Thursday, 03 May 2018 10:59

The 28th Amendment: Breaking up the United States

The United States of America is falling apart.

It is taboo to say such a thing publicly, of course, because it is the truth - and a truth that threatens the established interests of the rich and powerful. They will naturally prefer to keep harping on the need for 'unity' - whatever that means, when the divisions between Americans are now so obvious and persistent - and focus public attention on the reality TV show now occupying the Oval Office.

But the country is tearing itself apart, and the "delay-and-pray" tendencies evident in our power elite's handling of the situation is unlikely up to the challenge of handling the mounting crisis consuming Washington D.C.

America's disintegration goes well beyond simple politics, though the stranglehold of the two-party system in D.C. and the complete surrender of both the democrats and republicans to the lobbyists of the "swamp" is a major driver. But the truth is that the United States of America has never been as coherent a political entity as we'd like to think it. Our federal system of government has always papered over very different societies existing within the boundaries of the USA, societies that don't simply reduce to a simple dichotomy of right/left, conservative/liberal, rural/urban. The information revolution has made it impossible to ignore our differences, and is also making it easier than it has ever been to understand our federal government for the monster it has become, a creature capable of doing tremendous harm to those designated other by our elites, and yet wholly incapable of reconciling the different versions of "America" that exist in our pluralistic nation.

The truth is, that we are in an age where big, complex, bureaucratic federal governments are having more and more difficulty coordinating the various bits of society according to a common interpretation of universal principles - that itself being a prerequisite for a society that functions. While virtually all Americans believe in the idea that our nation is supposed to guarantee the conditions for the "pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness", but we can no longer agree on the essential question of how to get the job done. This will eventually result in the disintegration of the United States of America as we've known it. The question is, whether this disintegration takes a cancerous form, where we are held together by a governing system that looks out for the interests of a privileged few, or a trajectory more conducive to systematic reform, one that lets the different Americas that already exist take control of their political, economic, and social future.

If the United States is moving toward eventual disintegration, then setting politics aside to consider how this situation can be managed to minimize the harm experienced by the majority of Americans is absolutely crucial. The most essential step in salvaging something of the wreck that America is rapidly becoming is to determine how we can collectively "sidestep" the D.C. swamp, and make it accountable to our needs, however we define them, wherever we choose to live.

There is only one way I can think of to make this happen: pass a Constitutional Amendment that fundamentally restructures the federal government, essentially by breaking up the existing unitary federal government into several regional federal governments. These will have near-complete autonomy, including the right to interpret and amend the Constitution within their jurisdictions. Only a few powers expressly delegated to D.C. by unanimous agreement of the new autonomous federal regions (collective defense against invasion or nuclear attack, common currency ($), as examples) will remain in the hands of whatever supra-national establishment these regions choose to maintain - similar to the relationship between Brussels and the rest of the European Union.

Here is a simple map (apologies that it is a bit slapdash) of the six autonomous regions I think would 'work' under this scheme, including their basic population and GDP statistics (taken from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis).

SimpleUSbreakup

This division of the US into 6 autonomous regions is ad-hoc, done according to my own personal sense of the different social divisions that exist within the United States that are visible at the state level. For a county-level assessment rooted in recent voting records, over the summer I did a different version of the US Breakup scenario (with more references to other work in this area).

Still, with this caveat aside, this simple split (if you can imagine it being real in about a decade's time) would allow the different Americas to establish their own independent trajectories - political, economic, and social. Each group of states (they could/should choose their own names, of course) would establish a new capitol and federal infrastructure, inheriting all the rights and responsibilities of the existing federal government. They would remain permanently associated under the flag and supra-national leadership in D.C., but rather than trying to make one big federal capitol located at the far eastern edge of the country accountable to all 325 million Americans, each capitol would only have to manage the affairs of 25-75 million Americans.

It is worth imaging the degree to which this would shake up the D.C. swamp. Lobbyists would have to relocate, politicians would suddenly find that their pool of colleagues was both smaller and generally facing the same kinds of pressures from similar kinds of voters. Rather than having every one of the major issues confronting the next generation of Americans (Black Lives Matter. Healthcare. Gun violence. Climate change Foreign policy. Size of government. The list goes on) get tied up in D.C., there would be a chance to actually make progress in large enough swaths of America to matter, and allow different federal regions to learn from one another.

This split also allows the different American economies to choose their own path forward, while keeping enough states grouped together to make sure that all the resulting regions have a high degree of economic competitiveness with respect to the rest of the world. To illustrate, here's how the six autonomous regions would stack up against other world economies by GDP:

1. China - $11 Trillion

2. Japan - $5 Trillion

3. Atlantic Union - 4.4 Trillion

4. United Southern States - 3.6 Trillion

5. Germany - $3.5 Trillion

6. Federation of Pacific States - $3.4 Trillion

7. Great Lakes Confederation - $2.9 Trillion

8. Plains Federation - $2.9 Trillion

9. United Kingdom - $2.6 Trillion

10. France - $2.5 Trillion

11. India - $2.3 Trillion

12. Italy - $1.9 Trillion

13. Brazil - $1.8 Trillion

14. Canada - $1.5 Trillion

15. South Korea - $1.4 Trillion

16. Russia - $1.3 Trillion

17. United Western States - $1.3 Trillion

18. Australia - $1.3 Trillion

Even the US region with the lowest GDP (the Intermountain West) has as large an economy as Russia or Australia. Both the Northeast and Southeast would have independent economies larger than any of the nations of Europe. The Pacific States would be on par with Germany, not far behind Japan. The simple truth is that given the difficulties in coordinating a continental sized economy, the United States may actually make more sense and be more economically competitive than at present, because you'd eliminate the rent seeking that is now, frankly, the primary reason Washington D.C. exists. I mean, just compare the per capita GDP of the District of Columbia (highest, at $160,000) to the poverty rate (7th worst, at 18.4%) and consider what that means in terms of income distribution.