Monday, September 24, 2007

E Pluribus Unum

There was an article in the Times on Sunday on how Belgium is once again on the verge of splitting up. This is not news; the French and the Flemish halves of Belgium richly detest each another; they have different languages, cultures, and economies. (Flanders is hot; French Belgium is not.) Perhaps Belgium will split into its constituent parts. People interviewed in the article expressed the conviction that within their lifetimes a unified Belgium will be no more. Perhaps. Certainly, in Europe, in the past two decades alone, Yugoslavia has split (with horrendous violence), as had the Soviet Union (more peaceful than not) and Czechoslovakia (with nary a peep.)

Anyway in the local Rochester paper today, there were two op-eds calling for the pricking of that annual blister, the separation of New York State into separate upstate and downstate states. This sort of talk has been going on since the Constitutional Ratification debates at Poughkeepsie in 1788, and has been frequently heard since. One author, interestingly, called for a state that would be comprised of only central and western NY, leaving Albany and New York City together. (Perhaps the new states could be called Hudsonia and Iroquoia. ) The other called for a more conventional upstate/downstate division. Neither had particularly good reasons for calling for a split, other than the usual NYC-bashing, and the assumption that an independent upstate would somehow have lower taxes, though of course the NYC region has been carrying upstate’s sorry economic ass for a quarter century now.

One thing that is absolutely clear is that nothing of this sort will happen. Unlike Europe, the borders and boundaries of the American states are utterly ossified. The last time the borders of a state underwent significant change, when West Virginia split from Virginia, required the catalyst of a civil war. Absent that, the borders of New York (and every other state) will not be changing.

I’m not completely sure why this is so, but one reason is surely the anomalies of the most ridiculously apportioned elective body in the world, the United States Senate. One of the advantages of an independent upstate, as the op-eds in the Rochester paper indicated, would be the gaining of two additional senators. Upstaters are not the first people to figure that splitting a state doubles the senators with the same number of people. Every few years, one reads about some Texans who are threatening the divide that home of presidents into four or five states, primarily to increase Republican representation in the Senate. But of course if a state ever split, every state would want to follow suit, and there would be an irresistible race to the bottom. There is no advantage in having any more people than the least populous state, and the US would soon disunite into about 600 Wyoming sized(in population) states of about half a million persons each, thus finally providing equal and democratic representation in the senate. To prevent this avalanche I suspect New York State (and every other state) will remain in tact more or less in perpetuity.

Anyway, if I had to redraw the state boundaries (and eliminate the US Senate in the process) I would go in the other direction; conglomeration, not disunification. Like Gov. Edmund Andros did in the 1680s, I would unite New York with New England, or with New Jersey and Pennsylvania form Midatlantica. (Or if I really had my druthers, I would leave the US behind altogether and petition for New York State to join Ontario, where a dollar is still a dollar.) And when all these dreams and fantasies of maximizing and optimizing our political representation are, in some distant day, finally realized, and New York is divided into downstate, upstate, mid state, east state, and west state, then perhaps then we can get around to giving the citizens of the District of Columbia a vote in our national legislature.

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