The U.S. Without California

P. Gardner Goldsmith | January 29, 2017
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With disgruntled leftists in California promoting the secession movement "Calexit" (imitating "Brexit" in Britain, but sounding sadly like a new brand of laundry detergent) in the wake of last November's elections, let's take a look at exactly how much of a threat that really is - and what the U.S. would look like if "Calexit" succeeded.

The Calexit ballot initiative would see the entire state of California pull a virtual “breaking off” without an earthquake (and without leaving a hole in the US) by having its government secede from the Union and form its own country, and the idea is not as unpopular as some might imagine. Backers of the move need 585,407 petition signatures from valid voters in order to get the question on the state ballot in November of 2018, whereupon, if it receives a majority of the votes, the state will be compelled to begin proceedings to leave the Union in 2019.

Plenty of flip observers might be whispering, “Good riddance” under their breath. But the discussion in the “Eureka State” is much more serious than glib comments do justice. With approximately 39 million souls (including Henry Rollins, who has enough energy for three) living in it, California is the most populous state in the nation, and the prospect of the Cali bear walking into the western sunset is a big deal that reveals a lot about U.S. politics, spending, and history.

First, one must acknowledge the obvious tragedy: The rest of us would be rid of the political influences of the wonderful, and oh-so respectable Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, and, really, who would ever want to see those darlings depart?

But the rest of the picture is murky.


For example, although California receives more federal money than any other state (beating Texas and New York by hundreds of billions), in 2016, it was ranked as 36th of the 50 states (or 57 states, if you learned from Professor Obama) on the WalletHub list of Most Federally Dependent States. The ranking comes from the site’s measurement of the total federal income taxes paid by residents, and the total amount the ever-magnanimous and bankrupt feds shelled out to them.

Wait a minute… California, that bastion of leftist dogma, including San Francisco’s recent proposal to test a government-funded “living wage”, that locus of new-age funkiness and warmed-over hippie elitism, is near the bottom of “Tax Dependent” states?

Not really.

When measuring overall state tax burdens, WalletHub found that California, like Spinal Tap’s amps, skyrockets to Eleven. In fact, isolating for spending problems such as welfare, it turns out that California, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported a few years ago, is home to 34% of the nation's welfare recipients. The situation is so bad, the state is third in the US for per-capita spending on welfare. The Eureka State saw Medicaid recipients receive almost $85.5 billion in 2015 alone. The social spending and taxation problem in CA has seen a dramatic foundering in state productivity, coming in at only 2.2%, which, as Center For Jobs noted, puts it in the lower half of all states. Although California is home to many industries, from agriculture, to high-tech, to entertainment, its government is smothering growth. As a result, and given the state's current position below the median GDP, if California were to leave the US tomorrow, the overall effect would be to strengthen US productivity, not harm it.

Because of this dark future caused by state government burdens, people are fleeing California in droves, which isn’t making a lot of folks in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada happy, and will add to the already towering problem of its Incredible Shrinking Workforce (to coin a phrase from the mighty Richard Matheson). That, in turn, will see an even higher per-capita tax burden on those who stay in California unless state domestic product somehow goes through the roof – an unlikely prospect, given the burden on business the new $170.9 billion single-year budget, the Democrat super majority now in place, and the scheduled $15 per hour minimum wage pose.


And that will see more people fleeing any future "Republic of California" to come to the US. In fact, things could become so bad in the new nation, Mr. Trump might want to erect a wall along the San Andreas, or shut down a "California Refugee" program until the vetting process is improved... Who knows how crazy things could get?


Politically, not much would change inside California. The Sacramento government would still be a hotbed of cultural and economic Marxism with nothing but a red ledger sheet stretching into history - but its departure would drastically change politics in the US.:

  • With California's 55 Electoral College votes (the largest total in the US) gone, the man so many Calexit supporters despise would have won the Presidency even more handily than he did.
  • In fact, since Hillary Clinton received 8,753,788 CA votes, and Trump received 4,483,810, the removal of those ballots would have seen Trump handily winning the "popular" vote in the remaining states as well.
  • And, without California's 53 members of Congress, (38 Dems, 14 GOP, and 1 vacancy) and its two Democrat Senators, the US Congress would be solidly in the hands of the GOP, whether one sees that as working for good or ill, or not changing a thing.


Culturally, a sovereign Republic of California's entertainment industry might continue to produce, on balance, left-wing economic propaganda. But now, instead of US citizens seeing it as part of their culture, they might view it as something more akin to Russian Agit-Prop deserving a tad more skepticism.

Or, it's possible that California could export so much really, honestly great stuff like television and movies and music and computer software and food -- particularly agriculture -- that President Trump might try to get the GOP Congress to pass counterproductive tariffs against them. After all, he would have to “protect American jobs” at the expense of American consumers, and that’s what tariffs do really, really well. This, in turn, stops new jobs from being funded by that leftover consumer cash, and decreases the demand for new hires. So the cultural analysis brings us right back to the economics.

And what of hiring foreign Californians? Not unless US citizens get permission from the feds. If Americans found that they wanted to hire Californians to do jobs on the American side of the border, such activity could put Americans out of work. Sure, the Californian might do the job better, or for less, thus helping the consumer save money that could be spent on a new start-up business and employ another person in the US... Sure the consumer should be able exercise his innate right to freely associate with anyone in a peaceful manner, but California would be a foreign nation, and thus it could be made illegal to hire Californians in the US unless American employers got permission from their political masters in DC first.

Same thing goes for "outsourcing" work to Californians once the San Andreas Wall is erected. California and the US would be sovereign nations, so, clearly, their governments should control whether people can hire other humans across a political border.


Speaking of sovereignty; can states even legally secede, anyway? Haven’t we been told by hordes of government teachers that the evil “Southern States” that formed the Confederacy didn’t possess the prerogative to secede from the Union? How could California do it?

Such nonsense isn’t really deserving of much attention, especially given the fact that the Constitution clearly states that only the powers enumerated to the feds are theirs to employ unless the Constitution is amended, and all the others are reserved to the states and/or the people who reside therein.

But the larger issue, the Constitutional issue, of secession is important to note, and it is doubly important for one to note that, just as Thomas Jefferson observed in the Declaration of Independence that the people of America had the right to break from England, the citizens of each state darn well have the right to secede from the United States. The entire philosophical underpinning of US history is based on this thesis, one which Abraham Lincoln did not recognize, and for which he:

These he did just a few decades after citizens and high-profile politicians in northeastern states had openly discussed seceding from the Union to break from Jefferson’s policies, and a few decades after the legislatures of New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island included in their ratification of the Constitution reiterations of the prerogative that each state had a “right” to secede.


So, perhaps, California passing its Calexit measure would be a good thing economically, perhaps it would be bad. Both the US and the state are perpetually in the red and operating by taxing future generations. Culturally, as long as barriers to entry were not erected by the US, the things outsiders enjoy from California today would likely continue to move across the border.

But historically and constitutionally, the question of whether the state population has a “right” to escape from DC under Trump or any other President and Congress is clear. Perhaps one of the positives that comes out of this Calexit push will be a greater understanding of this forgotten, and vitally important, fact.

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