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On geographical self-sorting by ideology

I found Michael Barone’s piece here (thank you Instapundit) about ideological self-sorting very thought provoking.

Barone mentions a book called The Big Sort, which says that such self-sorting within the USA is bad, because it is “tearing us apart”. The book, says Barone:

… describes how Americans since the 1970s have increasingly sorted themselves out, moving to places where almost everybody shares their cultural orientation and political preference – and the others keep quiet about theirs.

Thus professionals with a choice of where to make their livings head for the San Francisco Bay Area if they’re liberal and for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex (they really do call it that) if they’re conservative. Over the years the Bay Area becomes more liberal and the Metroplex more conservative.

Barone only concerns himself with how such self-sorting might be affecting the upcoming Presidential election, speculating that it causes liberals to live in an ideological cocoon and be bad at dealing with criticisms of their opinions. He instances the claim that Obamacare is unconstitutional, which liberals only took seriously when the Supreme Court suddenly did. Liberals had had months to prepare counter-arguments to that argument, or to rejig Obamacare so that it didn’t clash with the Constitution, but they saw no need to do either.

But there is plenty more to be said about ideological self-sorting. Might ideological self-sorting in due course become a major global tendency, with people choosing not just localities within countries, but actual countries, on ideological grounds? Is that already happening to any significant degree? If not, how likely is it that it might? And if it did start or has started, what might be its consequences?

The self-sorting Barone refers to is happening because moving within the USA is now quite easy. But time was when moving anywhere else was far harder, yet some people still did it, to particularly enticing destinations, from particularly abominable starting points. That people tried to hard to get out of the old USSR was one of the most damning and least answerable criticisms made against that horrible place.

The USA itself, all of it, is an exercise in ideological self-sorting, in the sense that most Americans are descended from people who bet the farm, metaphorically and often literally, on life in America being a better bet, even if they started out in America only with what they could carry. Americans are mostly descended from people who took a huge chance to make hugely better things happen for them. The great American exception to this is Americans descended from slaves, or from American natives. African slaves shipped to America placed no bets. They were chips in bets placed by others. Does that fact illuminate the seemingly still rather fraught relationship between black America and the rest of America? I think: yes.

But I am digressing into American history. What of the future of the world?

As a libertarian, I like the idea of ideological self-sorting, partly because it seems to me that there is a huge imbalance, in favour of minimal statism and against maximal statism, when it comes to how well each works out when practised only locally. Remember all those mental agonies suffered by Soviet communists when they started to realise that they were going to have to make do with “socialism in one country”, rather than everywhere? And remember how easy it then became to see which was better, Communism or not-Communism? Most of the world’s collectivists, although there are surely exceptions to this generalisation, are now collectivisms whose entire purpose is to deny “free riders” their free ride, anywhere on earth, thereby denying not only choice but exit. For collectivists, a world in which anti-collectivism flourishes, albeit only in some places, is anathema. They have to have it all, or their ideas won’t work, even in the limited sense of being inevitable and inescapable, and alternatives being hard to imagine because all suppressed. For most collectivists, it’s world government or nothing. But for libertarians, we only have to get a libertarian nation of some sort going, and to protect it from being completely shut down, and we’re in business.

We libertarians also have a big advantage in believing in being self-armed. Any libertarian national enclaves that emerge from the process of self-sorting that I envisage will, I believe, punch above their numerical weight, militarily speaking.

It is tempting to suppose that once ideological self-sorting gets seriously under way, if it does, it will then self-reinforce. As more people of one mind concentrate in particular places, those of other minds will have ever more reason to go elsewhere. This is the process that the author of The Big Sort dislikes, but which I favour for the world as a whole.

And then, when we all get to see which places work well and which work badly, you would at least hope that lessons would be learned. Sometimes that happens, as when many Eastern Europeans fled from Communism to America and then provided the political fuel for what America’s Communists and their useful idiots still describe as anti-Communist “hysteria”, in other words opposition to Communism and the belief that Communists ought not to infest the American government.

However, a big problem with ideological self-selection is that sometimes, having helped to wreck their original home, ideologically stupid people then move to other more successful places, but bringing their own stupid ideological opinions with them. Think of all the Muslims who now run away from overwhelmingly Islamic countries because of Islam’s despotic habits of government, only to bring those despotic tendencies with them to their new homes.

