Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Political Bag-Packing

The ratio of statements like "If [Candidate X] wins the election, I'm moving to [Sovereignty Y]" to actual migration probably exceeds 2:1, perhaps by an order of magnitude or two. Yes, some of it is cheap talk and signaling, mixed with a rather large dollop of political kayfabe, but there are some real structural barriers to migration, both ab and ad. It sort of makes me wonder what's so non-euvoluntary about the choice of where to live and under what regime.

Suppose that Country A is ten times as productive as Country B, but the state policy is that the number of job permits issued for citizens age 16-30 is fixed at 40% of the native-born population in that age range. Even though there is a strong incentive for folks to migrate from Country A to Country B, there's a similarly strong incentive for voters in Country A to to bar Country B-ers to cross the border and get a job. Here, we have something that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, but still quite ain't a duck. This seems like an uncompensated externality, but it's one borne not of omission. Rather, it's a problem of commission.

The ECON 101 description of a negative externality talks about three parties: Al, Bob and Carlos. Al and Bob trade tacos for beer, but when their meal is done, they throw the taco wrappers and the beer bottles on Carlos's lawn. Al and Bob have passed part of the costs of their taco-n-beer meal onto Carlos without paying for the privilege. Now, in the classic economics story, Carlos may or may not have fully defined property rights over his lawn, but he does have the ability to petition for redress of injury. Since the activity that generated the externality was voluntary, the coercive power of the state may have a legitimate role in adjudicating disputes.

Contrast the story above with something like immigration (or, worse yet, emigration) restrictions. Here, the political process has already had its say. Instead of voluntary private action generating costs borne by others, it is the coercive power of the state that imposes costs on others.

In the classic econ scenario, externalities might remain uncompensated because of high bargaining costs. In a political scenario, externalities remain uncompensated under the threat of violence.

So what does this imply for folks who want to balkanize or just run away when they don't get their way politically? How about exclaves? They're pretty rare in Anglophone countries, but that doesn't mean they're impossible. Suppose the Free State Project gains more traction and instead of just politically squatting, folks claim exclave status, maybe with, I don't know, New Zealand as the absentee foreign sovereignty. Sounds pretty good for folks who like tax zone competition and voting with your feet rather than your fingers, but I suspect it wouldn't fly with the Department of Homeland Security. I'm old enough that Waco and Ruby Ridge are still relatively fresh in my memory.

So, to revive Andrea's Question, what are some practical ways in which euvoluntarists can work to make migration more euvoluntary? Americans have a sense of frontier, where if you're being oppressed, you can pull up stakes and move West. Well, we hit an ocean, what now? Seasteading? Spacesteading? Conquest? Are charter cities dead? What would you do?

This post inspired by comments from friend of EE Eric Crampton.

1 comment:

  1. The main binding restriction on emigration from the US is tax; that only really binds on high wealth folks. A lot of people talk a lot of smack about wanting to leave if X happens, but it's all bloviation. Unless you have a very particular liberty preference weighting, where you put tons of weight on total tax take and gun rights relative to civil liberties, there are far freer places to live than the US. But you take an income hit to do it.

    I think this is the biggest constraint on Seasteads. That few Americans even apply to move to New Zealand (or Denmark), preferring incrementally higher income plus being molested at airports to having an incrementally lower income plus not being molested at airports, suggests real demand for Seasteads, exclaves, or whatever else, is pretty limited.

    Most folks, however much they profess to love liberty, or to love whatever policy they advocate - and that they could choose simply by moving to a country that has it!!!! - don't really value it that much. At least not as much as the psychic costs of being distant.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?