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February 10, 2007

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BillSaysThis

For now at least, California (and any other single state or small group of states) do not have to deal (directly) with military issues and foreign affairs. Having lived here for over a decade, until we can get a handle on sprawl, illegal aliens and a devestated middle class, for starters, I don't really see California as a model for a devolved nation state.

Marcello

Despite all the idiocy of the current US foreign policy I believe that de facto disbanding the current system in order to prevent another Iraq is just as stupid.
Finding the political will to support a sane foreign policy would be trivially easier than mustering the political will to carry out such a radical reform.
Politically current conservatives love a big military which requires a strong central government. Liberals on the other hand have centralization in their DNA. T
his is because government can do increasingly less and less as you move to the lower levels. A local government can raise far fewer taxes than a national one because for people it is easier to move to a lower taxes community than to change nation. A community in dire financial situation might be tempted to give an industry carte blanche to pollute as it wishes. These are just a couple of examples mind you.
Therefore any decentralization tendency from the progressives will be just a temporary fad which will last only until they find out the implications of what they are supporting. Decentralization is inherently a conservative agenda but as I noted previously current conservatives love a military with big shiny toys so centralization will stay with them too.

Then the notion that decentralization is the best thing since sliced bread is a popular axiom which neverthless does not stand up to close scrutiny. The ex Soviet Union has gained no advantage from breaking down into smaller countries. With the exception of the Baltic republics, which are a special case, they are generally worse off (in some cases catastrophically worse off) than under soviet rule.
Only Russia,finally again under the rule of a centralizer, is slowly pulling itself up.
The theory that a local government is closer to the people and therefore more effective is a nice sounding theory but it is just that, a theory. In practice more often than not you will get petty dictators carving up their fiefdoms, thugs or just plain anarchy where the criminal element can hide to escape the policing efforts of the surrounding states.

John Robb

You might be right about the politics, but your contention that decentralization doesn't work isn't really valid.

If you look at it through the perspective of the entirity of eastern Europe, I think you would find that most states are much better off than they were unders Soviet hegemony. Some rump states, which were polluted backwaters during Soviet rule and Belarus, are hardly enough evidence to contend that humanity benefited from Soviet Union.

In terms of small = bad, I am not sure that works given the evidence. There are lots of places where small = extraordinary wealth/prosperity. Singapore and many of the EU states. In fact, despite their geographic size, Canada and Australia are small and would compare in GDP more to CA or New England if those were market-states.

The great thing about globalization and the presence of nuclear weapons is that there aren't any real reasons for large states. Don't think of devolution in the Soviet model, think of it more in the EU model.

John Ballard

Thanks for posting this. Alperovitz is spot on in his thinking.

I have only skimmed a bit of what he has written but didn't come across any mention of the impact of immigrants. That is a force that will have to puzzle into the picture. As long as they remain mostly disinfranchised (as is now the case) their impact is negligible, but as they enter the mainstream Latino voters will be a potent force.

Marcello

"Some rump states, which were polluted backwaters during Soviet rule and Belarus, are hardly enough evidence to contend that humanity benefited from Soviet Union."

Of course communism as an economic system was a utter failure and humanity did not benefit from it. That being said Ukraine was hardly a backwater or a "rump state".
They had in proportion a very high share of the soviet resources (agriculture, industry et.) and when they gained their independence from the evil centre in Moscow they were supposed to achieve prosperity faster than everybody else in the FSU. Or so was the narrative back then at any rate. In practice they actually went down the toilet and their GDP pro capita is now half than that of Russia. Even if you discounted the oil factor they still haven't outperformed Russia by any significant margin. In Jugoslavia the petty nationalists had a field day in turning one of the eastern bloc countries with most potential into a killing field.
And the people who will usually push for secession and seize the power once achieved are nearly always like that: incompetent demagogues hell bent on carving up some place to misrule as they see fit.
Some places, like Kosovo, if left to their own devices would probably turn into safe heavens for criminals.
Poland, the Baltic republics etc. were independent states,often with a relatively western outlook, which were forced to adopt an idiotic economic system and to submit to a foreign power which cared nothing for them. Small wonder they now work better than before, but it isn't the same thing of tearing apart an existing state. Now, would slicing Poland in subcomponents like happened to the the SSSR make it work better? It may be but I doubt it.