I’ve never been to the USA, but I occasionally read reports (and I seem to recall comments at this blog along these lines) that something similar happens there quite a lot, and is happening now, as “Blue” Staters run away from Blue States, but then vote for more Blue State stupidity in their new and formerly Red State homes. I trust I have the colour coding the right way round there. Personally I think this coding is wrong. How did the damn pinko taxers-and-spenders manage to get themselves coloured blue, and to colour their more enlightened and less parasitical enemies red?

So, to sum up, and hence to enable me to bring this rather unwieldy posting to a close, I think that, although it might not work out as well as I hope, I’m in favour of ideological self-sorting, and especially when it comes to self-sorting between different countries. But I’m sure I’ve missed out a lot of important things that could be said further on this topic, and I look forward to any such things that our commentariat might want to add to this.

31 comments to On geographical self-sorting by ideology

  • Antoine Clarke

    1984 is when the current US party colours stuck.

    Both the Democrats and the Republicans previously used the three colours of the American flag. On television the colours were used to fill in the map on election night.

    I believe the decision to used red for the Republicans is no more sinister than red=R=republican.

    The only people who seem unhappy are some leftists, who get upset at the loss of “their” colour. B-O-O H-O-O!

  • Milo

    A sample on one: Six years ago I self-sorted from the dreadful Democrat dominated Cleveland, Ohio to Texas. Not only did Texas offer a more robust economy, but I found it much more to my ideological liking.

    Unfortunately, we are now getting a considerable influx of California refugees who I fear may eventually tilt Texas toward the blue.

  • I’m self-sorting. I no longer associate with militant leftists. Quiet, leave-me-alone leftists are okay.

    In fact, the key word seems to be ‘militant’.

  • Alsadius

    The red/blue thing stuck for real in 2000. Prior, a lot of networks used blue for the incumbents and red for the opposition(because both parties use red/white/blue), but with the interminable discussion of that election, the colours became fossilized.

  • RRS

    What has generally been missing in these kinds of disquisitions, including Charles Murray’s recent hit, are attempts to understand how the “ideologies” to which Brian refers come to be formed and consideration of what factors generate “cultural” differentiations, and by what degrees.

    Those issues for one concerned for the “future of the world” (really more of Western Civ), more fully examined, have a greater possiblity of offering clues to how the “sorting trends” develop, and where they may take the organizations of the various social orders..

  • Alisa

    Milo, I believe the phenomenon you describe is colloquially referred to as ‘californication’?

    Brian, one of your best posts ever – if not the best one (and that includes the cricket ones!;-P). I was nodding in agreement all along, and every time I was about to make a mental note for a potential comment, there you came and covered that too. Very well done, at least for me.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Many of the Moslems who are “refugees” from Moslem despotisms are not fleeing from despotism as such, but from more successful contenders for despotic power.

    One strong reason not to tolerate tyranny in other countries is that it forces a bad choice on free countries: deny refuge to escaping victims of tyranny, or allow entrance to rivals and fallen-out accomplices of tyranny.

    To quote Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, “It is difficult with these evil folk to know when they are in league and when they are cheating one another.”

  • Regional

    The Left is the Left’s worst enemy.

  • Paul Marks

    “There is no need to fear immigrants if they pay their way” is the standard libertarian cry.

    However, that is actually forbidden in Texas – forbidden by the United States Supreme Court.

    Not only was the State not allowed to send illegal immigrants back to Mexico (immigration being a Federal government matter) – O.K. in an ideal libertarian world there would be free migration….

    But local and State government was also forced to pay for the education of illegals (people not born in the United States and had arrived illegally).

    This was decided in a Supreme Court judgement (of course an “anti discrimination” judgement) 20 years ago (1982).

    You see it is not Californian immigration or Islamic immigration that is actually a problem in Texas (Texas is a very big place).

    Of course a logical way of dealing with this is to embrace it.

    If Texas is going to be hispanic – then let it be conservative (conservative-libertarian) hispanic.

    Sadly I doubt Tony Cruz is going to win the Primary – but I would certainly like him to win.

    By the way do not underestimate the Fort Worth end of the metroplex.

    Dallas may be betting too much on expansion.

    The ex taxcollecter who is now Mayor of Fort Worth may well be right to be more careful.

    Hard times are coming to the world – and Texas will be hit by the time.

    Although I suspect that Glenn Beck is correct to move there.

    A good place to make a stand.

