United States


Rick Perry needs help! His ramblings about the possibility, no matter how unlikely, of Texas’ secession seem Yeltsinesque (you know, the hegemonic state claiming to be oppressed by the imperial system it created).

Of course, how could I, a sympathetic regionalist, complain of Perry’s threats? Although each state encompasses different resources and populations, the governmental uniformity of the US is boring. And the possibility of redrawing the American map plays into fun role-playing games from high school. And the whole rhetoric of the “Lone Star State” is an effective rallying cry to motivate the population.

Perry’s threat, though, is lame. The notion that Texas’ integration into the Union was both negotiated and conditional holds little water, and was easily debunked by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Statehood occurs nationally and constitutionally. Territories and populations aspiring to statehood must meet the conditions set by Congress (conditions that delayed statehood for Louisiana and New Mexico). States do not have special relations to the Union, as for example Alsace to France, Andorra to France and Spain, or Hong Kong to China. Other nations may have come together in a heterogeneous fashion. The United States, a late comer influence by the Enlightenment, is more Cartesian in its constitution. Even the original states surrendered what made them unique upon ratifying the constitution, and conformed themselves to national standards. Of course, some Americanist will raise issues about the Civil War and changing meanings of integration in both culture and law that will further weaken Perry’s case. Ultimately, neither Perry nor the Texas legislature can unilaterally declare their sovereignty from the United States. It’s like a big bowl at a party: guests must leave their keys behind in order to drink, and can’t get them back without the hosts ok. (And you might have to drive home someone you don’t like, too.)

Now, just because it’s not constitutional, we can’t dismiss secession out of hand. Perry could appeal to the global community on the basis on indigenism: the native peoples of Texas were not adequately represented in the decision to join the Union, or joining the Union deprived native peoples of their autonomy. Yes, bring it back to the original Texans. Though that might empower those who would not want to leave the United States. (Like I’ve said, Tejas por los Tejanos!)

Whatever the merits of Perry’s argument, he’s simply overplayed his hand. Few “divorces” are as easy and successful as the fracturing of Czechoslovakia (they were effectively two states being administered side by side). The list of bloody and unsuccessful secessions is much longer. Even in the realm of polite politics, separation is expensive, something the Quebecoises have learned. It might even require renegotiation with Mexico. (Not to mention that Perry would secede over matters of degree rather than real policy differences.)

I doubt that Perry wants Texas to leave the Union; he’d rather make use of secessionist rhetoric in order to gain political capital. But he may already have lost by appearing among those calling for independence rather than representing Texans (which would include those who doubt the future of the Union). In European regionalism, the more politicians appeared with separatists, the more their lost support of the general population. (ETA: Indeed, it seems Texans aren’t really behind this, according to some numbers from Rasmussen.) They were more successful first denying separatism as a solution, but giving voice to the complaints of the separatists. Catholic Democrats in Alsace were thereby able to delay the full integration of French law indefinitely, and in the Rhine Province they were able to gain autonomy with the Prussian state that they might not have been afforded had it become a Land.

So, Mr. Perry: don’t be a secessionist–use the secessionists! Those are people with real complaints who need a voice! (And maybe–just maybe–secession will happen anyway.)

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This little jab at John McCain (who visited Iowa against the recommendation of the governor) addresses something that really bugs me: the tendency to equate federal spending with excessive government spending. Earkmarks offer the opportunity for congressmen to pay back allies for local support and fund projects that have no rationale, but they also are the best substitute for a fundamental weakness of the federal system of administration: there is no bureaucracy or infrastructure to direct federal spending at the district level. There is no discretionary budget for congressional districts to help them deal with problems that cannot be covered by local revenue. There is also no decision-making or consultation taking place at the district level on how to best use earmarks. Equating earmarks and pork, McCain depletes whatever resources districts might have to seek improvements (especially important given the shortfalls of revenue in the face of declining property values). A better use of his time would be arguing for symmetry between the funds available to members of congress and the needs of the people they represent.

Poor Mika Brzezinski. Once again, she let Joe Scarborough cut her off in the process of refuting a half-baked argument. I wish she had at least a louder voice to compete with his bullish behavior.

This morning, it occurred in a debate (with Joe Walsh) over the image of America in the world. According to the men, the election of pro-American leaders proves that being associated with American values still holds currency with European voters.

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Is this the first bit of Euro-patriotism?

So the euro, our currency, has become a problem for US policy makers. Gorging on debt as a wealth creation, they have been freeriding on the dollar’s previously unassailable role for a very long time. But now, there is an alternative, and there finally are Europeans willing to say that the emperor is naked. This is a momentous event.

Perhaps more disturbing is this photo, reprinted in Stern:

Nazis among the Nation of Islam

George Lincoln Rockwell and Nazi companions at a rally of Black Muslims, guests of Malcolm X, in Washington, 1961–unity in hate.

The Brussels-based think tank, BRUEGEL, is rankling some feathers with its report on the performance of European universities, “Why Reform Europe’s Universities?” (full report loads in pdf form). According to its methods (which I won’t analyze–note attention to patenting below), American universities perform vastly better than European, with some American states beating out higher education in all European nations.

Chart from BRUEGEL Report

Explanations focus on spending, especially the amount spent on research. What I find interesting is that the report also focuses on the governance of universities,
noting that administrations of Americans universities have greater latitude in determining how to spend available funds.

There is considerable variation in university governance across states. States vary not only in the relative importance of private versus public universities, but also in the degree of autonomy granted by state authorities to public universities. Sometimes, even neighbouring states display sharp differences in governance. For instance, public universities in Illinois enjoy on average rather low autonomy, while their neighbours in Ohio enjoy high autonomy. These differences are persistent over time and often go back to the idiosyncratic origin of American universities, which in turn reflect differences in the preferences of university founders … .

Our strategy is to take US states’ differences in university autonomy as given and then ask the following question: Does a given investment in higher education produce more patenting in a US state if universities in that state are more autonomous? … The answer to our question is a resounding ‘yes’. As illustrated in Figure 2, the effect of additional spending on patenting is roughly twice as high for states with more university autonomy. Autonomy therefore greatly enhances the efficiency of spending.

bruegel-chart.jpg (more…)

From “The Sense of Place” by Wallace Stegner:

But if every American is several people, and one of them is or, would like to be a placed person, another is the opposite, the displaced person, cousin not to Thoreau but to Daniel Boone, dreamer not of Walden Ponds but of far horizons, traveler not in Concord but in wild unsettled places, explorer not inward ‘but outward. Adventurous, restless, seeking, asocial or -antisocial, the displaced American persists by the million, long after the frontier has vanished. He exists to some extent in all of us, the inevitable by-product of our history: the New World transient.

To the placed person he seems hasty, shallow, and restless. He has a current like the Platte, a mile wide and an inch deep. As a species, he is non territorial, be lacks a stamping ground. Acquainted with many places, he is rooted in none. Culturally he is a discarder or transplanter, not a builder or conserver. He even seems to like and value his rootlessness, though to the placed person he shows the symptoms of nutritional deficiency, as if be suffered from some obscure scurvy or pellagra of the soul. . . .

Indifferent to, or contemptuous of, or afraid to commit ourselves to, our physical and social surroundings, always hopeful of something better, hooked on change, a lot of us have never stayed in one place long enough to learn it, or have learned it only to leave it.