Imaginary Nation: San Francisco

By Wilson C. ’20 

San Francisco is one of the richest cities and most expensive cities in the world. It has generated quite a bit of fame and money from the tech industry, and San Francisco has been a destination for those seeking to become rich ever since the gold rush in 1849. These Imaginary Nation articles are highly speculative and the events which they describe are highly unlikely, and a San Franciscan secession from the United States may be the most speculative and least likely potential nation discussed in this series. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to wonder about what an independent San Francisco would look like. For the purposes of this article, “San Francisco” will refer to the area highlighted in gold below, the San Francisco city limits. The new country would not include the surrounding areas and counties. That being said, let’s think about what this North American microstate would look like.

The new country’s GDP would be about $59 billion, making it the 75th largest economy in the world, ahead of Uruguay but just behind Panama. The citizens would generally experience a high standard of living, as the country would rank 6th in the world in GDP per capita at about 67,000; ahead of Qatar but slightly behind Ireland. The country would have a population nearly identical to that of Fiji, making it the 159th-largest country in terms of population. However, due to its small size, the country would become the third-most densely-populated country in the world behind only Monaco and Singapore. According to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being index, San Francisco currently ranks as the 17th-happiest city in the United States, meaning that the standard of living in the new nation would be much higher than the average in the United States. This micronation would be a financial and technological hub, and would potentially become a booming, nearly utopian, super-wealthy society; similarly to Singapore in Asia. San Francisco is known to have a high homeless population, and its likely that wealth disparity would continue to grow, perhaps even creating some sort of refugee crisis. Who knows what the new microstate’s government would choose to do about the homeless problem, but the wealth disparity in this nation would be apparent. That being said, the average standard of living would be very high.

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The current political map of the San Francisco Bay Area in California, with San Francisco in gold (courtesy Wikipedia) enter a caption

The microstate of San Francisco would be a very ethnically diverse nation. The country would be 41% white, 35% Asian, 15% latino, 6% African-American, and about 3% would be made up of other various groups including Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and biracial people. San Francisco would also be one of the most diverse and accepting nations in terms of sexual orientation, with 15% of citizens identifying as homosexual. The country would be religiously diverse as well, with a substantial population from all three abrahamic faiths as well as large Hindu and atheist groups. In terms of politics, the country would be extremely socially liberal, as San Francisco has a reputation as one of the most democrat-heavy cities in the United States. Ultimately, the socially liberal attitudes ubiquitous throughout the city would continue to provide and racially and culturally harmonious setting; there would be intercultural mixing and cooperation but not high tensions.

San Francisco has a very geographically advantageous position. The country would be able to control and tax a lot of trade which enters the region. Given that the country would be ceded the Golden Gate Bridge (currently owned by the federal government), a landmark eternally tied to the region, the country would be able to control the Golden Gate Strait. Most boats which travel to the Port of Oakland, the main port for Northern California (and 32nd-largest in the US) must travel through this strait, and the country would thus be able to control the trade passing through this region. This strategic positioning is similar to that of Singapore on the Malacca Strait; although on a much smaller scale, this trade significance should provide the country with a substantial amount of wealth. Depending on the nature of secession, which would hopefully be amicable, the country could be in a precarious position. If invaded, they would be subject to immediate defeat; with water on all three sides, the city would be easily attacked from the south and be conquered. That being said, even if the secession was not amicable, an invasion by the United States would be highly unlikely. The country of San Francisco would be a likely ally with China, due to a contentious trade relationship with the U.S. and the high number of Chinese expats living within the country. San Francisco would likely be able to from powerful allies which would prevent any sort of attack from the United States. Furthermore, due to very little arable land or manufacturing industry, the economy would be heavily reliant on imports. It’s possible that San Francisco would join trade agreements similar to those of the United States and becoming an important financial and trade center, increasing its international importance and thus decreasing its vulnerability to attack.

The independence of San Francisco would certainly cause some inconveniences for those living in the surrounding metropolitan area. Those living to the south, north, or east would have to cross international lines to go to work, sports games, concerts, school, or to visit friends or locations within the city. San Francisco provides events which surrounding cities like Oakland and San Jose cannot provide, and many Americans would still be drawn to cross the border on a daily basis. Independence would also mean that the country would have no international airports; San Francisco International Airport is in San Bruno and thus would still be located in America following independence. Unfortunately, there is also nowhere to build a new airport unless the country decided to decimate Golden Gate Park or fill in land in the bay. The independence of San Francisco would certainly not be without its quotidian inconveniences.

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The author at Ocean Beach, San Francisco in 2016.

San Francisco would continue to be a popular tourist destination. It is the 10th-most visited city in the US currently, with 25 million visitors annually. Although the tourist numbers may dip initially based on the nature of secession, the country would not suffer overall in terms of tourist numbers. Population growth and tourism means that San Francisco would likely have to create more jobs and more housing in an already limited space. With this growth in population, permanent and temporary, the country would be forced to expand within an already limited area, creating potential population density problem. This is very unlikely to deter tourists; it’s likely interest in the city will only continue to grow. To learn more about what makes San Francisco such an attractive destination for tourists, check out my November article.

As for athletics, the country of San Francisco would fair well. They wouldn’t have any Power Five Universities within their borders, so college sports would not be specifically intriguing, but they would certainly boast an impressive professional sports scene. In baseball, the San Francisco Giants have won three championships within the last ten years. The situation with the San Francisco 49ers would be somewhat confusing. The team has won five Super Bowl championships, but they would actually play well outside of the country in Santa Clara. The Golden State Warriors, who currently play in Oakland, are planning to move to San Francisco within the next few years. If San Francisco suddenly became a country, it would be interesting to see whether or not the move continued. Nevertheless, similarly to the 49ers, the fans in San Francisco would still support the Warriors even if they were located outside of the country.

Ultimately, a San Franciscan secession would be highly unlikely and would not come without its negatives and inconveniences, especially for those living in the surrounding area. That being said, San Francisco’s independence would represent a unique and previously unseen situation: a microstate on the North American continent.

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