Voting with Your Feet: The Cure for the Civic Inferiority Complex?

Many times we second guess who we are, what we do, and why we do it. This is known in the field of psychology as an inferiority complex. Collins English Dictionary defines it as “a disorder arising from the conflict between the desire to be noticed and the fear of being humiliated, characterized by aggressiveness or withdrawal into oneself.”

I took this concept one step further last year and applied it to the civic sphere. My enhanced definition of the civic inferiority complex is when one person or a major leadership or civic organization sees something in another city or place and feels immediately inadequate. They then overcompensate for that loss by building or starting whatever that place has, even if it’s not a good fit for them. A good example of this would be when cities build convention centers, entertainment districts, science parks, or some other major “economic eggs in one basket” initiative.

The other side of the traditional definition speaks of a withdrawal unto oneself. I think for municipalities, this can be positive if it includes a greater self-reflection, with all the diverse voices of a municipality gathering at the table and coming to consensus on what is next and what is best. Yet, if a municipality shuns outside constructive voices of change, or creates similar, but poor policy decisions, then it is just as destructive. For a person, it may mean that they feel powerless in their own hometown and begin accepting the status quo, because they believe they are not capable of doing anything better.

When I wrote my original presentation, it was very much of the time it was written and also contained a lot of my own personal frustration. It underscores just how much an inferiority complex is personal and public. In addition, I left out something that appears to be the “cure” for the civic inferiority complex: voting with your feet.

A concept recently revisited in a 2012 research paper by Professor Ilya Somin of the George Mason School of Law, voting by one’s feet is the concept of moving to a place where your political needs are met. Somin takes it even further and states that feet voting is more powerful than basic ballot-box voting. He cities several other political scholars in his reasoning that ballot-box voting is only guaranteed by an elite. That elite may or may not have the best interests of the populace in mind. This idea is even further enhanced and enabled by the loss of the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. However, this paper alerts us to prior laws, regulations, and procedures that allow forces other than the general populace to determine who runs for office, who votes, who is appointed to public office, and what the laws are.

As we have seen in recent years, the political climate in a particular place can vary greatly. With these changes, I have been compiled to revisit my options to become an American expat in America. However, I realize that may not be so practical right now. And for many living in poverty or tied to a job that prevents poverty, moving to a more favorable political climate is not possible. Therefore, they may be stuck with their personal and civic inferiority complexes.

So what can one do in the meantime? Maintain a spirit of self-analysis. If one has the means, then yes, move on to a place where you can be more fruitful. However, I urge that person to be mindful of those less fortunate and contribute as much as you can to bettering your new community and relaying resources back to your old one. Having lived somewhere besides my hometown before has helped me have a clearer and more diverse sense of how one can live. Travel also helps. Walking around DC and New York have helped me see how much different life is for those citizens, but also allowed me to think of ways to help Greensboro.

Above all, shun the appearance of civic inferiority. Vote with your feet, inside or outside your current community.

  • Billy Jones

    Great points. And one should note that when it comes to Greensboro people with the means are voting with their feet. According to recent articles in the N&R and the Triad Business Journal, businesses and residents are moving away from Downtown to Northwest Greensboro. Could it be Downtown Greensboro is already in decline?

    • kristenej

      Well, in the traditional vote with your feet sense, they are moving away. However, we need to realize that everyone is capable of some form of voting with your feet. Not just those that vote with their wallet/pocketbook. The kids, black, white, brown, or purple aren’t going to stop coming downtown. The college kids, of all shapes and colors with better job offers are going to walk away too. We like to have fun during election years with some of these stunts, but if we aren’t careful, it will backfire.

      • Billy Jones

        Very true, and most college kids are between the ages of 18 and 21, others look like they are under 18– the curfew could very well backfire on the City Council come November.

  • DANL

    “If one has the means, then yes, move on to a place where you can be more
    fruitful. However, I urge that person to be mindful of those less
    fortunate and contribute as much as you can to bettering your new community and relaying resources back to your old one. “- I personally feel that you hit it right on the head. Cities need to place less resources on talent attraction and more emphasis on talent production. Even Mr. Richard Florida recognizes the unintended consequences of his own theory
    via his ‘Class-Divided’ series with AtlanticCities.

    Speaking of Economic Eggs in One Basket;

    As always, I thoroughly enjoy reading your perspective.

    • kristenej

      Thanks, this is the first of many deeper analyses of this very issue.