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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Small states

Journalist Kirkpatrick Sale recently made an observation that is rarely discussed in IR classes:
...there are 85 countries out of the 195 counted by the United Nations that are under 10,000 square miles—that is to say, the size of Vermont or smaller.
I double-checked this claim with the CIA World Factbook and want to note that Sale is exaggerating quite a bit.

By his reckoning, there are only 110 larger countries in the world larger than Vermont.

That claim is just wrong and it is easily disproven.

The CIA uses square kilometers, not square miles, so the first step is a conversion. Let's see -- Vermont is about 25,000 square km.

Macedonia is slightly larger than 25,000 square km and is ranked 149th among states. The 110th largest nation-state is Portugal (92,000 square km), more than three and a half times the size of Macedonia. Vermont's neighboring Maine is the U.S. state that is most similarly sized, though it is just a tiny bit smaller -- by about 400 square km.

Obviously, Portugal is a lot bigger than many smaller European nations:

Vermont is about the size of Belize, while Portugal is bigger than Austria and Jordan and just 1000 km smaller than Hungary.

Neo-Luddite Sale makes an argument he calls "the secession solution," which is a "data-based plan" to limit the size of political units.
I propose that, out of these figures and even more so out of the history of the world, results a Law of Government Size, and it goes like this: Economic and social misery increase in direct proportion to the size and power of the central government of a nation.
You can read the rest of the piece to sort through his other claims.

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