Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
Californians -- both citizen and government -- have long boasted how economically self-sufficient their state has become, to the point where some firmly believe that California could survive quite nicely on its own, outside the United States. That rhetoric has increased in volume since the last election. Californians, overwhelmingly liberal Democrat in political viewpoint, are utterly unwilling to contemplate being a part of a country that had the temerity to elect a Republican, especially Donald J. Trump for whom most consider the term "buffoon" to be too high a compliment.
There have always been secession movements in this country, although most (outside the Civil War) involve splitting states, not leaving the Union. Western Maryland, for example, is politically the photographic negative of the eastern half of the state, where the liberals in Baltimore and Annapolis run the whole state through their leftist lens. For a few decades, there was a movement to separate northern from southern California. But to this point in history, the only state to split apart was Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War, dividing into Confederate Virginia and Union West Virginia.
But things have become more complex since 1863. The interweaving strands of economy and culture are far more dense today.
Consider this: There are about 142,000 U.S. federal employees in California, all of whom would have to depart. Also, there are better than 190,000 members of the U.S. military currently stationed in the Golden State. Add dependents and that number could easily go as high as a three-quarters of a million. All those people pay state and local taxes. They buy groceries, auto parts, homes, and tickets to Disneyland, Universal Studios, Magic Mountain, and Knott's Berry Farm. The loss of that revenue stream would be a serious blow to the economy.
The U.S. government spends about $370 billion each year in and on California; $50 billion of that by the Pentagon, who is by far the largest customer for California defense and aerospace industries. On the debit side of the ledger, California now supports a large population of people drawing any one of a number of forms of public assistance, ranging from food stamps to college tuition. A lot of that money comes into the state from the federal government, although the exact amount is difficult to compute from public sources. It is fair to say that the costs of those programs might be as much as three-quarters of a billion dollars, none of which would be supported or reimbursed from the U.S. government.
California carries a lot of people on welfare roles, and those numbers for, an independent republic, are financially unsustainable. More clearly stated, it would eventually bankrupt the California government. Those people would have to work in some way to become taxpayers instead of tax beneficiaries.
As liberals are wont to do, they would likely put the arm on the wealthy to cover the shortfall. But there is real danger there. States which have chosen to treat the wealthy as economic enemies of the state have discovered that those folks, along with the large corporations, are mobile in ways foreign to the rest of us. In 2008, Maryland enacted what was called "the millionaire's tax," targeting the wealthy. In the ensuing years, however, those thus targeted left the state in droves, usually relocating a few miles to Virginia, taking their homes, their tax payments, their companies and the associated jobs with them. The total impact to the state when all those elements are added together was somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or nine billion dollars. Rich people in California are no different. If they find themselves paying sixty cents or more for every dollar earned, they will abandon ship in the same fashion.
California still has a lot of mineral wealth within its borders. The government might be tempted to resume mining for gold and silver, along with other less valuable elements in order to create some wealth upon which they could print currency and coinage. The environmental damage endemic to such activities should cool the ardor of even the most passionate secessionists.
Outside of the money, there are other considerations. If the U.S. government has to vacate California, post-secession, not only will the military members leave, they will take with them guns, ammo, HUMVEEs, tanks, aircraft, submarines, missiles, anti-missile missiles (remember Kim Jong Un is still out there) communications and surveillance equipment, and anything else not nailed down. California will have to provide its own army, navy, marine, air force, coast guard and the Californians willing to wear the uniform. And the money to pay for all of that. If Californians are harboring delusions that nobody out there wishes them ill, then they need to wake up and take a good look around.
Some other things to consider. In a state that geologically waits to die from the next major earthquake, there would be no federal disaster aid coming in. Major crime in California would have to be solved without the extensive resources and expertise of entities like the FBI, and there's no shortage of major crime in California. Counter-terrorism activities, both intelligence and investigations, will have to be undertaken from local resources, without ready access to the extensive databases of the U.S. government, especially intelligence from foreign sources.
Lastly, the withdrawal of California and its 55 electoral votes would likely mean that Democrats might not win another U.S. election for the foreseeable future. Even if the Democrats California get serious about secession, you can expect a great deal of pushback from Democrats in the other 49 states. Also, the establishment of a liberal-minded utopia on the west coast might be well nigh irresistible to other liberals across the country. This would create an immigration crises of another kind, and panic for the DNC as they see their voters flooding westward.
Dreams of this kind are rarely crafted in a logical, dispassionate, or pragmatic way. One only has to look at the political dissolution that was the fate of the late and unlamented Confederate States of America to see the dangers. But the desire to stand independent is fundamental to the American character. Personally, I believe that the costs would far outweigh the emotional benefits of fleeing a Trump-led America. But if that's what they wish to do, I wish them all the best.
Just a suggestion, however. Be ready to sow what you reap.