Exit And Ideology

Exit, the ability to leave, has been gaining traction as an institutional arrangement. If exit costs are sufficiently low, people can choose the ideal community for their preferences. Further, the low exit costs force competition between institutional regimes to satisfy client preferences.

Though best enunciated by a liberal economist, Albert Hirschman, exit has largely been associated with the right. In America, secession, the ultimate form of exit, has forever been tainted by racism due to our own War of Secession. However, exit was once a celebrated value of the left. The Guardian, hardly a bastion of conservatism, offered mild support for the south during the American Civil War:

The great stumbling-block issue for the Guardian and many other liberals was the right to self-determination. The paper believed that the south had the right to secede and to establish an independent state.

Of course, if exit is to be a primary political value, the right to exit must extend to all persons, something the south did not do. While intellectually exit has been associated with the right, politically some the distinction is less clear. American states decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing gay marriage in contravention of federal laws has been a milder form of exit, in pursuit of leftist values.

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In a very interesting piece Scott Alexander tries to reclaim exit as a liberal (in the modern American sense) value. He envisions competing communities:

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

While he desires a world government to prevent war and ensure the protection of children, he acknowledges that his ideas are largely analogous to Nozick and Moldbug, the advocates of libertarian exit and conservative exit respectively.

I am a fan of exit, though I am less interested in defining it as the culmination of a particular ideology. In some ways it transcends ideology, allowing communist communities to live next to libertarian ones. More importantly, once we agree on the preferred institutional framework, I fail to see the importance of fitting it within a tradition of thought. Once the end is agreed upon, the next question is strategy.

Here I think leftists have the advantage. The people who could benefit the most from exit are those currently the worst off, people in the third world. However, third world countries tend to be more constrained by international institutions. The UN has far more sway in Ethiopia than it does in America.

The acceptance of exit by powerful international institutions is crucial if we are to achieve our stated goals. The UN and similar organizations tend to be controlled by leftists. By framing exit as a leftist value, liberal institutions are more likely to accept it. Therefore, framing exit as a leftist value is our best chance of achieving a plethora of competing communities to choose from.

Updated: October 9, 2020 — 6:29 am

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