Introducing: the Federation of Free States, an ongoing thought experiment

The most popular article I have ever written, in terms of views, has been, by far, “10 Places that Should Join the U.S.,” a short piece at RealClearHistory pining for an enlarged geographic area under the American constitution.

This is not a strange concept for longtime NOL readers. I’ve been pleading for stronger political ties between the U.S. and its allies for quite some time. There has been lots of push back to this argument, from everywhere. So I’m going to spend some more time explaining why I think it’d be a great idea for the American constitutional regime to expand geographically and incorporate more political units into its realm. Here is what an initial “federation of free states” would look like in, say, 2025:

NOL map United States in 2020 with 79 states

I’ve incorporated two of the strongest voices against such a federation, NOL‘s very own Michelangelo and Edwin. Michelangelo’s Pacific and Caribbean bias is somewhat acknowledged, and Edwin’s pessimistic socio-linguistic argument against adding continental European states to the federation has also been incorporated.

I’ve also tweaked the “10 places” that I originally saw fit to join the US.

In the map above I’ve got parts of Canada (the 3 “prairie provinces”) and Mexico (3 “ranching states”) joining the American federation. The prairie provinces of Canada – Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba – would be admitted as separate “states,” and would thus get to send 2 senators each to Washington. According to my napkin calculations, Alberta would only be sending 3 representatives to DC while Saskatchewan and Manitoba would only get 1 representative each in the House. The ranching states of Mexico – Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo León – wold likewise be admitted as separate “states,” and would also get to send 2 senators each to Washington. These three states, which have plenty of experience with federalism already, are a bit more populated than the prairie provinces, but not by much. Nuevo León would send 4 representatives to DC, while Tamaulipas would send 3 and Coahuila, 2. Why be so generous to these polities? Why not lump them together into one unit each – a Mexican one and a Canadian one? Mostly because these new states would be giving up a lot to leave their respective polities. Military protection and the rule of law wouldn’t be enough, on their own, to persuade these states into joining the Federation of Free States. They’d need disproportionate representation in Washington, via their Senate seats, in order to leave Canada and Mexico and join the republic.

Antilles (Cuba, Dominican Republic, US Virgin islands, and Puerto Rico). This is a random collection of polities, I admit, and lumping them together into one “state” is even more random. But lump them together I would. On their own I don’t think these polities would do well in a federated system, even with their own Senate seats. There’s just not enough historical parliamentary experience in these Caribbean states. If they were lumped together, though, they’d be a formidable presence in Washington. While Antilles would only get 2 Senators, its combined population would be enough to send 19 representatives to the House, more than Florida, New York, and a gang of other influential states in the current union. At the heart of Antilles joining the US as a “state” in its union is a great trade off: sovereignty in exchange for the rule of law and democratic self-governance.

IsPaJo. Israel, Palestine, and Jordan would also be incorporated into 1 voting state, though I don’t have a good name for this state yet. This isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds. The populations of these 3 polities would benefit immensely from living under the US constitution. Questions of property would be handled fairly and vigorously by the US court system, which is still widely recognized as one of the best in the world when it comes to property rights. Concerns about ethnic cleansing or another genocide would be wiped away by the fact that this new state is now part of the most powerful military in world history. Sure, this state would only get to send 2 Senators to Washington, but its representation in the House would be sizable: 18 representatives.

