- If you knew absolutely nothing about the United States, except the name, United States, you'd know at least two things.
One, that we're united, and two, we have states.
But what if half of that was just a bad idea.
- The concept of the state is outdated, in my opinion.
- I think that states are really important in a giant country like this.
- I would have the municipal government be the only governmental level between the local and the federal government.
- We don't need hurricane laws, but Florida, they need that.
- I think we should have states because, without states, we wouldn't have the Minnesota state fair.
And everybody loves the fair.
- Today we are here at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin and behind me is the state borderline between Minnesota and Wisconsin.
(upbeat music) When the Constitution went into effect in 1789, it included a process for creating new states beyond the original 13 on the east coast.
It basically goes like this; carve out a chunk of land and call it a territory, form a territorial government, submit a letter of intent, write a state constitution, elect a state government, get the federal government to say, "Okay congratulations, update your LinkedIn, "you're a state."
This process was heavily influenced by the land ordinance of 1784 and the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, and relied on a pretty crude understanding of our geography.
At the same time, the admission to the union clause clearly stated you can't bite off a piece of an existing state to create a new one, unless both states agree and congress consents.
And as a result, you get a lot of states that simply wrap around those that came before them.
Repeat this process enough times and you get the 50 nifty United States we print on sweatshirts, collect as refrigerator magnets, and tattoo on our arms.
But does this make sense?
- State lines themselves are fairly arbitrary.
Some of them have something that resembles the historical rationale to them, a lot of them don't.
- Today our country system for distributing federal money is almost completely controlled by the shape of our states.
And this can lead to some really illogical situations.
Take Fargo-Moorehead on the Minnesota North Dakota border.
It's essentially one big city, but because it just so happens to straddle an arbitrary geographic border created over 150 years ago, the city is dependent on two different state cpaitals for federal aid.
And these capitals are rarely pursuing the same agenda.
Border cities like these are everywhere in America.
And even though they work, shop, sleep, eat, pray, and love together, legislatively they are cut in half.
So what if, instead, we just let them do what they're already doing and connect?
So first off, how did you come to the idea that we need to redraw our map to account for how we actually function socially?
- [Parag] Right, well I mean there is a whole group of thought called functional geography.
That we're not really 50 states, more like 40 urban clusters.
So really instead of, if you were to redraw the 50 US states today you would basically just draw these 40 urban hubs and each of them would have what I call a sphere of responsibility.
- As Parag Khanna put it the New York Times, economically and socially the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.
The way that the states are setup, are they built more on territory or connectivity?
- The reason that we have Pennsylvania is not because somebody say down and said, "What's the most effective way of connecting "a particular territory?"
The reason we have Pennsylvania is 'cause of the charter that was given to William Henn.
- In Mr. Khanna's model states are largely irrelevant.
What our country really looks like is this.
It's a map where we're living in gooey blobs of interconnectedness.
Blobs that flow between cities, along highways, and transportation routes, and frankly don't care much about the Land Ordinance of 1784.
Overall, a map like this isn't just some attack on the souvenir magnet industry, it's an idea that could make our system work more like we say we want it to work.
It's actually an idea that's gaining steam globally.
Many other countries, including Britain, Italy, and China are adopting financial distribution systems based on maps like this.
As Mr. Khanna puts it, we don't need to create these regions, they already exist.
In short, they are really, we just don't call them anything.
- [Narrator] When you build a road across the country it doesn't really stop at the random rectangular borders of Colorado.
- Okay time for the main question.
If we were making America from scratch today, would we even have states?
What should we actually do with the concept of states, and should we get rid of them completely?
- [Narrator] And one of the things that I point out is that back when we made America great, which was basically the 20th century, all of the mega projects, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Interstate Highway Systems, the Pacific Railways, Social Security Administration, everything whether it's bureaucratic or infrastructural.
- Now, not every expert agrees that we should get rid of states.
To be fair, the United States of America sounds like a lot better than the United Regions of Share Economic and Cultural Influence.
And we get it, we love states, they're our identity.
But when we base our policies on historical territorial regions that were, in turn, based on maps that looked like this, it's easy to see why there might be a better way of getting things done.
I'll as it anyways, do you believe the country is ready for an idea like this?
And if so, how long would it take for the US to acclimate to your model?
- [Narrator] We can't even amend the constitution, so we're not ready for a model like this.
The way I operate is, if you were to start from scratch, how would you design the physical administrative geography of the country?
- [Narrator] Which brings us back to here, the Phipps Center.
So what do you think?
When we look out this window, should we really be looking at the border of two states, or should we just call it a river?
Hey everybody this is Toussaint Morrison and in our next episode we're going to discuss if we made American from scratch today, would congress need a gender quota.
Submit your opinion to the link in the description, and as always, don't forget to subscribe.
This program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.