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Reforming the USA – #1 – Fewer States
USA Population Map

Reforming the USA – #1 – Fewer States

I am writing a set of posts which describes my proposal for reforming the USA. I start with: Reducing the Number of States.

Reduce the number of states – 50 is too many.
(Last update: September 9, 2020)

Background: When the USA started we had 13 states. Even in 1790, Rhode Island was not close in size or population to the other states, and there were real plans to create the USA by excluding Rhode Island. As it happened, they joined but 13 was a manageable number. By contrast, 50 is too many. There are such wide disparities between the 50 states in terms of population and land area that in no sense are the states even approximately equal.

I will use Wyoming as an example. I have traveled across Wyoming on several occasions, it is a lovely state with some truly spectacular lands and mountains. The unfenced Wind River Range is amazing to see in the spring. I have hiked for days in the Grand Tetons National Park. All that aside, Wyoming has the smallest population of any state in the USA and its population is hardly growing, it has gained just 75,000 people over the last 35 years. Wyoming in 2019 has a population of around half a million (580,000). Contrast this with California. The most populous state has about 40 million people as of 2019. This means California is more than 60 times larger than Wyoming. In what sense are these two regions equal? Other than history, what reason can be invented as to why the state of Wyoming should have the same number of Senators in the Congress?

Example 2: Rhode Island. This state is essentially a city-state, roughly twice the size of the city of Los Angeles and with a population density one third that of Houston (admittedly, not a dense city). In what sense is Rhode Island equal to the other states? As a city, its population of 1 million would make it the 10th largest city in the USA, but as a state it ranks as the 5th smallest state. Why does a city get two senators?

USA Population Map
USA Population Map

Comparison to other nations: There are several nations which are roughly comparable to the USA in terms of land area and population. These nations are: China, India, Brazil, Russia, Japan and Germany. These are the most populous nations in the world and some have a land area bigger than the USA (Russia).

China – with 1.4 billion people – has just 23 provinces.
India – also with 1.4 billion people – has 28 states.
Russia, with roughly 150 million people has 22 republics.
Brazil, with 55 million people, has 26 states.
Japan – population of 125 million, has 47 prefectures.
Germany – population of 80 million, has 16 states.

Given that the USA population is less than a quarter of India or China, there is no good reason for the US to have 50 states. I argue that 20 is a better number. China, for most of its history had between 15 and 20 top-level regions. The Chinese reformed their states, redrawing their regional borders, even changing provincial capitals as the centuries passed.

What problems are caused by the excess number of states? The first is this results in an unfair allocation of governmental power. It defies reason to give Wyoming the same level of power in the Senate as states which have 50 or 60 times more people. Wyoming is not rich, it produces no significant tax revenues, and it’s people are not superhuman. There is no rational reason to give political power to an administrative region simply 150 years ago the federal government thought giving territories statehood was a good idea. It was not a good idea and the decision has become worse as time has passed. Land should not have votes in the US government.

Another huge problem is we cannot change the constitution with this many states.  Constitutional reforms are essentially impossible with such a large number of states. It only takes 13 states to stop any constitutional amendments. The number of amendments to the constitution has gone down steadily as the number of states has increased. Now, everyone seems to admit that the US Constitution cannot be amended. This is a huge problem.

Proposal – Reduce the number of states by more than half. I suggest 20 states total. Ideally each state should be roughly the same land area and population. This ideal is not possible so we need to compromise, some states will be physically larger than others. For historical reasons, some states will need to have larger populations than others. The maximum just variation in population size is about 2. So the largest state should have no more than twice the population of the smallest state. With our current population of 340 million, each of the 20 new states should have a population of around 16 million people.

USA Cropland
USA Cropland

I will refrain from proposing state boundaries at this time. However, the new state boundaries should try to recognize past historical associations, as well as land use patterns. In the old days, rivers marked the borders of regions. In our world, where bridges exist by the thousands, rivers are rarely borders, though the Mississippi may still act as a border for some of its length. Mountain ranges and deserts do form good borders but these are not much help in the USA. At least one state should comprise the large range land of the west. Personally, I do not think the current borders of any of the western states makes sense.

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