Home > Uncategorized > What Do Brexit, Catalonia, California, and Gardendale, AL Have in Common? Austerity

What Do Brexit, Catalonia, California, and Gardendale, AL Have in Common? Austerity

October 3, 2017

Today’s newspapers are full of stories about Catalonia’s efforts to withdraw from Spain. The basis for the Catalans withdrawal was primarily an economic one, as David Frum’s article in the Atlantic reported: :

Catalonia, with only 16 percent of the population but 19 percent of the economy, has long chafed at seeing its tax payments redirected to poorer regions.

But Mr. Frum didn’t highlight why that disparity became an issue. It was because of an austerity plan imposed on the country by the EU because of debts the Spanish owed. When the austerity plan tightened the noose on the country. the disparate amount required of the Catalans triggered outrage among a small group of people who sought secession based primarily on cultural differences. And even though the economy in Spain had improved, the argument for secession had enough traction to persist and had gained enough momentum that the secessionists scheduled a referendum on the issue despite the national court’s decision that such a referendum was illegal.

At the end of the article, Mr. Frum, an unapologetic neoliberal who would support the kinds of austerity planning that triggered Catalonia’s withdrawal, asserts that secessionist movements usually fail:

In a modern democratic welfare state, the secessionists almost always have the weaker argument, because the costs and risks of change are certainly higher than those of a decent and reasonable status quo.

But that isn’t always the case, as the Brexit vote illustrates. When British voters tired of the effects of the austerity plan imposed on them by a conservative regime and did not like the inequities that resulted, they bought into the idea that seceding from the EU would solve their national problems. Voters reasoned that they’d be better off going it alone than going with their partners in Europe, some of whom were siphoning money from their country that could be used for other purposes.

Which brings us to the rumblings of California’s secession. As reported a couple of weeks ago in Business Insider, the “Calexit Movement” is still alive, spurred by the cultural differences between that state and the direction President Trump is leading. Like the Catalan secession, the secession of California would be unconstitutional unless 3/4 of the other states agreed to their withdrawal. But given that CA receives a relatively small amount of federal money per resident, and receives less than it pays, California, like Catalonia could make an economic argument that could gain traction… especially if an austerity regime is put in place should the budget cuts envisioned by the GOP and the POTUS be imposed.

And that, in turn, brings us to Gardendale, AL. A white affluent enclave within a predominantly poor and African American county that includes,Birmingham, AL, Gardendale voted to secede from the Jefferson County to ensure that its children receive a good education. As reported in the NYTimes in early September, this move is in part because of the de facto austerity imposed on residents in that community because the State of Alabama underfunds public schools. While the racist intent of the Gardendale residents is difficult to deny in the face of evidence— indeed the judge affirmed that motive in her lengthy written decision, their argument before the court was an economic one:

“There will be no credible evidence in this trial of racial animus motivating the Gardendale Board of Education,” Aaron McLeod, a Gardendale lawyer, told the court. “What the evidence instead will show is that the citizens of Gardendale cared so much about the education of their children that they raised their own taxes to enable their city to operate the schools their kids attend, and that is all that Gardendale is asking the court for today, to be allowed to operate its own school system for the sake of their children’s education….”

Secession supporters had argued that their tax dollars should go to educate their own children instead of children who lived outside their community, that their shared responsibility stretched no further than the arbitrary borders of their town, even though for the vast history of the state, black taxpayers paid for white schools that their own children could not attend.

In the end, the economic argument prevailed and economics in general. The judge ruled that Gardendale  could withdraw so long as it paid its share of the debt for the high school their children attended. Which begs the ultimate question: If the State provided sufficient funds for public schools would Gardendale voters have any basis for withdrawal other than race?

These secessionist movements all have economics at their root… an economics that results from austerity. And what are the roots of austerity? Tax policies based on the premise that if taxes are lowered it will stimulate economic growth the fruits of that economic growth will be shared equally. And what happens when that growth doesn’t happen? Does the government restore the taxes on corporations or the wealthy? No! The governments cut benefits to those who need help the most and that leads to resentment which, in turn, leads to the affluent to turn against the beneficiaries of government programs.

And here is the overarching question for all secessionist movements: Are we our brother’s keeper? If we ARE our brother’s keeper, secessionists should fight for higher corporate taxes and higher taxes on those individuals who benefit most from tax cuts. Instead, secessionists see withdrawal and isolationism as the way forward.



  1. October 7, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Thanks for writing and sharing this, breaking down and making simple the common threads between these different world events. I enjoyed reading it with interest, as a California resident, and someone who is learning more about the Catalonia situation. In fact I found this through a web search looking for similarities as I saw what might be an obvious one. Glad this article came up, which was enlightening and did a nice job stepping back and finding a theme that runs through these movements that have made waves in recent times. Looking forward to coming back and reading more (in fact already through some of the links to your other entries in my browser reading list).

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