Ilya Somin


In this article, I make a tentative effort to plug this hole in the literature. I suggest that the benefits of international foot voting may well be much larger than those of free movement within national borders. Part II briefly summarizes the theory of foot voting and its potential benefits. I focus particularly on the use of exit rights as a form of political participation by which migrants can more effectively choose the public policies under which they live. Crucial benefits of political participation through exit rights include the matching of public policy to diverse preferences, the creation of an outlet for local political minorities and discriminated-against groups, competition between jurisdictions for migrants, and improved incentives for information acquisition relative to traditional ballot box voting. In Part III, I show how these benefits are potentially much greater for international migration than for domestic migration within advanced democracies. Public policies differ far more across nations than within national boundaries. Free international migration therefore provides a much greater potential range of options for migrants than domestic movement. In addition, international migration may be the only feasible form of political choice for the hundreds of millions of people who live under undemocratic governments. For these unfortunate individuals, emigration may be the only means they have for choosing the public policies they wish to live under, short of violent revolution. Part IV considers some possible implications for migration law. Current international law requires nations to allow their citizens free exit, but does not require free entrance except in extremely limited circumstances. Unfortunately, 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. I do, however, suggest one set of situations in which the theory of foot voting may in some instances justify restricting rights of entry: cases where free migration might undermine the very policies that make the nation in question attractive to migrants in the first place. The considerations advanced in this paper do not provide a comprehensive theory of international migration rights. They also do not prove that either international or domestic law should require completely open borders. A full analysis would require a comprehensive balancing of the benefits of free migration against its costs. The advantages of foot voting do, however, provide an important consideration in favor of opening borders more than might otherwise be desirable.

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