  • cnc

    “How did the damn pinko taxers-and-spenders manage to get themselves coloured blue, and to colour their more enlightened and less parasitical enemies red?”

    How do you think?

    The media gave them(selves) the color blue. 2000. Intentionally.

  • cnc

    “What has generally been missing in these kinds of disquisitions, including Charles Murray’s recent hit, are attempts to understand how the “ideologies” to which Brian refers come to be formed and consideration of what factors generate “cultural” differentiations, and by what degrees.”

    2 “words.” self and interest.

    And one even less politically correct word: genes.

  • Bruce Hoult

    My friends in Arizona were already using the term “Californication” (with the emphasis on being fucked) in the late 80s to describe people moving to Arizona and trying tI make it like the hellhole they’d left.

    Irony is how many of them are living in California (Mojave) now.

  • Darrell

    “Don’t Californicate Colorado” was a popular bumpersticker here in the ’70s. It has since happened. Pesky Californians, plus blue state escapees from the East Coast, turned Colorado blue years ago. And yes, they flee the messes they made and try to recreate them here. It’s a story repeated all over the western US–California has so MANY fleeing denizens they overwhelm the populations of the states they move to.

  • Bruce

    The sneaky pinkos have “borrowed” the conventions for marking military maps. From whom they borrowed them is interesting.

    When I was marking battle maps for a living, the “good-guys” were marked in blue and the “enemy” in red: black for obstacles etc, etc.

    Amusingly, Soviet battle maps were similar, but the Soviets, in their own minds being the “good guys”, and being “true to their colours” marked themselves in red and NATO in blue.

  • Mike Lorrey


    Libertarians are self sorting, they made a large percentage of the people moving into New Hampshire last year.

  • Paul Marks


    New Hamshire election for Governor.





    The Dem wins all four elections – once every two years.

    “But that is not the fault of Libertarians – we can not be expected to get behind a Republican candidate for Governor, we have our own candidates…”.

    If that remains the attitude in 2012 then forget about the “Free State” idea.

    Either help pick a pro free market Republican candidate for Governor (via the Primary) – and really SUPPORT (campaign for) this candidate.

    Or just forget about the whole thing.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Correct, Paul. And I think the Free-Staters probably made a bad error when the Taxachusetts folk started fleeing into southern New Hampshire, especially Keene. As I understand it, the Free-Staters, feeling themselves unable to withstand the invaders, picked up their marbles and moved north. Far better for all, including those from upstate, if they were serious about their project, to have massed themselves in Keene and environs to fight off the political infection.

    Of course, I’m far from N.H. and the foregoing is just based on what I’ve seen on the Web.

    Also, Rich Rostrom made an excellent point: “One strong reason not to tolerate tyranny in other countries is that it forces a bad choice on free countries….”

    Come to think of it, that’s a good reason for the people of the relatively free states in the U.S. to fight against the growing tyranny (which it certainly is!) in California, and indeed in all the other states.

    And I too think your posting is excellent, Brian. Thanks.

  • Laird

    People have always self-sorted. That’s why immigrants tend to cluster in neighborhoods or regions. We all prefer to associate ourselves with persons sharing a common language, ethnicity, religion, etc.; it’s more comfortable. But I think Barone grossly overstates the magnitude of the phenomenon of ideological self-sorting. For the most part, people move (within a country, anyway) for economic reasons, not ideological ones. If you can’t find a job where you live it makes perfect sense to move where they’re more plentiful (which tends to be where the local economy is more robust which, in turn, [quelle surprise] tends to be where the locals are more politically and culturally conservative). So people of all ideologies move to Texas, but mostly for purely practical and economic, not ideological, reasons.

    I especially take issue with his comment about “professionals” moving for ideological reasons. True, if you’re just starting out and have no particular ties to any specific area, you might choose one on the basis of the dominant political ethic. But if you have an established practice it’s very difficult to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. You certainly wouldn’t do it simply because you’re a conservative and you’re stuck with Nancy Pelosi as your Congresswoman.

    All that said, I very much like the idea of ideological self-sorting within the country (and the US is amply large enough to permit it). It is wholly in line with the idea of the states being laboratories* to try different ideas within a federal system. The only problem, as Brian points out, is that liberals can’t countenance any deviation from their utopian vision, so we now have the terrible (and worsening) problem of a federal government increasingly mandating uniformity across the land. Until that trend is stopped, and the federal government accepts differences, even significant ones, among the states, we will continue to suffer the huge political divide which makes our politics so poisonous.

