A Change of Heart on Secession

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Those who have been reading me for some time know my feelings on secession. So you will be surprised to learn that I have had a change of heart. No I am not now of the opinion that states should be able to secede for light and transient causes. Rather, it is time we should forcibly make states secede. And we should start with California.

Despite deepening doubts about the cost and feasibility of a $70 billion high-speed rail proposed to cross California, the State Senate on Friday narrowly approved legislation to spend $8 billion in federal and state money to begin construction, starting with a 130-mile stretch through the rural Central Valley.

The vote came as the federal government threatened to withdraw $3.3 billion in financing for the 520-mile project if the Legislature did not approve the release of state bond money to begin construction. Democrats and Republicans expressed fear that the project could be remembered as a boondoggle passed when the state is struggling through a fiscal crisis.

So the state’s almost bankrupt – what’s a another $70 billion for a project that the citizens desperately want. They do want it, right?

Polls suggests that voters have turned against the project after voting for it in 2008. Several Democrats, in arguing against the expenditure, warned that voters would be less likely to approve a tax package on the ballot this fall that Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said was necessary to avoid more cuts in spending on education and other programs.

But at least high speed rail is itself a necessary public works project that will reduce traffic congestion and provide millions with a low-cost means of travel.

Weeellllll . . . .

While these criticisms all have merit, we can’t lose sight of the fact the biggest reason high-speed rail won’t work in the U.S. is that it doesn’t make sense as a project funded from general tax revenues. High-speed rail is not a public good and it’s not mass transit. It is corridor transit. At best, it’s a niche market serving a highly specialized, relatively wealthy, and narrow customer base (high-income business travelers with expense accounts and tourists). It won’t relieve urban traffic congestion and its contribution to improving air quality (or reducing carbon dioxide emissions) will be negligible because it won’t carry enough riders to make a big difference. These factors undermine high-speed rail justificatons based on public good arguments.

That said, a more important factor may be more straightforward and direct: Certain preconditions are necessary for corridor transit to work, and they don’t exist in the U.S. Most fundamentally, intercity rail needs to connect major urbandowntowns or large employment centers that are close together–withing a couple hundred miles of each other. (In this respect, the emphasis on density per se is misplaced; the key is the density of the destinations.)

We simply don’t have that many large downtowns in the U.S. We have several midsize metro areas, but the downtowns are mere shadows of their former selves and contain a very small minority of the region’s job base. High-speed rail is doomed to failure under the best of circumstances because it simply can’t generate ridership. Spain and Europe is an interesting case in point: high-speed rail connects very large urban centers with populations in the millions that are closely connected as the “bird flies”: London-Paris, Paris-Brussels, Paris-Lyon, Hamburg-Berlin, Florence-Rome, Madrid-Barcelona. Many of these cities are also very large: London and Paris both boast populations greater than 10 million. Rome, Berlin, Madrid, and Barcelona have populations between 2 million and 5 million.

To recap: the state is bankrupt, the voters don’t want to fund the high speed rail project, and the project would very likely have nowhere near the benefit its proponents suggest it will have.

Why of course it only makes sense to proceed.

Meanwhile, the state is cutting out a few things which might be a tad more critical.

California may very well sink into the ocean one day. Can we just cut it off before it sinks the rest of us?

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  1. California can take Chicago with it! I hereby announce the foundation of a movement for the sane part of Illinois to secede from Chicago! They can even keep the name Illinois. We will be the Land of Lincoln! Our State Song:

  2. I have long driven people from the room or my end of the bar by stating my case that we should trade Canada everything east of New York for everything west of Ontario. They would actually gain 3-4 million in population and be rid of those pesky, independent-minded west-provincial cowboys, and, while it might cost us New Hampshire, we’d be rid of Vermont, Connecticut and, most importantly, Massachusetts.

    Whoever’s left after that diatribe then gets to hear my plans to shrink Washington DC to an area bordered by K street on the north to 2nd Street on the east, south along that line to the rivers and then down, around and back northwest up to where the Rock Creek & Potomac meet K again just southeast of Georgetown. Maybe shoot east along M Street on the south to the river, to keep the Navy Yard.

    The rest reverts to Maryland which we can sell back to the Indians along with Delaware.

