Somewhat to my surprise while reading Kevin Baker’s New Republic article on the need for so-called “Blue States”, e.g. California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, etc. to dissociate themselves from the rest of the country:

We won’t formally secede, in the Civil War sense of the word. We’ll still be a part of the United States, at least on paper. But we’ll turn our back on the federal government in every way we can, just like you’ve been urging everyone to do for years, and devote our hard-earned resources to building up our own cities and states. We’ll turn Blue America into a world-class incubator for progressive programs and policies, a laboratory for a guaranteed income and a high-speed public rail system and free public universities. We’ll focus on getting our own house in order, while yours falls into disrepair and ruin.

In short, we’ll take our arrogant, cosmopolitan, liberal-elite football—wait, make that soccer ball—and go home.

I found myself in material agreement with him. I grumbled a bit at this:

Truth is, you red states just haven’t been pulling your weight. Not for, well, forever. Red states are nearly twice as dependent on the federal government as blue states. Of the twelve states that received the least federal aid in return for each tax dollar they contribute to the U.S. Treasury, ten of them voted for Hillary Clinton—and the other two were Michigan and Wisconsin, your newest recruits. By the same count, 20 of the 26 states most dependent on federal aid went to Trump.

Take Mississippi (please!), famous for being 49th or 50th in just about everything that matters. When it comes to sucking at the federal teat, the Magnolia State is the undisputed champ. More than 40 percent of Mississippi’s state revenue comes from federal funding; one-third of its GDP comes from federal spending; for every dollar it pays out in federal taxes, it takes in $4.70 in federal aid; one in five residents are on food stamps—all national highs. You people—your phrase, not mine—liked to bash Obama for turning America into what you derisively referred to as “Food Stamp Nation.” In reality, it’s more like Food Stamp Red America—something your Trump-loving congressmen will discover if and when they fulfill their vow to gut the program.

smacking as it does of Germany’s complaints about the profligate, lazy Greeks. He might start thinking about the implications of a common currency, state to state balances of payments, and how California and New York’s prosperity depends on compensating for the poverty of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana so that Alabamans, Mississippians, and Louisianans can buy their products.

This is the section that won me over:

We’ll turn Blue America into a world-class incubator for progressive programs and policies, a laboratory for a guaranteed income and a high-speed public rail system and free public universities. We’ll focus on getting our own house in order, while yours falls into disrepair and ruin.

That’s actually how the country is supposed to work. Rather than going to Washington and shoving our idea of paradise down the throats of the ungrateful peasants the Blue States should get their own houses in order. Illinois, where Democrats have controlled the state legislature for at least the last 40 years and the governor’s mansion as well for the last twenty, would be a good place to start.

28 comments… add one
  • sam

    Well, I think that, if the Administration’s budgetary and healthcare initiatives carry the day, the red states, which went decisively for Trump, will get exactly what they deserve. The blue states, superior in education and industry — and money — will endure. Of course, red state politicians and talk radio will blame the devastation on “elites” (read “effete coastal liberals”). Too bad. As I said once on OTB, the better angels of my nature seem unable to summon their voices for the soon-to-be-devastated. If this smacks of your Germany vs. Greece observation, I’ll cop to that.

  • I strongly suspect that Blue Staters will be greatly disappointed at their being able to realize a financial windfall as a consequence of a New New Federalism. Most federal taxes go to Social Security, Medicare, defense and veterans benefits, and interest on the debt, none of which have boundaries. They’ll still end up paying for the deplorable Red States.

  • Guarneri

    Just a seconds reflection and you realize the basic statistic underlying the whole philosophical notion is either false or impossible to measure. (And not even addressing the falsity of Red and Blue States. It’s county by county, people).

    Federal dollars spent? Where are our forts, national labs or defense contractors? Where do the people come from who prevent the Chinese from invading Sacramento? Do states housing these facilities or services charge a fee to Hollywood, and Hollywood could in turn charge a fee for their illustrious product?

    Given the dominance of the Federal government in our pension and health care systems, where would one expect federal dollars to be spent but FL, the Carolinas or AZ? Retirement magazines don’t cite San Francisco or New York City in the 10 best places to retire.

    And let’s take IL (please). The same concept applies intrastate. What happens when all the Chicago elite selling insurance products go at it with people who farm. If you are one of the people who find it necessary to eat food once in a while this proposed “system” might find traditional economic interactions turned on their head. I’m thinking in Mr Bakers beggar thy neighbor utopia I might prefer to be friends with a hog farmer rather than a Berkeley or Northwestern university administrator, video game or smart phone app designer or children’s book author. I’m just sayin’.

