An Interesting Idea

This weekend I read an article ( that made the point that upstate New York has been devastated by the urban-oriented, left-wing policies favored by New York’s downstate elites. Businesses and people have been leaving the vast area far north of the city for decades.

Upstate is becoming, in the article’s colorful phrase, “Detroit with grass”. Been there, seen that; some years ago, I rode my bicycle right across upstate New York, from before Buffalo to after Albany: the region is characterized by natural beauty and social squalor. It is the very picture of rural decline.

(Not mentioned in the article, but of particular interest given the praise I lavished on Governor Cuomo in this post earlier today: one of the most devastating recent differences in policy between upstate New York and adjacent Pennsylvania is that the latter allows fracking, while the former – to the shame of Governor Cuomo, who seems to fear the anti-development “environmental” lobby more than upstate voters – does not. Consequently, Pennsylvanians have been benefitting hugely from the new technology, while their neighbors just to the north continue to suffer).

The article got me thinking: why should our states’ borders remain as originally drawn? In many cases, as is demonstrably the case in New York, policies perceived as good in the politically dominant area of a state may be devastating to other regions. To each his own if possible without violence, I say.

Admittedly, an effort to redraw states’ borders starting from scratch would cause constitutional mayhem, but I have a simpler idea: a constitutional amendment allowing any county, on an affirmational vote of 2/3rds of its voters, to secede from its state and join a contiguous state with the permission of the legislature of the state being joined.

What’s the principled argument against such an amendment?  We are not the property of our states, are we? What right should they have to keep us if we wish to go, and another state would take us?

There’s even a near-precedent: West Virginia seceded from Virginia because the counties of which it is comprised did not wish to leave the Union; in that instance, Congress created a new state for the seceding counties, but there would be no need for it to do so under my proposal.

Such an amendment would enable those upstate counties that wish to escape New York’s worst-in-the-nation business climate, for example, to join a nearby state that wants them and better suits their needs. It would also empower citizens generally with a broad, if indirect, ability to nullify the tyranny of the majority.

Such a constitutional amendment would also almost certainly restrain state legislatures from imposing harsh new taxes and regulations, and from obviously disadvantaging particular regions, for fear that those so disadvantaged would up and leave, diminishing the state’s power base and frustrating the legislators’ revenue-raising purposes.


– M.H. Johnston

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