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How is Brexit different than Texit, Quexit, or Scotxit?

Here’s a news item:

Emboldened by Brexit, U.S. secessionists in Texas are keen to adopt the campaign tactics used to sway the British vote for leaving the European Union and are demanding “Texit” comes next. . . . “The Texas Nationalist Movement is formally calling on the Texas governor to support a similar vote for Texans,” the group said on Friday. . . . The group, which claims about a quarter million supporters, failed earlier this year to place a vote on secession on the November ballot but aims to relaunch its campaign for the next election cycle in 2018, buoyed by the British vote . . .

And, of course, Quebec and Scotland have been talking for awhile about leaving Canada and the United Kingdom, respectively.

There’s a big difference between Brexit, on one hand, and Texit or Quexit or Scotxit on the other, and this has to do with the democratic structure, or lack thereof, of the larger political unit.

Suppose the conservative voters of Texas decide that they don’t want to be part of the liberal-dominated U.S. government. They’re sick of Obamacare, environmental regulations, the $15 minimum wage, unisex bathrooms, and a foreign policy that sends U.S. troops all over the world on ill-defined missions. Fine. But then they have to realize that, by leaving the country, they’ll make the rest of the U.S. more liberal. Texiters are gaining freedom to operate within Texas but losing influence within the larger United States.

Similarly, Quexit would leave the rest of Canada without Quebec’s representation. So, if Quebec were to go on its own in one direction, one would expect Canada to drift slowly the other way, a sort of equal-and-opposite, conservation-of-momentum sort of way.

And Scotxit would give that northern country self-government but at the cost of their influence within Great Britain. After the past few elections, Scots might feel this is a tradeoff worth making—especially if you throw E.U. membership into the bargain—but it clearly is a tradeoff.

Brexit is different because the E.U. is not democratic (except for the powerless European parliament). Britain is not the Texas of Europe, so the analogy is not perfect, but the point is that the individual British voter has little to no influence in Brussels. Or, to put it another way, this influence is so indirect that it is hard to see. It’s not like Texas’s 38 electoral votes, 36 members of the House of Representatives, and two Senators. So, even if British voters are more conservative (in some sense) than the average European, it’s not clear that the departure of the U.K. will allow the rest of the E.U. to shift to the left—not in the same way that Texas would shift the rest of the U.S. to the left, or that Scotxit would shift the rest of Britain to the right.

In a simple parliamentary or majority vote system, there’s a rough balance of influence, and if you take some voters away from one side, it will increase the relative power of the other. Thus, Texit or Scotxit is, to first order, zero-sum with regard to political power. (Not zero-sum with regard to ultimate outcomes—that depends on all sorts of things that might happen—but zero-sum in that you’re getting local power but giving up the corresponding number of votes at the national level.) Brexit, not so much: British voters are gaining power within their country and it’s not so clear what power they’re losing within the E.U. This is not to say that Brexit is a good idea—what do I know about that?—but just that the political calculation is different because of the non-democratic nature of the larger structure.

In that way, the appropriate category for Brexit is not Texit or Quexit or Scotxit, but the decision to join or withdraw from a treaty agreement. This point is obvious—“Brexit” is, after all, a recommendation to withdraw from a treaty—but I feel like this point has been missed in much of the discussion of the topic.

P.S. I don’t know enough about Quebec and Scotland to comment on their cases, but when we discuss Texit moving U.S. politics moving to the left, this is not completely speculative. Last time Texas exited the United States, the national government enacted various left-wing ideas including the Homestead Act, the Morrill Act (land-grant colleges), and of course emancipation of the slaves.

55 Comments

  1. Jonathan says:

    Since we fought a war about secession, it’s not an issue. But if we assume there’s agreement to allow leaving, the practicalities become important. I’ve had this discussion with a friend from S. Carolina, but it’s easier with Texas: what is the cost of leaving? We can start with the national debt, of which Texas’ percentage share is something like $1.6B: why would the US agree to Texit without an agreement about debt? Then there’s the US military. There are over 30 military bases in Texas and there would have to be treaty talks about what remains and what leaves, plus I would think compensation to the US for the closings, etc. My point is to note the EU has no such relationships with Britain: no shared currency and they refused to become part of a fiscal guaranty pact, no military installations or major EU government facilities in Britain. Texas also has something like 125,000 active US military, plus all the civilian contractors, so the practicality of voting for secession would mean the direct loss of large numbers of jobs. The City may lose jobs with Brexit but that remains to be seen and the City is why Britain didn’t adopt the Euro: they feared the financial center would then shift into Europe toward Paris and Frankfurt.

