For many years I’ve been seeing proposals for implementing
libertarian reforms that look superficially appealing and plausible,
but on closer examination run hard aground either on some pesky
reality of politics as it is or the extreme difficulty of waging a
successful revolution. Since I’m a libertarian,
you may well imagine that I find this annoying. How do we get there
For the first time, I think I’ve seen a path that is both
principled and practical. Not the whole path, but some firm steps
that both accomplish good in themselves and open up great
possibilities. And the best part is that it’s a path most statists
can’t object to, one that uses the premises of the existing federal
system to achieve a fair first test of libertarian ideas within that
system. Even opponents of libertarianism, if they are fair-minded,
should welcome this reality check. Libertarians should cheer it on
and join it.
I’ve had troubles with other libertarians recently. Too many have
retreated into isolationism in the face of a war with terrorism that I
do not believe we can or should evade. The isolationists judge that
empowering the State when we use it as an instrument of self-defense
has consequences for the long term that are more dangerous than
terrorists’ aims are in the short term. I sympathize with this view,
but when all is said and done, Al-Qaeda shahids with backpack nukes
from the ‘stans are more of a danger than John Ashcroft has ever been.
I have done my homework and if anything, I believe the U.S. Government
is understating the danger we face.
But the dangers of empowering the State to fight a necessary war
make it more, not less urgent that we pursue all possibilities for
libertarian reform at home. Now, I think I see a workable one. What
if, by perfectly legal and proper means, we could take over a small
American state and actually try out our ideas there?
Yes, I thought it was a crazy idea when I first heard it. An
entire state? How? But the Free State Project has
done the math. I’ve looked at their arguments and trend curves, and
I’m pretty much convinced. It can be done. We can do it. The
key is very simple; enough of us just have to move
there. Vote with our feet, and then vote in a bloc. And why
a state? Becausr that’s the only intermediate level of government
with enough autonomy to make a good laboratory.
The Free State Project identified ten small states where 20,000
active libertarians would be a critically large voting bloc. They are
signing up libertarians and like-minded people to vote on the target
state and to move there when the group passes 20,000. The winning
state will be announced on 1st October; they’ve signed up about 5400
people so far, on a classic exponential growth curve with a six-month
doubling time that should get them there in late 2004.
What could be more American than migrating to a thinly-settled area
to experiment with liberty? And this time we won’t have to kill off the
natives, because they’re not going to be organizing any scalping parties.
Most of the states under consideration have a strong local
libertarian tradition, and none of them are going to look askance at
the sort of bright, hardworking, highly-skilled people most likely to
be pro-freedom activists.
Some people won’t like this idea, though. The national media
establishment, which is statist down to its bones even in the few
crevices where it isn’t leftist, will inevitably try to portray the
Free State migrants as a bunch of racist conservative redneck gun-nuts
(all these terms being effectively synonymous in the national media)
intent on turning the poor victim state into one gigantic Aryan
Nations compound (especially if it’s Idaho, as it could be). Expect
network-news interviews with locals teary-eyed with worry that the
incomers will be hosting regular cross-burnings on the courthouse
lawn. Awkward little inconsistencies like the libertarian opposition
to drug laws, censorship, and theocracy will be ignored. This prospect
is especially ironic because, in most of the possible target states,
it is our lifestyle liberalism that is actually most likely to produce
a culture clash with the natives.
The more intelligent members of the political class won’t like this
either. The brighter and better-able one is to extrapolate
second-and-third-order effects, the more likely the potential success
of libertarianism at a state level is likely to scare them —
conservatives nearly as much as liberals, and conservatives perhaps
more so when we challenge them to emulate our success with
small-government policies that they speak but don’t really mean.
But I don’t think this will be easy to stop. Libertarian
demographics being what they are, 20,000 of us in a small state will
be a huge concentration of technical, creative and
entrepreneurial talent. We’ll found software businesses, studios,
innovative light-manufacturing shops and engineering companies
by the bucketload. We’ll create favorable regulatory conditions
for old-line businesses like financial-services houses and for
bleeding-edge ones like the private space-launch industry.
We’ll attract more people like us. The lucky state, especially
if it’s depressed and mostly rural like a lot of the candidates, will
experience a renaissance. And we’ll get to make the difference.
The real fun will start when Americans elsewhere start asking “Why
can’t our state be more like this?”
Liberty in our lifetime? I think this might be how to get there.