How Would California Do On Its Own? It Might Be Just Fine

Saturday, 5 Jan 2013, 9:04:00 AM

Tom Elias

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

Remember how back on Election Night last November, Republican Mitt Romney held a lead of more than 1 million in the popular vote and an edge of more than 20 Electoral College votes – until 8 p.m., when the GOP hit the California firewall of 55 electoral votes and a 21 percent margin in the popular vote going to the Democrat, President Obama?

The closing of California’s polls essentially brought all suspense to a halt, with every major network declaring Obama the winner less than 15 minutes later. Obama’s edge of more than 2 million votes here constituted most of his national margin.

All this caused a lot of folks in rock-ribbed Republican “red” states to wish California would just go away. “Why can’t California just break off and fall into the ocean?” whined one Texas columnist. Others in Republican-leaning states began circulating secession petitions in the fatuous hope of escaping the California influence that ensured them four more years of Obama.

But virtually none of those other states would do very well alone. California, meanwhile, might be just fine. This state has about one-eighth of America’s population, but pays roughly one-seventh of all federal taxes. Where about one-tenth of the national economy is tied to foreign trade, about one-fourth of California’s economy depends on trade with other countries.

Many states that whine about California’s undue influence send folks to Congress with an ABC (anywhere but California) attitude. That’s one reason this state has seen more military base closures than any other despite its strategic location on the Pacific Rim. It’s one reason California gets just 77 cents back for every dollar in federal taxes paid by its citizens. By comparison, red states like West Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee all get back far more than $1 for every buck their citizens put in the federal kitty. Some (West Virginia, for one) get back as much as 50 cents more for each dollar than California. Yet, their mostly GOP representatives lead the chorus of gripers about high taxes, while California’s usually say little on the subject.

Seriously, could California realistically go it alone?

Well, maybe it wouldn’t actually have to secede to have a high degree of independence. Maybe, suggests author Marcus Ruiz Evans, California could become a sub-national state using United States currency and participating in the American military, but setting its own economic, environmental and social policies.

Evans, whose new book California’s Next Century 2.0: Economic Renaissance (Mikazuki, $19.99) advocates at least some degree of independence for California. He suggests something like what Scotland appears headed to: the ability to make its own laws that can’t be superceded by the overall United Kingdom except in military and currency policies.

Evans says California’s status in America is a lot like Scotland’s in the UK, both areas being different from the rest of their current countries.

“Our issues are not important to Congress because we’re not like other states,” says Evans, a Fresno-based Caltrans transportation planner in his day job. “We are incredibly large and unique, but it’s been a long time since we were important to the President or Congress.

“We are much more committed to the global economy than other states, but we are constantly being held up,” he adds.

On its own, he suggests, California could not only join the North American Free Trade Agreement, but could enter other free-trade zones like the South American Mercosur, a treaty involving Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela – which now specifically excludes America. He says California could also enter Asian free-trade agreements like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization including China, Russia and several former Soviet Asian republics.

“This would stop short of secession or anything like a civil war, but would allow California to make its own trade treaties and environmental agreements,” says Evans. “It’s ridiculous that today we have Nebraska and Delaware making decision for us, when they don’t have the same issues we do. A good example was the trade deal Arnold Schwarzenegger once negotiated with South Korea – neither President (George W.) Bush nor Obama would allow it to take effect, so we have lost hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs.”

Evans insists California could have the highest standard of living in the world and far more wealth if it could negotiate its own trade deals and decide tariff issues on its own.

So if all those red states that couldn’t stand seeing solidly blue California decide much of their electoral fate actually got their wish, California probably would do fine as a separate country or sub-country, already having the world’s eighth or ninth largest economy.

But if push ever comes to shove and this idea becomes a serious possibility, don’t bet on those other states letting California go very easily. Some of their officials are smart enough to know they still depend on all those tax dollars from Californians.

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