England and Wales (but not Scotland or Northern Ireland). England would be the crown jewel of the federation free states. The United Kingdom is dying. Scotland wants out. Northern Ireland wants to rejoin Ireland. In England, London is thriving but the rest of the country is suffering from the effects of de-industrialization. The kingdom’s once-vaunted military depends on the United States for nearly everything. Adam Smith put forth a proposal in his 1776 treatise on the wealth of nations that’s worth re-discussing here. Smith argued that the best way to avoid a costly war with the 13 American colonies was to give them representation to go along with taxation. He proposed that the U.K.’s parliament should add some seats and give them to North American representatives. This way both sides could avoid the whole “no taxation without representation” dispute. Smith further opined that, were this federation to happen, the center of the British empire would inexorably move in the direction of the North American colonies. England and Wales would both get to send 2 Senators to Washington, giving the Isle of Liberty 4 Senators in the upper house. Wales wouldn’t get much in the way of the lower house (only 2 representatives according to my napkin calculations), but England, in exchange for its sovereignty, would become the republic’s most populated “state” and would therefore get to dictate the terms of discourse within the republic in much the same way that California and Texas have been doing for the past 3 or 4 decades. That’s not a bad trade-off, especially if you consider how awful life has become in once-proud England.

Liberia. In 1821-22, the American Colonization Society founded a colony on the Pepper Coast of West Africa and called it Liberia. The aim of the colony was to provide freed slaves in the Americas a place to enjoy their freedom, since racism was still rampant in the Americas. The freedman quickly came into conflict with the locals (a clash of cultures that has continued into the present day). Liberia, governed by its New World migrants, declared its independence in 1847 but it wasn’t until 1862, in the early stages of the American Civil War, that the US recognized Liberia’s declaration. The African continent’s first and oldest republic, predating Ghana by over one hundred years, survived, as an independent entity, the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century and has been at the forefront of regional coalition-building in Africa since the end of World War II (when the British and French empires collapsed). Liberia, like almost all republics, has decayed politically and socially, especially over the last few decades. Federating with the United States would do wonders for Liberians, and give the federation of free states a legitimate stamp on the African continent (and breath new life into America’s own republican decay). The West Africans would send 2 Senators to Washington, and about as many representatives as Louisiana or Kentucky.

Japan (8 “states”). With nearly 127 million people, Japan’s presence in the American federation would alter the latter’s composition fundamentally. Federating the United States with Japan also presents some logistical problems. As it stands today, Japan has 47+ prefectures, which are roughly the equivalent of US states. If we added them all as they are, the Japanese would get over 100 senate seats, which is far too many for a country with so few people. So, instead, I would bring Japan on board via its cultural regions, of which there are 8: Kantō, Kansai, Chūbu, Kyushu, Tōhoku, Chūgoku, Hokkaidō, and Shikoku. The country formerly known as Japan would get 16 Senate seats (which would be roughly divided between left and right) and the new “states” would be able to send a plethora of representatives, ranging from 32 for Kantō to 3 for Shikoku. In exchange for its sovereignty Japan would get the military protection from China it wants. The US would no longer have to worry about a free-rider problem with Japan, as its inhabitants would be citizens under the Madisonian constitution. It is true that a federation would lead to more non-Japanese people being able to migrate and take root in Japan, but this is a feature of federation, not a bug. (A federation of free states would devastate ethno-conservatism in several societies around the world.)

Micronesia.” Made up of 8 current countries and territories in the Pacific Ocean, Micronesia is also a cultural territory that encompasses a huge swath of the Pacific. While it doesn’t have a whole lot of people, Micronesia has been important to US military efforts in the Pacific for centuries. Federating with the area is the least we could do for the inhabitants of the Northern Marianas, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, and Wake Island. Micronesia would only get 1 seat in the lower house, but with 2 sitting Senators in DC the area would finally get a say in how the United States conducts its business in the region.

Visayas, Mindinao, and Luzon. These 3 regions in the Philippines would do much to enrich the federation of free states. Like Japan above (and South Korea below), the Philippines has a complicated representative system that would need to be simplified in order to better fit the Madisionian constitutional system. Through this cultural-geographic compromise, the Philippines would be able to send 6 senators to Washington, but these three “states” would also get to send more representatives to Washington than New York, Pennsylvania, and a bunch of other current heavyweights. There is already a long history between Filipinos and Americans, and while the first half century was a rough one for both peoples, today Filipinos hold some of the most pro-American views in the world. Of course, Americans who live near Filipino communities in the United States know just how awesome Filipinos are.