    Here’s the funny part: my friend assumed SC could secede, drop its hundreds of millions share of the debt, keep its US military bases and US government personnel but then run itself exactly as it saw fit. That’s a level of naivety well beyond any “leave” voter.

    As for Quebec, it’s understood they could leave if they negotiate an exit. But the practical issue is they can’t balance their budget and take money in from other provinces and that fiscal reality, plus the realization English speakers would leave, meant the closer separatism got to real power the more the voters turned against it. It was, like with Puerto Rico, a nice idea in the abstract but pragmatically a truly lousy choice.

    • $1.6B of the US debt? I think you’re off by many orders of magnitude! Current US Debt is around $19 Trillion, and Texas has about 10% of US population, so I’m guessing you meant $1.6 Trillion, 3 orders of magnitude larger! Anyway that level of debt would be around $100k per person in Texas. A very good point. Similarly very good points about the military bases and soforth. But I do think that a “republic of Texas” could potentially just buy out the assets and debt and everything with a single large bond rather than negotiating for each individual tank and helicopter and building and airfield and post office etc. Then the question would be, would Texas still want to secede if the US demanded say $10 Trillion in bonds at say 6% interest so they could walk away with their land and bases and equipment and mail trucks and post offices and etc etc.

      I don’t know what the total value of Texas is to the US, but discounting future taxes and adding up all the military, judicial, post office etc assets and including the debt, it’s going to be a lot bigger than $1.6 Trillion. So, Texans, are you willing to spend $5M or more for every man woman and child in the country via a big bond offering for you, your grandchildren, and great grandchildren to all pay off over 100 years? I doubt it.

    • Curious says:

      And don’t forget about the wall that President Trump will need to expand to encompass all of the Texas border.

  2. BenK says:

    The argument is fairly straight-forward. With the intrusion of the EU into local affairs regularly and repeatedly, the Brits voted for self-determination. These particular voters would at least like to influence their own locality. The people currently criticizing them are arguing in effect that these people whom they despise should not have any influence anywhere, and that a prime example of why is this very vote, with its economic disincentives for voting to exit as evidence for the stupidity and perversity of the voters.

    In short, by their willingness to pay for their own local freedoms, they demonstrate how they do not deserve them (and a subtext is that they will choose to do wicked things with their self-government).

  3. Mattp says:

    This was a vote to control their own borders, which was an impossibility within the EU. This isn’t a vote against trade within the greater EU, though many would love to spin this as some massive protectionist movement. Trade deals will be carved out in time that resemble the terms of the EU. Markets don’t like surprises and the outcome was a surprise, hence the selloff.

    The EU grossly mismanaged immigration and this is the natural consequence.

    • Anon says:

      What is certainly an impossibility is full access to the single market ( = trade deals resembling the terms of the EU) without both a contribution to EU structural funds and opening borders to EU citizens, as Merkel, Hollande and, just a few hours ago in the house of commons, Cameron made clear.

      The conundrum the successors of Cameron now face is that they promised to do away with freedom of movement and contributions to the EU budget while also, somehow, retaining full access to the market.

  4. Julien Couvreur says:

    Calling voting “influence” is misleading, especially if the association is no longer desired (assuming it ever was). If Texas wants to split, it is presumably because they are concerned with federal intervention and force, not merely “influence”. They could prefer not to be forced by New Yorkers and conversely not to force Texan policy preferences on them.

    Also, as far as actual influence goes, Texas folks will still be able to influence others by dialog and evidence, including the example of how their experiment works.

  5. valter says:

    The common accusation that the EU is “undemocratic” neglects an important fact: all important EU decisions are taken with the consent of national governments that are democratically elected. A UK outside the EU means that the UK government, hence the UK electorate, can no longer affect EU decisions – that’s “what power they’re losing within the E.U.”.

    I suspect that until last Friday morning, the UK government had been having an influence on EU affairs that is disproportionate to the country’s size; if that’s true, then we could say that UK voters have lost more power than they have gained – though, of course, it is power about different things, so a 1-D comparison of this kind may be inappropriate anyway.

