In the discourse of local government law, the idea that a mobile populace can “vote with its feet” has long served as a justification for devolution and decentralization. Tracing to Charles Tiebout’s seminal work in public finance, the legal-structural prescription that follows is that a diversity of independent and empowered local governments can best satisfy the varied preferences of residents metaphorically shopping for bundles of public services, regulatory environment, and tax burden.
This localist paradigm generally presumes that fragmented governments are competing for residents within a given metropolitan area. Contemporary patterns of mobility, however, call into question this foundational assumption. People today move between — and not just within — metropolitan regions, domestically and even internationally. This is particularly so for a subset of residents — high human-capital knowledge workers and the so-called “creative class” — that is prominently coveted in this interregional competition. These modern mobile residents tend to evaluate the policy bundles that drive their locational decisions on a regional scale, weighing the comparative merits of metropolitan areas against each other. And local governments are increasingly recognizing that they need to work together at a regional scale to compete for these residents.
This Article argues that this intermetropolitan mobility provides a novel justification for regionalism that counterbalances the strong localist tendency of the traditional Tieboutian view of local governance. Contrary to the predominant assumption in the legal literature, competition for mobile residents is as much an argument for regionalism as it has been for devolution and decentralization. In an era of global cities vying for talent, the mobility case for regionalism has significant doctrinal consequences for debates in local government law and public finance, including the scope of local authority, the nature of regional equity, and the structure of metropolitan collaboration.