    Bakers article in large measure represents what happened in the election. A rejection of the self important but woefully myopic elites. This may shock some, but they do aerospace in Dothan Alabama, have perfectly competent medicine in Jackson, MI and provide world class education at Vanderbilt in TN and Emory in GA. Oh, and there an awful lot of widget makers employing millions making products in “Red States”. Red Staters don’t all have grits drooling from their mouths at Bojangles outlets. Who wants to make the case that the world would be materially less well off without Mr Baker, or The New Republic itself?

  • sam

    I don’t think a prospective financial windfall is paramount in the thinking of Blue Staters who attend to this. They’re just fed up with the insularity, ignorance, and paranoia that is endemic to the red states. They want to see those flaming chickens go home to roost.

  • Andy

    I did my own calculations based on data I’ve used before which include more than just federal entitlements. The result is that solid Blue state receive a net average of $2.6k per capita from the federal government while Solid Red States receive $3.9k, so solid Blue states, overall, do receive less per capita federal money than solid Red States (note that I don’t include DC in this calculation as it is off the chart). Competitive (purple states) receive a net average of $2.3k per capita so, by this metric at least, purple states are the best.

    Anyway, it’s nice that some progressives are finally rediscovering federalism, even if it’s forced by political reality and is not due to any core governing principles.

  • steve

    Not happening. No practical way to get those dollars back to the Blue states. Also, there is no practical way to keep the Red states from benefitting from the education Blue states provide. If the offer the MIT or CalTech kids enough money they will go there. Basic research generated there will still be used by Red state schools and industries.


  • michael reynolds

    The ‘way it’s supposed to work’ gave us Jim Crow laws. We’re not citing core principles because those are stupid principles used mostly to allow majorities to shit on minorities. The ‘core principle’ was used largely as a protectionist measure for slave economies. Federalism gave us the Civil War. Federalism laid the rotting foundation of Mississippi and Alabama. We’ve had to struggle to escape the effects of federalism.

    The notion that an American citizen should have radically different rights just because he steps one foot east or west is asinine and offensive. Just as it is offensive that we allow empty faux-states like Wyoming or North Dakota to carry as much weight in the Senate as real states. The core principles should be liberty and equality, not ‘let’s allow the worst to drag us down to their level.’

    But when half the country decides to commit intellectual and moral suicide – see Steve King, white supremacist Republican (but I repeat myself) – we have no choice.

  • Michael, what do you think about “right to work” laws and how does their absence in some states fit in with this?

    The notion that an American citizen should have radically different rights just because he steps one foot east or west is asinine and offensive. Just as it is offensive that we allow empty faux-states like Wyoming or North Dakota to carry as much weight in the Senate as real states.

    Or zoning laws?

  • Ben Wolf

    Dave. The line is and will always be arbitrary. There’s no
    objective standard for determining where federalism should end or begin, so I’m not sure the question is relevant. We can choose to offer more freedoms to more people or fewer; I’ll stand with the former.

  • Here’s another example. New York requires Certificates of Need before a new hospital or nursing home may be built. California does not. As seen here the states in which CONs are required have a larger aggregate population than those that don’t. Under my rubric New York could continue to require CONs while California didn’t. Under Michael’s majoritarian rubric CONs would be required in all 50 states.

  • Ben:

    The point of my comment is that under our system the U. S. Constitution as amended and interpreted is the minimum set of enforceable rights not the maximum. Different states provide for different enforceable rights.

    California and New York both had Jim Crow laws; most states did; so did the federal government. Some states, e.g. Massachusetts, did not.

  • michael reynolds


    Moral obligations – right and wrong, liberty or slavery – cannot be shrugged off by pointing to a system. The Nuremberg laws were a system. Slavery was a system. And comparing either to zoning or licensing rules is trivial.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That’s what we are supposed to be about. Any time you want to obstruct life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness you’d better have a damned good reason, and ‘that’s the way we do it down here in Alabama,’ doesn’t cut it. Morality, like student loans, is non-dischargeable. You can’t legislate it away.

  • Andy

    “Moral obligations – right and wrong, liberty or slavery – cannot be shrugged off by pointing to a system. ”

    If you want to reconcile the competing interests of more than a handful of people, then you need a “system” or a system of systems (federalism is just one example). When groups of people define an interest differently – ie. what people actually consider “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” then a system must balance all the differing views. Since the founding of our Republic, we haven’t even been able to agree on basic things like the meaning and scope of the plain-language provisions in the Bill of Rights so we need a system to mediate and settle disputes on that. That system needs the trust of the people or else its decisions will lack legitimacy. That mediation is often imperfect but it is far superior to the alternative.