  6. numeric says:

    But then they have to realize that, by leaving the country, they’ll make the rest of the U.S. more liberal Texiters are gaining freedom to operate within Texas but losing influence within the larger United States.

    But they would no longer be part of the United States so why would they care!? Or, more accurately, they would care only inasmuch as the policies of the United States affected Texas (which “Obamacare, environmental regulations, the $15 minimum wage, unisex bathrooms, and a foreign policy that sends U.S. troops all over the world on ill-defined missions” would no longer affect them). Incidentally, between the time Texas was a republic (Lone Star Republic) and a state, multiple European powers were attempting to treat with them and bring Texas under their influence. This would be a reason for the US not to allow this (aside from the fact that the Civil War settled whether succession was viable under the US constitution).

    If Texas really wants more power, the treaty that brought them into the United States allows them to split into as many as five states–this would give them 8 more Senators and shift the balance of power in the US Senate for decades to come.

    • Andrew says:

      Numeric:

      Sure, but in the (hypothetical) event of Texit, Texans will still be affected by U.S. policy, just as current-day Mexicans, Canadians, Japanese, etc., are.

      In any case, I agree that there is not an exact balance. It is a tradeoff. Getting the right to be left alone comes with a cost of losing influence in the larger political grouping. My point is that the influence in the larger grouping is clear in the case of Texas or Quebec or Scotland—it’s, very directly, votes in the legislature and a say in the choice of government—but it’s not so clear in the case of Britain within the E.U.

    • Alex says:

      Texas may not care about what the US does in terms of Obamacare, etc, but I imagine one thing they would like to have more of a say on would be immigration. Using Andrew’s description of a more conservative Texas and a more liberal US, Texas would be disappointed at the loosening of US borders, which would lead to more attempted immigration into Texas. Texas would have stricter laws, so that attempted immigration might turn into more effort on Texas’ part to keep people out than if they could influence US law and draw on the entire US’ resources to reduce immigration in the first place.

      Then there are all the other things that people are saying the UK will need to figure out that Texas would too, like trade agreements. They might not care what the US’ agreements are, per se, but an independent Texas might get worse deals than they do as a member of the US, and they might be further hurt by being in competition with the US.

      • Carlos Ungil says:

        Alex: I don’t follow your argument. Why would the loosening of US borders lead to more attempted immigration into Texas? Two thirds of the US-Mexico border are currently in Texas. Wouldn’t a loosening (whatever it means) of the US borders in California, Arizona and New Mexico result in less attempted immigration trough the non-US Texas border? Or maybe do you think it would be more than offset by an increase of attempted immigration through the borders with Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico?

        • Andrew says:

          Maybe they’ll try to come in through Quebec!

        • Carlos Ungil says:

          With a little change I get something that is not completely unreasonable (but I guess is not the intended scenario): “Using Andrew’s description of a more conservative Texas and a more liberal US, many non-Texan US citizens would be disappointed at the loosening of US borders which would lead to more attempted immigration into Texas.” Maybe Texas would receive its former compatriots with open arms…

          • numeric says:

            Lenin thought that the USSR would have to put up fences and border guards to keep people out of it, since it would be a socialist paradise. I think that Texas would suffer the same phenomenon (instead of people wanting to get in, they would be trying to get out).

        • Alex says:

          I imagine (and could certainly be wrong!) that countries next to countries with relatively lax immigration policies see some increase in immigration themselves compared to if their neighbor had stricter policies. Let’s say that it’s easier to get into Canada than the US (which is potentially true, I don’t know the numbers). Some people will go to Canada with the plan of then getting into the US rather than going directly to the US, but then they may stay in Canada for whatever reason. Or they may move to Canada because they want to be in Canada but then check out the US because it’s there right next door.

          The new country of Texas would face more of the second issue, I would guess, in that people in the US might decide to check it out; if there are more people in the US because the immigration laws have become more liberal, there will be more people deciding to check it out. Texas would also face the issue that it is on the way for people trying to get to the US, although I’m sure you’re right that California, Arizona, and New Mexico would see much more immigration than they currently do. But again, I could also be off-base on all this.

    • John Mashey says:

      That would give them more Senators … but might make it harder to gerrymander, as the current Congressional districts are superbly done. I’m especially fond of Lamar Smith’s TX-21, which has 2 tentacles to take slices of San Antonio and Austin. The latter has at least 5 Representatives, of whom 1 is Democrat. But the squiggliest is TX-33.

