|Montreal, September 14, 2002 / No 109|
The state of New Hampshire was decided on by a vote of the full membership
when the FSP reached 5,000 members on October 1st, 2003.
by Jason P. Sorens
The Free State Project (FSP) is a plan whereby 20,000 libertarians, classical liberals, and other advocates of strictly limited government will move to a single state of the U.S. to set up a free society.
We will do this by working within the electoral system, starting by eliminating unjust state and local laws and practices, like asset forfeiture, zoning, state drug and gun laws, socialised schooling, and so on. We would also end state and local police cooperation with federal agencies in enforcing unjust federal laws. Then we would bargain directly with the U.S. government over achieving sufficient autonomy in other areas and ask for the right to opt out of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Quebec, for example, has been demanding the right to opt out of different federal programs in exchange for a tax rebate. We will continue to pursue decentralisation until we have created an essentially free society.
The way it works is that the FSP will collect 20,000 signatures from people willing to move. Once 5,000 participants have signed up, the whole membership will vote on the state to which we will move, following extensive research on the candidate states. Our research has now come a long way, and the following ten states are candidates: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Delaware. (For an analysis on how 20,000 activists could win majorities in small states, see the Free State Project FAQ on our website.) The move begins after 20,000 people have signed up.
The economic growth that would result from a Free State should also benefit our friends across the border. Already many Canadians visit the U.S. for surgery and other major health care. If we were able to abolish Medicare and Medicaid and the myriad regulations on health insurance and health care that drive up the cost of health care in the U.S., we would achieve lower-cost health care in our state while maintaining its high quality. Presumably the trickle of Canadians over the border would then become a steady stream.
When we arrive in our state, we will have to do our best to blend in, lay down roots in the community, and slowly build our individual reputations. If we come in trumpeting an "abolish-everything" platform, we will make enemies out of people who might otherwise be sympathetic to us. The key idea behind the FSP is that for every activist, we will be able to generate several voters. To do this, we have to present ourselves as a realistic, reasonable alternative. We will start by working at the local level, gathering knowledge and experience and building coalitions around single issues. Once we have some people who have made a name for themselves, we can start aiming at state legislative seats.
Within about ten years after our move, we should have people in the state legislature and we should have entrenched political control of several towns and counties. At this point we could start making more substantial reforms, such as privatisation of the schools. One way to defang the teachers' unions would be to undertake privatisation in this way: simply give each full-time teacher a share in the ownership of the school and allow them to charge tuition, while abolishing the local tax and subsidy. The bad teachers could sell their shares to the good teachers, who will be willing to buy them, for they now have to compete with private and home schools on an equal playing field and will need to improve the quality of their teaching to do so. This reform should appeal to many government-school teachers and will introduce the crucial element of competition that makes privatisation worthwhile.
Once we have control of county sheriffs' offices, we can order federal law enforcement agents out, or exercise strict supervision of their activities. Some states have been considering this move already. In Montana, the legislature passed a law requiring every federal agent to register with the county sheriff and to obtain his permission before undertaking operations. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed the bill. If 20,000 more freedom activists had been in the state, there is no doubt he would have signed the bill rather than to risk massive protest.
Once we have obtained some success in the state legislature, we can start working on the governor's race. It is not clear at this point whether we will need our own party, or we will be working within an existing party. In either case, we will want to have one of our own elected governor at some point. Once this occurs, we will be in a strong position relative to the federal government. We can start demanding decentralisation of important federal programs, and if the federal government drags its feet, we can take them to court. Ultimately, we could take a page from Quebec and threaten to hold a referendum on independence unless the federal government grants our demands.
After we have created an essentially free society, we will want to bind the government with explicit, precise constitutional rules. We should have a long list of all the activities that are absolutely and forever forbidden to government. We could put an absolute cap on the level of taxation and make the constitution extremely difficult to amend. We could set up checks and balances within the legislature to make new laws difficult to pass. One way of doing this is to adopt proportional representation; I believe that PR is closer to libertarian principles than plurality rule because it recognises the right of each individual to have an ideologically sympathetic representative in government, while plurality rule sets such a high threshold for representation that we usually have to vote for the lesser of two evils.
Another benefit of PR is that it can lead to the development of many parties, who have to negotiate delicate compromises in order to govern. These compromises usually prevent sweeping change from occurring. I look forward to the day when we have a legislature dominated by a conservative libertarian party that wants to ban abortion, a left-libertarian party that wants to keep abortion legal and expand children's rights, an anarchist party that wants to abolish government altogether, and a small party of assorted statists.
This vision of the future is just one possibility. What I do know with complete certainty is that if something like the Free State Project does not succeed, the hopes for liberty will be dimmed for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.
At the rate the Libertarian Party is going, it will take centuries to elect a President and Congress favorable to our ideals, if ever. Right now the world's political systems are on the cusp of rapid change. But contrary to the "case for libertarian optimism" that was in vogue five to ten years ago, this change is mostly for the worse. Globalisation and the Internet have not caused governments to roll back taxes and regulations, as we had hoped. Instead, international organisations such as the IMF, European Union, OSCE, OECD, and United Nations have punished governments that allow financial privacy and pursue low taxes. In the wake of the September 11th tragedy, the prospects for liberty are even dimmer: the catalogue of abuses coming out of the executive branch hardly needs to be repeated by now.
We need to undertake peaceful, legal strategies that give us a chance of winning. At the moment, the Free State Project is our best chance. The FSP is not a silver bullet, the one strategy that will put us over the top. I think of it as a framework for strategies: imagine all the good that could come out of the sinergy of a single community of freedom lovers. No one can predict exactly what will happen, but the results will surely be amazing.
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