Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore
Since the end of the Second World War, the number of independent states has nearly tripled. In the last thirty years, over thirty new states have become members of the United Nations. Separatist movements routinely receive strong support in regional and national elections. For example, in Catalonia pro-independence parties won a majority of seats in the local parliamentary elections last September. After Scotland narrowly voted against independence in September 2014, the Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the British general elections this May. A breakup of the UK remains in the political agenda, while the British voters are considering whether to exit the European Union. At the same time, contentious issues about sovereignty and national boundaries affect the debate on how to address the current refugees’ crisis. All over the world, from Ukraine and the Middle East to India and the Philippines, borders and secessions continue to be at the center of heated debates and conflicts.
Three causes of secession. The first:
In the past, monarchs and dictators could ignore the preferences of their populations and maintain centralized states and vast colonial empires with the use of force. But in a more democratic world it becomes more difficult to suppress the preferences of ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities. Consequently, central governments are obliged to grant greater autonomy or even independence.
Second, in comparison with the world prior to, say, 1950, we live in a relatively peaceful world:
The political and economic situation has dramatically improved after World War II in many parts of the world, largely as a consequence of increasingly free trade, and international agreements and institutions that fostered peace and economic integration. In Europe, NATO has reduced the cost of national self-defense, while the EU has removed many trade barriers among its members, creating a common market. In fact, such common market and European-level governance have also eroded the importance of domestic markets.
This is the third reason why small countries can prosper: precisely because international openness and common market reduce the importance of large domestic markets. Even a small country can trade freely with the rest of the world. In this sense, the EU increases the attractiveness of regional secessions. The Spanish government is less useful to Catalonia if many of the prerogatives of Madrid are devolved to Brussels.
H/t Tyler Cowen