  3. Common’ the Government is on a roll subsidizing projects that go bellyup before the ink is dry on the check. Why stop now? Monopoly money is part of the game.

  4. “I hereby announce the foundation of a movement for the sane part of Illinois to secede from Chicago!”

    So where does the “sane part of Illinois” officially end and Chicago begin? At the city limits? At the Cook County line? Somewhere in the ‘burbs? At I-80 and/or I-39? Or somewhere else?

  5. Illinois of course has a tradition of secession movements:

    “In 1925, Cook County, which contains Chicago, considered seceding from Illinois as a new state named Chicago.[15] This proposal was revived in November 2011 by State Representatives Bill Mitchell and Adam Brown, who felt that all of Illinois outside of Cook County should become a separate state due to Chicago “dictating its views” to the rest of the state.[16]

    In 1861, the southern region of Illinois, known as Little Egypt, made a proposal to secede from the rest of Illinois due to cultural and political differences from Chicago and much of Central and Northern Illinois.[17]

    In the early 1970s residents of Forgottonia in western Illinois protested what they felt was a lack of concern for its needs, sparking a secession proposal.[18″

  6. “Judging from last year’s gubernatorial results I suspect that only Cook would be left to ‘Rump Illinois'”

    I dunno about that. It wasn’t that long ago that Illinois was a genuine highly coveted swing state that in presidential elections could go either way — in the 1960s and early 70s it had a status similar to Florida or Ohio today. Only in about the past 20-25 years has it become “blue,” and that isn’t because of Cook County alone; it’s because the suburbs or “collar counties” that used to be reliably GOP have swung the other way. So in order to truly purge Illinois of Chicago Democrat/liberal influence, you might have to lop off all or part of several collar counties, most likely including Lake (Waukegan) and Will (Joliet).

    Personally I would suggest using the following formula: communities in which the primary Major League Baseball rivalry is Cubs-White Sox are part of Chicago while communities in which the primary baseball rivalry is Cubs-Cardinals belong with Downstate.

  7. “it’s because the suburbs or “collar counties” that used to be reliably GOP have swung the other way.”

    Largely due to refugees from Cook County who brought their Dem ways with them. I hate to say it, but the large Catholic population in Cook County votes like Catholic populations in the Northeast of the country: heavily Democrat. The heavy Hispanic influx into the Chicago area in recent decades has also tilted the scales to the Democrats.

    However, without Cook County, most years, Illinois would be strongly Republican with the Democrats elected usually being far more conservative than the Democrats elected from Cook County.

  8. Truth.

    My commie, ex-twin brother (I refer to him as the wife’s brother-in-law) and his maoist, live-in girlfriend moved to New Hampshire because they refuse to pay Taxachussetts taxes. Such infiltrators are wrecking the “Live Free or Die” state.

    Superannuated commies are so “gay.”

  9. If high speed rail works only for connecting large urban centers a couple hundred miles apart, then it would make more sense someplace like Texas. Connecting Houston, Dallas, San Antonio (with a stop in Austin) seems to fit the bill. Of course, we already have Southwest Airlines that pretty much was born for that very reason, and would likely take a huge hit were such a rail to exist. There has been talk of the rail, and maybe even a vote or poll IIRC, but we can’t afford it any more than California.

  10. If we voted one state out of the union, reality-show style, I wonder who would get the boot? My bet is Texas, because enough non-Texans hate it, and a good number of Texans would vote to leave. Then again, nearly every New Yorker and Pennsylvanian would vote against New Jersey, so you can’t rule them out either. Maybe Cali would come in third.

  11. If we voted one state out of the union, reality-show style, I wonder who would get the boot?

    Not quite the same, but Public Policy Polling earlier this year did a state popularity contest, looking at party affiliation:


    California did worst because Democrats don’t like it very much and Republicans absolutely despise it; Texas ended up nearer the middle of the pack because people tend either to love it or to hate it, enough that the two tend to balance each other out. Hawaii wins the contest because Democrats absolutely love it and Republicans think it’s at least OK; I imagine that’s more because of hula dancers and beaches rather than cost of living or politics. Colorado and Tennessee finished second and third most popular and Illinois and New Jersey finished second and third most unpopular.

