Independence movements have been rife over the last decade: the UK has chosen to withdraw from the European Union, Catalonia has attempted to separate from Spain and the Scottish are calling for a second independence referendum. Everyone’s eyes are on Europe but perhaps we should be focusing on the US state of California and the Calexit movement.
Over the state’s history, there have been over 200 proposals of secession and Yes California, an independence group, is working to hold a referendum in 2019 which will ask if Californians believe they should withdraw from the US and become a separate country.
Despite so many groups and individuals supporting the notion, seceding from the US will be a near impossible task. Firstly, there is no legal structure that would allow a state to become its own country and creating such a structure would be a huge challenge. To do so, the US would need to amend its Constitution, a process which requires support from the majority of states and Congress. Given that California is so valuable to the US in terms of taxes and natural resources, it wouldn’t be in any of the other state’s best interest to support the new amendment.
California is the ninth richest state and 9 of the 10 richest cities in the US are in California. In a similar way to the Spanish government with regard to Catalonia, the US Government would do everything in its power to dissuade or block the Californians from voting on independence. The success and prosperity of the United States relies greatly on California for a number of reasons. The US Government has been allowing private corporations to extract natural resources such as coal and oil from California land and only a small amount of revenue has been returned to California. Independence would prevent the US Government from being able to benefit from these natural resources and allow California to choose which resources to extract and the prices they are sold for.
Despite being the state with the largest population, California often has little impact on the outcome of elections. According to the Yes California website, “California’s electoral votes haven’t affected a presidential election since 1876”. In 2016 it voted in the presidential election for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats and given the state’s reputation of being very left-wing and liberal, a Republican government does not suit the typical Californian. California is the most culturally and ethnically diverse of all the US states and it disagrees with the majority of the US on immigration policy. In terms of taxes, Yes California argues that the state loses out because of its obligation to subsidize other states. At a conference held last year, Marcus Ruiz Evans of Yes California stated that California loses $70 billion every year from paying taxes to the US Government which subsidize other states. The campaign claims that California has had to raise taxes or borrow money from future investments to make up for the lost money. If California were to secede, it could control its rate of tax and more importantly, how the money collected is spent. It is also possible that state income tax could be abolished.
However, it has been pointed out that Yes California and similar campaign groups haven’t suggested how leadership would be formed in the country of California nor have they outlined a sound economic plan. A plausible theory as to why the latest movement for California secession has emerged so rapidly is that it is just one big tantrum over the election of Donald Trump. Much of its support comes from Shervin Pishevar, an investor in taxi app Uber and one of the founders of Hyperloop. He posted a series of tweets, beginning with: ‘1/ If Trump wins I am announcing and funding a legitimate campaign for California to become its own nation.’
Donald Trump, like all other American Presidents, can only serve a maximum of two terms. Why undergo something as permanent as Calexit when Trump is not going to be around forever? Rather than having a ‘quit while things are rough’ attitude and blatant tunnel vision, these influential investors should be directing their efforts at making a success out of Trump’s presidency and ensuring that California takes whichever advantages it can. The political competency of Yes California leaders should also be considered. On the website, Yes California states: ‘In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the international community with their “Brexit” vote. Our “Calexit” referendum is about California joining the international community’. It’s almost as though the campaign believes that California seceding from a union of states it has been a member of since 1850 is less divisive than the United Kingdom leaving an economic and political union it has been a member of since 1973.
In reality, California will probably not secede from the US in our lifetime. When we said Brexit would never happen and Donald Trump’s presidency would never come to be, we were proved wrong. However, Calexit just seems so much more farfetched.