Posts Tagged ‘Free State Project’

I returned Sunday from the Porcupine Freedom Festival, and here’s a selection of PorcFest stories that have come out so far (I will continue updating this post over the next days and weeks – I know New York Times Magazine, Concord Monitor, and The Economist will have stories as well):

  • Union-Leader on the “DIY” theme
  • Yahoo.com: brief story on Bleish-Bush family
  • “Guns, Weed, and Bitcoin: Among the Freestaters” from Free Beacon – a fairly well-rounded piece, but mixes some ironic commentary in with the reporting and focuses on the outre
  • “Inside the Libertarian Version of Burning Man” – from the Washington Post, focuses very one-sidedly on the outre – yes, there was one guy in a loincloth, and apparently another guy had an extreme mushroom trip with no long-lasting ill effects, but what about the 200 kids and their families, the new technologies on display, the great speakers including overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, etc., etc.? And gotta love “majority white male.” I would guess only a very narrow majority of attendees fit both categories. Basically meant to make smug proggies feel superior to scary libertarians.
  • Update: The Economist story now out – short but largely fair, despite the silly headline, & well-written (“I’m an incrementalist,” explains Jason Sorens, the subdued intellectual who dreamed up the Free State Project while he was getting his PhD from Yale. Now a lecturer at Dartmouth College in Hanover, he is eager to use New Hampshire to test libertarian theories about enlightened self-interest and reciprocal altruism, small government and large networks of voluntary institutions. “We don’t have all the answers,” he says, “but it’s worth the experiment.”)
  • Update #2: Two Concord Monitor stories

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Quite a few libertarians have yet to sign up for the Free State Project. Why not? One reason is that libertarians take their commitments seriously and are therefore reluctant to enter into them lightly. Yet I argue that the FSP’s Statement of Intent isn’t a commitment or a promise of any kind. It’s just a statement of what you think you will be able to do. So leave your inhibitions behind, and sign up now to help us “trigger the move” next year! Check out the whole post on freestateproject.org.

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Are libertarians and classical liberals who move to New Hampshire radical extremist anarchist colonizing subversive treasonous subhuman alien life forms?

There’s been some nasty politics in Bedford, New Hampshire, where a member of the local political establishment has been hurling epithets on his cable access show at two locals of libertarian views who moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and are trying to get active in local government. There’s also been some sort of mailer or flyer going around attacking these candidates for their civic engagement.

Of course, there are anarchists in the FSP, but as far as I know these two are not anarchists at all. Even if they are, if I were a town resident, I’d like to have one or two hardcore, hard-working anarchists on the council and the school board just to keep the rest of the establishment honest. We live in a world where political leaders can smear you as an anarchist just for trying to find efficiencies in government. Don’t we want someone to turn a hard, skeptical eye toward government programs to make sure they are as lean and efficient as possible?

In other news, the FSP is also being covered again in the New Hampshire Union-Leader. A quote from UNH political scientist Dante Scala:

“I do think they have been part of the debate about the direction of the Republican Party,” Scala said.

Scala said Warden’s estimates about the number of Free Staters elected to the Legislature “sounds reasonable.”

“It’s possible even a small group could have an influence that’s out of proportion to its size if we’re talking about people who are kind of elites; by that I mean people who really want to get involved in political activism in New Hampshire,” Scala said.

