Size Matters - No Country Should Be Bigger Than This

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

From the perspective of the state, one of the benefits of growing larger geographically is that bigness makes it more difficult for residents to emigrate or cross over borders to escape taxes. 

In his writings on the origins of the "European miracle" that led to the continent's economic success, Ralph Raico has noted the importance of small states in Europe and the ability to easily emigrate from one political jurisdiction to another. This free movement has been essential in forming a free and open economy and society. Raico contrasts Europe with Imperial China where the state was more easily able to monopolize both natural and human resources through its large size. 

In an earlier article at, we also explored how the creation of a larger number of (necessarily smaller) states creates more options for residents of the existing states, and thus increases the potential for fruitful migration and escape from overweening state power. 

Larger states, geographically speaking, work in the opposite direction of this, limiting options for relocation, and placing greater barriers in the way of residents who might be looking to change the the conditions under which they live. 

In the case of the United States, for example, the sheer size of the United States requires a potential emigrant to move hundreds of miles from friends and family simply to live under a different national government. Even worse for the potential immigrant is that, in the case of the US, there are only two bordering states. This means, unless the emigrant can gain entry into one of those two neighboring states, he may potentially need to move thousands of miles from friends and family. 

The magnitude of such a move means that an emigrant, in order to visit family members, or conduct business in his or her community of origin, must endure great expense in terms of travel costs and time. 

On top of this, given that 80 percent of the world's native English-speakers live in the United States, any potential emigrant is also likely to need to learn a new language, which is no small affair. 

This, of course, helps illustrate the absurdity of claims by nationalists that any critic of the local state should simply "love it or leave it" and move somewhere else. Even if that person can gain entry into another state — something that is by no means guaranteed — he would then need to separate himself from friends and family by hundreds or thousands of miles, learn a new language, and be prepared to potentially spend thousands of dollars and take time off from work simply to visit a sick relative. 

Not surprisingly, then, virtually no one emigrates based on political views alone because the quality of daily human life depends largely on a countless number of connections to family, social networks, and business associations that tend to depend on physical proximity to others. Leaving these social and economic networks can come at a great personal cost, and the further one must move from them, the greater the cost may be. 

Thus, the more a state can make cross-border travel expensive, tedious, or time consuming, the more that state can easily impose a wide variety of disincentives to emigration. 

For these reasons, among others, advocates for greater freedom in the movement of goods, persons, and capital, should seek to limit and shrink the size of states. Given that states, by their very nature, rely on extending a monopoly on coercion over a specific area, one can say that smaller states are less state-like. Larger states, by contrast, act more like the quintessential state since they are able to effect greater consolidation of monopoly power. 

Mises's View of State and Society

Ludwig von Mises believed that states, in theory, could be reduced in size to a single household. That is, he was theoretically an anarchist. However, Mises also recognized that, for practical reasons, individual political jurisdictions were likely to be larger than a single person or household. Writing in liberalism, Mises concludes: 

If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination [via secession] to every individual person, it would have to be done. This is impracticable only because of compelling technical considerations, which make it necessary that a region be governed as a single administrative unit and that the right of self-determination be restricted to the will of the majority of the inhabitants of areas large enough to count as territorial units in the administration of the country.

But what does Mises mean by "compelling technical considerations?"

To get insight into what Mises may mean here, we can extrapolate from Mises's view of how and why human civic institutions are formed in the first place. 

For Mises, individuals associate with each other voluntarily in order to take advantage of the division of labor. Writing in Human Action, Mises notes:

Every step by which an individual substitutes concerted action for isolated action results in an immediate and recognizable improvement in his conditions. The advantages derived from peaceful cooperation and division of labor are universal. They immediately benefit every generation, and not only Iater descendants. For what the individual must sacrifice for the sake of society he is amply compensated by greater advantages. His sacrifice is only apparent and temporary; he foregoes a smaller gain in order to reap a greater one later. 

