Voting With Your Feet

My "Jurist" Article on Expanding Freedom of Choice by Empowering More People to Vote With their Feet

The combination of foot voting and decentralization of power can offer people more and better choices than are available at the ballot box.


Earlier today, the Jurist published my article on how we can expand political freedom by empowering more people to vote with their feet.

Here is an excerpt:

The United States has just completed a historically divisive election. As I write, the winner of the presidential election is not yet definitively known, though it seems highly likely that Democratic candidate Joe Biden will ultimately prevail when all the votes are counted. Whatever the outcome, many millions of people will be deeply distressed at the prospect that the levers of power in Washington will be controlled by a party they hate and fear. And individual voters of all viewpoints have little chance of making a choice that actually affects the outcome. We can alleviate these problems by expanding opportunities for people to "vote with their feet."

Ballot box voting has many virtues. But as a mechanism for political choice, it falls short in two crucial ways: enabling people to make meaningful decisions and incentivizing them to make well-informed choices. On both dimensions, we can do better by empowering foot voting….

Effective freedom requires the ability to make a decisive choice. A person does not have meaningful religious freedom if she has only a 1 in 60 million chance of being able to determine which religion she wishes to practice. A 1 in 60 million chance of deciding what views you are allowed to express does not qualify as meaningful freedom of speech. What is true of freedom of speech and religion is also true of political freedom. A person with only an infinitesimal chance of affecting what kind of government policies he or she is subjected to has little, if any, genuine choice….

Things are very different when people "vote with their feet." When you decide what jurisdiction to live in, that's a decision you have real control over. For that very reason, there is a strong incentive to seek out relevant information. The same applies to private-sector decisions and choices about international migration. Most people probably devote more time and effort to deciding what television set or smartphone to buy, than to decide who to vote for in any election. The reason is not that the television set is more important than who governs the country, but that choice you make has real effects.

In the United States, foot voters can potentially choose between fifty states and thousands of local governments. They can also opt for private planned communities, such as condominium associations, which provide many services similar to those offered by local governments. Some 69 million Americans already live in private planned communities, belying the notion that they are only for the wealthy few. Widespread foot voting opportunities can benefit even many who do not actually move, by incentivizing states and localities to compete with each other by improving their policies….

We can make foot voting more accessible by decentralizing more policy issues to states, localities, and the private sector, and by loosening restrictions on the establishment of new private communities. That will increase the range of options available to potential foot voters and reduce moving costs. It is cheaper and easier to move from one state to another than to leave the US entirely, and cheaper still to choose between localities or private sector organizations….

Decentralization can also mitigate the painful reality that, whoever ultimately wins the 2020 elections at the federal level, many millions of people will be forced to accept a variety of government policies they deeply abhor. By devolving power to the state and local level and to the private sector, we can expand the range of policy options available to Americans. Those who lose out at the national level can still live under policies that match their preferences at lower levels of government, or in private institutions. By lowering the stakes of national elections, such diversity can mitigate the poisonous political polarization and partisan hatred that has infected American politics.

The article is in large part based on ideas developed much more fully in my recent book Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom. The Introduction to the book, which provides an overview of the rest, is available for free download here.

I should note that the article was written and published before major media organizations called the election for Joe Biden in the late morning.

NEXT: State Legislatures Should Stay Out of the Presidential Contest

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  1. I think if you vote Democrat you should not be allowed to leave their shitholes.

    1. Florida went comfortably for Trump with Republicans controlling the state government—and 60% of Floridians voted for a $15 minimum wage!!! You lost!! Lololololol!! Next up in 2022 is a ballot measure to finally expand Medicaid!!!

      1. People get what they deserve. Thats why we shouldn’t let Democrats flee their shitholes.

        Why do you think I have a problem with that?

        1. 60%—so many Trump supporters voted for the $15 minimum wage. Btw, in Trump’s best state of West Virginia Obamacare is very popular and Trump signed Manchin’s $10 billion bailout of the coal miners pension fund…so a Republican like Ted Cruz could never win a general election.

          1. Are you trying to make a point? That those policies will create Democrat shitholes and the people who voted will suffer like the Democrats are in current Democrat shitholes?

            Why do you think I have a problem with people getting what they deserve? I literally said I think people should.

            1. You prefer Alabama, Wyoming, Mississippi, West Virginia, Idaho, and the Dakotas, you bigoted rube?

              Of course you do. Just as you prefer conservative-controlled nonsense factories to our strongest research and teaching institutions.

              Your betters will continue to prevail. You will be a culture war loser until the moment you are replaced.

              Have fun, clinger!

  2. Lets face it. Plato had it right. Democracy is just another form of tyranny but with millions of Karens and Kens infringing on your liberty rather than Fidel Castro.