    That is what I mean by governing principles. I’m a strong supporter of federalism but I recognize that others believe there should be a lot less federalism and I respect their views even if I don’t agree with them. The question of federalism for them, at least, is governed by principle. What I don’t respect are people whose opinion on federalism (or any other governing principle or institution) shifts with the wind. Enter Kevin Baker and his op-ed. I don’t know him and obviously can’t read his mind, but based on his written opinion he only got interested in federalism because it was politically expedient to do so. If Clinton had won he wouldn’t be talking about taking the ball home. But maybe it’s just all snark, who knows. Regardless, it’s one thing to be against federalism, it’s quite another to be against federalism only when it benefits you.

    The same thing could be said when it comes to Executive power. People who champion their President maximizing the use of Executive power only to turn around and complain about executive overreach when the other guy is in office do not have governing principles when it comes to Executive authority. Such people are, at best, political narcissists; at worst, useful idiots in the service of autocratic governance.

  • Gustopher

    Meanwhile, I just want to stick Eastern Washington into Idaho, where it belongs. They would be happier — they would get a Republican Governor, and Republican Senators, and they wouldn’t have to worry about their tax dollars going to Seattle (they actually are supported by Seattle, but they worry).

    And, the people in Seattle would be happier too — our tax dollars wouldn’t go to the people of Western Idaho.

  • michael reynolds


    Regardless, it’s one thing to be against federalism, it’s quite another to be against federalism only when it benefits you.

    I agree, but only up to a point. As the old saw goes, the Constitution is not a suicide pact, and no system can justify attacks on the aforementioned life, liberty etc… Those in my mind are first principles. Jim Crow laws cannot be made acceptable merely because they were created within the bounds of federalism.

    The effect of states rights in this country has not been to expand liberty but to undermine it. There are exceptions, obviously, but as much as I enjoy California’s legal weed, I don’t think it balances out the great and persistent evils that have been created at the state level – racist laws, anti-gay laws, draconian drug laws (including our own 3 strikes law).

    I would have a more positive attitude toward federalism were it not so obviously the case that our states no longer represent anything rational. Is there a reason Maryland and Delaware are separate states? Or Wyoming and Idaho? Do we need a North and a South Dakota? So long as we apportion 2 senators per state the states should be of roughly equal size, because continuing to insist that California and its 39 million people and 2.5 trillion dollar economy should have the same representation as Wyoming with fewer than 600,000 people is absurd on its face. The result is political power shifted dramatically away from states that could be major countries, to states that could be mid-sized cities.

    We in California are being taxed without representation. We are hobbled by states with less than 2% of our population and .5% of our GSP. This is nuts and unjustifiable and it harms the interests of the people of California (and other big states). California has the GDP of France or India; Vermont has the GDP of Latvia. Our GSP is as great as the lowest 25 states combined. They have 50 Senators, we have 2. This is bad management if nothing else. The world’s sixth largest economy is politically dominated by people running the equivalents of shoe-shine stands.

  • Ben Wolf

    Dave, that’s not how conservatives have characterized the Constitution over the last two-hundred years. They’ve argued (Scalia, for example) it is a maximum set of rights and that those added since, particularly economic rights in the 20th century, are unconstitutional because they are not expressly enumerated.

  • I do not give a fig for what conservatives have said. Here’s the plain text of the Ninth Amendment:

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

  • Andy


    “As the old saw goes, the Constitution is not a suicide pact, and no system can justify attacks on the aforementioned life, liberty etc… Those in my mind are first principles. Jim Crow laws cannot be made acceptable merely because they were created within the bounds of federalism.”

    Again, what you consider to be life, liberty, etc. is only one viewpoint. Judging from positions you’ve taken in the past there are a lot of people who would disagree with your particular definition of what actually constitutes policy that delivers life, liberty, etc. So again, how do those disputes get resolved? If there is to be peace, they must be resolved by politics using a system that has legitimacy in the eyes of the people it serves.

    As far as federalism goes, my view is there is simply no way to manage a nation as large and diverse as ours without it. Every large democracy on the planet utilizes federalism. There is no good reason to get rid of it in the UK or Canada or India and there’s no good reason to get rid of it here. And it isn’t only about giving people more agency over their own corner of the country, but there are practical reasons as well – it’s simply not possible to have a one-size-fits-all policy for 320 million people. Furthermore, devolving all power to Washington would make control of the levers of the federal government a much bigger prize than it already is.