Taiwan. Even though Washington doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan as a country (a deal Washington made with post-Mao reformers on the Chinese mainland, in exchange for peace and trade), the two polities are deeply intertwined. Taiwan spends billions of dollars on American military equipment, and the U.S. spends significant political capital protecting Taiwan from China’s bellicosity. Taiwanese statehood would not only bring two close societies even closer together, it would force China to either fight the United States or reveal itself to be a paper tiger. That’s a gamble I’m willing to take, since China is a paper tiger.

South Korea (5 “states”). Another wealthy free-riding ally of the United States, South Korea has 5 cultural regions that could easily become “states” in a trans-oceanic federation: Gangwon, Jeolla, Chungcheong, Gyeongsang, and Gyeonggi. This would give South Korea 10 senators and 50 representatives (spread out according to population size, just like all the other states in the union).

Altogether we’re looking at adding 29 states to the union. That’s a lot, but I think you’ll find that not only would we be expanding liberty but also limiting the size and scope of the federal government, and forcing it to do more of what it is supposed to do: provide a standardized legal system with plenty of checks & balances and maintain a deadly, defensive military.

Ending Empire

Check out this map of known American military bases in the world today:

NOL known US bases
h/t Dissent Magazine

Expanding liberty and the division of labor are not the only positive side-effects of an enlarged federation under the Madisonian constitutional system. Ending empire – which is expensive and coercive, and gives the United States a bad name abroad – would also be a key benefit of expanding the republic’s territory.

Most American libertarians are isolationists/non-interventionists. Most European libertarians are wishy-washy hawks. Neither position is all that libertarian, which is why I keep keep arguing that “a libertarian position in foreign affairs should emphasize cooperation, choice, and trade-offs above all else.” Non-interventionism is uncooperative, to say the least, but you could argue that it’s at least a position; the Europeans seem to take things on a case-by-case basis, which is what you’d expect from a people who haven’t had to make hard foreign policy decisions since 1945. Open borders is a cool slogan, but that’s just a hip way of arguing for labor market liberalization.

It’s time to open up our doors and start talking to polities about going all the way.

41 thoughts on “Introducing: the Federation of Free States, an ongoing thought experiment

    • I don’t know cool it’d be, but I thought it’d be best to just drop the stars and let the thirteen stripes fly. They’d be a reminder of why federations are around in the first place.

  1. There are some places like Puerto Rico American Samoa and compact states (Marshall islands, Micronesia, Palau) that could be interested into becoming US states. But that is all, with possilbly Cuba after democratisation.

    Can you imagine USA, Canada and Mexico willingly disbanding their governments and forming North American Union similar to European Union ? No ? Why should Canada and Mexico except this ?

    Would AMericans except to disband USA and rejoin reunited British Empire (C.A.NZ.UK+Ireland) ? You simply can not ignore historical, cultural, legal and socio-economical differences. Idea that Japan woud be divided into 8 states and absorbed into USA is ridiculous ! Can you imagine Japanese people, culture and language being equal with english in thios scenario ? Or any other, Korean, Mexican, Taiwanese, Canadian ?

    Libertarians are all about life, liberty and property. This should include respecting rights of states, just like of people. It is possible to create an organisation of nations that share values of liberalism (life, liberty, property), british common law (former British empire, Japan, Korea, Taiwan), but you have to respect their integrity and identitety. It could be called something like “Commowealth” …

    Also, I would recomend learning more about failed West Indies Federation. Link: If those former british colonies could not make it together, idea that former british, spanish and french colonies are compatible is a joke !

    Oh, and Europeans aren`t wishy washy. If somebody attack us, will turn their land into wasteland and oblitorate them from history. We just do not like bargeing into imperialistic wars in countires across the ocean, bleeding manpower and wealth with only anticolonial resistance prospering. Europe had its share of colonial failures, now its american turn. European nations can be strong and valuable allies, but you must respect them. Nobody wants to be a puppet of American Empire. It is not about building singular empire, it is about alliance of free nations.
    Peace !

