November 18, 2012

Sunday Morning Essay: If At First You Don't Secede

Following Barack Obama's reelection, a wave of petitions under the "We The People" program have been submitted to the White House requesting permission for various states to leave the Union.  Petitions which reach the requisite number of 25,000 citizens are supposed to receive an official presidential response (not just on secession, but on any issue).  Some states, such as Texas, have far exceeded this number so we can anticipate that the President's staff will put together some form of excessively complicated answer which reminds us of the strength and durability of the American republic, affirms the right of free speech and the right to petition the government about grievances, and blah blah blah.  Ending with, I don't think so.

It's really a kind of fad at the moment, and it can be expected to meet the same fate as the Occupy Movement.  Americans have a very limited attention span for such matters, and the MSM is probably mostly right, at the moment, to consign such convulsions to a knee-jerk response from some conservative quarters to the prospect of four more years of submitting to the rule of a chief executive of African descent.

Bob Cesca of the Huffington Post wrote a long, querulous rejoinder to the secession petitions from Southern states in particular in which he trotted out the usual arguments against secession: such states, in fact, are more dependent on federal largesse than their blue brethren, since the transfer payment scheme (Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment) tends to favor such states with a higher rate of return (higher than 1:1, and in the case of such states as Louisiana, much higher) on their federal tax dollars.  But this is not always the case, as in Texas, for example, where Texas pays in more than it receives in federal benefits (this is also true in California and other large states).  States such as Texas and California, if allowed simply to retain the federal income and FICA taxes paid to the federal government, would probably be in a more favorable budgetary position than as members of the Union, and, of course, would have the freedom and flexibility to use their money as they saw fit.  California, for example, could spend its money as if it were living in the 21st century and Texas could continue to win the War of Revolution against Mexico.

I think, however, that there is more to the secession noise than impatience among the Southern states with a minority President.  American "approval" ratings of Congress have been ridiculously, hilariously low for a very long time, as one example - on the order of 11% of all voters.  It's not an exaggeration to point out that the vast majority of ordinary American citizens despise the central government, in the good old, SAT-test definition of this venerable verb.  Americans hold Congress and Washington, D.C. in contempt.  They regard the whole apparatus as one step up from useless.

I do think that a good definition of the federal government is "an insurance company with an army."  This is the root of Washington's problem.  As the "entitlements" and interest on the national debt have swollen to consume virtually the entirety of all federal income taxes paid (mainly income and FICA), the central government is little more than a paymaster.  You send your money in, they send it out.  The other function of the federal government is to engage in mysterious "warfare" against an extremely ill-defined "terrorist threat" that apparently has something to do with killing members of the Taliban and blowing up other Muslims with Drone strikes from time to time.  Increasingly, these activities make less and less sense to the American populace.  We launched a war against the Taliban because they were "harboring" Osama bin Laden.  We now know that for most of the time the war in Afghanistan has dragged on, bin Laden was in Pakistan, a putative ally.  Bin Laden is now dead, beyond anyone's ability to "harbor" him (Allah, I suppose), yet the war in Afghanistan for some reason continues, I guess because of the other reason blown up by the Bush Administration: the Taliban repress women, unlike the royalty, for example, in Saudi Arabia.

I think all of these factors have seeped into the American consciousness.  Congress and the Executive shuffle around, put off deadlines on budget matters, shout hysterically about "cliffs" of their own devising, borrow enormous sums of money to run their dubious enterprises, send American soldiers off to die for no reason whatsoever, and many Americans are simply looking for a way to make them all shut up and go away.  Thus, all these petitions for "secession."  Since there are no real solutions to any of the problems outlined, in a resource-constrained, economically-stagnant world, these ideas are going to stick around and mutate into something more tangible.  Such is my intuition, based on the idea that things that can't go on forever, don't.

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