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24.1.10

The environmental implications of border-drawing

The particular boundaries of our existing 50 states of the US are in some ways irrational historical relics, so there's an argument to be made for re-drawing the subdivisions of the country, as places like England and France have already done (which is not to say there aren't plenty of arguments against it as well). Matthew Yglesias passes on one proposal, originally from FakeIsTheNewReal, that prioritizes keeping the states' populations equal*.

On the FakeIsTheNewReal map, the new state of Philadelphia is formed from the city of that name along with southern New Jersey. This combination is a common one on state boundary reform proposals (e.g. this one), as the differences between North Jersey and South Jersey are quite notable (Stephen Colbert once introduced a guest by saying "I'll ask him if he's from the part of New Jersey that thinks it's New York, or the part that thinks it's Philadelphia."). This was roughly the territory of the short-lived Swedish colony, and might have retained a united identity as a colony and later state had the Swedes not gotten into a fight with the Dutch. I'll refer to the reformed state as "New Sweden" to avoid the confusion between the city of Philadelphia and FakeIsTheNewReal's proposed state of Philadelphia. What strikes me about this proposal, though, is how the history of South Jersey would be different had the boundaries been drawn in this seemingly more logical way in the first place. Much of South Jersey is taken up by the Pine Barrens, a unique ecosystem that managed to remain relatively undeveloped until fairly recently despite being adjacent to the northeast Megalopolis. Underlying the Pine Barrens is a major, but ecologically fragile, aquifer. Its location means it has long been eyed by Philadelphia as a convenient source of water -- Joseph Wharton even purchased a huge tract of the Pine Barrens in anticipation of such a development. Luckily for the Pine Barrens, accidents of colonial history placed a state boundary down the Delaware River. This put the aquifer in a separate jurisdiction from the thirsty city. And that separation of jurisdictions made it easy to frame Philadelphia's desire for water as an attempt by one state to exploit another state's resources, prompting New Jersey to pass a law to ban the transfer of water to Pennsylvania -- and leaving Wharton's tract undeveloped and eventually to be converted into a large state forest. Had Philadelphia and the Pine Barrens been part of the single state of New Sweden, this sort of incidental environmental protection due to state-nationalism and the accompanying power of separate legislatures would have had less pull against the obviousness of the Pine Barrens as Philadelphia's hinterland (while perhaps creating complications in accessing Philadelphia's current water supplies from the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers, which under FakeIsTheNewReal's reform plan run mostly through the new state of Susquehanna).

*The motivation for prioritizing equal populations here is to eliminate the disproportionate power of smaller states in the Senate and Electoral College. But with respect to those issues I think eliminating the Electoral College and doing away with the one-state-two-votes system in the Senate (in favor of proportional representation) would be more feasible and more effective than rearranging state boundaries. And if we did that, we could relax the equal population criterion in favor of other important factors in drawing state boundaries, like cultural continuity, ease of travel, and ecosystem integrity.

2 Comments:

Blogger Joel Monka said...

There's a huge problem with this proposal. This country was set up as a kind of United Nations, not as a single unified country; "state" did not mean "province" back then, it meant "soverign nation"- England and France were also called "states". Loyalty and patriotism were given to the state, not to the United States- the concept of "one nation, indivisible" was a much later one, and merely poetry, not a legal position. In theory, legally, that is still the situation- the 10th amendment has not been repealed. Given the strict constructuralist rulings out of the Supreme Court lately, I can't imagine any sceme like this would be accepted.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Stentor said...

Joel: That's actually the main thing I had in mind when I said "plenty of arguments against it."

5:54 PM  

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