    • Frost,
      Just two things: 1) There is no argument for a new union. These polities would be “states” under the Madisionian constitution. They’d exchange most of their sovereignty for a place in the American federal system. Capice?
      2) Japan the the US have more in common than you’d think. They are closer institutionally and culturally than, say, the North and the South in 1861.
      And I can’t help myself: the Europeans would turn Russia into a “wasteland”? (Speaking of jokes.)
      There are many failed experiments with federation throughout history, the West Indies included. That’s why I argue for an American foreign policy that is inclusive when it comes to states looking for benefits. Instead of giving polities a free ride, we invite them to join us and benefit from our centuries-old experiment in self-government and liberty.

  2. 1) The prairie provinces of Canada – Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba
    No, because Canada won’t give them up & Canada is just fine as it is

    2) The ranching states of Mexico – Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo León
    No, because Mexico is far, far away from the rule of law. Too big a lift.

    3) Cuba, Dominican Republic, US Virgin islands, and Puerto Rico
    YES to USVI and PR, no to Cuba and DR. Rule of law, too big a lift.

    4) Israel, Palestine, and Jordan
    No. Rule of law, too big a lift.

    5) England and Wales
    YES; Scotland and Northern Ireland should also get the invite.

    6) Liberia
    No. Rule of law, too big a lift.

    7) Japan

    8) Micronesia

    9) Philippines
    No. Rule of law, too big a lift.

    10) Taiwan

    11) South Korea

    Others to consider:

    a) Netherlands
    b) Scandinavia (Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland)
    c) Australia & New Zealand

    • Correction to #5 above: Ireland, Scotland & Northern Ireland should also get the invite.

    • Nevisage,

      I won’t argue about the particulars with you, but am I correct in assuming that you are okay with the general thrust of my argument? If so, let us toast. If not, tell me why.

  3. applications for admission to the union should be generally encouraged & specifically entertained on a case by case basis but you must be dreaming about all these particular invitations & acceptances

    • Yes aletheia,

      I am dreaming about the particulars, you are correct. But if you and I can agree that applications and admissions should become an integral aspect of American foreign policy then I think I can be content with just my dreams.

  4. Brandon, I’m only partially in agreement with the general thrust of your argument, so maybe we can do micro-toasts instead?

    I think your broad concept of welcoming more states into the Federation is excellent and long overdue. Micro-toast!! (Glug, glug)

    I’m absolutely befuddled by your claim that this concept would “end empire”. Actually, this would reinforce the Federation’s military strength and capabilities, and that’s actually a crucial benefit of your approach. So no toast on this one.

    The current political debate on this topic, which has completely stalled, only considers Puerto Rican statehood. I already noted my feasibility concerns with some of your other proposed new states, but we do agree on PR (and we jointly add USVI). It would be great if real progress could be made on PR-USVI, and if that could be done then we can start to move forward, one new state at a time.

    • Agreed. Being open to adding new states to the empire does not get rid of empire. Specifically backing up Japan, S. Korea, and Taiwan with our own military is chock full of empire and military.

      (That agreed is also in favor of PR-USVI and I’d add the Pacific US territories as the only remotely feasible ones just now.)

      I’m surprised you don’t give DC even a passing mention…

    • Ach.


      Federating with these states would quite literally end empire. Just think: as it stands today, the US military occupies sovereign countries. Sure, we pay them to be there, but nobody is in doubt as to who is in charge.

      If we federated with these states, there would be no more junior partnerships. The people in these countries would be citizens of the republic. They could get up move to Georgia or Texas if they wish, just as Californians are free to get up and move to Texas or Georgia. There would be no military occupation. There would only be military bases that would have to treat the civilians they neighbor like full citizens (because they would be).

      It is true that military capabilities and strength would be enhanced, but I don’t see how this would contribute to empire.

