December 5th, 2012
10:55 AM ET

The economics behind secessionist impulses

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By Global Public Square

A curious thing happened in the days following Barack Obama’s re-election. A group of Texans filed a petition on a White House website – they wanted Texas to secede from the not-so-United States of America. Within a few days, there were tens of thousands of signatures. The movement spread still further, encompassing each of the fifty states in the union. It’s a ridiculous exercise, of course, that will go nowhere. But there are some real secessionist impulses across the Atlantic.

Europe might soon have a new independent state.

Look at Catalonia, a region in the northeast corner of Spain that includes the city of Barcelona.

Earlier this month, Catalans held parliamentary elections. A majority of the winners campaigned on a platform of secession. The vote follows an unprecedented demonstration in September, when about one million Catalans marched the streets of Barcelona demanding statehood. To put this in perspective, the entire population of Catalonia is only about 7.5 million. The next step could be a public referendum on breaking away.

Or consider Scotland, which has already reached that point. In October, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to a deal allowing Scots to vote in 2014 as to whether they want to secede.

And then there’s the strange case of Belgium. In the northern region of Flanders, the people speak Dutch. But in the Southern region of Wallonia, they speak French. The North is more prosperous than the South. So in October, the people of Flanders elected a set of local leaders who want to break away from Belgium.

Across Europe, why are breakaway parties gaining so much momentum? Well, as with all things, it is the economy at heart.

According to Catalonia's leading daily, La Vanguardia, only 57 percent of national taxes paid by Catalans is returned to Catalonia. The rest is filtered to Spain’s poorer regions.

Scots also have an eye on economics, even though Scotland is much poorer than England. The Scots believe that breaking away now would rid them of London’s austerity plans; plus they would get to drill for oil in the North Sea. But they are careful to calculate the costs and benefits. Last year, Scots were polled on how they viewed independence. When it was put to them that separation would make them richer by 500 pounds a year, 65 percent said they would vote for independence, and 24 percent against. But if independence made them worse off by the same amount, the results flipped – 66 percent against independence; only 21 percent for. Remember, 500 pounds is only about $800. Adam Smith, a Scot, would be proud.

Europe’s economic problems are straining ancient fault lines. Richer regions like Catalonia, Flanders, also northern Italy resent having to, in effect, bail out their neighbors. But there’s an irony. If you apply that argument across the continent, the Eurozone itself would fall apart (perhaps starting with the departure of Germany.) And by the way, if we applied that logic in America, states like New York, California, and Connecticut could point out that, in effect, they subsidize states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Montana – states that are ironically the most fervent advocates of states rights and small government.


soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Kathy

    Further irony is that these are also the states that seem to have the most secessionist furvor. What would AL do without the federal largesse?

    December 5, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  2. Noel

    I don't quite understand. How does New York and California subsidize Montana and Alabama?

    December 5, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
  3. Ger republikins!!!!!

    wii dun sowt wunt 2 susseed cuz u demokrates unly wunt 2 raze taxiz n tayk awhey r gunz n jezuz. wii don ned 2 raze taxiz 4 skools neder. peepl kin bii hom skoold lyk wii r dun sowt. iffin wii dint hav 2 pa taxiz i cud uford nu weelz 4 mi hom. mi nex hom gunna bii er dubl wyd. Ger republikins!!!!!!!!!

    December 5, 2012 at 11:46 am | Reply
    • OMG HELL

      YES

      December 6, 2012 at 6:31 am | Reply
  4. USN Ret.

    Noel:
    Smaller populations, lower income per capital = less taxes.
    Both state have larger land mass equals the need for the feds money to maintain roads, schools etc.

    December 5, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  5. Sam

    USN Ret.:
    But that argument doesn't apply to areas with higher income per capita.
    For example, if Alberta, Canada were to secede from the rest of Canada, assuming they were able to establish free trade agreements, there's nothing ironic about their will to secede. The same would go for Texas.
    Everyone acts as if secession is such an immature and unreasonable idea. Eliminating morals, what is inherently wrong about it?

    December 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  6. Dungy

    How about Quebec and their two referendums to separate from Canada? They were certainly not based on economic issues because Quebec has been heavily subsidized by the rest of Canada for decades. Quebec's desire to separate was largely based on language and cultural issues.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  7. Quigley

    Maybe the Californians ought to think over the idea of seceeding, too. That would free that state from the iron hand control of the M.I.C. which already controls both the White House and the majority of Congress and continues to bleed this nation white through excessive and unnecessary military spending and foreign aid. Over in Europe, Spain would do quite well to secede from the cursed Eurozone as every other country over there. Whoever thought up the Eurozone needs to have their head examined!

    December 5, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • Lyndsie Graham

      Thank you, Quigley. You just may have a great idea here. Secession is not such a bad idea after all as Chechnya seeks to secede from Russia and Kurdistan from Turkey. California just may do better on it's own like you say. It's just too bad that everybody else is too ignorant to think of that!

      December 6, 2012 at 8:39 am | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    It makes sense for stronger economies to break away from the weaker ones. In tims of economic turmoil national – self- – interests outweigh the good Samaritan spirit.

    December 6, 2012 at 6:25 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      please read: IN TIMES of

      December 6, 2012 at 6:26 am | Reply
  9. Nathan

    If the government had our respect then nobody would write these articles. The fact is that at 15 trillion in debt the government gave-up on freedon. We pretend to be free but most of us are just slaves to our bills and want something different. Housing shold be 10 percent of our family budget not 30 percent of our income mortgaged over 30 years and refinanced for another 30 years five year before retirement. We have been fools and are stuggling to pay for our mistakes hence the poor economy, The government has made mistakes and will guilt us into whipping the rich in the name of investing in our future. The best investment in our future would be double down on freedom and crush the federal government into a third of it's current size and let state decide how much government they want.

    December 6, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Reply
  10. NILS

    CNN you completely messed up the map of Flanders and Wallonia. Flanders is much bigger and the provinces of Limburg and (of course) Flemish Brabant should have been included. You also forgot to mention that a part of Wallonia is German-speaking.
    Flemish/Dutch-speakers form the majority in Belgium, but have always been treated like a minority with less rights than a French-speaker. The history of Belgium is quite embarrassing and confederalism or the dissolution of the Belgian State are the only options for most people in Flanders.

    December 19, 2012 at 7:07 am | Reply
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