Mises continues: 

[H]uman action itself tends toward cooperation and association; man becomes a social being not in sacrificing his own concerns for the sake of a mythical Moloch, society, but in aiming at an improvement in his own welfare. 

In Mises's view, these efforts to enhance trade and cooperation among human beings lead to the creation of cities and other population centers. 

Moreover, for Mises, the state — properly limited to the function of protecting private property — can potentially assist in creating conditions that facilitate the cooperative behavior he envisioned. Thus, it is the cost of acting as an administrator of law that leads Mises to conclude that certain "compelling technical considerations" are are likely to keep states above a certain minimum size.  

A problem arises, however, when we recognize that this vision of the state exists in tension with the fact that — as illustrated by Raico — the physical and geographical growth of states tends to facilitate the expansion of state power well beyond the role imagined by Mises. 

When contained at a municipal or metropolitan level, state power is one thing. Relocation to a neighboring metropolitan area remains relatively easy. Once states begin to take control of sizable frontiers and multiple municipal areas, however, the situation becomes far different, and states begin to limit and regulate trade and free movement, rather than facilitate it. 

Thus, even if we accept Mises's idea that there is some level at which economies of scale for state administration may be beneficial, those assumed benefits are increasingly threatened the larger a state becomes.

A Modest Proposal for States on a More-Human Scale

The answer lies in limiting state size to a human scale in which human beings can still associate, travel, and trade across jurisdictional boundaries without incurring a great cost. The standard for "great cost" is subjective, of course, and over time has changed substantially. The cost of traveling 50 miles in the 16th century, for example, is significantly different form the cost of traveling the same distance today. 

There are ongoing attempts by geographers, however, to determine the "natural" size of a region that encompasses a population's economic, political, and social institutions. In a recent study, for example, Garret Dash Nelson and Alasdair Rae attempted to identify regions that "have been substantively tied together by the forces of urban development, telecommunications, the frictionless circulation of capital, and the consolidation of both public and private institutions." 

Basing their standard of scale on tolerance for commute times, the geographers selected 50-mile commutes as an indicator of how closely tied together is a specific region. The end result was this:

Full methodology and explanation available here. 

The authors then create a suggested map of political units based on the scale of megaregions: 

What are the implications of this analysis? 

Analysis of regions such as these are significant because, even if we accept many of the arguments claiming that states are necessary to facilitate basic infrastructure and services, this analysis suggests there is no need to have states any larger than the so-called megaregion. After all, if one takes the view that states are necessary to streamline legal relations within certain economic regions — as Mises suggested — then this can easily be accomplished at the level of the megaregion. There is no reason, for example, why a single megaregion could not fund its own infrastructure and welfare state through the usual redistributive means. I do not advocate for this sort of redistribution, but am merely recognizing that geographically expansive states are simply not necessary to provide the sorts of state interventions put forward by modern-date social democrats. 

Indeed, many welfare states we find around the world to this day are scarcely more than singular megaregions themselves, as in the case of Finland or Norway. Both states are little more than small handfuls of metropolitan areas surrounded by sparsely populated frontiers. 

Moreover, even military needs, as dictated by geopolitical realities need not require a geographically large state. Historically, these issues have been successfully addressed by membership-based confederations such as the Hanseatic League and the early United States (especially during the 1770s and 80s). In both cases, these groups composed of independent city states or small states successfully addressed outside military threats. In the case of the Hanseatic League, which had no central government at all, this continued for nearly two centuries. 

To this day, of course, small independent states continue to enter into agreements for the purposes of defense and do not require consolidation of domestic power into a central state. 

These realities, however, are unlikely to lead to any re-arrangement of the United States — or any other state — along the lines of smaller megaregions. Even if advocates for interventionism recognized that the "services" for which they advocate could be provided at a much smaller scale, they would be likely to recognize that state power would tend to be more limited by a large number of smaller states than in a world of fewer large states. 