    • Derrill: which DC are you referring to?

      Brandon: The map illustrates the US network of military bases, which exists to encircle China’s loathsome People’s Liberation Army, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, and other enemies of freedom. The need for that network does not change when untargeted states join the Federation. As the new members of the Federation can provide additional resources, the network will only grow stronger.

      The US arguably occupies part of Syria, because Assad is a war criminal and scumbag who deserves the same trial and sentence that Saddam Hussein received. But the US does not occupy countries like the Philippines, which memorably kicked the US out of Subic Bay and is currently in tears, asking why the US isn’t coming to help the Philippines against China in the South China Sea.

      What set of “occupied” countries are you referring to?

    • nevisage,

      I don’t quite see the encircling of the enemies of freedom on the map of US military bases. I see a fairly random collection of bases that have been established as post-1945 events necessitate. I also see plenty of bases in the Philippines.

      I don’t want to get bogged down by facts, though. Facts matter, of course, but so too does thinking things through, sometimes slowly. The argument for a mechanism that allows for polities to petition to join the Madisonian compound republic is about ending empire rather than the end of empire. Some of the most important overseas bases in the US empire are located in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, England/Wales, IsPaJo, Micronesia, Antilles, and Liberia. Ending empire would start with adding these states to the republic. The end of empire is a horse of a different color.

    • Per,

      This is excellent, thanks for sharing. I’ll have more thoughts on your thoughts soon!

  5. I don’t understand why you’d invite some places and not others. Why the prairie provinces of Canada and not British Columbia, or Ontario? Why the Ranch states of Mexico and not the Pacific coast states which are wealthier and have less crime?

    Furthermore some of these places are arguably better governed than the US? Maybe we should join Canada or Taiwan, rather than have them.

    In any case, they’d all probably decline the invitation except maybe Puerto Rico or Liberia.

    That is unless you were considering forced annexation. That would really be in keeping with libertarian ideals.

    • This is an entertaining little fantasy so why stop here? Why not dislodge Tibet from China, return the north of Chile to Bolivia, create a pan-African republic, or simply unite the whole world under a Madisonian utopia?

      I’m in favor global, political reform. The world needs better government. But without a realist path from here to there, what’s the point?

    • PK,

      All good questions. Briefly: the prairie provinces and ranch states are deeply similar to their American counterparts (Minnesota/Michigan/Iowa, and Texas/New Mexico respectively.) BC and Ontario are too far to the left to fit in the Madisonian system well.

      You are correct that some of these places are better governed (arguably), but these places are free riding. Paying for their defense is exhausting American resources (political, economic, and cultural). This is the realistic scenario. Why are we defending a bunch of free-loading countries? Our defense of these countries is more popular than you might expect, too. Thus, instead of pulling out, which would isolate Americans from their allies (and vice-versa), and instead of pleading for a more equitable contribution from free riding allies, our societies should federate.

  6. A bizarre list.

    Aside from Canada, surely Australia and New Zealand are the only realistic possibilities. They at least meet the necessary preconditions of shared language, similar culture, legal systems, etc. They are relatively new cultures that have some possibility of melding into the US. And they wouldn’t cost the US tax payers a whole mountain of money.

    • Australia and New Zealand seem like great candidates due to shared cultures, but the Aussies and Kiwis aren’t free riders. There’s really no reason to federate.

  7. Scotland does not want out of the UK, and nor does Northern Ireland want to rejoin Ireland, as elections and opinion polls coinsistently show. There is a vocal minority in each that wants change, but they are just that – minorities.

  8. Fun idea to think about but somehow seems shall we say slightly against the grain of the tribal national furor these days…

    • All the more reason to push an internationalist point of view, Patrick!

  9. With all this global warming / climate change some think of moving to Mars, others of moving to #Groenland #Greenland. What are the basic economics on those two options?

    • I don’t know if there’s anything basic about either option, Per!

      Mars would be more exciting, though…

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