    • Mark Bahner says:

      “This would be a reason for the US not to allow this (aside from the fact that the Civil War settled whether succession was viable under the US constitution).”

      An invasion and occupation settled a matter of the Constitution? Interesting theory.

    • David Pittelli says:

      But if Texas split into 5 states, some of what is now done within a state becomes interstate, and subject to federal government approval. For example, Southwest Airlines originally only flew within Texas, and so was not subject to Civil Aeronautics Board rules. There may be future Southwests that would not come into being. Also, Texas now has its own electric grid (the Eastern and Western US as a whole constitute the other 2 parts of the 3-part grid for the 48 states); I don’t know how that would be affected. Finally, wouldn’t the part of Texas near the Mexican border be run by Democrats?

  7. Hernan Bruno says:

    The EU is not a sovereign entity. So you are comparing very different things.

  8. Paul Alper says:

    The headline of the blog today is:

    “How is Brexit different than Texit, Quexit, or Scotxit?”

    According to a different blog, http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/01/different-from-than-to/
    the choice of the word “THAN” presents a problem. The (sort of) preferred form would be

    “How is Brexit different FROM Texit, Quexit, or Scotxit?” Believe it or not, many Brits use

    “How is Brexit different TO Texit, Quexit, or Scotxit?”

    Form Total occurrences on the OEC British English American English
    different from 61,475 12,318 (20.1%) 28,481 (46.3%)
    different to 9,945 4,371 (43.9%) 1,238 (12.4%)
    different than 12,736 793 (6.2%) 8,811 (69.2%)

    “Different from knows no regional boundaries and is by far the most common pattern of the three. If you favour different than, you’re highly likely to be a speaker of American English. Different to is very frequent in British English, although 12.4% of instances of that phrase are also found in American English.”

    In case you are wondering why those numbers don’t add up, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_English_Corpus#cite_note-oec-1

    “The Oxford English Corpus is a text corpus of 21st century English, used by the makers of the Oxford English Dictionary and by Oxford University Press’s language research programme. It is the largest corpus of its kind, containing nearly 2.5 billion words.[1] It includes language from the UK, the United States, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Canada, India, Singapore and South Africa.[1] The text is mainly collected from web pages; some printed texts, such as academic journals, have been collected to supplement particular subject areas.[1] The sources are writings of all sorts, from ‘literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines and from Hansard to the language of blogs, emails, and social media’.”

  9. fraac says:

    On Scotland leaving, while most think the remainder of the UK would feel more right-wing, both the EU referendum and the 2015 general election showed that Scotland can return unanimous constituency results and still have no effect on the UK result (which is obviously a big reason for wanting to leave). So in theory this is as reactionary as England gets. In practice people are reporting that racists are emboldened, the economy will worsen, and it feels like a slide into fascism.

  10. GMcK says:

    The whole point of a Texit is that we wouldn’t have to care about what happens in the remaining less-United States. (Would Texas join NAFTA?) It’s the “we don’t care about the other states” attitude that will prevent a Texit from ever happening.

    Unlike the EU’s Article 50 that allows a member country to leave unconditionally, simply by notifying Brussels that they’re going to go, the US Constitution, created in order “to form a more perfect Union”, doesn’t have any provisions for lessening its union. The paths to secession are either amendment or war. We tried war, and it didn’t work. An amendment defining conditions and procedures for secession needs to gain the agreement of two thirds of each house of Congress, and be ratified by three fourths of the states.

    If Texitarians want to succeed, they’re going to need to negotiate or collaborate with both Congress and the other states. But that kind of interaction is anathema, and won’t happen. Result: deadlock, and Texas stays.

  11. A.G.McDowell says:

    There are other important differences. The democratic deficit is enhanced by the lack of a common language and common political culture. Voters would need a knowledge of 28 different political histories and traditions to assess the candidates for European President. Germany’s tradition of OrdoLiberalism means that even professional economics doesn’t translate across cultures. The path of European integration is almost the inverse of the US model. European nations reserve to themselves the provision of things which are arguably public goods on the European scale such as foreign policy and defense, while regulating at the European level things much more tightly bound to local culture and climate (such as, notoriously, food standards. Workarounds for EU regulations as a result of this include the notorious rulings that snails are fish and carrots are fruits).

