Secessionists in Alaska and Texas are part of a backlash against "a federal power grab that might make even FDR's New Dealers blush," the Wall Street Journal reported recently. At some point, if the tax burden keeps rising and if the number of those bearing most of it keeps shrinking, and if the government keeps increasing its involvement in heretofore private sectors of the economy, opting out will be an option that people start taking seriously. When, last year, a member of New York's City Council suggested that the city secede from New York State because the city pays more than $11 billion more to the state than it gets back in services each year, The New York Sun wrote an editorial saying, "secession has a Confederate ring to it that makes us recoil. And it's possible to take the logic to extremes — the Upper East Side probably pays more in taxes to New York City than it gets back in services, too, and no one would think of it seceding. Nor would New York think of seceding from America, though it pays far more to Washington than, by some measures, it gets back directly." The Sun's Gary Shapiro had reported back in 2006 on the First North American Secessionist Convention.
As a practical matter, secession faces some obstacles. The first is that some of the most heavily burdened taxpayers, the top earners -- who may even be more heavily burdened if Congress decides to finance universal health insurance with increased taxes on them – are President Obama's political base. Think Warren Buffett and Barbra Streisand. As a demographic group, they supported him over John Edwards and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and then over Senator McCain in the 2008 general election. The second is that those who want out of the current compact are intermingled geographically with the rest of America. Texas might want to leave, but Austin might prefer to stay. The more likely outcome is that some particularly passionate or tax averse individuals move their official domiciles or businesses to offshore tax havens, while others stay and either grit it out or work for change by methods other than secession.
While the talk of secession may seem extreme or frivolous, the underlying issue about fewer and fewer private sector taxpayers being taxed more and more to support more and more government beneficiaries who are paying less and less is a serious issue that has been debated for years, centuries before Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek or even Adam Smith. It has to do with consent of the governed, and taxation and representation. In his book "Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History," David Biale writes that in the 13th century, Rabbenu Asher wrote in a rabbinic ruling, "If a community imposes an ordinance in fiscal matters, the 'economic majority' rules…It is illogical that a simple majority composed of those who contribute only a small portion of the taxes should impose a ban on the wealthy." The same book reports that in the 12th century, the French rabbi Jacob Tam argued that, as the book puts it, "unanimous consent is required for any enactment that involves taxation." Those two aren't the only perspectives in Jewish thought or Western thought, and they may be impractical or otherwise problematic, but they are worth considering along with the current arrangements, which have their own problems, practical and otherwise.