Arnold Kling

Exit, Voice, and Freedom: An Example




This short text is the result of an exchange of ideas between Will Wilkinson and Arnold Kling on the subject of the right of exit and the right of vote. The position of Arnold Kling is that the right of exit (and so the absence of any monopolist, also in the sphere of politics) is the true mark of freedom, while the right to vote does not really express the freedom of choice of the individual.

The beauty of this writing, besides its appealing scenario, is that it refers to a reality that already exists (the foreign embassies and the diplomatic corps with their extra-territorial status); for this reason not only it is easy to understand the hypothetical case here presented but it is also easy to rebut any objection about its viability. If this reality is good for diplomats there is no reason while it cannot be extended to other individuals, according to their choices. The only objection might be that the State is a Mafia group made of people with exclusive privileges while we, the common people, are their captive servants whose only illusory "right" is to vote them (the rulers) in power, once every few years. And perhaps, they (the State rulers) are quite right ... for the time being ....

For more on the debate go to:

For an unconventional elaboration on the theme of real political choice see:
Anonymous, Democracy with a small "d" (1962)



Let me try to offer a hypothetical example of freedom without democracy.

Here's the deal: Suppose that a new non-territorial state is created. Call it Liberista! To become a citizen of Liberista!, you just pay an annual fee. You pay no taxes to the state. As a citizen of Liberista!, you can live anywhere that Liberista! has an embassy compound. Liberista! leases compounds in countries all over the world. Liberista! embassy compounds are as ubiquitous as Hiltons, but many of them have space for large sections of single-family homes, office parks, and so on.

Living in an embassy compound as a citizen of Liberista!, your status with respect to the host country is comparable to that of a diplomat. You can travel freely within the host country, but you are exempt from income and property taxes. However, the government of Liberista will expect you to pay your traffic tickets and to otherwise not abuse your diplomatic status. Services like utilities, water, and trash collection must be purchased from providers in the host country. Perhaps you contract for these as an individual citizen, or perhaps you allow Liberista! to contract on your behalf and collect a fee from you.

Liberista! is managed like a hotel chain. As a citizen, you have no more right to vote than does somebody who patronizes a Holiday Inn. You can, of course, make suggestions and register complaints.

Of course, there may be competing transnational enterprises, each with franchises - er, embassies - all over. Such a world is described in Snow Crash (*), and I make no claim to originality.

If there were a Liberista! franchise close to where I live, I would move there. But moving to Virginia would be a loser for me, because my wife spends a lot of time taking care of her mother in Baltimore, and the last thing we need to do is lengthen that commute.

I am not saying that one could not shoot all sorts of holes in this model of citizenship in competing transnational entities. But I think we ought to think outside the box of territorial monopoly government. In my view, once we get outside that box, then exit becomes a plausible alternative to voice.

If you value freedom, then I think that exit comes out way ahead of voice as a mechanism by which people can express their preferences. Of course there may be other values, apart from freedom, that you think have a sufficiently high priority that you want to force people to live under governments that have large territorial monopolies. But that is a different argument.



References [^]

Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, Bantam Spectra Book, 1992


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