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  1. Will May has done some really interesting analysis of roll-call voting in the New Hampshire legislature. Recently he did an analysis of where Free Stater legislators fall on the left-right spectrum as revealed by W-NOMINATE data (this procedure places legislators on a dimension of votes as revealed by correlations in voting behavior, not an “objective” standard of liberalism or conservatism) and on the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance’s Liberty Rating(*). What he found revealed that most Free Staters lie solidly to the right. The main interpretation here is that the GOP in N.H. is fairly libertarian, while the Dems are fairly statist. Yet there are subtle deviations as well. Democratic activists picked up on this work to charge Free Staters with voting as a “monolithic bloc.” On a closer look, however, the standard deviation of ideological positions among Free Stater legislators turned out be higher than for non-Free Stater Dems. Oops.
  2. Tonight the Concord City council voted to accept the BEARCAT grant on an 11-4 vote. The lure of federal money is hard to resist. Nevertheless, concerned Concord residents obtained signatures from over 1,500 residents (something like 7-8% of the adult population) in opposition to the BEARCAT. Word is that several city council members justified their votes on the grounds that the grant application had been revised to remove references to the FSP and ONH as “domestic terroris[ts].” However, it’s unclear whether the grant application has actually been so revised, or whether the police chief just claimed it had been. More on this story to follow if anything else emerges.
  3. A few days ago the FSP took the extraordinary step of expunging from its participant rolls a man who blogged that “It’s a terribly unpopular thing to say, but the answer, at some point, is to kill government agents,” and “any level of force necessary for anyone to stop any government agent from furthering said coercion [tax collection in the context of funding the salaries of all government employees] is morally justifiable…” Internet flamewars ensued. Several newbies seemed convinced that the man was expelled for believing in the right to self-defense against government aggression. Of course, murdering government employees is closer to genocide than self-defense, but who’s counting? Oh, Internet macho libertarians, I am glad none of you will ever get a whiff of actual power.

As you can see, there’s never a dull moment here.

(*)Of all the organizations in the country promoting liberty, there are few more worthy of your financial support than the NH Liberty Alliance. I don’t have a formal role in that group, but I do give them money.

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On Saturday I moved with my family to Lebanon, New Hampshire. I am teaching for a year in the Government Department at Dartmouth College. Although my reasons for leaving my tenure-track job at Buffalo were several, I decided last year to apply almost exclusively to jobs in New England so that I could fulfill (early) my Free State Project commitment.

Fifty-nine people greeted us when we arrived at our new home, unloaded the truck in 20 minutes, and then held a party. The welcome we got exemplifies the reasons why we decided to take the risk of leaving a tenure-track job for a future in New Hampshire. Even though our decision may very well require a career change for me in a year’s time, we do not consider it to be a “sacrifice for the cause.” Our move is fundamentally self-interested.

The things that really matter in life are family, friends, community, a sense of purpose. Financial security is secondary. In the United States today, we enjoy unparalleled wealth, access to technologies inconceivable until just a few decades ago. There is much that we can give up financially while still enjoying a decent life.

We moved from a 3,000-square-foot house in Buffalo to a 1,100-square-foot apartment in Lebanon. We gave up our TV, our stereo system, and most of our furniture. Adjusting for cost of living and benefits, my real earnings have already declined significantly. The variance in our expected future earnings has increased dramatically. But my daughter also played in a river for the first time, throwing rocks and trying to catch tadpoles. We can walk to the

The view from our living room

The view from our living room

town green. You can see the stars at night and the hills of the Upper Connecticut River Valley during the day. Most importantly of all, we’re participating in a historic effort to create a society of free and responsible individuals, which would be an impossible dream almost anywhere else.

To be sure, we also left a few good friends in Buffalo, and that was hard. I understand why libertarians with strong local family and friend connections do not move to New Hampshire. But we didn’t have such long-term connections anywhere else, apart from those few good friends.

I also understand why libertarians who are promoting the cause in their own careers would see a career change and a move to New Hampshire as a step back. But most of what I have done as an academic does not promote liberty directly, and I have come to question seriously the (more…)

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Mother Jones has followed up on the story reported here about the controversy over the city of Concord’s acquisition of a Bearcat armored truck. The Concord police chief has this to say about the language of the grant citing the Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire as potential sources of domestic terrorism:

While the sovereign citizens movement has a history of racism and violence, Police Chief John Duval now says that he doesn’t actually believe the Free State Project or Occupy New Hampshire are domestic terror threats. “I wish I would have worded things different in retrospect,” he says. “I understand why their eyebrows are raised about that.” He chalks up the wording to the limitations of writing a detailed proposal in only three pages and says it was meant to refer to the “unpredictable nature of unpredictable people who attach themselves to otherwise lawful situations.”

Duval has no plans to issue a formal apology, but he has exchanged emails with Carla Gericke, president of the Free State Project, to explain his position, which he has also attempted to clarify with local reporters.


