Over a decade ago, Don Livingston organized a Liberty Fund Colloquium in Charleston, South Carolina. One of the sessions examined whether any movement toward political decentralization was possible without at least the threat of secession to back it up.
On that subject, most of the attendees agreed: Whether one regards secession as good in itself, or as a tool that it may become necessary to use, it hardly seems possible to bring about political decentralization without being willing and able to use secession to force the hand of the central government.
But one thing troubled me: How realistic is the threat of political secession today, given the level of economic and cultural centralization in the United States? If a state seceded today and President Obama decided to prevent it, would he send in the military? Or would he simply pick up the phone and tell the CEO of Walmart that, if he wishes to continue doing business in the remaining 49 united states, Walmart should immediately shut down all of its stores in the newly independent one?
It’s a question many proponents of secession seem reluctant to consider. Some see it as a nonissue, because they’re convinced that economic problems will always work themselves out. Others simply compare the gross domestic products of the various states with the GDP of small countries around the world, forgetting just how much of each state’s...