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If Texas Seceeds, Don’t Mess With It

By Matthew Yglesias  

"If Texas Seceeds, Don’t Mess With It"

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Annie Lowery took a look at the countermeasures available to the United States in the unlikely event of a real Texas secession movement:

It would be the world’s thirteenth largest economy — bigger than South Korea, Sweden, and Saudi Arabia. But its worth would crater precipitously, after NAFTA rejected it and the United States slapped it with an embargo that would make Cuba look like a free-trade zone. Indeed, Texas would quick become the next North Korea, relying on foreign aid due to its insistence on relying on itself.

On the foreign policy front, a seceded Texas would suffer for deserting the world superpower. Obama wouldn’t look kindly on secessionists, and would send in the military to tamp down rebellion. If Texas miraculously managed to hold its borders, Obama would not establish relations with the country — though he might send a special rapporteur. (We nominate Kinky Friedman.)

The assumption here, though, is that the United States would want to coerce the Republic of Texas back into the fold. I don’t really see a good reason for doing that. Obviously, we shouldn’t let Texas secede as part of an unpopular governor’s bid to win a primary election against Kay Bailey Hutchison by defining himself as the wingnuttiest guy around. Letting a state secede on a whim would be a bad idea. But the situation in 2009 is very different from the situation in 1860 so if a big state like Texas (or a sizable bloc of states) had a population that was showing a clear and consistent preference for secession, one should consider just letting them go. Situations like the “Velvet Divorce” in which the Czech Republic and Slovakia amicably went their separate ways are rare, but that was a much better outcome than a typical bloody civil war.

The real question is not what could we do to stop Texas from seceding, but what would be reasonable terms?

The core elements of an amicable divorce would, I think, be Texas membership in NAFTA and NATO so as to ensure that disruption is minimized and nobody is a threatening anyone else. Beyond that, you’d need to do something about citizenship. My preference would be for the United States of America to establish a rule such that anyone whose citizenship in the Republic of Texas dates back to Texas Independence Day would have an unrestricted right to move to the USA at a time of his choosing and swap citizenship. We would also need, I think, to create a time period of, say, five years in which any American citizen who wants to become a Texan has the right to become a Texan. After that, Texas may or may not want to adopt a more stringent immigration policy.

Then there’s the issue of the debt. Texas would need to assume responsibility for a portion of the U.S. national debt that’s proportionate to its share of the population. Given that this debt is denominated in dollars, it will be important in the early years for the Republic to maintain a currency that’s strong vis-a-vis the dollar and a current account surplus. Given Texas’ oil that shouldn’t be too hard to pull off, and could be further assisted by having the United States military agree to “lease” military bases on Texas territory for ten years.

One could imagine some other reactionary states choosing to federate with Texas. And I think if that happened then, over the long-run, both sides might wind up happier. Chris Bowers, who’s opposed to secession, argues instead that “the better approach for progressives is to try and connect the United States more with other countries and international organizations, rather than fragmenting into smaller countries. More connection, not more division, is the answer.”

My own view, however, is that internationalization goes hand in hand with regionalization. In other words, that the smart money in the 21st century is on the diversion of power both up and down from the nation-state level. For a more practical example, look to Europe, where the United Kingdom’s integration into the European Union has gone hand in hand with some steps to moving away from the UK’s hypercentralized political system. In a world of strong nation-states, a place like Scotland or Wales would just be a weak nation-state. But international economic and security agreements reduce the incentive for a small state to affiliate with a larger neighbor. So we’ve seen the creation of a Scottish parliament. And I believe there’s been a similar devolutionary impulse in Spain. You hear talk sometimes of a “Europe of Regions” rather than a Europe of Nations, and I don’t think it’s a crazy idea.

None of which is to say that Texas will or should secede. But I do think it makes sense to think about ways to facilitate the amicable breakup or reconfiguration of nation-states rather than assuming that every parting of the ways needs to recapitulate the Civil War or the breakup of Yugoslavia.

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