At the core of Catalonia’s separatist movement is an argument that a country’s better-off regions shouldn’t have to pay to cover their less productive counterparts.
As a relatively rich region with its own independence movement, Catalonia’s not alone: A small set of secession movements in historically productive areas, most visibly in Europe, say they’d be better off on their own, and more are pointing to Catalonia’s example to regain momentum.
The common wisdom used to be that separatist movements mostly came from weak minorities that rallied around racial or ethnic injustices. “With globalization, that changed significantly,” said Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, a professor of economic geography at the London School of Economics (LSE). “Virtually everywhere in the world,” movements have swapped out the “identity card” for the “economic card.”
Inequality between regions is baked into the entire concept of modern nationhood—if subsidizing poorer parts of a country were motivation enough to split off, every region would have done it by now. Plus, there are economic perks to staying together: Trade is easier across internal borders, and diversified regions diffuse risk.