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  • Concord, NH is about to acquire a Bearcat “tank” with federal grant money, similar to the one that spurred protests from all walks of society in Keene, NH recently. (One Keene councilman looks back and describes the purchase as a “waste of money.”) More disturbing is the fact that the Concord police cited “Free Staters” and “Occupy New Hampshire” as examples of potential domestic “terrorism” justifying the armored truck’s acquisition.
  • The New Hampshire Union-Leader criticizes Chris Christie’s recent attack on Rand Paul and libertarianism: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has no patience for people who are concerned that the government might be violating their civil liberties in pursuit of increased national security. That is going to make a run through the New Hampshire primary really annoying for him.” The Union-Leader‘s influence on the GOP primary is often overstated (they endorsed Gingrich last time), but they are most effective when in attack mode. Their attacks on Romney helped suppress his vote share well below what was initially expected in the 2012 primary.

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The Free State Project’s Porcupine Freedom Festival was last week, and the media mentions have been trickling in. Unfortunately, I was not able to go due to scheduling conflicts, but the organizers claim, on the basis of 1,500 paid registrants, that over 1,700 people attended (including children). That makes it the biggest PorcFest ever, unsurprising considering an excellent lineup including David Friedman, Robert Murphy, Don Boudreaux, Michael Huemer, and many, many more. In addition, PorcFest’s “Agora Alley” has become (in)famous as a real-life example of a free-wheeling free market in action.

Here are some after-action reports I’ve been able to dig up:

Next year, I’m so there. And you should be too.

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Pileus blogger Jason Sorens is the founder of the Free State Project.   Thus our regular readers may be interested in hearing about the progress of his baby in this article in the June edition of Reason magazine.  Like libertarian academics before him such as Milton Friedman, Sorens is both an idealist and a realist – which is part of the reason for the FSP’s success.  Sorens talks about that in this nice section of the Reason piece:

Sorens thinks the project’s success stems partly from its modest approach. “The whole point behind the FSP was to avoid utopianism,” he says. Rather than trying to “build this new society,” he says, Free Staters “opted instead for incrementalism, making small but noticeable, meaningful changes.” Building an entire new world requires a massive investment before anybody sees results, big or small. The Free State Project already has won victories without spending much money or ripping up social architecture.

At a recent Porcfest (a summer gathering of Free Staters and fellow travelers), it was fun to see our friend and colleague treated like a rock star.  May the legend – and the FSP – grow!

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The IRS has been taking flak for its treatment of right-leaning groups seeking recognition as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations under clause 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. As it happens, I have some personal experience with IRS scrutiny of 501(c)(4) applications. I was on the Board of the Free State Project (FSP) when the FSP applied for 501(c)(4) status in 2007-8. Our application was denied. We appealed, and the appeal was denied.

The reasoning the IRS gave us is that the FSP was simply a political action group trying to benefit the Libertarian Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. The FSP has never run or endorsed candidates or given money to any candidates. The FSP has never endorsed specific legislation or lobbied any elected or appointed official. More importantly, the FSP has never had any ties, formal or informal, with the Libertarian Party. Plenty of FSP participants reject electoral politics altogether. To my knowledge, the FSP has never received even a single donation from any foundation, government, party, or any other corporate entity whatsoever.

The FSP clearly qualifies as a social welfare organization, if not a public-benefit, charitable organization (“501(c)(3)”), according to the IRS’s own rules. The point of the FSP is to promote New Hampshire as a destination to people who are philosophically classical-liberal or libertarian. That’s it. The FSP spends money on advertising and promotion, maintaining a website, and holding two annual educational-social events in New Hampshire. The FSP believes that is an organization operated for the public benefit, especially with the educational programs held at its events. However, even if the IRS does not buy that interpretation, it is clearly an organization intended for the social and educational benefit of philosophic libertarians. It is clearly not a political action organization. Indeed, had the FSP applied for section 527 recognition, it probably would have been denied, leading to the absurd likelihood that the IRS would have considered the FSP a nonprofit fitting into no nonprofit category.

Since then, the FSP has operated just fine as a generic nonprofit corporation with no IRS tax status; since the organization’s expenditures always exceed its merchandise sales, it does not have any tax liability. However, 501(c)(4) status would have been a useful designation and signal to donors of the organization’s credibility.