    [By the way, when did “instance” become a verb? I’d like to go on record as objecting to it.]

    * As was noted by Justice Brandeis in his famous dissenting line: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262, 52 S.Ct. 371, 76 L.Ed. 747 (1932).

  • Darryl is right, the bumper sticker was very popular for a while until Californians began whining about being singled out for abuse.

    Now I don’t see them any more, and the Californians hold about half the political offices. And the state is rapidly turning into California.

    I’m thinking the problem here is that the statists (Socialists, Islamists, etc) refuse to admit that their theories simply don’t work. They’re willing to leave when the disaster gets big enough, and they go to a new place in the belief that THIS time we’ll do it right and it will work.

    What was that that Heinlein said about “bad luck”?

  • Paul Marks

    One myth that needs to be nailed is the idea that Texas has got more conservative over time.

    This is simply not true.

    For example, in 1960 there was no sales tax (about 8% now) and only a few years ago there was no profits tax (there now is – but it is not called a corporation tax).

    Even Dallas is not the hard core conservative city it used to be.

    And there is not a single major conservative newspaper left in Texas. And most of the universties (like most universities just about everywhere) are Hellholes of evil (the school system is hotly contested – so that would take a major post on its own).

    Nor do people really “self select”.

    What happens is that most people want to go to the nice places – places that have a nice climate and access to the sea (for trade and so on).

    Conservative business people used to dominate cities like San Francisco (no I am not joking).

    However, the left take over the nice places (by cultural, education and entertainment media, and then politial means) and they push up taxes and regulations – so nonleftists (and, yes, some leftists also) have to find someone else to live.

    Even the small (and they were small) cities of Dallas and Fort Worth in the featureless Texas plain under the mercyless sun. I doubt someone really wants to go and live in the Metroplex (let alone Houston – where sane people stay inside, or even underground, if Houstonians were not as fat as me they would be ideal space colonists because they basically live in an artifical environment already) – not if they could get a decent job and afford housing (made absurdly expensive by regulations in places like California) in a place with a kinder climate (“it is hard for a Texan to be a Green – because, in Texas, Mother Nature is always trying to you”) and more interesting geography.

    Texas is important NOT because it is the least statist place in America (for example South Dakota is much less statist than Texas), but because it is the BIGGEST State not to be “liberal” (i.e. under the control of a socialist elite who do not call themselves socialist in public – due to the “ignorant Homer Simpson” view of ordinary people regarding socialism, the people need to be “nudged” into socialism).

    If Texas stands there is hope for other places.

    That is why even people who do not share the intense religous beliefs (indeed have no religious belief at all) of people like Glenn Beck, David Barton (and, yes, Governor Rick Perry) better hope they win.

  • Mose Jefferson

    Geographical regions of freedom and its resultant prosperity will never be ridden of the pesky influx of failed statists. It has been so empirically demonstrated as to be axiomatic that statism reduces prosperity while freedom increases it. If ideology were the primary motivation for the migration of people, all would be well for the lovers of freedom. Prosperity, however, is a lure too tempting for the statists to resist. Theirs is a parasitical tendency to follow the more successful trailblazers of freedom into new frontiers. Why do you think so many statists glommed into California to begin with? 100 years ago California WAS the new frontier of freedom and limitless prosperity. Article 1, Section 1 of the original California constitution of 1849(Link) states:

    All men are by nature free and independent, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property: and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.

    Sorry to be such a wet blanket, but even Robert Heinlein hinted at this process in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” when the narrator describes, in retrospect, some of the long term consequences of the successful libertarian revolution of the moon.

    Or maybe I’m just a little too sensitive to Californication. I’m an Oregonian.

  • Alisa

    Laird: that was new on me too.

  • Good post – That’s the basis of a lot of expat life – I didn’t like the way the UK seemed to be headed and left just before the ’97 election, been living in Prague most of the time since.
    EU notwithstanding, IMHO, Czechia still manages to be one of the free-est countries in Europe. It’s a civilised country too – in ways that the UK has long since forgotten – everyday basic good manners; queuing, ready relinquishing of seats to those who need them on public transport – public transport that is clean, safe, reliable and cheap!
    I’ve self-sorted, works for me.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, Laird,

    It’s been going on forever in what we laughingly call “the English language.” We reference sources, we gift gifts, we task people with tasks, and we post posts on posts.

