Exits, left and right

In a previous post, exit and ideology, I argued that exit should be framed as a leftist value. My colleague, Ezra Jones, responded, pointing out my failure to define terms as well as attempting to counter my arguments. It is always interesting to read critiques of your work as readers often have a different impression than what one is trying to convey. Perhaps this is indicative of my writing ability more than anything else; however, I will attempt to clarify my meaning before responding to his objections.

I implicitly defined exit as a particular institutional arrangement of small separate communities with a low cost of exiting your community and entering a new one. This is a rather constrained definition, but the one Scott Alexander used in his essay which inspired mine.

I was admittedly sloppy in my use of left and liberalism. Part of the reason is an inability of mine to fully understand some distinctions. Another reason is my inability to articulate distinctions I have an intuitive understanding of. Here I will try to define the left through two aspects, change and progress. Change is the original defining feature of the left, coming from Paine’s arguments with Burke. Progress is more difficult, but I understand it as a general improving of the human condition.

Jones’ main charge is that exit, as I identify, is more interested in conservation than change. While a fair charge given what I wrote, I’m afraid I failed to fully communicate my vision. First, as a more technical point, exit itself is a radical concept given the current world order. Allowing peaceful secession, even if to preserve ethnic identity, is nearly unprecedented in history. This suggests a closer affinity to the left than Jones seems willing to admit.

More broadly, I see an archipelago of communities as more likely to trend toward homogeneity than Scott Alexander and others. While politics trumps economics in the short run, eventually economics wins. In the long run, people are primarily motivated by increasing their material well-being, as evidenced by what many risk in immigrating to the first world.  As such, I view exit as associated with progress, increasing standards of living and the betterment of man.

While Jones discusses secession movements, the iteration of exit which most closely matches my ideal is happening in Honduras. ZEDEs (zonas de empleado y desarollo economico) are regions which can stop using Honduran civil and commercial law and use a legal system of their choosing. The committee for the adoption of best practices is currently devising rules which ZEDEs will have to meet. Poor countries are poor because of predatory governments and laws. ZEDEs offer exit from those governments and laws, offering the possibility of economic growth. Further, the success of Honduras will encourage nearby countries to adopt similar zones.

Marc Andreessen had a piece in Politico magazine this Sunday showing another side of exit as a leftist value, stressing experimentation.

But policymakers shouldn’t be trying to copy Silicon Valley. Instead, they should be figuring out what domain is (or could be) specific to their region—and then removing the regulatory hurdles for that particular domain. Because we don’t want 50 Silicon Valleys; we want 50 different variations of Silicon Valley, all unique from each other and all focusing on different domains.

In reality, my earlier piece was less a defense of exit as a particular ideology as a defense of a particular strategy, framing exit as a leftist value. Given what I believe to be agreement on the institutional ideal, the next question is how to achieve it. Other arguments strike me as largely semantic and unproductive.

With regards to strategy I think the value of framing exit as a leftist value is even stronger. Leftists control international institutions. If ZEDEs are to work in Honduras, convincing the World Bank and UN is central. While such framing might limit the success of nationalist movements in Europe, I view raising the standard of living of third world workers as a higher moral priority.

I define success as having publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post endorse exit, or at least certain aspects of it. Paul Romer, a New York University economist and future Nobel Laureate is illustrative. A man of the left, his vision of Charter Cities was highly influential in Honduras, though he is no longer associated with the project. His success shows the potential of the exit as a leftist value. Better governance is far more important and a far better rallying cry than cultural preservation.

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4 comments

  1. Sorry, don’t buy it. The libertarians have a much stronger position on exit. Not that the left doesn’t have one at all, but I believe it to be quite a bit weaker.

    Leftism as commonly understood has values such as cooperation, respect for international legal frameworks, and of course, one man/woman one vote based politics.

    Those values can often be in conflict with the notion of Exit. Exit and Voice can be symbiotic but they are normally alternative solution mechanisms.

    Leftism has a stronger position on Exit than the conservative right, but it’s still much weaker than libertarianism. When is the last time you heard a left winger advocating open borders? It’s the definition of enabling Exit but it’s pretty rare.

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    1. To be honest I’m not sure libertarians have a strong position on exit as I’ve defined it. My definition is a framework of small communities where it is easy to move between, Nozick’s utopia. However, libertarians, at least strict ones, tend to argue for universal rights. If the welfare regulatory state is wrong on a large scale, it is still wrong on a small scale.

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  2. Saying you’re not sure libertarians have a strong position on Exit is like saying you’re not sure communists have a strong position on the means of production.

    Exit as a political notion defines libertarian idealogy since libertarians don’t believe in positive rights “right to a roof over your head” or “right to 3 square meals a day”, they believe in negative rights which are freedoms ‘from’ and not freedoms ‘for’. Examples include freedom of trade or speech. Negative rights are similar to atheism, something defined by what it is against.

    So…. if I don’t like my job, I can get a new one. If I don’t this country I can move. If I don’t like this product I can boycott it by not buying it. If I don’t like what I’m hearing from somebody I can stop listening.

    These are all Exits.

    These negative rights are univeral laws, but not in a codified written down sense like a UN declaration, we libertarians think of them more as natural laws like gravity. Stuff that occurs unless humans explicitly modify the environment.

    If you find your fellow travellers unpleasant then perhaps you can take comfort in the realization that there exist left and right variations of libertarianism, just as there exist variations on a theme with anarchism.

    “I implicitly defined exit as a particular institutional arrangement of small separate communities with a low cost of exiting your community and entering a new one. This is a rather constrained definition, but the one Scott Alexander used in his essay which inspired mine.”

    Is the definition of seasteading. That people who aren’t libertarian may find features of this appealing such as environmentalists and anarchists of the left does not make it less libertarian. Social democrats aren’t all about capitalism but they use it to further their goals all the time.

    If you haven’t seen this related video + then I suggest you do so:

    http://www.cnet.com/news/a-radical-dream-for-making-techno-utopias-a-reality/

    All this is a long way of saying, idealogies hijack and borrow from each other all the time. You are welcome aboard my seastead but you should probably at this point realize you’re more affected by Milton Friedman than perhaps you’d like to admit!

    The ‘reframer’ is framed! Harharharhar! 🙂

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