It has long been a truism that if you want to know what people think of a government and its policies, just open the borders. Then see if people are flocking or fleeing.
Russians began to flee en masse after President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Now his order of a partial military mobilization to help support his declining army prompted new wave of departures. More than 260,000 Russians, mostly men, have leak to neighboring Finland, Georgia and Kazakhstan by almost any means of transport, to avoid having to fight in an increasingly unpopular war. Some estimate the total outflow from the start of the war at 400,000.
In China, communist authorities in Beijing have imposed some of the strictest travel controls in years to prevent its citizens from fleeing. Citing the “great security risk” of the covid-19 pandemic, China has stopped issuing passports for “non-essential” travel outside of China, mainly ban all leisure travel. Chinese people hoping to escape the country’s draconian pandemic controls and lockdowns have resorted to using shady online agents offering fake job offers abroad or fake university admission letters.
China’s financial hub, Shanghai, has also been see an exoduswith many citizens and expats fleeing after the city finally lifted its tough two month spring lockdown…
So many people are looking to leave that the phenomenon even has a name on the internet, “run xue,” Where running philosophy In English….
And then there is Hong Kong.
This former British colony this year recorded its largest year-over-year population decline since record keeping began in 1961. Some 113,000 inhabitants left from mid-summer 2021 to July this year, marking a dramatic turning point 1.6% population decline. And that’s on top of a drop of nearly 90,000 people in 2020-21, and a 20,900 drop the year before….
Besides the anti-pandemic regime, the other major reason people are leaving is the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020 and Beijing’s tightening grip on the once coasting city.
Public schools have been ordered to abandon “liberal studies”, which are blame for driving western-style freethinking and fomenting the 2019 protests. Instead, the government is instilling more continental flair patriotic education in the classrooms… Many families with children say that school changes are their main motivation for leaving….
Whether it’s Russians, Chinese or Hong Kongers, the numbers don’t lie. People tend to vote with their feet. And it’s hard to see trends reversing before government policies do.
What is true in Russia itself is also true in the parts of Ukraine that Russia seeks to annex under the pretext that the Russian-speaking populations prefer Russian domination there. Proof of voting on foot tells a very different story: When Russian forces take over, hundreds of thousands of people flee. When the Ukrainians take over the territory, only small groups of collaborators run in the other direction.
Russia and China aren’t the only governments facing large-scale rejection by foot voting. The socialist governments of Cuba and Venezuela have also generated mass exoduses of refugees. The 6 million people who have fled Venezuela in recent years constitute the largest exodus of refugees in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Cuban emigration is insufficient mainly because Cuba had a much smaller population to begin with.
On the other hand, very few people break down the doors of Walk in Russia, China, Cuba or Venezuela. Vladimir Putin’s regime holds little appeal, even for the millions of ethnic Russians who currently live outside its borders, and could be seen as potential supporters of Putin’s Russian nationalism. Likewise, few overseas Chinese are eager to return to their home countries to live under Xi Jinping’s rule. Cuban and Venezuelan socialism has little appeal to potential migrants from other Latin American countries, despite cultural and linguistic affinities. On the contrary, millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombiawhich is far from ideal, but still vastly preferable to life under socialism.
Voters on foot generally do better informed and more reasoned choice than the people who vote at the polls. For this reason, their decisions are particularly strong indicators of the relative quality of different governments, and the foot vote itself is a particularly valuable mechanism of political choice.
Some on the European and American right have hailed Vladimir Putin’s nationalism as a compelling alternative to Western liberal democracy. China’s more technocratic form of authoritarian nationalism — including its Zero-Covid policy — also has Western admirers. The same is true, of course, of Cuban and Venezuelan socialism. Even now, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez (founders of the socialist states of Cuba and Venezuela) are heroes to some on the left.
Testimonies of people voting with their feet belie such accounts. Voters on foot overwhelmingly reject such regimes. And many more would if the United States and other liberal democracies were more willing to accept them.
Elsewhere, I have pleaded for open western gates at Russian and Chinese migrants fleeing their respective oppressive governments. It is the right thing to do for a combination of moral, economic and strategic reasons. Many of the same points also apply to Cuban and Venezuelan refugees, although the strategic logic is somewhat weaker, since these two states are less important geopolitical rivals than Russia and China.
During the Cold War, many Westerners understood that people’s eagerness to flee communist regimes was a sign of their inferiority. The same goes for today’s nationalist and socialist alternatives to liberalism.