What Does It Take to be Independent?

I have teens in my house, so the struggle between dependency and independence is not lost on me.  Whether it’s stuggles over “Don’t tell me what to do!” immediately followed by requests for favorite food items from the grocery store and rides to various destinations, the push-pull of young people seeking to become their own people while still living under the House Rules, some of which might chafe from time to time, is clear to me.

So when I read online that people in Twenty States have filed petitions on the White House website to potentially secede with the Union, I understood why- the tension between what you want to do, and what you have to do for the greater good is coming to the forefront.  While I think a petition is one thing and actual secession is another, let’s take a look at what might happen if a State wanted to secede.  Let’s assume the Union is nothing more than a contractual relationship, and the parties choose to end it amicably, so no war or fighting allowed.  Let’s just look at infrastructure alone.  And let’s start with Louisiana, since someone from that State was the first to file such a petition.

What would happen?

1. Immediate cessation of all Governmental benefits and funding.  This would mean that each and every citizen in the state on Social Security or other benefits with any federal support would stop immediately.  This also includes federal projects currently underway to rebuild New Orleans by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Federal courts,  federal government employees, and mail service would cease to function normally.

(Yet if under the US Constitution, citizens would be granted dual citizenship by default,  I suppose, I wonder how all of that would play out?  Would each citizen have to choose their allegiance? Could they still get benefit checks sent over international boundaries?)

2. Louisiana would have to have its own currency, and develop an exchange rate with the US, as well as its foreign neighbors.

3. Border security would come into play, and there would be no more free crossing between States to Louisiana without passports and documentation.   No more going to Mardi Gras without getting a passport first.  Truckers on the interstate highway system would not be allowed to drive freely through the Former State without being subject to search at the Borders.  After all, Louisiana would be like Mexico or Canada, and the same Border Security rules would be necessary.  The same  holds true for flights in and out of the State; All domestic carriers would be required to make sure they have licenses to fly in and out of the sovereign airspace of the Country of Louisiana.  Likewise, any and all merchandise shipped up and down the Mississippi would be in question, causing companies to have to rely on rail and other forms of transportation for their goods and services.

4. Louisiana would have to establish embassies in neighboring Countries; and immediately start trade negotiations for goods and services from companies located in foreign lands.

5. Any and all protection of intellectual property rights currently enforced by the federal government would cease.  Same goes for the rights and responsibilities of Corporations within the boundaries of the State.  Same also goes for rules regarding the safety of highways, medications, environmental protections, agricultural practices, and more.

6.  Louisiana could also be immediately cut off the national power grid,  since they are no longer a participant.  This would also incude cutting off licenses for broadcast for all of its  TV and radio stations, along with international roaming charges for all internet and telephone communications.  It might include cut-offs from information from the NOAA and the National hurricane center as well, which I think they are particularly dependent on in case of adverse weather and emergencies.

Given that the New Orleans Times Picayune reports that Louisiana currently takes more money from the federal government than it gives in taxes, Louisiana would be in deficit spending before it took on the expenses of paying for all of its infrastructure on its own, and developed its own currency.  And in one key part of the article, it states:

“Louisiana’s ranking should go up in the next year with recent federal capital expenditures for long-stalled Katrina rebuilding projects, such as the Charity Hospital replacement and renovations and replacements of storm-damaged New Orleans city schools. It also could be boosted if Louisiana lawmakers are successful in allowing the Gulf states to get 85 percent of all fines paid by BP for last year’s oil spill, a measure the Obama administration supports, at least in concept.”

So for all the damage done by the BP spill, the settlement was with the federal Government, not the States, and by secession, Louisiana would give up and any all right to any such funding as well.

This also would bring into question who really owns the rights to the oil reserves in the Gulf Of Mexico, and how many are within Louisiana’s waters versus neighboring States.  Could the Federal Government then blockade Louisiana’s access to those resources, knowing full well it has no army, navy, air force, nor diplomatic relations with a Country large enough to come to its aid?

