by Peace Oluwadara, AJALA

Economist Review[1]

Voting with your feet: Why voting with your feet is more effective than a ballot

When a voter casts a ballot, his choice is reportedly unlikely to affect his life. Feet-voting is said to have a better chance of changing the voter’s life dramatically, as observed by Ilya Somin of George Mason University. It allows the voter to choose the freedom provided by a Colombian government over a Venezuelan socialist dictatorship. Since 2014, 4.6m Venezuelans have voted with their feet against the violent, corrupt regime of Nicolás Maduro. In a country where elections are rigged, the only way they can get a better government is to go and find one. If people were allowed to vote freely with their feet, they would have more choices about the kind of society in which they lived. A gay man might choose to leave Iran, where his love is punishable by death, and move to Uruguay, where he could get married. A traditional Saudi man might choose to remain in Saudi Arabia, where Islamic piety is enforced and women are kept in their place. His wives might prefer to move to Canada, where they would be free to divorce him. The biggest gains of voting by feet are by the ill-treated of the society.

Fingerprints vs. Footprints

For a young child who has been abused, yet seemingly lacks hope of getting redress even when sought, feet-voting is an escape into freedom, a society where she has human rights; a society where her rights are reckoned with, protected and defended. Going by the alternative that this concept thus provides, and the many benefits it confers on disadvantaged and disgruntled citizens, feet-voting may be a ray of hope for this category of people. Feet-voting can invariably be described as purposeful migration, and the benefits of migration abound, both to the migrants and to the host countries. Skilled immigrants are reportedly of immense value, as they contribute to the population of skilled labour in the country, ultimately contributing to the economy, as they exercise their skill-set and expertise. Blue-collar immigrants also provide cheaper plumbing, child care and parcel deliveries. According to an estimated report, 83% of native-born rich-country workers benefit from immigration.[2]

These many benefits regardless, the concept appears to have been premised on one major fallacy, thus couched:

“One vote is unlikely to affect an election result, so hours spent analysing each candidate’s policies are probably wasted. When migrating, by contrast, an informed choice pays huge dividends and an ignorant one can spell disaster.”[3]

To say that one vote is unlikely to affect an election result and hours spent analysing each candidate’s policies are probably wasted, is begging the question. According to Neil Browne and Stuart Keeley[4], whenever a conclusion is assumed in the reasoning when it should have been proven, begging the question has occurred. The reasoning may also be faulty as it searches for a perfect solution. The writer falsely assumes that because part of a problem would remain after a solution is tried, the solution should not be adopted. Voting during an election is a highly canvassed solution to complex governance failures in democratic states. The electorate is often helped and enlightened as to the power they hold, and they are sensitized to wield this power wisely by choosing logically and not sentimentally. The potency of a vote is however diluted by this line of reasoning which purportedly attacks one alternative, to recommend another. Feet-voting can be recommended without necessarily watering down the need for voters to fulfil their electoral obligation. Both alternatives can conveniently co-exist without the situation being portrayed as an ‘either/or’ situation. The electorate needs be given the freedom to choose how they want to vote; by ballot, or by their feet.

The feasibility and practicality of this voting alternative is also slightly shaky, as not every dissatisfied citizen can pack their bags and feet-vote. Although feet-voting is being painted solely as a matter of choice, the reality is far from same, as there are diverse other variables that must be existent to facilitate a feet-vote. Should a young man decide that his country is kleptocratic and chooses to leave for a more law-abiding state, his intent can only be actualized if he has the means with which to do same. Finances are involved, the shortage of which is prevalent amongst a good number of disadvantaged persons. The disadvantages vary from person to person, as individual expectations differ, ranging from human rights to recognition of female rights, to healthy business environments, to security, standard of living and many others. One variable however does not vary – the means with which to feet-vote (money); vote by ballot however has no financial requirement whatsoever. Do the people therefore truly have a choice?

One concern with foot-voting is also that there is tendency for the states from which people migrate, to remain retarded and backward in their deficit areas. In reform programs and policy implementation, the ‘champions’ are most often the strongest and most courageous objectors to the disadvantaged situation. If the electorate can muster the courage and finance with which to migrate, can same be channelled towards standing up to the situation and clamouring for a reform? The latter most definitely saddles the electorate with higher demands which is much easier avoided.  The departure of ethnic minorities to escape mistreatment for instance, only further empowers the ‘oppressors’. On the other hand however, seeing as exiles are said to have played a big role in ending apartheid in South Africa,[5] they just might have the potency with which to accelerate reform. In a developed society, the sheer possibility of exit ought to keep the leaders consistently performing and striving for improvement. If taxpayers can migrate, government revenue invariably dwindles; this, in itself should serve as a performance trigger for leaders in a society, all things being equal.

In the Nigerian state however, where institutional frameworks are yet weak and only ‘upcoming’ on things like efficiency and performance, the exit of many may not quite guarantee the desired reform. The latter may however guarantee one thing – the advantage sought by the migrant, be it freedom, human rights, or a higher standard of living. According to the World Bank, migrants who move from lower- to higher-income countries typically earn three to six times more than they did at home.[6] Although the simple act of moving is said to make them more productive, because rich countries have better institutions, the rule of law, efficient capital markets and modern companies, not everyone has the means to this end.

“Every time a migrant flees a dictatorship for a democracy, global freedom grows a little. Every time a woman leaves a country where her testimony is worth less than a man’s, global sexism ebbs a millimetre or two.”[7] As many as thus desire to, and have the means therewith, can walk the walk. More importantly however, is what patriotism would demand – stay to vote (by ballot) wisely another day, or run off to pasture?  Whatever the choice, it is the electorate’s.


[1] Economist article, culled from: Date Accessed: 22/11/2019.

[2] The Economist Magazine; Voters could make the world twice as rich. Why don’t they? Available at: Date Accessed: 18/11/2019.

[3] The Economist Magazine; Why voting with your feet is more effective than a ballot. Available at: Date Accessed: 22/11/2019.

[4] M. Neil Browne and Stuart Keeley; Asking the Right Questions. Page 97.

[5] Hilary Sapire; Liberation Movements, Exile, and International Solidarity: An Introduction. Available at: Date Accessed: 20/11/2019.

[6] The Economist Magazine; To make the world richer, let people move. Available at: Date Accessed: 20/11/2019.

[7] The Economist Magazine; Why voting with your feet is more effective than a ballot. Available at: Date Accessed: 22/11/2019.