Exitocracy: Liberal or Socialist?
The inescapability of power can be highlighted by taking into consideration the relational understanding of power that Foucault advanced. The most extensive account of his view of power/freedom is presented in The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, originally published in French in 1976, where he states that
Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization: as the process which, through ceaseless struggle and confrontation, transforms, strengthens, or even reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutionalized crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies. (Foucault 197, 699, 92-93).
Friedman argues that the creation of an exitocracy, understood as a technocracy with extensive exit options, constitutes a means for resolving some of the difficulties associated with technocratic solutions that suffer from an imperfect knowledge of human behavior and imperfect knowledge of responses to incentives. He presents this solution in the last chapter of Power Without Knowledge, and although it initially seems attractive, it raises several questions that require further discussion.
The first of these is whether it is indeed possible and normatively justifiable to exit from various aspects of social and political life, insofar as this type of alternative appears to rely upon a liberal misconception of a space or life outside power relations—contrary to Foucault—along with a notion of the individual as socially and politically primary.
A second issue is that, as Friedman points out (322, 340-343), exitocracy would require a substantial political and societal organization and, paradoxically, technocratic knowledge and judgment. If we find the idea of an exitocracy morally justifiable, and at least to some extent organizationally plausible, we would thus immediately run into significant problems concerning precisely how it can be organized. Similarly, Friedman briefly discusses the fact that an exitocracy would require an “egalitarian socialism” insofar as
“exit opportunities will more often than not require economic resources. Only economic resources can allow one to enter into alternatives to the situation from which one would like to exit. Thus, if the experimentation promised by the exit option is to be possible for more than the rich, economic redistribution is called for.” (335)
How could an economic redistribution that appears more ambitious than the most generous forms of the welfare state be put in place? How could we tax the rich in order to create exit possibilities for the poor? Would there be the risk of capital flight made possible by globalization, or a free-rider problem among the recipients of exit options? As Friedman argues, “The administration of an exitocratic Difference Principle would require the administrators to make behavioral predictions that nobody—no matter how judiciously attentive to ideational heterogeneity—is well positioned to make” (340).
Friedman maintains that
An exitocracy is a regime in which the policies of government are, wherever possible, power conferring–or, more conventionally put, where the policies are conducive to roughly equal positive freedom … but where the rationale for these policies is not a liberal goal, such as the maximization of freedom or equality as an end in itself, but the technocratic goal of minimizing human distress. By conferring equal power on people to solve their problems in the private sphere, an exitocracy would live up to the egalitarian premise of all forms of utilitarianism and of socialism, too. (324)
It will be wonderful to see how such a collective system can follow from the methodological individualism and subjective understanding of knowledge that were discussed above. Also valuable would be a further discussion of how collective knowledge could make possible a generous project of welfare distribution that sustains exitocracy without generating distrust among citizens.
__Foucault, Michel. (1990). The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.
__Friedman, Jeffrey. (2019). Power Without Knowledge: A Critique of Technocracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
__Larsson, O. L. (2020). Technocracy, Governmentality, and Post-Structuralism. Critical Review, 32(1-3), 103-123.