After all, when kept to a size such as that of the megaregions listed here (to use just one example), the persons who live within them could for more easily leave one jurisdiction to do business in another, even on a daily basis. Political jurisdictions seeking to raise taxes and regulatory burdens would be limited by the relative ease of moving one's business or family to a neighboring jurisdiction. Even worse — from the state's perspective — those expatriates would still be able to visit friends and family "back home" with relative ease. And, those jurisdictions that sought to engage in various types of prohibition such as those on marijuana, would find it far more difficult to prevent their citizens from easily traveling over jurisdictional lines to spend their money in neighboring areas — thus robbing the prohibitionist states of further tax revenue.

With States, Size Matters

Many advocates for limited government or even laissez-faire government continue to debate the proper extent of state power, or whether states should exist at all. What should be apparent, however, is that even for those who want states to provide certain amenities, many modern states are far, far greater in size and scope that what is even necessary to provide those amenities in the first place. Unfortunately, the primary effect of bigness in these states is to enhance the power of the state and limit the ability of citizens to escape the state's taxes and impoverishing regulations.


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stinkhammer's picture

walls for everyone!

peddling-fiction's picture

Someone wants to re-slice your apple pie.

Tallest Skil's picture

Be very fucking wary about bullshit like this. They want to Balkanize America just as much as they want it carved up and added into the global Marxist nation capitaled in Jerusalem still in the works.

OfAllElaboratePlans's picture
OfAllElaboratePlans (not verified) Tallest Skil Jan 16, 2017 6:35 PM

"walls for everyone!"


well, that's how they used to do it in the Etruscan age (just before the ROMAN EMPIRE)...


Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all... Though the HILL terrains did provide a clear strategic & military advantage (nowadays you might have to rely on SNAKE PLISSKEN ~ & in his own words, he doesn't give a fuck about your war or President).

Paul Kersey's picture

Koreans, Chinese, Indians and Jews can transplant themselves almost anywhere and thrive. Those who dwell in the south side of Chicago can't even transplant themselves a few miles away into the burbs and survive.

Those groups with higher IQs, with something akin to what we used to call "the Protestant work ethic", and with the ability to live without having to satisfy some need for immediate gratification, will make it anywhere, in any foreign culture, and boundary lines won't impede them from fulfilling their aspirations. Those groups with lower IQs, little or no work ethic, a proclivity for violence, and who are driven by their needs for immediate gratification and uncontrolled procreation, will have a hard time surviving anywhere or in any country large or small.

sunnyside's picture

I think you mispelled "blacks".

rrrr's picture

These are lies:

"Every step by which an individual substitutes concerted action for isolated action results in an immediate and recognizable improvement in his conditions. The advantages derived from peaceful cooperation and division of labor are universal. They immediately benefit every generation, and not only Iater descendants. For what the individual must sacrifice for the sake of society he is amply compensated by greater advantages. His sacrifice is only apparent and temporary; he foregoes a smaller gain in order to reap a greater one later."

Theosebes Goodfellow's picture

These divisions already exist. There was a ZH post a few weeks ago with the Clinton Archipelago showing where she had carried over 50% of the vote, the rest of the nation being carried by Trump. Just look at how the country voted to see the division lines. 

As far as the statement, "Not surprisingly, then, virtually no one emigrates based on political views alone because the quality of daily human life depends largely on a countless number of connections to family, social networks, and business associations that tend to depend on physical proximity to others.", goes, it is horse shit.

Tomorrow escrow closes on my house in California. Next Monday, Mrs. Goodfellow and I will be departing this state forever due exclusively to "political views". We will become political refugees in the great state of Arizona, where free men live, (and the chicks there dig 'em!).

I appreciate the theoretical nature of this article, but as is with most things in real life, theoretical practice and practical application do not always jive. They do in theory because one assumes rational characters making rational decisions. In real life we have socialists. So endeth the lesson.

canisdirus's picture

You do realize that AZ is going straight to hell due to all the Californians moving there, right?

It is probably only 10-15 years from being just as terrible as California is today.

Jubal Early's picture

No where in AZ will ever have a climate like coastal California.  In AZ its either way too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.  Great for snowbirds though.