    The numbers, of course, are standing for so many things that they don’t really mean much. And, of course, not all states are equally in public eye — if I recall correctly there were both more people in the poll who hate (or hate) Texas than had any opinion at all about West Virginia. But it’s fun to look at.

  12. Why do people hate Texas ? I don’t think we hate the rest of you. We just ignore you. P.S. I though California had already seceded and rejoined Mexico.

  13. Massive, massive, MASSIVE cities, all built for automobiles bearing human cargo. Incomprehensible tangles of limited access highways. The bats on that bridge in Austin.

  14. Pinky said, “If we voted one state out of the union, reality-show style, I wonder who would get the boot? My bet is Texas.”

    Give us some tips! Many of us in here will happily engage in whatever behavior will help us get booted! (Within the bounds of morality, of course.)

  15. California can make this work! Declare mass transit a right and tax anyone not particpating in it. Thank you John Roberts and your corn flake legal mind.

    Obama will fix unemployment in a similar way. Declare employment a right and tax anyone not employed.

    The light of liberty burns a little dimmer these days.

  16. Along these lines, here are some humorous maps of the U.S. collected from the interwebs:

    — The Map of America As Seen By A New Yorker :


    — The Chicagoan’s view of the U.S.: Downstate Illinois is marked “Here be dragons” and the “cult of Illiniwek HQ” has been moved south to somewhere around Mt. Vernon:


    — The Texan’s Map of the United States:


    — And finally, the Californian’s Map of the United States:


  17. Growing up in New York City we pretty much viewed anything north of the Bronx as “upstate,” that faraway land of unattached housing and probably cows and stuff.

  18. Radio show had an interesting hypothetical. What if the U.S. agreed to split and make two countries, one run by democrats and the other by republicans? Which one would people move to? Why? Which one would be the most successful? Why?

  19. that faraway land of unattached housing and probably cows and stuff.

    The boundary is around Peekskill and dairy farming was important up until comparatively recently.

  20. As some have intimated, it makes no difference to evict a state if the residents can move to the remainder, Puerto Rico like. Leftists have no cognitive dissonance in fleeing a leftist disaster and then voting for another one where they relocated.

  21. The big divide in the US isn’t between states; it’s rural vs urban. Or rural/small-town versus urban/commuters. It’s an odd thing, but Austin has more in common with Philadelphia politically than either city has with people who live an hour away. There’s the occasional Republican city, and there are small-town hippies in Iowa and Oregon, but for the most part the pattern holds. You couldn’t create a Republican and a Democratic US by dividing “red” and “blue” states like Kyle mentioned. It’s a good thing too, or else a lot of people would be pushing for it.

    I wonder if that’s a cause or an effect of our current political climate? We don’t have North vs South any more, or frontier vs civilization. Instead we have a hostile standoff in nearly every state capitol. It seems like every state has a good 40% of the population who can’t stand the rest of the state.

  22. Many large cities contain liberals because flies are attracted to honey. If you like powerful government and entitlements, you need to be close to the bureaucracy. However, their population can be easily outnumbered by the more conservative burbs and rural areas.

    This is not country vs. city. There is a philosophical divide. My hypothetical asks what would happen if the nation divided in two, one with a conservative governance headed by the republicans and the other containing the liberals. Where would most people move? Which would be more successful?

    Given the path the liberals have taken America, I would not object to the hypothetical becoming reality. The only problem is how to keep the liberals out of conservative country when they begin to migrate from their self-destruction. And, would citizens of conservative country be able to stomach watching liberal country become third world?

  23. Kyle – Two points. First of all, the conservatives don’t overwhelmingly outnumber the liberals, at least if voting is any indication. The last several presidential races have been dead heats, and both houses of Congress have been remarkably close in composition since 1994, except for the Democrats’ wins in the Senate in 2006-2008. More people self-identify as conservative than as liberal, but self-identification doesn’t mean much.

    Secondly, while I agree that there is a philosophical divide, it does mirror the urban/rural divide pretty closely. In every state I can think of, the metro areas’ Democratic vote is countered by the outlying areas’ Republican vote.

  24. Maybe it wasn’t just pop malarky when Barbra “Liberals Did Wonderful Things During WW2” Streisand sang “People . . . People who need people . . .”

    It seems that’s the kind of people who live in cities. Country folks don’t need anything but their guns and their religion.

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