"Don't think of devolution in the Soviet model, think of it more in the EU model."

I am not sure if I get what you are saying but the EU was an attempt at centralization. Common currency regulated by the centre, common regulations emanated from centralized bureaucracies etc. It wasn't the Orwellian monster that was made out to be by british pundits and it actually was a force that pushed for transparency and efficiency in some countries that did not shine for such qualities. That being said is now dead (bureaucratic inertia will carry it on until the next crisis but that is all), killed by nationalism, entrenched interests and just plain short sightness.

"The great thing about globalization and the presence of nuclear weapons is that there aren't any real reasons for large states"

Again I am not sure if I am getting right what you are saying. Are you saying that nuclear weapons can be a cheap safeguard against aggression from the better equipped armies that larger states can field? If so then you are correct. However nuclear proliferation generates the need for more nuclear proliferation as every state will want to safeguard itself from its neighbors. At the end you will find yourself with a large number of nuclear actors. Due to the nature of contingency nuclear war planning and the multiplied possibilities of nuclear materials getting in terrorist hands you are looking towards a security nightmare.

Jason A. Lefkowitz

I would argue that America is suffering from California's bigness more than California is suffering from America's bigness.

California's borders were drawn when it was a sparsely populated territory. Consequently, the state is huge. Unlike most of the other states created in this way, though, California's population and economy have boomed to such a degree that today California commands a gigantic share of political and economic power within the federal system. Consider that its huge population gives it so many electoral votes that it's a huge uphill battle for a candidate to win the Presidency without winning California.

Moreover, the hugeness of California makes it practically ungovernable -- or, perhaps, governable but with sclerotic tendencies due to the need to satisfy constituencies ranging from poor Latino families in East LA to wine sipping yuppies in Northern California.

We'd all be better off if California were split into 2 or 3 smaller states.

zenpundit

"Don't think of devolution in the Soviet model, think of it more in the EU model"

John, did you mean this in the sense of the supranational level of EU governance giving an implicit boost to subnational aspirations for sovereignty and independence (Scotland, Basques, Corsica, ex- Yugoslavian republics etc.)?

Otherwise, I'm not seeing the "devolution" given that the EU has been highjacked by protectionist and rentier French etatism as an economic and regulatory model.

John Robb

M and ZP,

In terms of the EU, the economic integration appears to be the only thing of value. The political integration stalled, as it should, and now we are seeing more fragmentation at that level (as Zen points out).

In reference to the EU, what I mean is that if the US did devolve, it would probably carry forward some level of economic integration and some common external economic policy (more in tune with the US's current laisez faire approach than French protectionism). Politically, for all things above this level, it would fragment mightily (to our benefit). It wouldn't be chaos.

Marcello

"Otherwise, I'm not seeing the "devolution" given that the EU has been highjacked by protectionist and rentier French etatism as an economic and regulatory model."

That is precisely the popular misconception that I was referring about when I was speaking about "british pundits". The legislation the EU pushed was generally actually much more pro free market than that of the continental member states. In case you missed it the french people voted against the EU constitution, in part precisely because the EU was perceived as too much laissez faire for their tastes.

zenpundit

" The legislation the EU pushed was generally actually much more pro free market than that of the continental member states. In case you missed it the french people voted against the EU constitution, in part precisely because the EU was perceived as too much laissez faire for their tastes"

No, I didn't miss that vote, nor is it a misconception that the EU leans toward regulatory statism; even if in rationalizing and making regulatory policy uniform, it does not live up to the expectations of the most ardently etatist European voters. Everything is relative but let's be realistic -even the US isn't " laissez-faire"

Calling the EU "laissez-faire" is akin calling the old USSR " democratic".

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