Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,
When the Soviet Union began its collapse in 1989, the world witnessed decentralization and secession on a scale not seen in Europe since the nineteenth century.
Over the next several years, puppet regimes and states-in-name-only broke away from Soviet domination and formed sovereign states. Some states which had completely ceased to exist—such as the Baltic states—declared independence and became states in the own right. In total, secession and decentralization in this era brought about more than twenty newly independent states.
This period served as an important reminder that human history is not, in fact, just a story of ever increasing state power and centralization.
Since then, however, the world has seen very few successful secession movements. A handful of new countries have come into being over the past twenty years, such as East Timor and South Sudan. But in spite of many efforts by separatists worldwide, there have been few changes to the lines on the maps.
This has certainly been the case in Europe and the Americas, where from Quebec to Scotland to Catalonia to Venice demands for independence have been met with trepidation and sometimes outright threats of violence from central governments.
Countries Don’t Like to Get Smaller
This is partly due to the fact state organizations—that is, the people who control them—have little motivation to give up the benefits conferred by bigness. States that control larger geographic areas and larger populations have greater ability to project their power and get more power.
Greater size means a larger frontier that can act as a physical buffer between the state’s enemies and the state’s economic core. Physical size is also helpful in terms of pursuing self-sufficiency in both energy production and agriculture. More land means greater potential for resource extraction and acreage devoted to food production. From the state’s perspective, these activities are good things because they can be taxed or expropriated.
In terms of population size, state control over larger populations means more human workers to tax, and, potentially, more highly productive urban workers. Historically at least, larger populations also provided personnel for military uses.
Thus, states that control large territories and populations are able to directly control larger and more diverse economies within their borders.