Splitting Up the U.S.A.

It’s not just politicians who are trending towards partisanship, the general public is going in the same direction. As the country becomes more partisan, expect to see more of this kind of stuff. I used to be one of those people that believed the north was right in keeping the south from seceding but not any more. I think the US is far too big for its britches—economically, politically and sociably.

In economics, an optimum currency area (OCA), also known as an optimal currency region (OCR), is a geographical region in which it would maximize economic efficiency to have the entire region share a single currency. It describes the optimal characteristics for the merger of currencies or the creation of a new currency. The theory is used often to argue whether or not a certain region is ready to become a monetary union, one of the final stages in economic integration.

I’d extend that idea to the political/social identity of the US. It’s no-duh that the US is made up of many different subcultures and political ideologies. Kentucky is very different than New York. Arizona is very different than Washington. It would make sense to split this country into rational, efficient political members.

Cheap Seats recently blogged about centrality and complication in relation to economics. He quoted NYT’s Ross Douthat who wrote:

More generally, decentralizing often makes things more complicated. The governance of the United Kingdom was complicated by the creation of sub-assemblies for Scotland and Wales, and creating English regional parliaments would be further complication. Governance in the United States tends to be extremely complicated, precisely because many functions are performed in a decentralized way. Some things will be taken care of at a municipal levels, others by a country, others by some kind of regional agency, others by the state, others by the federal government. School systems are often run autonomously from the other aspects of local government. This decentralization may or may not be a good thing, but it’s certainly not simple. It would be less complicated to have a French-style hyper-centralized system.

Which is just to say that I think it’s actually really difficult to come up with a general rule of thumb here or even a rigorous and consistent definition of what counts as “centralized” and/or “complicated.”

In response, Cheap Seats wrote:

Now, there is no obvious trade-off between centrality and complication. None.Processes can be in any possible configuration of centrality and complication at any time — and can, of course, change their their configuration as well. So it is worth thinking about why governance in the United Kingdom became more complicated by the creation of sub-assemblies for Scotland and Wales…and why decentralizing education could either be very complicated, or much simpler. After all, the end result of a Rube Goldberg machine is that you get what you want, which incidentally is the same result as if you completed the task traditionally.

In the first instance, the United Kingdom kept the same expectation for the outcome (govern a unified country), and just added nodes to the network. As we have seen, doing this exponentially increases complexity. Of course, this doesn’t have to be so. The UK could have simply make Scotland and Wales autonomous countries — the initial setup wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but in the long run; it would remove governing responsibility from the UK, decentralize governance, and make things simpler for the government of the UK.

The same thing applies to the decentralization of education. Our current goal for the educational system seems to be to make as homogenized a service as possible, and then run as many people as possible through the system. The virtue of those goals, of course, is highly contestable…but one thing is not; decentralizing the system while holding onto this set of goals severely complicate matters. On the other side of the coin, if it turns out our education machine isn’t really what we want, and we shift gears and all of a sudden want an education system that is highly personalized and caters to an individual (or group), then that would be an insurmountably complex goal for a centralized education system.

Relating this all to the US and the states and the different subcultures and political ideologies, a we haven’t really decided what our country is going to largely be like: we don’t have absolute goals. Many of the Nordic countries in Europe have one thing in common: most of their political parties are all heavy proponents of the welfare state. They differ in how they want to pay for it or how it should run but the vast majority of the political parties, and their voting constituents, believe in the welfare states in their respective countries. This kind of universal agreement does not exist, at all, on any issue (that I can think of) in the US.

The US is very fractured and the fact we don’t have clear goals turns it into a complexity mess and, as evident with this issue of states bickering among each other using investment and energy as bludgeons, it’s getting heated and the complexity is starting to create cracks. Splitting the country into optimum policy areas makes complete sense considering all of this. The only problem is the mechanics of making it happen. If states begin to secede and the remaining Union doesn’t take action to nullify that threat as we did in the Civil War, it could effectively make it happen anyway.

Call me evil but I actually want it to happen.


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