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Christopher Graves

I love Professor Becker's analysis of the trend to break-up states containing more than one naturally formed nation. There are also other advantages to smaller, more homogeneous states. One is the amplifying of the principle of subsidiarity, so that decisions are made with more immediate feedback loops and by people who are more highly motivated to act since they are more directly involved in the social, political, and economic web of relations in a community or region. These actors can also take advantage of the implicit information transmitted by custom and habit indigenous to a particular region that structure their decisions.

Greater homogeneity and smaller populations foster greater cooperation within a political entity reducing transaction costs of all types of interactions, especially collective decision-making. Democracy works best with small homogeneous populations as a number of political theorists have observed.

De-centralization also fosters greater diversity that allows a better fit among people, culture, climate, history, geography and other factors so that folkways and their attendant political, legal, economic structures can evolve more spontaneously and effectively.


When it comes to Scale be it political, economic, social, cultural, there is a phenomenon at work known as Synergism. Or as it is known in the economic world as "Economies of Scale". Do you really believe that the likes of the State of Mississippi could have developed the Space Program, Interstate Highway System, the National Electric Grid, etc., etc. Or managed to stop the Nazi's dead in their tracks of world domination. Or contained the Soviets behind the Iron Curtain, Or etc., etc.

I'll stick with Synergism and Economies of Scale any day...

Terry Bennett

The two posts above aptly highlight the tradeoffs between enlarging and reducing the size of countries. In the peculiar case of the U.S. 200 years ago, the idea of a "federation" was precisely an attempt to achieve the available strengths of union without acquiring the inevitable weaknesses. Over time, the state of our union has become stronger and the strengths more apparent, and regional bickering in our time doesn't really amount to much. (Texas isn't holding anything.)

If Jefferson had not stuck his neck out on the Louisiana Purchase, we'd be sitting across a river from another country twice our size. One could speculate that the Mississippi would have ended up more analogous to the St. Lawrence than to the Rio Grande, but I for one am glad Jefferson did not take that risk.

Christopher is right, that if people don't like each other, they probably aren't going to like living together. The real split comes when people don't respect each other. This is why communism doesn't scale. People within the phenotypical communal unit, the family, have strong sympathies for one another, and freely give of their substance when a brother or cousin is in need; a Germanic Pennsylvania steel worker on the other hand might not be so magnanimous about seeing his taxes accrue to the benefit of illegals in the southwest.

In the case of the U.S., the benefits of sheer size have far outweighed the disadvantages. We have enough room that whole enclaves of people who think differently from others can live out their lives without butting heads. A citizen of the south never need visit the northwest and confront the eccentricities of its denizens, nor vice versa. On the whole, I'm with 'hat - we're better off big.

Christopher Graves

Well, Terry, I did not intend my comments above to apply strictly to the United States. I see the trend to break apart states that attempt to fuse different nations within them as salutary. I am encouraged by Catalonia's efforts to gain independence as I am independence movements in Scotland and Wales. It is possible that much of the upheaval we are witnessing in the Middle East might sort itself out as new nations are formed that better reflect the natural lay of the land and the peoples there.

Notice that I did not say that people have to dislike or disrespect one another to want to establish and maintain distinctive ways of life and all that goes with those differences. I love the differences and respect those of various cultures. I do dislike very intensely monoculture and its "cooler" cousin, cosmopolitanism.

Historian David Hackett Fischer makes an important distinction between 'liberty' and 'freedom.' Fischer notes that "the words themselves had differing origins: the Latinate 'liberty' implied separation and independence. The root meaning of 'freedom' (akin to 'friend') connoted attachment: the rights of belonging in a community of freepeople." People should have the freedom to form their own communities without regulation from a distant central power. If communities and regions can form loose confederations that leave most decision making at the local or regional level, that is fine with me. The Swiss have such an arrangement as did the U.S. before the Civil War. But there are limits to the size and scope of centralized power that is still consistent with the freedom of communities and regions to maintain their autonomy. Frankly, I do see the Federal government in the United States during the past century as threatening to this freedom.

Colin Woodard has an interesting account of the various nations that make up the United States in his *American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.* These ways of life and the governing philosophy embedded within each are inconsistent with one other even as they suit each nation. If the centralizing and homogenizing trends not only of the Federal government but also of corporations keeps increasing, I see secession as an option. But I am certainly open to returning to a more Jeffersonian approach to government that we saw earlier in our history that emphasizes the freedom to reflect our differences at the community and state level.

Terry Bennett

Christopher, thank you for citing Woodard. I had seen a prerelease review of the book and looked forward to reading it but then I couldn't remember the name of it. I've just placed my order and will soon be as informed and erudite as you. As for substance, I do not think we are very far apart (although I will be very surprised if your secessionist movement goes anywhere). Remind me about this in a few months.


This comment may cause some controversy, but it must be pointed out that in 1949 it was mainland China, under communist rule, that broke away from the Republic of China. Strictly speaking, the People's Republic of China government in Beijing is a separatist regime. Beijing's relentless effort to "unite" Taiwan (under Republic of China rule since 1945) with mainland China (under communist rule since 1949) is a masked effort to crush any rival challenging its claim as the sole representative of whole China. Call it paranoia or what, a regime founded on violence and force ought to be paranoid.

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