Mises Wire

Let Staten Island Secede!

Homeless foreign nationals (i.e., “illegal aliens”) began arriving last week at a makeshift shelter in a Staten Island neighborhood. The arrivals come after New York City Mayor Eric Adams decided that a shuttered Catholic school on Staten Island would be used to house some of the more than 100,000 migrants who have arrived in New York City since the spring of 2022. 

Staten Islanders, however, were given no veto and no role in determining the location of the shelter or what policies might be implemented there. As a result, hundreds of protestors this week assembled to express their opposition to the plan which was apparently hatched in secret and only revealed to Staten Island residents when the plan was already fait accompli. As the New York Post reported this week, “Local GOP state Assemblyman Michael Tannousis told The Post the area was ‘blindsided’ by the new shelter, leading to stronger opposition. ‘I found out about this location when it was already out in the newspaper,’ he said, adding the city previously denied to him they were going to house migrants there.”

It’s easy to see why the policymakers who run New York City haven’t bothered to ask neighborhood representatives if they want a migrant shelter in their neighborhood. The residents of Staten Island, who tend to lean more politically conservative than other in other regions of the city, are easily outnumbered by hardline social-democrat residents of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and other boroughs. When it comes to city-wide politics, in other words, Staten Islanders don’t matter, so the city government in Manhattan does what it wants with Staten Island’s resources, and to Staten Island’s residents.

How one feels about migrants, however, is irrelevant in answering the question of whether or not the half-million residents of Staten Island ought to be allowed self-determination in matters that clearly and deeply affect matters in their own neighborhoods and businesses. The New York Post reports:

Staten Islanders are renewing calls for a breakaway from the Big Apple — with Mayor Eric Adams’ controversial call to bus migrants to a local shuttered Catholic school proving to be the latest breaking point.

One local pol even has an idea for the independent borough’s new slogan: “Nonsicut tu quoque,” City Councilman Joe Borelli told The Post.

It roughly translates to, “We don’t like you either.”

Staten Island has always been an odd fit within the five boroughs, sitting on the outskirts of New York City with a predominantly conservative Republican population that butts heads with the rest of the city. 

Unfortunately, the borough faces many uphill challenges in seceding. Both the NYC City Council and the state legislature would need to approve the move. 

The Post continues: 

According to locals, now is the time. 

“Let’s do it!” said resident Joseph Milkie, 41. “We should get a bigger percentage of the Verrazano tolls to subsidize what it costs us to break away. What the city is doing to our neighborhood stinks.”

Anthony Antico, a 56-year-old contractor and lifelong Staten Islander, said he’s behind secession “100%.”

“Our values do not line up with the other boroughs,” Antico said Wednesday. “We do not believe in woke politics. Right is right, and wrong is wrong.” 

This isn’t the first time Staten Islanders have seriously talked about secession. As (Queens resident) Gregory Bresiger reminded mises.org readers in 2021, Staten Islanders in 1993 voted to secede from the city:

In 1993, they voted about two-to-one in a nonbinding referendum to secede and become the independent city of Staten Island. The measure was sent to the state legislature. But the referendum was later invalidated. Staten Island advocates hadn’t received “a home rule” approval message from the New York City Council. 

In other words, the democracy-loving overlords of New York City decided that the lopsided vote in favor of separation would not be honored because of a technicality.  It turns out majority-rule, which we’re so often told is the cornerstone of government legitimacy, doesn’t matter at all when the majority doesn’t agree with the elites. 

The outcome, of course, should surprise no one. As with so many cities, the more suburban, more crime-free parts of the city serve as low-maintenance areas of the city that also generate tax revenue that are useful to the ruling class in Manhattan. If we add to this the typical control-freakism harbored by most policymakers, it is easy to see why few in New York City’s government have any intention of ever letting Staten Islanders rule themselves.  There is also the contempt with which the urban elite generally regards their “constituents.” Bresiger continues: 

Ultimately, Staten Island and some other overtaxed New Yorkers in this mismanaged sprawling city hate being governed by a Manhattan ruling class that often scorns and misunderstands “outer borough” residents. (i.e., those not living in Manhattan). This Manhattan ruling class quietly regards most of us as bunch of Guidos, Archie Bunkers, or local Babbitts. We are the New York City version of “deplorables.”

For reasonable people not committed to exploiting the business owners and residents of Staten Island, the right to secession in this case should be abundantly clear. There is absolutely no respectable political “principle” which tells us that Staten Islanders must remain part of New York City, or even New York State. With nearly 500,000 residents, there is no reason why that’s “too small.” It’s hard to imagine what criteria renders this population insufficiently large for statehood when numerous US states in the mid-twentieth century (i.e., Vermont, New Hampshire, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah Nevada) had populations below 500,000.  We might also note that Staten Island has a relatively high median household income. Were Staten Island to become its own state, it would have a population about 100,000 people smaller than the next smallest state, Wyoming. Yet, Staten Island’s median household income (about $80,000) is 30 percent higher than that of Wyoming—which is itself a middle-income US state. Nor would newly erected state borders mean much of anything to commuters. Hundreds of thousands of people currently commute into New York City across state lines every day. 

That Staten Island secession is even controversial at all should strike us as curious. Granting the people of Staten Island their own city or state presents no “problematic” issues related to human rights, international relations, or basic justice. Even if there were reason for “concern” in these areas, that still would not invalidate the right of self-determination long denied to Staten Islanders. 

[Read More: “The Right of Self-Determination“ by Ludwig von Mises]

Yet, we groan under the boot of an American ruling class that reflexively favors centralization and rule by a technocratic, national elite. If Staten Island is allowed secede, it is feared that might open up countless similar demands for self-determination across the nation. Clearly, that does not fit into the current regime’s plan, and they aim to make sure the idea of secession doesn’t go anywhere, ever. For the elites, the current status quo works quite well and they want to keep it that way. 

Image Source: staten
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute