Monday, July 18th, 2011
This is the second part of my point-counterpoint series on the usefulness of states. You can read the “anti” state side at “Are States an Anachronism?.” Today we look at the opposite case.
There are a lot of reasons why, despite their obvious flaws, states continue to play a crucial role in our nation. The first is that in a huge, multi-regional, multi-polar country like the United States, we can’t effectively govern the entire place from a single city on the east coast (with perhaps administrative subdivisions), nor would we want to. Our federal system provides independent sovereignty for states that are part of the general principle of separation of powers in our system, one that provides a check and balance against excesses of various types in Washington. Cities and regions, no matter what their economic rationale, simply cannot play that role. It takes something like a state to be able to stand up to the federal government.
Also, whatever the dysfunctions of states, their problems arguably hold no candle to Washington. Plus with a large nation that’s largely homogeneous at a broad level culturally, with a single currency, few internal trade barriers, and unlimited freedom of movement, there is in effect market discipline between states. The fact that they can’t literally print money or borrow without end means they end up facing reality fiscally a lot sooner than Washington. This is why regardless of the party in power, when times get tough, state governments have to get serious and try to do something. Ok, at least in most places.
And some have argued that state policy does have a greater economic impact than I generally give them credit for. Joel Kotkin has looked at the economic role of states in his annual “Enterprising States” report for the US Chamber of Commerce.
And of course there is the idea that states are our “laboratories of democracy.” Perhaps states are often too heterogeneous in their needs to really function as government units. But if that’s true, then it’s doubly true for our nation as a whole. We clearly have to solve that problem at some level. States give us a smaller scale model of the station to find out what works and what doesn’t. They can serve as testbeds for new policy ideas. And they can be a sort of “farm system” for creating national leaders.
But one area I’d to explore in more detail is the notion that states don’t represent a community of interest. As Longworth has shown, many states don’t really hang together. But is that universally true? Or is there sometimes data that shows there may be more to states than we might think. Let’s look at a couple of interesting data points.
One chart I’d like to return to again is the Common Census maps of sports team fan allegiance. Here’s one for the NFL:
While a number of states are split among various teams, I find it curious how unified many states are fairly unified behind a single team. Consider Indiana (Colts), Michigan (Lions – except the UP), Tennessee (Titans), etc. Some of this is an artifact of geography. Some teams have large catchment areas that makes this is a slam dunk (e.g., Denver), but that’s not always the case. (Other states have multiple cities with teams, which cuts the other way of course). Now this isn’t perfectly seamless. The Northwest Indiana area, as befits a Chicago suburban region, cheers for the Bears. And it does have quite a few people. But it’s hard to argue there’s nothing to this state thing.
It’s a similar thing with the NBA. Look at the Midwest, where the state lines are much clearer than for the NFL.
Next we can look at some maps that have been floating around recently that were put together by an IBM team based on cell phone data from AT&T. They tried to map states base on patterns of county to county calling to determine which places talk and text to each other the most. Here’s the one for phone calls:
Some have highlighted states where there are clearly splits – Illinois and Wisconsin jump right now. But what I find interesting is how many aren’t really that split. Again, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan hang together. So does Texas. And if you look at places where two or more states seem to be joined together – say Alabama and Georgia, I’d say these also provide evidence for the relevancy of states. If there’s a community of interest that’s greater than an entire state, then obviously the state itself contains that same community.
Here’s the text messaging map, which shows some interesting changes. I find it interesting how greater Cleveland lines up with Pittsburgh in this one, versus Ohio in the other. But it still seems to reinforce the same model.
Lastly, let’s look at migration data. Based on where people move as reported from IRS tax return data, let’s look at where people move from and to with regards to a major county in a state. This is gross migration from 2000-2008, so it’s in and out migration together, shading those counties where there was any measurable migration under the IRS methodologies (generally more than 10 returns per year).
First, here is Franklin County, Ohio (Columbus):
Next, here is Marion County, Indiana (Indianapolis). This one is slightly different (I’m pulling canned graphics from previous posts) since in migration is in blue and out migration red. But it shows the same basic pattern.
The boundary between Indiana and Ohio doesn’t appear to be an entirely arbitrary line on a map, at least not today. It’s a sharp as a razor in dividing two communities. (You could argue it shouldn’t be, but that would have to be the topic of another post).
Note everyplace is like this of course. Here’s a migration map for Philadelphia County, which just so happens to also represent the city of Philadelphia, as a counter-example:
(By the way, if you like these maps, they were created by my Telestrian system, which I believe has simply the best and most usable information related to this migration data available anywhere).
While there are certainly no perfect places on these maps, and some states, like Illinois, certainly seem fractured, it looks to me like there’s at least some evidence that quite a few states actually hang together as communities after all. This means it should be much easier for their residents to make common cause among themselves than we might think.
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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.