One view is that this era of relative stability will continue. Another is that it will prove temporary, and frequent border changes will become common once again — just as the border between Russia and Ukraine is being contested again.

If this second view is correct, India and Pakistan are hardly such longstanding, well-defined nations that they are natural candidates to stay exactly as they are. Both their borders and their political arrangements can quickly change.

Just think how unlikely today’s configuration in the Middle East might have seem fifty years ago.  We now have Iran as the enemy of Israel and America, a democratic Iraq, a devastated Syria, a wealthy UAE friendly with Israel, a rather passive Egypt at peace with Israel, and Lebanon no longer the jewel of the region, among other major surprises.  Get over your recency bias!

I suspect Ethiopians and Eritreans will have a relatively easy time digesting this argument.

Will this revolution be televised?

More than a century after the artists of the Vienna Secession declared “to every age its art; to art its freedom”, the Austrian capital has found a new site for artistic expression free from censorship: the adults-only platform OnlyFans.

Vienna’s tourism board has started an account on OnlyFans – the only social network that permits depictions of nudity – in protest against platforms’ ongoing censorship of its art museums and galleries.

In July, the Albertina Museum’s new TikTok account was suspended and then blocked for showing works by the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki that showed an obscured female breast, forcing the museum to start a new account. This followed a similar incident in 2019, when Instagram ruled that a painting by Peter Paul Rubens violated the platform’s community standards which prohibit any depictions of nudity – even those that are “artistic or creative in nature”.

In 2018, the Natural History Museum’s photograph of the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf figurine was deemed pornographic by Facebook and removed from the platform.

The Leopold Museum has likewise struggled to promote its collection of nudes by the expressionist Egon Schiele, with advertising regulators in Germany, the UK and US refusing to show them in a city tourism campaign in 2018. (The tourist board successfully resubmitted the posters with banners obscuring the bare bodies reading: “Sorry – 100 years old but still too daring today.”)

Here is more from The Guardian, via Jason D.

Tuesday assorted links

1. What would one-dimensional chess look like?

2. Very high implicit marginal tax rates for poor people (link fixed).

3. Very good Jason Furman thread on inflation uncertainty.

4. The power of median inflation.

5. Buy shares in your favorite musicians?

6. Andreu Mas-Colell is in trouble for secessionary activities.  And more from Pol AntrasHans Peter Grüner says: “It is hard to imagine that someone capable of writing such a wonderful textbook could have done anything that makes him deserve that kind of treatment.”

7. Very negative take on El Salvador and bitcoin.