    In the ideal world the leftist would not be able to dictate how I want to live my life and I would not be able to dictate how the leftist wanted to live his life. And nobody would have to live in fear every 4 years. We need strict and formalized decentralization of powers with everything reserved at the lowest level possible except when absolutely necessary. We start with the individual who is granted everything except what must be given to the city and then everything to the city except what must be given to the county and on and on.

    It would’t be perfect granted. But a sight better than what we have now. Unfortunately we’re moving in the opposite direction.

    1. Leftists will never ever ever let you live your life the way you choose. You do not deserve the freedom to make choices they despise. They must subjugate others, its part of their sickness and why their ideology is filled with the trails of millions of dead bodies.

      1. Neo-Marxists just took the Presidency. Biden will do exactly as Harris tells him. She is an agent of the tech billionaires. They want to be friends with the Chinese Communist Party for access to its markets. They will do as the CCP tells them to enrich themselves further.

  3. Hi, Ilya. A billlion Chinese and a billion Indians would like to foot vote to the USA. You got a problem with that?

  4. Whatever the actual motive Somin and Soros have for undermining America . . . if successful they will have created their own sh-t hole country.

    1. It is not a shithole country for the tech billionaires. They scored an extra $trillion in 2020.

  5. Knowing first-hand what Californification feels like – feeling the crush of one party rule (nail in the coffin being Washington State’s top-two primary system) – eff that. Laboratories of “democracy”? Laboratories of tyranny is a more accurate description. When abuses become too intolerable, RUN? I’ve been reading some seminal writings by John Adams. I don’t think the founders envisioned the state-federal relationship as one that would permit the abridgement of individual rights, or that citizens should be driven from their homes because of it. Looking at the red-blue map, the concentration of dense fed-dependent population in urban areas continues to distort federalism. Places like Arizona and Georgia are losing their independent character; Colorado’s long gone. Run – where?

  6. I’ve disagreed with Professor Volokh about extending foot-voting nationally, as I believe the constitution’s text embodies a nation-state concept in which, for better or worse, “the people” whose sovereignty and rights the U.S. Constitution protects are only the people of the United States, and not people generally. As a result, I believe that the Constitution permits immigration restrictions, even draconion ones, as a matter of constitutional law. That said, as a political matter I share Proffessor Somin’s belief thsf current U.S. law and the Trump Administration’s implementation of it have been too draconian. However, my reforms would be more moderate than Professor Somin. And I would evaluate policy on this (much as I would abortion) from the point of view of the public good of the US, not from the point of view of potential immigrants’ personal interests vis a vis the US and its government (i.e. from a theory of the good, not a theory of rights.)

    Within the US, however, I think Professor Somin makes a good point. This country basically has two very different conceptions of the nature of the public good. Those two conceptions have caused clashes threating to make the country ungovernable, and a significant portion of the country has contemplated appealing to demagogues. This is a serious problem. A deeper federalism might be a solution. If we redefined and reduced the federal sphere so that red and blue states were allowed to go their separate ways on more issues, without Congress or the Supreme Court attempting to impose uniform national solutions, the Federal Government might be able again to work with enough harmony to be able to reach governable compromises on the issues remaining to it.

    The years of the Trump Administration has shown that the public does not want a tiny federal government. Trump was unable to repeal most of Obamacare, for example,even when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and states that had initially resisted Medicare expansion gradually went along.

    But perhaps we should take more of a break on social issues and defederslize some of them, leaving more to the discretion of the states, and stop attempting to impose uniform national solutions. Perhaps small-time drug use shouldn’t be a federal responsibility, and conservatives in the Federal government should stop stymying local liberals. But perhaps issues like abortion and family law shouldn’t be either, and federal liberals should stop stimying local conservatives. Today, with states decriminalizing drugs like marijuana by the bucketload, Justice O’Conmer’s idea that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting simple possession of drugs, an interest so strong and so universally recognized as to override all other rights and interests, seems almost archaic. Perhaps this experience should be a caution against the Court’s manufacturing yet more new compelling interests that override traditional religious practices. Perhaps both Congress and the Court should let go a bit and recognize that the primary goal of a civilized so society cannot be to make things perfect, but to keep the peace and prevent disaster. And the peace has been broken enogh, and disaster flirted with enough, that perhaps it’s time to recognize that the striving for perfection has gone to far and needs to be paised a bit.

    As Professor Somin points out, people who don’t like the choices their state makes can always vote with their feet.

  7. Foot voting requires meaningful differences between jurisdictions, something most modern foot voters seek to eliminate.

  8. Now if only Somin supported *actual* voting.

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