While I think the petitions regarding secession are evidence of the deep and sincere concerns of people regarding the power of the Federal versus the State Government, the reality is that secession is problematic and unlikely.  Many of the people who berate the federal government don’t see the benefits they get daily, whether its the federal Highway System, the Military, patent and copyright protection, free moving of commerce and travel between the States, health and safety rules regarding everything from goods in commerce to medicines and medical devices, a common currency, stock markets, and the like, all of which have small, almost invisible daily benefits to our lives that we take for granted.

In some ways, I wish one State would succeed in secession, just to see what it would look like to be on their own.  Like teens who leave the nest, they find out they really didn’t have it so bad, having food appear on the table on demand, and having laundry done for them.  They are surprised how expensive food can be at the grocery and how picky utility companies are about getting bills paid on time.  They are shocked how expensive everything is when you don’t get an allowance and have to buy it all on your own.  They are surprised by the expense of car insurance and how much it costs to see a doctor when you’re sick, and how much they miss Mom fluffing their pillows and making them soup when things go bad.  And just like teenagers, they come to gradually respect Mom and Dad a little more, and realize that what they had to give in return for the benefits- a little respect, a little patience, and a little cooperation with the chores, and keeping your own room clean, weren’t such bad tradeoffs in the larger picture.

Independence and Freedom sound awesome, especially as slogans.  But they come with great responsibilities, along with the power.  We decided back in the mid 1800′s that it was better to hang together as a nation than go it alone.  And while I think the secession petitions are more like teens looking to press the limits of their independence than true expressions of the majority of citizens in any  single state to secede from the Union, we have to be careful in dealing with them.  Like dealing with teens, you have to help them see the larger picture and decide, independently, that Mom and Dad really have the best interests of everyone at heart, as much as you might feel downtrodden in this instant.  You have to make sure they don’t feel forced into a decision, because then the rebellion becomes stronger.  They need to feel honestly that they come to the decision to stay in the Union, only after great thought and contemplation.  Force won’t help.  This won’t be easy.

Historical footnote:

After the Civil War, there was clamor to treat the rebel states harshly, (interestingly enough, by the Republicans in Congress), but Lincoln had wanted a soft peace, welcoming everyone back as peacefully as possible.  President Johnson, a democrat, had to deal with Reconstruction, and it was not one of the more proud moments in our history, to be sure.

The passage of the 14th Amendment, which states in part:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The 14th amendment is interpreted to make sure that all States have an equal obligation to provide for their citizens the right of any citizen in the US, although they are free to provide additional benefits and protections, if they so wish.  The 14th amendment then makes the Constitution the floor, not the ceiling.  If States really want to secede, what will their constitution look like?  Will they adopt the US Constitution in part or in whole?  What will be their rules?  I doubt anyone starting these petitions have thought the matter through this completely.  But again, it’s an interesting thought experiment, and one part of me would like to see a State try.  They should try it out, like a kid having their first apartment.  Try a few months without any support from Mom and Dad- you can take your stuff and maybe a few sticks of furniture, but that’s it.  After that, you are on your own.  After a few months, we can reconvene and discuss the outcome. And then, we can rationally decide what rules really do need some renegotiation, and which ones maybe aren’t so bad in practice.

In the meantime, all I know is that temper tantrums rarely lead to long term progress and solutions.  They are lashing out, but the real progress comes when folks sit down and have a legitimate discussion of common ground and how to bridge the gaps.  It’s not easy, but even in most divorces, parties can agree to an amicable split, although both will feel hard done by for years to come.

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  • Jim Durbin

    Whitney, you don’t know me, but I thought to correct some of your thinking.  This post, as constructed, is poorly thought out, puerile, and dismissive.  It’s devoid of historical accuracy, and sounds like something you’d say in a coffee shop at 18.  Allow me to explain. 

