Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Six Californias Plan and the Conundrum of Modern Politics


For the past few months, a tech billionaire has been promoting a "Six Californias" plan to break up California into, well, six states. And on Monday, he said he had collected enough signatures to put the plan up for a statewide vote in 2016.
Sure, this looks like a self-serving plan for a Silicon Valley resident to tell the rest of the state to fuck off, but there have to be some benefits to splitting up, though, right?:
Proponents say the division would help create a more business-friendly environment, solve the state’s water issues, and ease traffic congestion.
Solve the state's water issues and ease traffic congestion?  How is that going to happen?  Oh, yeah, I'm sure the answer is free markets.  Wouldn't this create chaos in the operation of the State Water Project?  But the really interesting fallout from such a plan, which will never happen, involves urban-to-rural transfer payments:
The plan's most dramatic implications would be for wealth distribution and inequality. The proposed new state of Silicon Valley (where Draper lives) would become the richest state in the nation, while the new state of Central California would be the poorest, according to a report by the state legislative analyst's office. This table from the report shows that, in 2011, the state's personal income tax base was concentrated overwhelmingly in just 3 of the 6 proposed states:
The richer areas of California also currently subsidize schools in poorer regions of the state, as seen in this chart from the report:

And this is where it gets weird:
For his part, Draper has asserted that "t​he people in Central California,​ and the people in​ Jefferson​, who would be the poorest states, ​are the ones who are the most enthusiastic​ supporters of Six Californias." He says they feel unrepresented under the current regime and want to be broken away from Sacramento.
So the areas which benefit the most from the current arrangement are also the ones which want out the most.  This plays itself out in almost all of the "secession" movements around the country.  Low-population, conservative rural areas in states in which political control rests with Democrats elected from the urban areas where the vast majority of the population lives.  Trying to set up their own states would cost them more money, by far, and would almost certainly lead to worse public services and infrastructure, but if they can hate on gays, brown people and science, they are all for it.  They are sure that the government is holding them down and butting in to their lives, when really all it is doing is shoveling them money to support their lives in areas where population density wouldn't support the infrastructure of modern life without heavy subsidies.

This does, however, summarize politics at the state and federal level.  At the state level, representatives from rural areas are the most supportive of Republican plans to slash taxes and government spending, even though the tax burden falls on wealthy urban and suburban areas, and the transfer payments go to rural areas and inner city areas.  The suburban representatives, while still pretty conservative, tend to be more moderate, even though they represent the folks who will save on the taxes and have the means to support their local schools, government and infrastructure.  Likewise, at the federal level, the states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and New York (especially around the Big Apple) consistently pay a much higher share of the tax burden and elect more liberal representatives who favor those policies, while states which benefit from federal transfer payments, like Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana support cutting taxes and federal spending, even though their situation as the poorest states in the nation would only become more dire. Wealthy conservatives and libertarians work to benefit at the expense of their base supporters, and yet they will gladly let that base cut its own throat. I can't say that I fully understand it, but I have come to expect it.  At a certain point, I really feel like saying, "fuck you idiots, have at it."

One final aspect this story is notable to me.  Central California is home to some of the richest farmland in the world, and yet, if set up as its own state, would be by far the poorest state in the nation.  Its only true rival for poorest region would most likely be the Mississippi Delta, also home to some of the richest soil in the world.  Meanwhile, Iowa, in spite of all the lunatics in the northwestern area of the state who vote to be represented by Steve King, possibly the dumbest member of Congress, is much more progressive, even though it is also home to extremely rich soil.  What is the difference?  I would speculate that it is a combination of ethnic culture and history, land ownership patterns and demographics, but I think it would be an interesting subject of study.


  1. Perhaps this can help explain it.

  2. And there's that other rich "libertarian" guy (euphemism for I've got mine--screw you) with the Detroit area independent state idea, too. What's with these guys, other than greed? Suppose one of these plans gets adopted. What happens then, besides chaos? Somebody gets pissed/and or jealous and proposes breaking the new states into even smaller units until we get back to the Greek city-state model?

    Some people have more money than brains.

    On the other hand, if Iowa can get rid of King's district and Travis Co. can shed itself of the rest of Texas, the idea may have merit. Iowa doesn't have ballot initiatives, though.

  3. CrazyCanuck, that is a very interesting article. I'm still not sure how negativity bias makes rural conservatives miss that their way of life is subsidized by people in higher density areas.

    HillBilly, I think we could allow a lot more small states if our federal Constitution no longer contained the Senate and the Electoral College, but my expectation would be that whether because of efficiency or concentration of power or whatever, we would end up with more mergers/consolidations, much like in corporate America.

  4. It's not so much whether they realize how their life is subsidized, but the matter of control. The article talks about conservatives large reactions to perceived threats, and one of the greatest threats to people (in people's minds) is a possible loss of control. Trusting others to make decisions about their lives is extremely difficult for negativity-oriented conservatives.

    The article also mentions a past paper which had similar conclusions, with traits including "a need for certainty and an intolerance for ambiguity". Leaving control (even if it's just partial) to others, especially those whom one doesn't know, is a huge button for such conservatives. Being a long ways away from those "others", those who have some control, just adds to the paranoia, hence the added negativity for rural conservatives.

    No, it's not logical in the grand scheme of things, but as the article states, it's more about emotion than logic.

  5. That makes sense, but I guess I would figure that if my lifestyle is subsidized, it is already out of my control. I am depending on the kindness of strangers to get and keep me in the first world. I would think losing that support would appear to be a threat, and yet rural conservatives support tax cuts and spending cuts that undermine their local governments, schools and infrastructure. I'm more amenable to strangers if they are giving me free stuff, like candy. Sure, I'll get in the van (humor for rural conservatives).