    It goes the other way too. I’ve downloaded the latest install. Monster House did meet the deadline for their build. Even Randy Barnett writes, “That Lochner was different was also evidenced by the whining dissent of Mr. Justice Holmes….” I hope this cite of Prof Barnett’s comment does not distress you. :>((

    If you are very fortunate, it will be a long time before I get around to fulminating over other casual assaults to English that are, nevertheless, clearly hanging offenses. :>)) My apologies to all for the digression–I now return to mumbling in the direction of the OED.

  • Russ in Texas

    Two thoughts:

    Texas is resisting Californication better than Colorado partially b/c we’ve a bigger population, and partially b/c we (as a people in general) have no problem saying “we don’t give a flip how you did things in California.”

    Space colonization: a gigantic and dangerous bet that no matter much living in space will suck, that the people who do it will be able to solve the problems that arise in doing so, and eventually create awesome that comes with Right of Exit permanently installed.

  • Paul Marks

    How did California move from being a free market place to being what it is now?

    In the end the answer to that is the ideology taught in the education system (schools and university).

    Ideas have consequences.

    That is why “practical” people (“I am just getting on with my buiness – these kids will come round when they get out into the real world”) are wrong – utterly wrong.

    Actually even successful business people can carry with them the government-is-there-to-help-people ideology they were taught in schools.

    By the way there is evidence from Texan history that statism does not work.

    The Republic of Texas (after Sam Houston stopped being in charge) went into wild spending mode – and went de facto bankrupt.

    And Reconstruction Texas (after the Civil War) did much the same thing – with much the same result (hence the Constitution of 1876 which tried to strictly limit government).

    And the people from a failed socialist (Owenite) commune – who left to help build up a nearby town.

    A town called “Dallas”.

    Is any of this taught in Texan schools?

    If not, why not?

    And is “the government helps people by….” taught instead?

    If so – then Texas will end up like California.

  • Dave Walker

    A friend sent me a paper a few years ago, about how a self-sorting by commonality of occupation and industry is happening here in the UK. Some occupations are more politically polarised than others, naturally.

    The little close I live on, bears this out; there’s only 7 houses, but 6 of these have owners who are either military, ex-military or otherwise involved in the defence industry. I’m also in one of the safest Conservative seats in the country.

  • Tim Carpenter

    The tyrannical leave a tyranny because “they” as in their clique, are not the winners. Leftists leave a leftist enclave I suspect because their clique is not dominant.

    But then I repeat myself.

  • Mike Lorrey

    Sorry but your arguments against the FSP don’t hold water. We had our first member elected to the state legislature in 2006, and now have 12 FSP movers in the state legislature. Our NH Liberty Alliance PAC controls the Republican Liberty Alliance, which is a majority of republicans. The democratic governor, John Lynch, is retiring this year because we’ve overturned too many of his vetoes. Craig Benson, the governor from 2002-2004, endorsed the FSP, and continues to support it. Most of the people moving to NH from MA are actually FSP members. We got gay marriage passed, weve got castle doctrine and stand your ground passed, and almost got constitutional carry passed but was vetoed. We cut the budget by several hundred million dollars. We’ve eliminated licensing of dozens of professions. We’ve eliminated the knife/dirk/dagger law entirely, and we almost got pot legalized (vetoed by the governor second year in a row).

    We fully expect to have a governor elected this year who is in line with most of if not all of our views.

  • That is very encouraging, Mike.

  • Paul Marks

    Mike – I agree that Governor Benson was a good Governor.

    He lost by handful of votes in 2004 – he was desperate for help.

    Did libertarians help him?

    On your defeat of Governor Lynch.

    Have you defeated him?

    Has government spending gone up or down since 2004?

    Remember government spending does not have to go up.

    In Florida (a State with vastly greater pressures, of third world immigration and of housing bubble collapse). Government spending has actually gone DOWN in recent years.

    Yes in a State that has been hit so badly there is now a shop selling foreclosed homes in Florida here in Kettering.

    Kettering ENGLAND (not Kettering Ohio).

    Can New Hampshire point at a similar record on government spending in recent years?

    Have you really managed to hold down government spending?

    By the way – what makes you think I am against the Free State project.

    I would love to see an independent New Hampshire.

    With the motto “Live Free or Die” as a national motto.

    If you manage it – then I (if still alive) will celebrate.

    God bless you – you have my full support.

    Never mistake my depressed cast of mind for lack of support.