Do we really need fifty states?

No, I’m not talking about throwing states out of the union.

State governments are expensive buisness. What with all the red tape and whatnot that each state maintains (not to mention the administrative costs involved with maintaining the state offices, governments, elections, etc.) Now, I’m not advocating throwing out the concept of states altogether. I certainly recognize that people in different areas of the country need have different concerns that they should be able to bring to Congress via their Representatives and Senators. Their voices certainly need to be heard.

However, I was wondering if the consolidation of states would be a good idea. For example: do the people of Connecticut really have concerns that are vastly different than those of Rhode Island? Could not these two states be combined into one state (Connecticut Island :slight_smile: )? to save on costs? Are the concerns of North Carolinians and South Carolinians so diverse that they cannot be addressed in terms of a single state? Are the people of New Mexico and Arizona so different that they have to duplicate each other’s vital functions? There are any number of states that can be reasonably combined with other states.

Now, I do recognize that certain states simply cannot be combined for any number of reasons (Alaska comes to mind). But surely we could get rid of a good twenty states or so this way, and save ourselves a lot of money and confusion (since there would only be now thirty sets of state laws, instead of fifty).

I know that this is something that will never happen in the real world. I fully realize that there is no way that twenty states will vote for something that would put them out of business and there is no way that the politicians of twenty states will voluntarily vote themselves out of jobs and power.

Zev Steinhardt

Interesting idea, but every historical precident I can think of supports the opposite conclusion. I live in CA and we go thru a “should we split up into 2 or more states” phase every 10 yrs or so.

Maybe 50 or 100 yrs from now this might be viable, but not now.

Well, hell. Why stop there?

Who the hell do Belgium and Luxembourg think they’re kidding, acting like they’re real countries? Do we really need to have Sweden and Norway? Are we supposed to think that Australia and New Zealand are like, really different from each other or something? Hell, let’s just lump all of subsaharan africa together. Would anybody other than them know the difference?

And Og Almighty, don’t get me started on the whole thing with those stupid Canadians and their “No we really are different from Americans” thing. Sheesh.

Ducks and runs. Really fast.

And yes, there is a point in there.

Good question. I’ve thought a lot about this at the local level with counties. In some western states there are already quite a few lightly populated counties that purchase a number of vital services from adjoining counties or municipalities. One could make the case that a lot of counties could be consolidated.

Some with states. Let’s combine the Dakotas, Colorado and Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, Nebraska and Kansas, Mississippi and Alabama, North and South Carolina.

The cost savings over the long haul would be tremendous, but there would be some near-term issues with continuity of record-keeping, but as more and more records are digitized, this would become easier.

Ah, but you have to balance any benefits gained against the cost of switchover. And the cost of switching over a massive amount of goverment structure would be pretty high, while the gains made would be moderate at best.

Which is exactly why I favor dumping states wholesale. Push all the costs and hassles on someone else. Then we can pick up newer, better states to make up the tax revenue.

Well, with countries, you have the issues of soverignity, etc. which I think would be more difficult to “consolidate.” These are not issues, however with the United States, since the states are not soverign entities.

Zev Steinhardt

But the switchover cost would be a one-time cost. The benefits, however, would continue to accrue year after year. In the short term it’s a loser, sure, but I think that the long-term gains far outweigh the short-term losses.

Zev Steinhardt

I think it’s a great idea. If the United States were some big political simualiton game, it would just make sense. But of course it won’t happen. I think we could get by with about 15 states, with about 20 million people each. Most current states would coalesce, but one or two could probably split apart. NYC metro would be one state, and upstate NY could join with New England. Southern California could be one, and northern California could join with the rest of the Pacific.

Then explain please, why do we need states at all? That’s just another layer of bureaucracy, isn’t it? What difference are there between states that are so damn important anyway?

Because people in different areas of the country do have legitimately different concerns. The concerns of a person in New York City are going to differ from those in, say, Minnesota. As such, each area does deserve to have their concerns heard in Congress (and this is done by the states sending Representatives to Congress).

In addition, different people in different areas may have legitimately different ideas concerning how their local laws should be run. So, people in New York, for example, shouldn’t be promulating lumber foresting laws for people in Oregon; nor should people in San Diego be telling people in Maine how many crabs and lobsters they can catch per year.

States are good things. But I think that we can do without a fair number of the ones we have now.

Zev Steinhardt

[Abe Simpson]

Dear Mr. President:

There are too many states nowadays. Please eliminate three.

PS I am not a crackpot.

[/Abe Simpson]

The political obstacles are insurmountable. Right now the little states benefit most from the system, which is realized in government “pork” spending. I read recently that something like 16% of the population elects 50% of the Senate.

Because 50 is such a nice, big, round number, easy to organize on the flag and easy to remember. That’s why Puerto Rico will never get admitted. Because it would throw off the national vibe. :wink:

I like this idea. While we’re at it maybe someone (anyone, are you listening Wyoming?) could take in DC for purposes of voting rights.

I actually like the idea, though it is impractical. New Hampshire would never combine with Massachusetts for instance. For better or worse many people imagine an identity that is connected with their state. Changing that would be nigh impossible.

No, not exactly sovereign, but they do have a protected constitutional status. U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 3: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” In other words, Congress does not have the authority to redraw the boundaries of existing states, or create new states out of old ones, or consolidate smaller states into larger ones, unless the legislatures of the affected states agree – which is always a long shot. (The means by which West Virginia was split off from Virginia was a very special case – you can be sure it won’t happen again.)

