Yes California Independence Campaign on Nov. 9, 2016 discusses a budding movement to make California a standalone nation. Marcus Ruiz Evans, shown here, later quit the group, and on Aug. 17, 2017 pushed a new effort calling for a constitutional convention. Taryn Luna The Sacramento Bee
Yes California Independence Campaign on Nov. 9, 2016 discusses a budding movement to make California a standalone nation. Marcus Ruiz Evans, shown here, later quit the group, and on Aug. 17, 2017 pushed a new effort calling for a constitutional convention. Taryn Luna The Sacramento Bee

Dan Walters

Observations on California and its politics

Dan Walters

Could California succeed if it became a nation?

By Dan Walters

dwalters@sacbee.com

November 19, 2016 02:00 PM

Shocked by Donald Trump’s presidential victory, some residents of true-blue California have been discussing – semi-seriously – the notion of seceding from the United States.

Surely, they argue, with 39 million residents and the fifth- or sixth-largest economy in the world, California could go it alone or, as some speculate, form a new nation with equally blue (or equally green) Oregon and Washington.

There’s a little irony to the speculation because those talking about secession are generally the same ones who have ridiculed those in California’s northernmost, and most conservative, counties who dream of breaking away and forming a State of Jefferson with their kindred souls in Southern Oregon.

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California governor Jerry Brown lambastes GOP frontrunner Donald Trump. David SidersThe Sacramento Bee

It’s far-fetched, of course, but just for fun let’s look at how the Sovereign Nation of California might function should it revert to what it was briefly before becoming a state in 1850.

If one looks for a model, it’s Canada, a nation that’s roughly comparable to California, as well as being adjacent to the United States.

Canada has 36.3 million residents to California’s 39 million, but its $1.6 trillion economy is 38 percent smaller. Its federal budget of $317 billion is about 50 percent higher than California’s state spending, but twice as large when federal funds are excluded from California’s budget.

Therein lies one rub in becoming a nation.

The feds collect about $370 billion from California taxpayers each year, and spend $334 billion in the state – not counting the state’s proportionate share of defense and other overarching activities.

A big chunk of federal spending, both direct and indirect, in California is for medical care. In fact, Uncle Sam coughs up half of the $367.5 billion that governments and individuals spend on Californians’ health.

Our health care spending amounts to nearly $10,000 per Californian, which is quite a bit more than the $6,000 spent on each Canadian.

Were California to become a nation, it would have to shoulder that burden, including Medicare for the elderly, and also provide something to replace Social Security payments to the same group.

It might be possible were California to levy taxes to equal what the state sends to Washington – but a big unknown is military protection.

The U.S. is spending $800 billion this year on defense, including $181 billion for veterans’ pensions and other services. California’s proportionate share of that burden is 12 percent or almost $100 billion.

Would California spend $100 billion on its new military? Probably not. Canada spends only about $20 billion because it counts on the U.S. for a strategic shield. But in accepting the protection of its bigger neighbor to the south, it also cedes a great deal of policy clout to the U.S.

Would a liberal California nation be willing to forgo a strong military and rely, instead, on the protection of a United States from which it separated itself in protest – unable, like Canada, to project an independent national security policy?

None of this is going to happen, of course. The political, legal and financial impediments are immense. Would, for instance, a hostile U.S. government be willing to sign over all of its vast property holdings, from trackless deserts to dams and jewels such as Yosemite, without charging us countless billions of dollars?

Like it or not, we’re probably stuck with each other like a bickering couple that cannot afford to divorce.