    Let me first start by saying that secession is a bad idea.  The idea that we could pull apart the union, or that the federal government would allow us to do so, is a non-starter. But the exercise in looking at why it’s a possibility it worth exploring, if only to understand what the relationships between the federal government and the state was, and is.You seem to think that the federal government dispenses goodies like Medicare, highway, and a military.  But those things are paid for with pooled resources. Citizens in the states pay in, under the idea the the federal government can do more.  Government doesn’t actually do anything.  It redistributes resources.  They are not our Mom and Dad, but rather our representatives.  We choose them. We can replace them.  Treating government like a parent is akin to treating citizens like subjects.  That’s a very disturbing metaphor, and I hope it was because you were trying to call those signing the petitions childish, not because you actually think we are subjects to a federal power.  But that’s just the first thing. 
    Complaints on the internet about secession didn’t start in 2012.  Observe 2004.  http://www.salon.com/2004/11/17/states_2/  Lawrence O’Donnell talks about how the Blue states subsidize red ones, but don’t have federal power.  So the suggestion, that somehow throwing a temper tantrum doesn’t work, is actually not true in the last decade, much less historically.  Turning to the hard left and making opposition the keystone to their political behavior, Democrats captured the House, Senate, and White House.  This may not be progress, but there was no sitting down – no legitimate discussion, and certainly no compromise.  It in fact galvanized the Left to get up and do something about it. You may not have been online in 2004, but it would help to do a quick search in the future to make sure you don’t like someone new to the internet. I noticed you picked on Louisiana.  Allow me to discuss a few issues you missed. 

    Social Security and Medicare are paid to US Citizens living abroad.  Anyone in the program, would still receive checks, even if they are living in a seceded state.  Failing to do so, would require an invalidation of the program in the courts, forbidding payments in a way not consistent with precedent.  Plenty of people could live in Louisiana, refuse to renounce their citizenship, and continue collecting payments.
    For those that didn’t, they would see 15% of their income returned to them, plus an additional 10-25% in federal income tax. Granted Louisiana would need some of that, but without federal mandates for Medicard, prisons, courts, and schools, money that used to go to Washington, and without $16 trillion debt hanging over them, new Louisiana citizens might actually see a bump in their paycheck, even if they saw some services cut. As for the levees, BP money, and federal disaster aid, you should have picked a different state. Louisiana is responsible for refining 50% of the nation’s oil. Without Louisiana, gas prices would double and triple for the rest of the country, creating massive inflation in food, medicine, plastics, building materials, and military expenses. Even if the US claimed total control over the Gulf Resources, the inability to build new refineries would cripple the US, and they would be forced to negotiate good terms with the state of Louisiana (much as Alaska actually receives checks for its citizens for exploitation of its resources). Calling Louisiana a child is fine, but it’s a child that holds the economic lifeblood of the family in its ports.  It would be far worse for the US if Louisiana left, then it would be for Louisiana. There were many more flaws in your post, not the least of which was the idea that only a single state would leave.  These things happen in cascades, and they happen in times of financial turmoil, making military action a difficult option (especially when asking US soldiers to fire on former citizens). Now, as I said, the petitions are not serious, no more than the ideas were in 2004.  But they do bring up the idea that the United States doesn’t have to be permanent. Should we, as predicted, face much tougher times in the years ahead, there is no guarantee that we will remain together.  Should we wish to stay together, it begins with basic respect, and as you mentioned, adult behavior.  If you want to fantasize about teaching a state a lesson, you should do so  offline, and you should educate yourself before doing so.  What you wrote, conveyed an impression that you have not given it much thought.  If the United States were to go into sovereign default, much of the benefit of the system would disappear.  Much like Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain are currently contemplating with the European Union, the idea of leaving the United States and starting over would be very attractive to large numbers of people.  If we don’t wish that to happen, we should address our problems. But calling millions of people rebellious teenagers who need Mom and Dad?  That’s so far outside the realm of polite conversation and historical accuracy that I felt compelled to write.