The talking heads and pundits examined the electoral map and gleaned—yet again—there are two Americas: the coasts and the middle. Of course we’ve known about “flyover country” and there has always been a gap of understanding between the city mouse and the country mouse. It goes back to the Constitutional Convention when the large agricultural-products exporting states of the South insisted on a government—bicameral, Electoral College, three-fifths of a man—that gave them parity with the more popular urban, manufacturing states of the North. We fought a Civil War over it and the war never really ended. It’s going on now.
Politicians and pundits, sometimes cynically, talk about bringing America together. It’s probably true that there is more that unites us than divides us. That’s probably true about our relationship with the Canadians and the British and most of Western Europe, too by the way. But we’re not in the same country with them. The United States is a political entity and that political entity is broken. Everyone thinks the tail is wagging the dog and each side thinks it’s the dog.
So I have a suggestion: Secession. If the great middle is united in the way it wants to run its politics and the coasts are united in their way, let’s go our own ways.
It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing secession as in 1860. Let it be an ad hoc, federalized secession based on the federal model we already have.
The first point of secession from the larger country and the first point of unity between the Blue States, would be health care. Clearly the coastal states want universal health care; the Southern states don’t. You don’t need me to explain why. Since health care is basically an insurance program, it would be easy to set up a Medicare-type system for the Blue States. They have plenty of money. In fact, they produce most of the wealth of the country and encompass most of the population, so they would make a large pool and have the ability to fund it. Their people already believe that government has a role in helping people live better lives. Blue Staters don’t complain about tax and spend Democrats; they vote for them. Massachusetts has done this already though their Romney-care system is expensive, unwieldy and financially suspect. Fund it the way Medicare is funded. The most expensive subscribers, the older and sicker people, already have national Medicare, so Blue Staters won’t have to pay for that. It’s a no-brainer, really.
Next, join hands in raising the minimum wage. Again, many of the Blue States already have done so. Getting on the same page would be more a matter of showing ideological and organizational unity, setting an example to the Red States.
Family leave? Set it up like an insurance fund with workers and employers making contributions and put all the Blue Staters into the pool. Easy-peasy.
Eventually, a plan for a Universal Basic Income could be adopted and almost all other social service payments except Social Security, which would remain national, would be subsumed.
Would jobs flee the higher-tax, higher minimum wage states? In fact, with their Medicare for all and family leave insurance plans, the Blue States would be better places for businesses to go, rather than to low-wage states with high health insurance costs the employers would have to pick up.
There might be an influx of “refugees” from the red states, but since everything I’m proposing is a state welfare program, not a political right. Eligibility rules could control who gets benefits, just as is done now with in-state/out-of-state tuition at state schools.
But what about the costs?
The Blue States are among the richest in the country. California alone is the world’s sixth largest economy and the Northeast is richer than Germany (number 4).Together the Blue States form an economy twice as large as Japan and only $2 billion behind China. And that’s not counting “fellow travelers” like Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota or “bi-curious” newbies like North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and maybe soon Georgia or fair weather friend Ohio.
The red states generally are client states of the blue states; they contribute much less in federal tax than they receive in federal spending on social programs and subsidies. That doesn’t have to change. Limited secession does not require the Blue States to withhold any of the taxes they pay now to the federal government or refuse any of the money or services they receive. The policies would be in addition to the policies we have now and really are policies we should have anyway.
What if the Red States didn’t want the Blue States to do all this? First, nobody stopped Massachusetts from establishing health care or Colorado from legalizing pot. Even so, what could the Red States do? Would Texas send troops into New York? What if the Supreme Court weighed in? What could the Court say? Everything I’m proposing is a matter of money—money the states choose to spend on their own without reducing their payments to the federal government. And what could it do? If the Blue States were pressed, they could simply ignore the Supreme Court’s edict. The money originates in the Blue States; they could just keep it there. And these are the most populous states, a powerful voting block.
Would there be problems? When aren’t there? But most of what I’m proposing is already being tried piecemeal. I’m just suggesting pooling resources and coordinating efforts. With limited secession, the Blue States could progress on their own without the Red States holding them back.
The Blue States would serve not only as laboratories of democracy but as exemplars of successful progressive programs—not to red state politicians who have their own pro-business agendas—but to red state residents who would look across the border at the wealth and equality of their blue neighbors and want to get in on it.
There’s a way to unite the country.