Should California Secede From the United States?
California could become one of the richest and most influential countries in the world
California, the so-called Golden State, is the third largest state in the union and the most populous. It’s the home of America’s film industry and birthplace of the Silicon Valley and per year it generates more than $40 billion of agricultural industry, with $100 billion more in related economic activity. It also has the sixth largest economy in the world, with a gross state product of over $2.5 trillion in 2016. For its obvious wealth and many other reasons, some people think it’s time for California to become an independent country.
Marcus Ruiz Evans, having worked in global trade and government, is a long-time California resident and has written a book suggesting if California became a separate nation it could become a leader of the global economy, international trade and governmental relations, a kind of renaissance state of the twenty-first century. The following article summarizes Evans’ facts, interpretations and ideas.
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The California Republic
In 1846, California was a separate breakaway state for a short time. Dubbed the California Republic and displaying a flag similar to California’s present one, the California Republic comprised a group of American immigrants who were dissatisfied with how Mexico was running Alta (upper) California. But this republic lasted for only 25 days before it was subsumed into the California Battalion, led by US Army Captain John C. Fremont.
Then the United States, hoping to greatly expand into the American West, went to war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848. The US easily won this war, after which Mexico and the US signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded Alta California, New Mexico and other areas to the US in exchange for war damages of $15 million and payment of a $3.5 million debt Mexico owed US citizens. California then became an American state in 1851.
Interestingly, the Spanish Empire, once the largest in the world, colonized Alta California in 1550, doing so specifically for promoting international trade. The Spanish built forts along the coast to support this trade; a series of missions were also built throughout Alta California, leading to settlement for the rest of the state.
Talk of Secession Isn’t New
- 1860: President Lincoln ordered the construction of the transcontinental railroad because he heard Californians wanted to secede from the union, and he didn’t want to fight secession on two fronts.
- 1930: President FDR suggested that California needed its own currency.
- 1941: The “Republic of Jefferson,” a proposed Pacific state comprised of people in southern Oregon and northern California, declared secession and set up armed checkpoints to declare their position; its provisional capital was Yreka, California.
- 1970: The book Ecotopia suggests a fictitious separation from the union by the states of California and Oregon.
- 2015: Yes California, a political organization investigating the possibility of California’s peaceful secession from the US, was established by advocates.
In Evans’ book, he writes that California needs to become a separate nation because many of America’s problems are keeping California from attaining a much more prosperous and influential destiny. These problems are outlined below:
America’s Power Is Waning
In recent decades, America’s time as a world leader is diminishing in scope, while other countries such as China and India are rising to prominence in economic matters and world trade. This new global dynamic is often called “the rise of the rest.”
America's Infrastructure Needs Repair
Most of America’s infrastructure was built from the 1930s to the 1970s and is badly in need of repair or replacement and should have been replaced in 1980, when it had attained 100 per cent of its design life. To run a competitive economy, its infrastructure needs updating; only central Africa and India have infrastructure that’s this old or older.
America’s Foreign Wars
The United States is still involved in ensuring the survival of two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and may need to continue these commitments for another 10 to 20 years, adding greatly to its burgeoning debt.
America’s Sinking Status
Evans asserts that America’s reputation around the world is as bad as it’s ever been, likening this decline to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century AD and the shrinking of Great Britain in the twentieth century.
A major blow to America’s status as the world’s greatest democracy happened with the passage of the Patriot Act, which violated international law for the purpose of waging a war on terror, thereby stripping the Bill of Rights from the Constitution regarding the treatment of terrorists, making kidnapping and torture legal in the process.
Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong want to become sub-national governments to China, utilizing a Chinese-and European-style federalism, not an American-style federalism. Other countries in the Middle East, Africa, South America and South Asia also snub American-style federalism.
California and Other Possible New Countries
Evans thinks that in addition to California, other states such as Hawaii and territories such as Puerto Rico, as well as Native American reservations need to attain a kind of sub-national sovereignty, so they can govern their own affairs and create their own trade agreements throughout the world. But some of these entities will need maintenance money from the federal government for at least a period of years after attaining sub-national sovereignty.
Evans, who is part American Indian, thinks America’s Native Lands need independence to “undo 150 years of wrong history,” as he describes it, that is, reparations for a military conquest that needs public action in the current era, a kind of twenty-first century Marshall Plan.