    As far as states and the Senate go, that is the system we have and it is, by design, difficult to change. You can’t change it without rewriting the Constitution and, essentially, remaking the United States. In my view, that’s a dangerous door to open because once opened you cannot guarantee what will come out the other side. The first Constitutional convention was originally intended with the limited goal of fixing the Articles of Confederation – instead they scrapped the whole thing and created our present Constitution. Personally, I don’t have nearly enough faith in our present venal political class to trust them with such a monumentally important task.

    Finally, you always have the right of relocation. If Senate representation is important enough for you, then you can always relocate to Wyoming and change or residency. The Jackson area is actually very nice.

  • TastyBits

    A Senate with proportional representation based upon population, simple majority voting system, and abolishing most/all of the Senate rules is a House of Senators.

    What is the point of having two almost identical House of Representatives? Once this system is in place, why would the two bodies not have the same or almost the same mix of the two Parties?

    In this system, Senators would have as much power as Representatives. In the existing system, the minority Party has some power to affect legislations. The minority Party could just stay at home waiting for the next election.

    Today, we would have the House of Representatives controlled by Republicans, and a House of Senators controlled by Republicans. The same people who are whining about a non-proportional Senate requiring a simple majority would be whining about the new system.

    How is the “no filibuster for presidential appointees” rule change working out? As usual, “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

  • Gustopher

    What value do states actually have in modern life?

    The urban areas of NY, GA, and FL have more in common with each other than they do with the rural areas of their respective states — both culturally, and in terms of financial needs. The same goes for the rural areas.

    At this point, binding the people of PA together as a single unit makes as much sense as putting everyone whose social security number is divisible by 17 into a group that has a governor and Senators and their own distinct laws.

    Also, is there really a need for two different Dakotas? It just seems superfluous.

  • Andy

    “What value do states actually have in modern life?”

    Well, here’s a list that probably isn’t complete, but gets the highlights:

    – Provide almost all education
    – Build/fund roads and most infrastructure
    – Manage ownership of various kinds of property
    – Provide essential services (police/fire/courts, etc.)
    – Regulation of commercial/industrial activities (intrastate commerce)
    – Issue various licenses
    – Run the election system
    – Create/support local government entities (Cities, counties, etc.).
    – Implement almost everything the feds pay for at the state level
    – Tax to pay for everything

    Basically, states can do everything that a national government would except for those things specifically reserved to the Federal government in the Constitution.

  • Gray Shambler

    Why do people complain about the electoral college when they lose, but love it when they win?
    Hillary Clinton knew of it and how it works, but she disdained asking for the votes, and considering the needs of the “deplorable’s”, and as a result, lost the election. Live with it.

  • Ben Wolf

    Dave, I don’t think that’s a wise position to take. You’re looking at the nominal (what it’s supposed to be) and ignoring the real (what it is.)

    Nothing written in the Constitution matters. Only interpretation within the social reality we construct in our own heads has any relevance. We have two, three or even four social realities which, in their complex interactions, determine what that document says at a given point in time.

  • Andy

    Ran across this on Twitter today (yes, I know Twitter sucks, but sometimes I indulge). A taste:

    The impulse to bandy about the threat of secession is not rooted in concern for the vulnerable. It is a tantrum by rich people who are angry that their political power temporarily does not match their economic power. Think about how shallow a self-proclaimed liberal’s commitment to social justice has to be for them to say that the proper response to the ascent of a quasi-fascist amoral strongman is to cede him the majority of the nation’s territory and stop helping to support social programs for everyone not lucky enough to live in a coastal state. Ah, what brave commitment to justice for all! If 51% of your state voted for the bad man, we will condemn the other 49% to misery. That’s what good liberals are all about! We all remember how Abraham Lincoln became an American hero by telling the Confederacy: If you are uneducated enough to think that slavery is good, go be your own country. With time your slaves will certainly come to realize that blue states are preferable!


    During the civil rights era—when the red states were even worse, if you can imagine—the good white liberals dutifully made their way down to Mississippi to get their asses kicked along with all the other protesters. Today, they write in the New fucking Republic, “Take Mississippi (please!), famous for being 49th or 50th in just about everything that matters.”

    The idea of having ostentatious liberal politics is to make up for being an elitist prick. Not to enhance it. Try harder.

  • Gustopher

    Andy, I wasn’t asking what states do, I was asking what value they have. Also, in your list, half of that is actually done on a county/municipality level.

  • Andy


    My view is that the things that states do are valuable. Beyond that is greater political agency which I also think adds value.

  • Ben Wolf

    There’s a response to Baker’s Article here:

  • TastyBits

    My vote is to give California to Mexico. It is the “right thing to do”, and the illegal alien problem will be ended.

    It will be amusing having famous fiction writers, among others, sneaking across the border and sending remittances back to their family in the reunited California with Mexico.

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