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Power to Walk Away Matters More than the Right to Vote

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Politicians from both major political parties often talk of empowering the middle class or some other group of voters. But in reality, they're just seeking power for themselves. It is important, of course, that we have the right to vote. But empowerment comes from freedom, not democracy.

While we rarely think about it, we all have more power as consumers than as voters. That's because we have the power to walk away. If a store or restaurant doesn't treat us well, we simply shop somewhere else. That power forces businesses to pay attention to our needs and desires.

In the political sense, the power to walk away explains why we are happier with local government than with the federal government. We get to choose where we live and that gives us the power to hold local government accountable. If the city officials decide to dramatically raise taxes or cut services, we can express our displeasure simply by moving. We don't have that same power over the federal government.

To see how freedom is more empowering than voting, consider a simple thought experiment.

Imagine a land with 50 states that operate independently. Under one scenario, citizens in each state can vote for their leaders and on all-important issues. The elections are free and fair. But, you cannot move out of the state you live in.

Under a second scenario, citizens have absolutely no right to vote but they can move to any other state at any time.

If you take more than a moment to think about it, you'll realize that the second scenario is the better option. Sure, the absence of the right to vote is a big negative, but you can still vote with your feet and leave. That fact is what empowers you. It gives you the right to move to a state that meets your needs.

Not only that, but in the scenario where people had the power to walk away, they would eventually get the right to vote. Why? Because state leaders would be competing for residents, businesses, and jobs. Sooner or later, some state would offer voting rights to attract new residents.


In other words, it is freedom that leads to democracy. That's not just theory, it's the way women got the right to vote.

Under the U.S. Constitution, states set the rules for voting. In 1869, Wyoming didn't have enough women. So, the male leaders offered women who would move to Wyoming the right to vote. Over the next half century, competition forced other states to do the same. In fact, a woman was actually elected to serve in Congress before Congress even officially conceded that women should be allowed to vote.

Fifty years after Wyoming started the competition, Congress finally passed the Suffrage Amendment. They did so only because the state-by-state competition had created a situation where most members of Congress were being elected with the votes of women.

It was the freedom to walk away that won women the right to vote.

And it is freedom that continues to empower everyday Americans.

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