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On the power of exit

Arnold Kling has been debating – in a friendly way – with fellow US blogger Will Wilkinson on the relative power of exit, the ability to take oneself and one’s business away from place A to B, for example, with “voice”, such as voting. There is a good Wikipedia item on the forces of “voice” and “exit”. Arnold is definitely an “exit” man and is in favour of things like creating new nations and the power to secede and emigrate. I need to think a bit more about the exchange between Will and Arnold before commenting at great length, but my two cents on this issue amounts to observing how the right of an individual to take his or her money out of reach of a country’s tax net to a less oppressive place has come under a harsh spotlight because of the recent case of Swiss bank UBS.

As I keep saying, the current crackdown on certain so-called tax havens shows that some political leaders understand the power of “exit” only too well; they know that if folk can emigrate, take their money and affairs abroad, then that puts a monkey wrench into the wheels of Big Government. And so there is no wonder that such Transnational Progressive organisations as the OECD and the rest are kicking up a stink about the supposed evils of tax evasion, and putting huge pressure on such countries as Switzerland. It is, in my view, rather important that escape routes remain plentiful, and multiply.

Yes, that’s three posts from me in a day. My holiday break in France seems to have done the trick.

9 comments to On the power of exit

  • From the Wiki entry:

    It’s also interesting to note that exit need not be physical, but can be mental or emotional. For example, under communism, many could not physically exit the country, but did not want to participate in the system either. In these cases, citizens could be said to exit from civic or political participation, as they were neither loyal to the party nor were they willing to voice their dissatisfaction (except for noted times of dissent, e.g., 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Prague) because doing so could lead to imprisonment, exile, or even death. Many thus mentally and emotionally exited their countries for the duration of a repressive regime they did not agree with but felt they could not fight or topple. The consequences of this exit can sometimes provide an explanation for why voter turnout is often low in countries where free elections are being held for the first time in years (or ever).

    This can also provide an explanation for the low voter turnout in most Western countries these days: the possibility of using both ‘voice’ and ‘exit’ are there in theory, but in practice there is really nowhere left to go, as to voice, one could just as well talk to a wall. Mental and emotional exit indeed.

  • Paul Marks

    Well people can talk to each other Alisa.

    I have just being to the opening of the new Kettering market place, and members of all political groups (and independents) shared their horror of the situation with each other – we all agreed that the debt position (both at county level and, VASTLY MORE, at national level) was “unsustainable” – to use one of Comrade Barack’s favourate words.

    Of course there is irony involved in the above – as we were at an event opening something that (however nice) was not financed as either a commercial venture or by public donation – but by grants that came (directly or indirectly) from government, the very entity that we all despairing of the debt position of.

    “Exit” – well that depends on nations being truly independent (not under the control of “international agreements” or bodies) and there being a nearby place to go – i.e. on their being lots of countries.

    Of course in theory Federation combines strength for common defence with local independence, but in practice federations and unions (even the American and Swiss ones) tend to become dominated by the central government over time.

    And, no, calling something a “confederation” rather than a “federation” does not really alter that.

    Perhaps a written Constitution can limit the growth of government – IF the Constitution is written by really paranoid people aware of the habit of courts of “interpreting” away limits on government (thus making everywhere the same with no real place to “exit” to).

    The Constitution of Alabama springs to mind – and, no, (smear merchants please note) I am not in favour of the racist bits.

  • Steven Groeneveld

    As an ex South African I am well aware of the option of exit and have done so myself, but I am not so sure about its power (other than a way of improving ones personal circumstances).

    Its power in respect of altering the behaviour of governments, particular tyrannical ones seems to be an illusion. I have watch events in Zimbabwe unfold over 40 years and I have seen a great deal of exit and very little action to correct the causes of that, even to the point of a totally collapsed economy.

    South Africa still has exchange control. Another device utilised (or possibly invented) by the National Socialists who were more than happy to see the Jews leave as long as they left their wealth. South Africa similarly seems quite complacent to watch a million or more exiting but still keeps much of their wealth a prisoner. I (and others in my family) had to resort to some subterfuge to get money out of there.

  • Sure they can talk to each other Paul, but this is not what is meant by ‘voice’ in this case. What is meant is people making their opinions known to the government, either peacefully (elections, complaints) or not. Most people in the West seem to have given up on the former – hence low voter turnout.

  • Alisa wrote:

    This can also provide an explanation for the low voter turnout in most Western countries these days

    An excellent point, which gives me the opportunity to seek, yet again, for our national and local elections to provide for an official abstention where, if abstentions win, another election must be held, excluding all of the previous candidates.

    Best regards

  • virgil xenophon

    The reason that totalitarian/authoritarian (not the same thing) governments seem impervious to change even as the ship of state is sinking via exit of it’s “best and brightest” is that as long as they sit high in the crow’s nest eating the champaigne and caviar of power and privilege content in the knowledge that, safely high and dry for the time being, they will be the very last to drown–or may even die of old age before the ship totally founders. While others have arranged for speed-boats to come at their signal immediately the waters began to lap at their feet to hie them away to their own pvt xanadu in exotic climes.

    It is perfectly easy to fiddle as Rome burns if one has money in a Swiss bank account–which explains the Mugabbe’s of this world who are simply corrupt. But to the megalomaniac TRUE ideologues such as “progressives” like Obama and Brown, to “exit” is a slap in the face to all that they stand for. And power, not money is what drives them–and such power as satiates their psyche can only be derived from shaping/directing whole nations. And they are smart enough to realize that to insure they have something worth holding power over they must hold captive both the monetary and the mental riches of the “best and the brightest” if they are to continue to have a toy like a functioning nation-state to play with. Hence currency and exit visa controls.

  • kentuckyliz

    We need new frontier! Quick, create another continent.

  • Laird

    Isn’t that what Dale is trying to do?

  • Paul Marks

    Alisa – I understand what you mean now, and I agree with you.