Foot Voting, Political Ignorance, and Constitutional Design

My new article “Foot Voting, Political Ignorance, and Constitutional Design,” was recently published as part of a symposium on “What Should Constitutions Do?” in Social Philosophy and Policy, a journal published by Cambridge University Press. The article is available here. Here is the abstract:

The strengths and weaknesses of federalism have been debated for centuries. But one major possible advantage of building decentralization and limited government into a constitution has been largely ignored in the debate so far: its potential for reducing the costs of widespread political ignorance. The argument of this paper is simple, but has potentially important implications: Constitutional federalism enables citizens to “vote with their feet,” and foot voters have much stronger incentives to make well-informed decisions than more conventional ballot box voters. The informational advantage of foot voting over ballot box voting suggests that decentralized federalism can increase citizen welfare and democratic accountability relative to policymaking in a centralized unitary state.

Ballot box voters have strong incentives to be “rationally ignorant” about the candidates and policies they vote on because the chance that any one vote will have a decisive impact on an electoral outcome is vanishingly small. For the same reason, they also have little or no incentive to make good use of the information they do possess. By contrast, “foot voters” choosing a jurisdiction in which to reside have much stronger incentives to acquire information and use it rationally; the decisions they make are individually decisive.

The rest of the symposium contains interesting and important articles on constitutional design by leading scholars in law and other disciplines, including Larry Alexander, Richard Epstein, James Fishkin, William Galston, Sanford Levinson, Guido Pincione, and Fernando Teson. And for all you book lovers and university librarians out there, the symposium is also about to be published in book form by Cambridge University Press.

UPDATE: I have corrected a minor but annoying typo in the post title. Thanks to various readers and commenters for pointing it out.