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.


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