Assuming that all the state legislatures could be persuaded to support a general reorganization of the state system, or that the constitution could be amended to give Congress the power to reorganize the system by fiat, I would not suggest simply consolidating all the small states on a “bigger is better” theory. Rather, I would try to:

(1) Make all the states roughly the same size, which means merging some and splitting others. (Cooking with the anal-retentive political scientist . . .) That is, the same size in population, not in area. After all, it’s really the population of a unit of government, isn’t it, that determines what its needs are, and what functions it will need to exercise, and how complicated its problems are going to be? As for what is the “right” size for a state, I suggest we try to answer that by studying the relative effectiveness and economic efficiency of the governments of various sizes of American states, and of various sizes of state-like units of foreign countries, such as the Canadian provinces, the German Lander, the French regions and departments, Swiss cantons, etc. Challenging project!

(2) Consolidate every metropolitan area into a single government, incorporating the central city and the outermost suburbs, for the sake of more efficient metropolitan regional planning and government – and also for the sake of providing a single tax base that can be used to rebuild all the impoverished areas. In some cases, this would involve making the whole metro area into a single county – and in others, it would require making it into a new city-state. For instance, a lot of the people of the District of Columbia are discontented with their political status as a non-state territory. They want to be admitted to the Union as the state of New Columbia. (Why “New”? There is no older state of Columbia . . .) But that would make a state of one city, Washington, which is not an economically self-sufficient unit – so many of the people who work there don’t live there, but in the surrounding counties of Maryland and Virginia. It just seems wrong to set up a system wherein all those commuters will have to pay taxes in a city-state where they, as non-residents, cannot vote; and it also seems wrong to set up a city-state which cannot tax all that valuable suburban property of those commuters whose livelihoods depend, after all, on the city being there for them. So if New Columbia is to be a state, let it be a state of the whole Washington metro area – Washington City, Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, Arlington County, Alexandria City, Fairfax County, Fairfax City, and Falls Church City. The existing city and county governments could continue as going concerns, but all subject to a new state government representing the rich suburbanites as well as the poor inner-urbanites – all one tax base, all one community of voters. Very fair and rational, no? And the same treatment could be applied to every metro area of Washington’s population or larger – Baltimore (including most of Baltimore County), Philadelphia (including Camden, N.J.), etc.

New York is the most illustrative case. I would make a new city-state of the whole Greater New York metro area, and call it, simply, the state of New York. (The remainder of “upstate” New York would be renamed the state of Hudson.) In the new state of New York, the present political association of the Five Boroughs would be ended – the boroughs would be counties, of exactly equal status and autonomy with the counties hived off from New York State, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That is, there would no longer be a New York Police Department policing the Five Boroughs; either there would be a single state police department, or a separate police department for every county/borough. I think that would satisfy the demands of the Staten Islanders for independence from New York City: Because Manhattan would not predominate in the new state the way it now overshadows the other four boroughs of NYC, the Staten Islanders would maintain some political association with the Manhattanites without having to feel they are being ruled as a colony.

(3) Make each state so that it makes a lot more sense, as a state. Remember, the boundaries of most of them were drawn up while they were still sparsely settled. There was no way for Congress to predict how society was actually going to develop there, on the ground. A lot of existing states actually cut across very real lines of regional culture, economic activity, and biogeographical characteristics. (See The Nine Nations of North America, by Joel Garreau – Avon 1989; and the “biogeographical provinces” scheme of Miklos Udvardy, UNESCO World Heritage Centre - World Heritage List, When you think about it, what do the Missourians of St. Louis really have in common with the Missourians of Kansas City, apart from the way they return-address their mail? I bet they don’t even like the same kind of barbecue.

I think you will find Oregon and Washington State would have nothing to do with any part of California.


Besides, Northern California would split into a further into two states, with its northern most area becoming the State of Jefferson.

The East coast is represented by 32 senators (I’m counting Vermont and Pennsylvania here, even though neither has any Atlantic coastline); the West coast is represented by six (Ten if you count Alaska and Hawaii as “West coast”). Any attempt to consolidate existing states would be met with great resistance from (a) regions who don’t want to cede their bloc representation in the senate, and (b) regions that already feel underrepresented in Congress. Any attempt to redraw state lines would encourage rampant gerrymandering by the party in power when the lines were being redrawn. North and South Carolina have already lost one very powerful senator each in recent years, and now you want them each to cede one more? Good luck selling that one, hoss!

Congressional representation is a very big deal. If you don’t think so, spend some time living somewhere that doesn’t have it (I lived in DC until pretty recently; they’ve had to fight for every crumb of home rule, and they lost a huge measure of it a few years back).

Ah, but that gets you into the counterargument; for every state you combine, you could legitimately justify the creation of a new state.

New York is an obvious example; the concerns of the people of New York City are vastly different from the concerns of people in western and upstate New York. The concerns of folks in Rochester or Watertown are almost as different from New York City as are the folks in Minnesota.

California is another obvious candidate for separation. Upstate and southern Florida still another.

If we’re trying for cost savings, we should start by combining counties.

Some of the mid-sized states have a hundred or more counties, each with its own assessor, collector, sheriff’s department, road department manager, assistants and courthouse, but the population in some are 10,000 or less.

It would be a lot easier legally but perhaps not politically to combine four counties into one rather than attempting to combine states. But many of these towns that are county seats would dry up and blow away if it weren’t for the county offices being located there.

Wouldn’t it be just as easy to slice Florida off and let it sort of coast away into the sea? It’s just hanging there, for Pete’s sake, and when you look at it on a map it is vaguely obscene.