The Cognitive Dissonance of State-Apologists

“If you don’t like it, you can get out!!!”

If you say this to critics of your preferred nation-state while also supporting immigration restrictions, then you may have some cognitive dissonance that you should work on.

Yet nationalists and statists say this to critics of the U.S. government all the time, and they tend to be the sort of nationalists and statists who support immigration restrictions.

To some extent, appeals to voting with your feet make sense. Tiebout competition can pose some constraints on the rapaciousness and predation of governments, particularly local governments that it is less costly to move away from.  That’s part of why Nobel Prize winning public choice theorist James M. Buchanan advocated competitive federalism. And for those of us who make radical critiques of government that suggest we don’t think voice is likely to change it, exit may be a much better option.

But it is utterly hypocritical to suggest leaving a nation-state’s jurisdiction when you actively support the laws nation-states use to make exit and entrance artificially costly and often outright prohibited. Immigration laws actively prevent people from voting with their feet. As Ilya Somin explains, “the frequent denial of entry rights greatly undercuts the value of exit rights. To reap the full benefits of international foot voting, barriers to entry should be reduced.” States are obliged under international law to allow people to exit, but in practice the ability to exit is substantially limited by immigration restrictions. Those who support laws that in practice make it costlier for people to migrate between countries should not advocate migration between countries as an “easy” solution for an interlocutor’s lack of loyalty to the nation-state they live under.

There are many other problems with the “If you don’t like it, leave” proposal, of course. When governments engage in unjust actions, the state-actors perpetuating injustice are the ones with a moral obligation to stop their actions. To suggest that people have an obligation to leave their homes and communities gets the morality of the situation precisely backwards.

If you want to advocate exit and feet-voting to those who are frustrated with governments, you should take this advocacy seriously and combine it with a commitment to opposing coercive actions that make exit artificially costly. And if you particularly appreciate the benefits of competition that feet-voting can  open up, you should seriously consider supporting market anarchism. Exit in a model of competitive federalism at least involves the cost of moving between jurisdictions. In a market anarchist society, in the other hand, there is competition within any given geographical area, and those who are frustrated with services they are currently being provided with have the ability to meaningfully “exit” without moving and leaving their home behind.

Of course, I don’t seriously expect nationalists to embrace open borders or market anarchism on this basis. Why? C4SS Senior Fellow Charles Johnson explains it well. Seriously advocating feet-voting and Tiebout competition isn’t the statement’s real function. “The function of course is not to offer a real alternative. The function is to browbeat citizens back into the rank and file. Nations don’t take no for an answer, and neither do nationalists.”

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