Thursday, May 12, 2005

Adjusting the Size of States

One of the puzzles of the Constitution is why the states are not motivated to split into multiple states. The political incentive strikes me as considerable. For instance, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a natural division, could split off into a separate state and gain two senators and two votes in the Electoral College. Why wouldn’t they do it? In such a case, it could easily be justified to the other states on the basis of irreconcilable differences and a sizeable body of water. Threats to treat with Canada could add to the political leverage.

California could split into seven different states without any of the parts falling below the median. That would be 12 new senators and 12 more votes in the Electoral College. I have heard occasional murmurings suggesting that southern California could split from northern California. I have also heard suggestions by rural New Yorkers that New York City could be safely aborted. Similar comments have been made by Pennsylvanians about Philadelphia and presumably in Massachusetts about Boston. Yet these states remain united. Why? What’s in it for them?

Possible answers:

1. Fear of disturbing the status quo.
2. Unwillingness of powerful state political leaders to relinquish any part of their claim.
3. Unwillingness of potential state leaders to relinquish any part of their hoped for position
4. Efficiencies of scale associated with a centralized government.
5. Inefficiencies associated with the actual mitosis of governmental components.
6. The comforts of tradition and habit.
7. Fear of probable conflict concerning division of assets and location of borders.
8. Anticipation of future conflicts between the separated entities.
9. Expectation that the other states would object.

My intuition tells me that none of these reasons would be enough, over the long run, to overcome the lure of additional clout -- except of course, the actual loss of clout. Big states have big money, and big money gives your senators a big voice. The title Senator from New York has a little more cachet than Senator from Arkansas. And in the Presidential elections, big states have the bloc vote. Any presidential candidate would give a lot in deed and promise of deeds to swing the California bloc their way.

The obvious counter-question is now, “Why don’t the little states try to consolidate?” My guess is that, for the most part, they don’t have enough population to offer that would make up for the loss of two senators. Why don’t the rest of us make them consolidate? It’s probably just not worth the trouble.

Under egalitarian lights, we should be using the Census to define state boundaries, at least to some degree. If the Electoral College has a flaw, it is in allowing states of such radically different populations to exist.

5/12/2005 7:50 AM

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