Foot Voting for Freedom

Political scientist Jason Sorens presents some interesting new data showing that people tend to “vote with their feet” for states with greater freedom when they make migration decisions. He shows that, controlling for other variables (such as climate and cost of living), people tend to migrate towards states with greater economic and personal freedom, and away from states with lower levels of either. The state freedom ratings are based on his excellent recent study Freedom in the Fifty States, coauthored with William Ruger. Economic freedom is defined by levels of government spending and regulation, while personal freedom is defined by such policies as regulation of sexual freedom, drugs, gambling, and so forth.

Sorens finds that migrants may find economic freedom attractive in part because it is associated with increases in income. Economically freer states experience higher income growth (though, surprisingly, in Sorens’ data it’s less clear that income growth is associated with higher in-migration). By contrast, personal freedom is not correlated with income growth. Migrants apparently find it attractive for its own sake. This last result contradicts Richard Florida’s famous theory that the economic growth of localities is highly dependent on its attractiveness to the “creative class,” which greatly values personal freedom. Perhaps the creative class is a less important engine of growth than Florida argues, or perhaps they don’t value personal freedom as much as we think they do. Regardless, many migrants apparently value personal freedom even if it doesn’t do much for their income.

I previously wrote about the tendency of migrants to vote with their feet for greater economic freedom here and here. In this article, I explain why foot voting decisions are generally likely to be better-informed and more rational than ballot box voting.