California Against the World, part 3: A More Perfect Union

This is the first first miniseries in a macro-series about California. Check back here regularly for updates. Subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss a thing.

If California doesn’t secede (and it’s almost certain it won’t) the idea of Calexit still creates some interesting questions. I’ll name just a couple.

The Six State Solution

A few years ago, venture capitalist Tim Draper led a campaign for a ballot proposal to split California into six states. The states were to be called: South California, West California, Central California, Silicon Valley, North California, and Jefferson. The proposal of a Jefferson state comprised of northern California and southern Oregon is at least 70 years old. Draper argued that

“politicians would be more responsive to the needs of residents in six smaller states. And he thinks that a split would encourage competition because, if states were smaller, it would be easier for people to move from one to another if they were displeased with business taxes in Central California or lazy politicians in North California. Like startups, the states would have to compete for business. “There’s something about if your state capitol is twenty minutes away by car, it’s going be more transparent,” he said. “And, if you don’t like it, you can drive forty minutes, to another state.” — New Yorker

Draper failed to get the required number of signatures to put the proposal on the 2014 or 2016 ballots. Even if he did and it passed, the federal government would still need to approve the change. Right now Texas is the only state in the union that is pre-guaranteed the right to divide into multiple states. It was a condition of it’s initial statehood.

Still, old ideas die hard. The Modesto Bee reports that if you “drive throughout the foothills and mountain counties from Tuolumne to the Oregon border…you’ll see “State of Jefferson” signs all over the place, touting “Lower Taxes. Smaller Government. Personal Freedoms.”

What the U.S. Map Should Really Look Like

Garrett Nelson of Dartmouth and Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield have proposed a new way to draw state lines across the U.S. They say we should do it based on the actual flows of commuters and commerce. “Most state boundaries were drawn during the 17th to 19th centuries, says Garrett Nelson, a historical geographer at Dartmouth College. ‘Why should we think that areas which were drawn up for horses and buggies still make sense for interstates and telecommuting?’”

If we just started drawing state lines from scratch, maybe we’d do it differently, says Nelson. “One of the biggest conclusions from our research is that the familiar division of the U.S. into states isn’t always the most useful way of thinking about how geographic patterns work in the twenty-first century,” says Nelson.

In the study, the researchers used algorithms to analyze data on the commuting paths of more than 4 million Americans from the U.S. Census. They then created maps of what they call economic “mega-regions” — cities, satellite cities, towns and suburbs that are woven together into the communities where Americans live, work and spend their free time. The researchers argue that these, rather than the current states, are the real units that make up the U.S. economy.
In the map below, each “mega-region” is labeled with a different color. All have one or more cities at their centers — the blue area is centered around Chicago, for example, while the forest green stretch encompasses Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — Washington Post

The researchers then used an algorithm to identify the best boundaries to 50 economic communities. That’s how they created the map below, showing what our 50 states might look like if they were redrawn today based on economic connections:

This model reminds me of the model of Renaissance Italy city-states, like Florence and Venice, where an entire region centered around the power of a single city. Does it make sense? I think so. If we were starting from scratch, would this be a better model of statehood? Maybe so. Will it ever happen? No. I don’t see the incentives for changing ever being strong enough to overcome the inertia of history.

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