Monday, August 24, 2009

States' Rights in a Mobile Society

The United States was settled on more or less of a free market model. As settlers/invaders fanned out across the middle of North America, they set up shop wherever they could, often united on common philosophical ground. Restless souls kept moving while more settled settlers stuck around to set the tone for those who arrived later. In many cases, especially among religiously-based settlements, they became a known brand that attracted like minds.

As transportation and communication improved, people and ideas could come and go more easily. In a country that considered itself a great and unified nation, this movement of citizens and thoughts seemed like one of its better aspects. But it also diluted the unity of communities that might have lived in happy isolation.

Divisive issues have always stirred up debate in this country. It's only human nature. But now, modern technology gives us the ability to break free of traditional political boundaries.

Say you like the philosophies behind the laws and conventions of one state, but can't live there for any number of valid reasons. You should be able to claim citizenship there anyway, just as you shop for certain brands of product, patronize chain stores, follow a religion or otherwise link your identity to a larger one. Just as a global corporation will have a corporate headquarters somewhere, branded states will continue to hold the territory they now have, at least at first. More popular states will get more tax revenue and may buy land from less popular states that are strapped for cash. We could go from 50 states to 37, but they'd be proven performers with a solid customer base. We could even get down to five, or three, or two. Given people's love of their differences, though, that seems unlikely. We may go the other way, as Thomas Jefferson envisioned, and have a patchwork of numerous, tiny states.

We might even get to the point of individual statehood. Each citizen of majority age would BE a state. The sovereign state of Fred. The sovereign state of Angela. The sovereign state of Cletus. Each would levy taxes and pay for services and infrastructure within arm's reach.

Each state having a population of one, everyone would have to go to Washington (or wherever we'd voted to put the capital by then) or, more likely, vote on line on all major issues. If you didn't like your representative you'd know where to find him.

Okay, individual statehood seems unlikely. But absentee citizenship in branded states has its merits. Form your constituencies from like-minded individuals wherever they may be. We try to do it now with political parties, but that just mucks up the operation of government at state and national levels. Make the states themselves an intellectual construct instead of a physical space. It can't be much more fouled up than what we have. It might be jolly fun.

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