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.