What If Series: What If People Could Select Residency

This is (hopefully at least) the first of a series of posts (possibly better termed as rants, observations, pokes) simply titled: What If?

What If was a favorite question by our late Senior Fellow, Paul O’Bryne. In fact, during my last meeting with Paul just outside of Heathrow, Paul was challenging me about my decision to be licensed in Oregon along with my California license? Paul simply asked, “what if I didn’t do that?” – Paul was on to something and I continue to reflect upon his What If? ever sense. Dear reader, feel free to use POB’s What If? frequently – I will guarantee the answers will be worthwhile.

Back to my topic.

So, What If? What if we could select our residency? Corporations make these elections all the time. They make them because some states are simply better at administering corporate matters then others (hint Delaware). So why can’t people? I mean, what if I think an Armed Society is a Polite Society (aka Arizona) yet the liberal loons of Multnomah County (Portland) fear guns and only want criminals to have them – why can’t I elect to apply the laws of Arizona to me, pay the related Arizona costs and requirements (vote for/with Arizona) suffer any negative aspects of Arizona and say become tired of Arizona and change it to Iowa?

In case you are confused, let me explain.

I live in Oregon – yet what if I like the tax laws, voting rights, constitution, and other governance/citizen related aspects of say North Dakota. Yet, I live in Oregon.

What if I was able to file an election with say the North Dakota Office of Residency – and publicly state that I want to be governed by their laws and regulations rather then the laws of where I choose to sleep? In essence, what does where I sleep really have to do with my residency (ok, I know Congress, Census, Infrastructure, Vested Interests, etc. all may have an opinion {but maybe no answers} to this question, but lets consider)?

There is precedence for this as referenced above in corporate law and regulations. Why should corporations have rights and privileges not provided citizens?

Why not? It is the 21st century. Are we forced to live in a 19th century world view? Back then – it made sense to apply residency to physical location – but today – why not allow it to be an intellectual election rather than a physical requirement.

Since we believe incentives matter, maybe such citizenship power would help the various state legislatures understand that governing is more then rubber stamping the proverbial special interests? This could allow states to market their relative skill set(s) and competitive advantages.

Providing people a choice is never a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing. Effectively lets deregulate physical residency from intellectual residency.

So, What if?


  1. I don’t mean to steal your thunder, but I also had this thought recently,and I proposed to write an article for a local paper, but they thought it was a little too “out there.” Needless to say, I think you’re onto something big. You’re quite right to say that we already do this in many respects, by choosing the jurisdiction in which to create corporate entities, and by choosing which law to apply in contracts. Some might question how varying levels of public services would be addressed if the physical residents of one state had different expectations based on their choice of state tax, legal in social service regimes. In reality, I don’t think this would be so difficult. It would really only require a system of transfer payments between the states. If I live in Virginia, but elect California law and California taxes, then when I make demands on public sector services that exceed those guaranteed to legal residents of Virginia, then Virginia, will bill California and California tax dollars (in part paid by me) would then reimburse Virginia, possibly a profit, for providing the services. As long as there were some minimal standards of service and competence, I don’t think there would be a problem. And there would certainly be services that I would not expect to be able to receive while physically in Virginia just because I was a legal California resident. This is really no different than if I were traveling abroad. Just because I’m a resident and taxpayer in Virginia does not mean I can expect Virginia to send the police to London just because I happen to be there when I need their services. I think most of the variation in the level of services will be found mainly in the discretionary and “soft” services rather than first responders like police and fire departments.
    The real benefit to such an approach would be that we quickly learn what people really want and really need, and what they’re willing to sacrifice to get it. The average citizen would not have to wait four years for election in hopes of changing some policy or tax, but he finds objectionable. He could just change his legal residence and adopt a preferable system. So if I want to live in Big Sur, but I don’t want to pay California taxes, then I can do so as long as I’m willing to forgo some of the services of California offers, and live with only the services offered by Virginia, that Virginia can provide at a distance. I think we would be surprised at how much expenditure at the state level would be affected. it would also prevent politicians from continuing to raise taxes and create obligations, claiming that “it’s what the people want and what they elected me to do.” Campaign finance reform would be a nonissue. People would vote with their “virtual feet” and the elected leaders ofstates with an unfavorable balance of taxes versus services would soon find themselves with few legal constituents.
    Great “What if!”

  2. The answer is Patri Friedman’s Seasteading Institute http://seasteading.org

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