The idea of splitting some of our larger states into smaller ones isn't bad. Smaller states have a real shot at being both more accountable and more efficient.
Recently an obscure county supervisor in California made headlines by declaring that the mostly inland, mostly conservative, parts of the state should break away: “California” would be the coastal and northern areas, and “Southern California” would be the nation’s 51st state.
It’s not a new idea; both the Left and the Right have been tossing divorce schemes around for years. But the amount of attention it’s getting is unusual. As the state’s budget deficit gets larger and its politics gets more polarized, the idea that regions can solve their problems by just getting rid of each other has celebrity appeal.
It’s not just the golden state. While Andrew Cuomo’s improbable success as governor has quieted the talk of splitting New York’s “upstate” and “downstate” into Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the idea’s never far below the surface. As with California, New York’s regions have significantly different demographics, economies and political outlooks. Upstate New York wants to know why it should be shackled with economic policies that only make sense for New York City, while downstate hates to even be associated with Buffalo.
There’s actually a lot going for the idea of splitting some of our larger states into smaller ones. The whole premise behind having state governments is that home rule matters; we should be governed by people who can actually represent us. But California has a population around 37 million that is represented by a little more than 100 legislators. In a situation like that, home rule isn’t really possible. The same dynamic is at play in New York.
Just as crucially, the work of government is increasingly complex. Medicare, welfare, law enforcement, environmental regulations and business regulations have gotten exponentially more complicated over the last 40 years. Managing this complexity is hard enough for a few million people; New York’s population is 20 million.
Smaller states have a real shot at being both more accountable and more efficient. Those aren’t small virtues.
But creating smaller states also creates duplication of effort. Two statehouses, two departments of education, two state police. While each new state might be more efficient than the one they split off from, the total amount of resources used might very well grow instead of shrink. At that point, separate states becomes penny wise but pound foolish, and the United States as a whole is worse off for it.
Whether it makes sense to split states up can be determined through careful study. If New York’s bureaucracies are already split into upstate and downstate divisions then the duplication of effort is already happening. At that point, why not let two separate systems do well at something one unified system is failing miserably at?
I suspect that this is the case in New York, and that a careful analysis of the costs and benefits would show it.
But California seems to be a different case. Upstate and Downstate New York are comfortable being distant neighbors. But in California, one gets the sense that the inland parts of the state hate the northern and coastal regions with a fury so cold it burns, while the coastal regions regard inland California as backward barbarians at the gate.
They may talk about efficiency, but to the extent California really wants to split up it seems like it has a lot more to do with contempt than it does a chance to do things right. From San Francisco liberals to Temecula County conservatives, it’s not enough to be represented by people “like you” at the statehouse, you have to get rid of the representatives of “people like them.”
It’s precisely this loathing that has made California so ungovernable. And while splitting the state might actually work, it also seems like exactly the kind of behavior we don’t want to encourage.
America is more segregated by income, class and political affiliation than ever before. Our communities have gone from being melting pots to processing plants. Some Californians are now saying that one of our largest states isn’t big enough to hold those differences.
It’s also said that California is typically 10 years ahead of the rest of America. That’s terrifying, but it’s sometimes true. So it’s crucial that any discussion of splitting a state go beyond “we can’t live with those people.”
California’s state gridlock parallels Congress’ too closely. We need to find ways of making constructive policies with people we don’t agree with.
Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media, and is the editor of Fiction365.com. Email him at Benjamin@Fiction365.com.