Monday, January 23, 2012

The tyranny of the (secessionist) minority

When we mention majority voting, we think about the rule of the median voter and how majorities can oppress minorities. There are plenty of example of the latter, especially in countries where ethnicity matters and people foremost vote along those lines. But there are also substantial counterexamples, countries where a minority manages to extract substantial rents from the majority. Prime examples are Spain, Canada, Belgium, Bolivian and the United Kingdom. What they have in common is that some part of the country is threatening secession, and the rest of the country makes concessions to appease the secessionists.

Vincent Anesi and Philippe De Donder do a formal analysis of such secessionist movements. There starting point is that a majority that wants to prevent secession will make concessions. That is obvious. What is more interesting is that they analyze what the remaining risk of secession is in such an equilibrium. It depends on a numbers of variables, like the strength of the secessionist drive, as measured by cultural divides and the region size for example, the amplitude of the accommodation, and institutional factors that make a secession possible. The next step is naturally to find a way to either estimate such a formula, or to calibrate it.

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