Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University, and the author of Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom, joins host T.J. O’Hara on Deconstructed to explore migration between cities, states, countries, and even within the private sector to escape government barriers, overreach, and oppression. Professor Somin is a broadly published author and political commentator whose work has been featured by virtually every major media outlet both in print and on the air. His new book dissects migration at every level and the value it can bring.
Mr. Somin provides a succinct definition of what he means by “foot voting,” which is essentially as it sounds: improving one’s ability to favorably impact his or her life by moving to a more promising location or investing in an outside service. In his opinion, the less restrictive the regulation of movement, the better.
While he describes some of the potential challenges, like costs, Mr. Somin shares some interesting observations. For example, costs are not always the enemy of the poor when it comes to moving because the poor almost by definition have less immobile assets (e.g., land, homes, etc.) than those with higher incomes. He also cites the benefits of migration at every level as it expands the range and variety of opportunities when done intelligently.
Speaking of intelligence, Mr. Somin examines foot voting to ballot box voting and explains while the former compares favorably to the latter. He explains the “rational ignorance” of most voters when it comes to electing officials or voting on issues and even describes why this is to be expected. People spend more time researching a television set than they do considering presidential candidates, etc. because they intuitively know that they can control the decision of which television they purchase, but they have profoundly little impact on who will be their president.
Mr. Somin talks about interjurisdictional foot voting (i.e., moving between cities and states to find better circumstances under which to live including government regulations). He also shares private sector decisions that can be made without requiring physical relocation such as enrolling a child in a private school rather than having to move to a better public school district. It is a matter of tradeoffs and taking control of decisions over which one has power.
T.J. then raises the issue of international migration, and Mr. Somin emphasizes that the scale of differentiation is almost even more extreme. Poverty, persecution, and exposure to violence are enormously powerful motivators that factor into an individual’s determination to risk everything to emigrate.
Mr. Somin describes the economic wealth that immigrants can not only enjoy themselves but that they bring to their new nation. He also explains how migration can even benefit the country the immigrants left due to remittances they may send back. T.J. builds upon that phenomenon by asking if the remittance element militates against the classic argument that suggests that “rich” countries have a moral obligation to redistribute the wealth” to poor countries. Mr. Somin leaves little doubt as to how he feels about that contention.
T.J. asks about a few additional common arguments, including those based on sovereign rights, “brain drain theory,” and others to which the professor responds in detail. The two also examine how money is currently spent on immigration issues in the United States, and if those funds were freed, how else they might be spent to improve society.
It is an interesting discussion about a serious issue in today’s world, particularly as the refugee issue is about to explode because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a side note: Professor Somin has “put his money where his mouth is” in a very positive way. He is donating fifty percent of the proceeds of his book sales to support a refugee fund. Pick up a copy if you would like to help the cause.