Cities across the globe are where the homo's, feminists, statist parasites and low IQ invaders tend to congregate.  What the world needs to do is force every city to become its own state thereby freeing the countryside from domination by the perverts.

algol_dog's picture

Dude - Your making way to much sense around here. A $100 infraction judgement against you.

thecondor's picture

I agree. It's stupid shit.

847328_3527's picture

Did someone mention apple pie?

drunkfish's picture

Plato wants his republic to be a small as possible. He cites the 'evils of the individual' (a desire for luxury and wealth) as being the cause of the 'evils of the polis' (a need for expansion which causes war). In a later work "Laws" he states an exact number of people in his ideal state: 5040.

Lorca's Novena's picture

About the size of my 'town', except we have a staggering amount of illegal workers and rampant nepotism in city jbs.

mmanvil74's picture

This is why I argue in favor of a city-state style of governance, as opposed to  nation states or even "mega regions" as referenced in this article.

It is clear that cities "work" insofar as efficiently providing for the basic living requirements of millions of people.

What clearly does "not work" is the nation state, with its high costs of border protection, it's out of touch decision making, corruption, violence, beaurocracy, and many other faults...

Read more about the city state model of governance here

edifice's picture

So... city-states? Singapore is very successful.

Paul Kersey's picture

"Singapore is very successful."

Singapore's population is educated and homogeneous.

AchtungAffen's picture

Homogeneous as in Chinese, Muslims and Indians?

MalteseFalcon's picture

Singapore cannot defend itself or guarantee their necessary inputs in any fashion.

It is essentially a free rider that exists at the whim of larger states.

If the Japanese had won the Pacific war there wouldn't even be a place called "Singapore".

The US is nice and large and protected by two large oceans.

Every input a modern society needs is contained within the US borders.

That is the proper size for a state.

83_vf_1100_c's picture

At least until China decides to assimilate them.

Fuck that map. I do not want to be part of DFWistan.

OpTwoMistic's picture

I agree. I am 90 miles out of Houston and will have no part to the liberal dick sucking bastards there.

skunzie's picture

What a silly exercise.  Just what is the area containing parts of North and South Dakota, Wyoming Montana, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, and California called?  The great unknown, the area we could give a shit about, buffalo land, southern Canada?  Friggin' idiots.

Yes We Can. But Lets Not.'s picture

I'd call that area The Freelands.

Semi-employed White Guy's picture

That's where I want to move. The area the rest the country gives no shits about. No policy wonks. No think tanks. No advocacy "journalists". No SJWs. No (((activists))). Sounds like paradise.

Yog Soggoth's picture

Met this interesting guy outside of Tallahasse. He said he enjoyed lower everything taxes by living on the southern border of Georgia and working in Florida. Apparently you do not have to declare income on out of state work that would be taxed in Georgia. He had a long list of how it worked, but I was not prepared to write it all down. Better schools,roads,population, you name it he said.

canisdirus's picture

There's a similar trick in Portland/Vancouver, but it's hard to do because there isn't much industry north of the border where it needs to be to make it work.

The Navigator's picture

I spent 1 day in Savannah Georgia last week - Nephew graduated from Marine Corp boot camp in Parris Island, SC.

Great people in GA, good hunting and fishing, and pretty good weather -- gotta go back and explore further but seems like a great place to live in or retire to.

canisdirus's picture

It's undefinable because it has extremely low economic activity and minimal population. That's why people go to these areas to get away.

edifice's picture

That's where they'll stick the Injuns.

wisebastard's picture

"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered.... I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.... The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs."..............but its a fake quote from some deplorable homeless dude that drank to much wine when he lost his aluminum foil hat so it dont matter now bitches

BeerMe's picture

It's like someone got drunk and started drawing lines on a map.

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

He lost me at 80%, which is factually wrong.

Add the population of the British Isles, Canada, Australia, NZ and various former British Colonies, and that number looks vastly different.

Twee Surgeon's picture

I think the UK has around 65 million people, Oz and Canada are quite sparse and you can subtract the French and Afrikaans speakers and so on. It is probably about right if you think about it.

