Exit, Voice, and Real Freedom, Again
By Arnold Kling
I’ve noticed that Arnold complains a lot about Montgomery Country, MD, but as far as I know hasn’t moved.
In other words, he would argue that I have a revealed preference for my local government. However, earlier in his post, he writes,
A world in which I am bullied and coerced by lots of different people may be a world without monopoly, but that’s not a world of freedom…
People need each other. The main instrument of human survival and flourishing is social cooperation. Cooperation requires negotiation, the exchange of reasons, voice.
I do not like being bullied and coerced by the politicians of Montgomery County, but I will be bullied and coerced by similar politicians if I move nearby. If I move to a distant land, I could be bullied and coerced by worse politicians, or by criminal enterprises. If I try to pick a place with the least unattractive coercion, it might mean moving far from friends and colleagues. Swiss federalism sounds good, but who would my friends be if I went there? When would I see my children? Instead, because “People need each other,” I sit still and pay the tax of living in a jurisdiction where I am unhappy with the government.
Democracy does not eliminate the evils of monopoly. What Montgomery County illustrates is that American democracy does not even preclude a one-party state.
Our media and culture are permeated with romanticism about politics and voting. I wish to disenchant people for whom democratic government is a sort of religion, so that they will consider alternatives.
My forthcoming book, Unchecked and Unbalanced, offers a number of reforms that would make it easier for people to opt out. For example, allow individuals to allocate their own tax dollars to government programs or charities, rather than have them allocated by representatives. Another example would be to allow neighborhoods to secede from counties–this would make it possible for me to escape Montgomery County government without having to move away.
The question is whether these actual proposals for substituting exit for voice are worthwhile. I can understand why politicians who are in power or who aspire to power would oppose them. However, I think that if we break the spell of democratic enchantment, many ordinary people would support them.