San Diego Law Review


Ilya Somin

Library of Congress Authority File


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To the extent we value political freedom in any significant sense, we should also assign a high value to foot voting. Freedom of choice through foot voting, and the freedom of movement that make it possible, cannot be absolute principles that always trump other considerations. But there should be at least a substantial presumption in their favor.

My analysis also emphasizes the fundamental similarity between three different types of foot voting that are usually considered to be very different from each other: interjurisdictional foot voting in federal systems, foot voting through international migration, and foot voting in the private sector. Despite some important differences, the three have common virtues, and help advance political freedom in similar ways.

Concluding that foot voting is vital to political freedom and often a better mechanism of achieving it than ballot box voting does not amount to a call for the abolition of democracy. Far from it. Democratic government is still superior to alternatives such as dictatorship and oligarchy, and choosing political leaders by elections has value that does not depend on its effect on political freedom. But there are good reasons to constrain and structure democracy in ways that increase opportunities for foot voting.

Part II of the Article provides an overview of the three main types of foot voting: domestic migration within federal systems, foot voting through international migration, and foot voting in the private sector. In Part III, I expand on the two major advantages of foot voting over ballot box voting: the opportunity to make a decisive choice and the resulting superior incentives to make well-informed decisions. Part IV outlines the advantages of foot voting from the standpoint of four major theories of political freedom: consent, negative liberty, positive liberty, and nondomination. In Part V, I describe why the advantages of foot voting are not significantly undermined by “information shortcuts” and “miracles of aggregation,” which might enable ballot box voting to function well even if individual voters have low levels of knowledge. Part VI explains why forms of traditional political participation beyond voting have many of the same relative weaknesses as ballot box voting does. This Part also summarizes reasons why “deliberative democracy” is unlikely to overcome the flaws of ballot box voting. Finally, Part VII addresses the objection that foot voting should not be considered a legitimate expression of political freedom because it is not truly a form of “political” decision-making at all.

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