Monday, February 8, 2010

Down With States!

Lots of lefty bloggers I agree with have been railing against the evils of the Senate. But I want to do them one better and argue against the existence of states.

If we didn't have them, we'd laugh at the idea that state boundaries should be drawn where they are. Who would look at New York and decide that New York City needs to be in the same political body with all that other stuff? Apparently back in the old days, the whole state was economically integrated by the Erie Canal, which I guess will impress all the mule owners reading this blog.

And you know the old line about Pennsylvania -- Philly on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Why do these disparate regions need to all be part of one unit? It's kind of like those African countries where the borders were drawn by European colonial powers to go along rivers that didn't exist, putting tribes that hated each other into the same country.

I don't see any sort of public administration that regions of this kind are good at handling. You need local government to run schools and police departments and sewer systems. You need federal government to run the military and social insurance programs that operate best with national risk pooling. What do states do that local and federal government can't?

Plus, you get rid of states, and you get rid of all the problems with the Senate.


CharleyCarp said...

As I like to say to those in favor of indefinite detention without review: All you need is a different country with a different history.

Helen Bushnell said...

States give us identity because the US is too big. In fact, I think the size of the US causes more problems than the Senate.

Anonymous said...

how would senators be elected? would there be a national election where the 50 highest vote-getters become senators?

Neil Sinhababu said...

I think it would be best to get rid of the Senate entirely. Lots of countries have basically weakened the upper house of the legislature into nothing (India, UK) and it works fine.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how UK is a relevant comparison, besides the fact that they had two houses. Unlike the Senate, the House of Lords is not elected.

At any rate, the more general point is that it seems with any election there has to be districting of some kind. We can call them states, counties, or whatever. I don't see why reasons against states wouldn't generalize as reasons against others.

Anonymous said...

Put it differently: Who would look at New York City and decide that Staten Island belongs in the same political body with all others?

BruceMcF said...

Oh well, there goes all the intercity rail projects. Goodbye Empire Corridor. Goodbye Keystone Corridor. Goodbye Ohio Hub. Goodbye Midwest Hub. Goodbye California HSR. Goodbye Florida HSR.

Ah well, the dream was nice while it lasted.

Seems a bit extreme to address the problem that we have some individual states so much larger than the median state compared to when the system was first set up. Couldn't we just divide northern and southern California into separate states, instead?

Amod said...

Dude, it's hard enough sharing federal-jurisdiction powers with Alabama and Utah. I wouldn't want to have to share state-level powers with them too. No more public transit, anywhere, ever.

I'm all for federalism. Let the Mississippians have the creationist abortion-free plutocracy they want, and give Vermont and Oregon a chance to build something civilized.

The Senate, on the other hand, is just about worthless.

low-tech cyclist said...

Matt Yglesias had a blog post about this last October, and he definitely sold me on the idea that states are stupid:

a big part of the problem here is that it’s difficult to think of what kind of issues are actually well-suited to be dealt with at a state level. It’s easy to think of kinds of issues that Arlington County, Virginia should address on its own without input from people who live in Norfolk, VA or Montgomery County, Maryland or Boise, Idaho. These are your local government responsibilities. And it’s also easy to think of issues that should be decided in common between Arlington and Norfolk and Montgomery and Boise. These are your federal responsibilities. But it’s very hard to think of what kinds of things should involve Arlington and Norfolk, but not Montgomery County. Conversely, it’s pretty easy to think of things that should involve Arlington County and Montgomery County but not Norfolk or Boise. These would be metropolitan region issues.

But we don’t have any level of governance that addresses metro area issues. And we don’t really live our lives “at the state level.” And insofar as co-residents of a single state do have idiosyncratic issues in common that tends to be because important fiscal and regulatory powers have been allocated to state government rather than because it actually makes sense for them to have been allocated this way.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Guys, the state level isn't the best one for doing intercity public transit. For the horrors that can ensue, check this out.

I'd much rather see this hashed out in a porky Federal way that brought in the national DOT.

Helen Bushnell said...

The main problem with rail transport in Australia is that the national government doesn't support it. The systems are inconsistent because they were designed independently. Without state support of rail, there would be no rail.

The same thing has happened in the US. The federal government basically set up a system (Amtrak) that was SUPPOSED to destroy interstate rail in the US. The system survived because of support (including subsidies) from the states.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Huh, tell me more about this Amtrak thing, Helen.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I guess one reason I'm surprised by the idea that the national government can't do intercity rail is that they built the interstate highway system. So clearly transportation leadership from up there is possible. Why can't it work for rail?

Remember, any world in which we abolish states is going to be really shaken up, so existing political dynamics shouldn't be assumed unless they're hard-wired into the system for some reason.

Helen Bushnell said...

Most of the planning and construction of the interstate system was (and continues to be) done at the state level. Our federal government is not set up to deal with day to day stuff.

This is not unique to the US. The prefectures in Japan kept the rail system from collapsing when JR was privatised and the new companies abandoned half the rail lines in the country. Korail (the Korea's rail company) gets some planning and subsidies from the provinces. In Spain, the province of Leon built their own rail system after it became clear that the national government was not going to.

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Anonymous said...

Was reminded of this when skimming this recently: a CharObs blogger got the mayors of Miami and Seattle pleading to abolish states.

As for transit, I don't know where you guys live, but generally state DOTs funnel money out of metro areas (and by extension urban transit) to gold-plate rural roads. I live in Illinois, which has one of the more extensive state-subsidized Amtrak networks, and it's stupid how the train service to tiny Carbondale is better than the train services to Indianapolis or Madison simply because the latter two are over the state line. Chicago's transit is funded solely by metro Chicago -- and the region's taxes go to pay for all sorts of stupidity downstate: we have potholed bike lanes up here (Milwaukee Ave) that move twice as many people than smooth interstates (I-180) down there.

I do agree with Helen that the USA might be too big of a governing unit to be effective.