The Rise of Switzerland
After gaining independence from France in the early 1800s, Switzerland has become a decidedly neutral country, which gradually became Europe’s money holders, money changers, watch makers and, eventually, its global negotiation center. Moreover, Switzerland is not a member of the European Union but does belong to the United Nations. Also, one major reason for Switzerland’s great neutrality is that it’s become a nation comprised of many Europeans, particularly those from Italy, France, Germany and Romania.
In Evans’ mind, California should aspire to become more like Switzerland, a kind of renaissance state that could lead many countries of the world into a new wave of trade agreements, a situation that would definitely increase the wealth and power of California. Since California has always been a land of progressive change in the US, the bellwether state, as it is sometimes called, what better place in the country, if not the world, would be a stronger choice as the New Switzerland?
California Leads the Way
- 1870: Created the first electric transit system for an urban area
- 1875: Established the first union for international seamen – the Seaman’s Protective Association
- 1880: Started the first regional trademark product sold to customers around the world
- 1892: Formed the Sierra Club, America’s first environmental group
- 1930: Officially ended segregation in the state
- 1940: Started first gay social group
- 1950s: Prohibited laws against racially mixed marriages
- 1960s: American Counterculture revolution began in California, though some of it started in New York City about the same time
- 1990: Repealed affirmative action - great diversity already existed throughout the state
California’s Ethnic Mix
Since the late 1800s, California has absorbed a great number of immigrants from all over the world: Europeans, as well as Chinese, Indians, Mexicans, Russians, Filipinos, Iranians, Brazilians, Japanese, Latinos and Vietnamese. In fact, Los Angeles, California may be the most ethnically and racially diverse city in the world. Evans asserts that this great diversity would help California excel as an economic power house.
What an Independent California Would Mean to Californians:
- California could establish its own worldwide trade agreements, rather than rely on the federal government to advance California’s broad trade agenda.
- California could become much more like Switzerland, which has had one of the greatest economies in the world since 1850.
- If California no longer had to pay federal taxes, it would gain about $70 billion dollars per year, easily enough to pay off its debt and increase spending for repairs and improvements in infrastructure.
- California could grant reservations to all Indian tribes in the state.
- California would have complete control over its own economy, avoiding recessions entirely, and perhaps another worldwide financial crisis similar to the one that began in 2007.
- No longer having to pay billions in federal income taxes, California could greatly lower corporate tax rates, making it competitive in this regard with most other countries in the world.
- California’s local government will become much more efficient than the federal government when handling California’s affairs.
- A national leader in the production of green energy, California could become a world leader in dealing with climate change, greatly increasing job growth in this industry.
If outright secession from the United States is too difficult or expensive to attain, California could opt for a sub-national sovereignty or “secession lite,” is you will, after which the federal government of the US would still control the printing of money and maintenance of the national defense; therefore, California would still pay some federal taxes. Scotland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Crete, Bhutan and New Caledonia, as well as many other countries, have this kind of relationship, more or less, with another larger nation.
Interestingly, eight states in the US have a unique legal arrangement with the federal government. These states are Texas, Indiana, New Mexico, Hawaii, Louisiana, New York, Maine and West Virginia. (For instance, New Mexico has a legal requirement that all legal matters and court proceedings must be undertaken in both Spanish and English.) In addition, the federal government has given three states the ability to make any environmental law as binding as a federal environmental law.
Regarding California’s possible secession, Californians may wonder: What will happen to my Social Security, Medicare or other entitlements? Will all the money we put into these programs simply disappear? Unfortunately, Evans’ book doesn’t mention this issue, which definitely needs to be addressed sooner or later.
It certainly appears if any state actually seceded from the United States, and perhaps also became the new Switzerland, as Evans would hope, it would probably be California. So, in the coming years, much more may be heard about California’s possible secession from the US. If you live in California, how will you vote?
By the way, source material for this story comes from Marcus Ruiz Evans’ book, California’s Next Century 2.0: Economic Renaissance (2012), as well as various articles regarding California in Wikipedia and the website, www.yescalifornia.org.
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Evans talks about his book and why California should secede from the United States
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© 2017 Kelley Marks