  12. Andreas Baumann says:

    I’m not sure I agree exactly. Britain has been a major opponent of European integration, and with them out, there is less opposition to European integration within the Council. Consequently, Britain makes the EU more integrated by leaving.

    It’s rather daft to say the European Union is not democratic, whatever that means. The members of the Council are democratically elected ministers of the constituent countries. They’re just not directly elected, which is something else completely.

  13. What exactly do you mean by ‘The E.U. is not democratic’? Legislation in the E.U. is adopted either by the Council, where the democratically elected heads of member states decide together, or by the Council and the European Parliament, the latter being directly elected. Moreover, in the Council it is still common that decisions must be taken by unanimity, so the U.K. head of state can exercise a veto. The Commission is not directly elected (although at the last European Parliament elections the major parties endorsed prospective Commission Presidents), but then it only proposes laws, adopts administrative decisions, and oversees implementation. So, it is not too much unlike any other executive in democratic countries. To sum up, it is not correct that ‘the individual British voter has little to no influence in Brussels’, especially if your comparison is to a parliamentary democracy with a proportional electoral system that ends up routinely with coalition governments and has no powerful, directly-elected Presidents (which covers almost all European democracies).

    • Andrew says:

      Dimiter:

      As I wrote above, the influence of British voters on E.U. governance is hard to see. It’s not like Texas’s 38 electoral votes, 38 members of the House of Representatives, and two Senators.

      • To the extent that the Council of Ministers of the E.U. is like an upper legislative chamber, the U.K. has 1 out of 28 ‘senators’, in addition to its 72 members of the European Parliament, 1 member (out of 28) of the European Commission, informal national quota of the E.U. civil servants, plus representatives in all other institutions and agencies. What is missing is electoral votes for the election of a president, but since the E.U. has no President as such, it is hard to see how the British citizens are missing on that.
        Plus, the bulk of E.U. day-to-day activity is regulatory governance that is either too boring/specialized for the average citizen or insulated by design from party politics and the broader public. And the accountability mechanisms for regulatory governance need not always be the ones of majoritarian representative democracy.

        • Andrew says:

          Dimiter:

          If Texas’s sole direct representation in the U.S. government came from its two senators, then I’d say that Texans, too, have a representation problem. 2% of the Senate is paltry representation for a state with 9% of the population of the country. And, yes, the E.U. is “insulated by design”—that’s another way of saying that it’s not clear how votes map into policy.

          • Not sure I get what the argument is: that the U.K. gets too few representatives in the institutions or that the directly elected institutions have too little influence over policy? If the latter, then again the Council of Ministers, which is the main institution that sets policy in the E.U., is just the collection of national governments, so to the extent that each national government is legitimate and democratically-elected, so is the Council of Ministers of the E.U. as a whole.
            It is a different institutional mechanism that translates public preferences into policy, but it cannot be dismissed as un-democratic just because it is different than the U.K. or U.S. set-up. In any coalition government it is not clear how votes maps into policy (empirically speaking, is it ever the case?), but that doesn’t mean that the system is undemocratic by default.
            This is not to say that all is great with democracy in the E.U., but it is not so obvious what standards should apply.

            • Andrew says:

              Dimiter:

              A system that gives one vote to each country is drastically underrepresenting voters from large countries, in the same way that Texan voters would be drastically underrepresented in the U.S. if the U.S. government were run entirely by the Senate.

              • James Annan says:

                Just to inject some facts into this discussion, most decisions in the eu are done on the basis of qualified majority voting, requiring 16 out of 28 members and also at least 65% of the total population, meaning that the UK gets a big voice in proportion to its population.

  14. The British voters are not more conservative than the average European neither with respect to social/moral issues like abortion, alcohol regulation and anything else, nor on economic issues. They are more Euroskeptic, but the dislike of the E.U. is not coming from differences on policy or political-ideological issues from the rest of Europe. It is in fact more fundamental.

    • Andrew says:

      Dimiter:

      At least in the U.S. context, alcohol regulation does not fall along left/right or liberal/conservative lines. Traditionally, alcohol regulation in the U.S. has been favored by religious conservatives, but it’s my impression that in recent years the beverage industry has been a big supporter of the Republican party. It’s a cross-cutting issue involving social/religious attitudes and also attitudes toward regulation and taxation.

  15. Nate says:

    Getting a little nitpicky, Texas has 36 Reps, 2 Senators, and therefore 38 EVs.

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