Foot Voting and the Future of Liberty

Todd Henderson, ed., The Cambridge Handbook of Classical Liberal Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 19-01

25 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2019 Last revised: 17 Jan 2019

See all articles by Ilya Somin

Ilya Somin

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: January 8, 2019

Abstract

One of the major goals of libertarianism – and liberalism generally – is expanding political freedom: the opportunity to exercise meaningful choice over the government policies we live under. The main opportunity for political choice in modern liberal democracies is ballot box voting. Despite some genuine virtues, it has serious flaws as a mechanism for enhancing political freedom. The average citizen has almost no chance of affecting the outcome of an electoral process. In part as a result, he or she also has strong incentives to make ill-informed and illogical decisions. We can do better on both fronts when we “vote with our feet.”

Part I of this chapter briefly outlines three types of foot voting: voting with your feet between jurisdictions in a federal system, foot voting in the private sector, and international migration. All three involve meaningful exercises of political choice. In Part II, I explain how foot voting is superior to ballot box voting as a mechanism of political freedom. It allows for more meaningful and better-informed choice. It is also superior from the standpoint of several leading accounts of political freedom: Consent, negative liberty, positive liberty, and nondomination.

Part III considers objections to foot voting based on theories of self-determination, under which current residents of a given territory have a right to exclude newcomers in order to protect the political freedom of the former. Such theories come in both group-oriented and individualistic variants. Group theories posit that certain groups have a right to exclude newcomers based on their ethnic, racial, or religious characteristics. Individualistic theories claim that current residents can exclude newcomers for much the same reasons that private property owners or members of a private club have a right to exclude. I argue that both types of claims have severe flaws. Part IV discusses some institutional reforms that can help expand foot voting opportunities, while mitigating potential downsides. Finally, the Conclusion briefly suggests some ways in which expanded foot voting can help brighten future prospects for promoting libertarian values.

Keywords: foot voting, voting with your feet, federalism, libertarianism, liberalism, political freedom, nondomination, positive liberty, negative liberty, consent, immigration, private sector, private communities

JEL Classification: K37, P48, H10, H11, H70, H73, H77

Suggested Citation

Somin, Ilya, Foot Voting and the Future of Liberty (January 8, 2019). Todd Henderson, ed., The Cambridge Handbook of Classical Liberal Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2018).; George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 19-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3312302

Ilya Somin (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8069 (Phone)
703-993-8124 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://sls.gmu.edu/ilya-somin/

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