DeathMerchant's picture

How many of these are sanctuary areas and which ones are they ????

NoPension's picture

We were formed as a Federal Republic. The States were originally like little sovereigns. 

 The Constitution and Bill of Rights declared what power and authority the Federal Government had. Very limited. ALL else was delegated to the individual States.

Over the years, the States ceded their power and authority to the Feds, who willingly took and jockeyed for it.

Here we are. 

States were to be more or less autonomous entities, with different systems. Some worked, some didn't. Success would be copied. 30,40 or now 50... individual experiments in government. People could easily move from one to another, without impedance.

Now, Fed's mandate to all...and if it's bad...all suffer.

Fed's should be guarding borders, and providing military protection. Maybe a few other odds and ends. 

Our founders were brilliant. 

headless blogger's picture

There were too many holes in their system to maintain the independence of the States. Perhaps, something could be changed to make them stronger, or maybe we just need to break up the USA into about 7 nation states. I'm all for it at this point.

Semi-employed White Guy's picture

If these "brilliant" founders really meant that then they would have not allowed a Supreme Court with life-time tenure for an unspecified number of robed-degenerates who like to play god and whose majority opinion could not be legally overridden.  The Constitution is a swell document, but in the end it was just a piece of paper.

headless blogger's picture

It's very hard for citizens to organize productively against a massive sized super state, also. If you have smaller states, and an educated society, it would be easy to stop such nonsense, as 9/11, or to at least have a legitimate investigation. The reason something like the 'deep state' can move within the shadows and do so much damage, is due to the large size of the State.

besnook's picture

the japanese interpretation of what he talks about follows along the same lines but would be better described as cultural socialism, something that is totally excluded from human action.

while every level conveys individual benefit the end result, the caused conclusion is almost total sacrifice of the self to first the state, then, in order, company(employer), community, family and, lastly, self. the idea is that if i think of you and you think of me first then all our needs are satisfied therefore the self is redundant.

Jethro's picture

That could only work in a monoculture. Oddly enough though, the progressive left would have the white middle class be the donkey for every other segment of the population.

DocBerg's picture

Thomas Jefferson came up with his idea of the Ward Republics, because he came to much the same insights.  Except these were to be similar in size to townships of 36 square miles in area.  They were to be governed via direct democracy, and if a person or family didn't care for what was going on in their Ward Republic, they could move to one that was more in congruence with their desires.  The mega-regions in this article are too large for direct democracy, so the people would still be stuck with representation that inevitably falls prey to the Iron Law of Oligarchy.

Twee Surgeon's picture

What are the consequences of looking at that map and seeing no place that I really want to visit anymore because it's just the same old shit with different colored cop uniforms. A few fishing spots maybe and gold panning if I didn't need a permit. I could do a round of Vegas for a minute, other than that, Generica.

American Gorbachev's picture

it may well be the Global Statist's plan to break up the U.S. and subjugate the smaller entities even more than now with centralized control in the form of the "Yehuda Triangle" (New York, London, Tel Aviv)

but it is a risk that needs to be taken

Texas (and many other states) does not belong in the same, centrally-directed political UNION as Massachusetts (or New York, or California, etc)  Furthermore neither do the citizens of 95% of Texas' landmass belong in the same political union as Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

Break it up into a thousand pieces, start over with clean sheets of paper, and trust the localities to work things out (akin to 'free markets')

Economic interdependence and shared values will prevail as long as there is the freedom and ability for people to move (vote with their feet)

and if representative government is still required (i argue technology has rendered it obsolete) at least every citizen should be able to finish his breakfast, travel to meet his governors, say his peace, and be back home for supper


Jethro's picture

I would include one additional metric.  You don't get to vote if you receive any sort of government assistance.

RopeADope's picture

China would like the Mises Institute to take over policy in the USA.

That way, one hundred years from now, China and Africa can hold 'Help Feed the Starving American' telethons every New Years to help them feel superior to those savage primitives.