Monday, September 16, 2013

Maryland's Mini Secession Movement: Freedom, Dollars, and Common Sense

Across the country, secession movements have served as the face of frustration for rural residents.  States dominated by urban and suburban elites continue to rile countryside conservatives.  In an increasing number of states, counties have considered secession as the answer.

Active movements have sprouted in Northern California, Colorado, Michigan, and now Maryland.

According to Fox News, many of the complaints are the same.  Residents chafe under onerous restrictions on land that hurt farmers.  They also oppose gun control laws backed by suburbanites.

Some Marylanders already made the decision to secede as individuals.  Most prominently, former Maryland state senator and Republican Party chair Alex Mooney crossed the Potomac from Frederick County to Charles Town, West Virginia.  His run for Congress puts a face on the long trend of Maryland counties losing opportunities to competition south of the Potomac.

A study of West Virginia and bordering Maryland counties using numbers from the US Census Bureau's County Business Patterns data shows Mountain State counties faring better even with poorer infrastructure.

For example, Maryland's Allegany County, centered around Cumberland, had 1,847 private sector business establishments employing 25,136 in 2000.  By 2011, 1,647 employed 24,485.  Neighboring Mineral County saw some jumps.  In 2000, 480 establishments employed exactly 5,000 workers.  Eleven years later, the number of businesses dropped to 452, but the number of workers shot up to 6,445.

The numbers from Mineral County are still stagnant in many ways.  That area however, unlike Allegany, does not benefit from an interstate or any other four lane highway bisecting it.

Differences also emerge between Washington County, Maryland (surrounding Hagerstown), and Berkeley County, West Virginia.  Between 2000 and 2011, Washington County lost almost 3,000 workers while Berkeley added over a thousand.  Between 1990 and 2010, Washington County's population increased by around 25 percent while Berkeley's shot up by a little over 40 percent.

Washington County should benefit from the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81, two of the most traveled in the Eastern United States.  While Berkeley County has an excellent transportation infrastructure as well as Interstate 81, it is more beneficial to local travel.

Speculation that Marylanders may be seeking better opportunities and a way of life across the border would be tough to prove without further study.  The Mercatus Center's Freedom In the Fifty States Study shows little difference between West Virginia's overall rank of 44 and Maryland's of 42.  The study applauds West Virginia's ranking of ninth on personal freedoms, while Maryland hovers near the bottom among the least free societies in the United States.

Individuals abandoning their native states in search of better economic and social opportunities has helped to define the history of the nation.  But the 21st century wrinkle of seeking out areas friendlier to beliefs about government and freedom are playing out in interesting and unpredictable ways.

At any rate the Potomac Valley counties of West Virginia, despite handicaps from inferior infrastructure and  a system unfriendly to business, outperform their Maryland counterparts.

Less freedom, fewer opportunities.  No wonder western Marylanders have given up on Annapolis.  Time for those in Charleston to wake up and take advantage.

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