Conservatives would like to find Obama’s fingerprints on the current IRS scandal, but they are unlikely to do so. Career bureaucrats at the federal agency that collects taxes from Americans are unlikely to be friendly to American antitax groups. The IRS’s hostility to antitax groups will manifest itself in a variety of ways, but that hostility is apparently nothing new or even particularly surprising. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong, of course.

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This is a powerful story of injustice and one woman’s refusal to stand for it:

On August 17th, 2011 Katharine “Katie” McCall, a licensed midwife, was convicted of practicing medicine with out a license for a 2007 birth she assisted as a student. The charge arose from a home birth where Katie’s supervising midwife could not arrive because she was at another birth. Instead of leaving the family to birth unassisted, Katie stayed. She recommended that the family transfer to the hospital and the family refused.

She was imprisoned. After being released, she decided to move from California to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and is blogging the move.

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The 2013 New Hampshire Liberty Forum will be happening in a month. If you want to see about 500 libertarian types overflow the second-largest conference center in the state of New Hampshire, you’ll want to be there. I’m impressed with the speaker lineup this year, which reaches beyond traditional libertarian circles:

  • Tom Woods is a keynote speaker. Popular LVMI-associated historian, bestselling author.
  • Declan McCullagh – now chief political correspondent for CNET, long associated with Wired
  • Jeffrey Albert Tucker – publisher of Laissez Faire Books
  • Thaddeus Russell – history prof & author
  • Steve Cooksey – that paleo guy in NC who was fined by the dietitian licensing board for advocating the paleo diet
  • ESSAM – that NYC artist who punked the NYPD with his anti-drone artwork
  • Julie Borowski – TokenLibertarianGirl
  • Mike Yashko from FEE
  • Aaron Day from the Atlas Society
  • Lots of Bitcoin folks

I would be particularly interested to hear Jody Underwood, a Free Stater who chairs the school board in Croydon, NH. Last year she talked about their efforts to implement school choice at the town level.

Sadly, I won’t be there this year, too busy. (I will be going to the Porcupine Freedom Festival in summer, however.) Here’s the link for more information and registration.

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Pileus‘s own Jason Sorens is, among many other things, the founder of the Free State Project. The FSP is an initiative that aims to put the convictions of people who talk about individual liberty to the test. Its proposal is based on the straightforward premise that a relatively small number of committed and organized activists can effect disproportionately large political change in their communities. More specifically, the FSP suggests that if 20,000 “liberty-loving people” were all to move to a state of relatively small population, their concentrated efforts could enlarge the scope of liberty in that state, perhaps even making it a genuine home of liberty.

After a somewhat contentious vote several years ago, the FSP decided that New Hampshire—of “Live Free or Die” fame—would be their liberty mecca. (Wyoming came in second.) If you sign on to the FSP’s initiative, here is what you agree to: If and when the total signatories on the FSP’s pledge reaches 20,000,

I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire. Once there, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.

Some people are excited enough about the prospects—and, no doubt, depressed and frustrated enough about the decline of liberty elsewhere—that they are not waiting for the full 20,000 signatories: As of today, 1,117 FSP pledges have already moved to New Hampshire.

Why New Hampshire? Lots of reasons. The FSP actually gives you a list of “101 Reasons You Should Move to New Hampshire (If You Love Liberty).” Here is another reason: In the most recent edition of the “Freedom in the 50 States” report, co-authored by Sorens himself along with William Ruger, and published in 2011, New Hampshire comes out on top: The Granite State ranks #2 in “economic freedom,” #11 in “personal freedom,” and yet #1 in the combined “overall” ranking.

I find the prospects of making New Hampshire the Hong Kong of America intriguing, even inspiring. When the United States is spending itself into debt oblivion—something like the Nicolas Cage character in Leaving Las Vegas, we seem to be thinking that it’s all over anyway so we might as well drink ourselves all the way to death—and when government regulation is pouring out of Washington like the Mississippi over the levees in New Orleans after Katrina, the idea of an island of freedom amid a sea of bleak oppression has its attractions.

Even supposing 20,000 liberty-loving people would move to New Hampshire, however, I have reasons to worry about the likelihood of success of the FSP. Let me list a few here. I preface them by saying that I hope I am wrong about how worrisome they are. I too want a world for my children and grandchildren in which they are not slaves to government debt and regulation.

1. I have heard whispers that in the next edition of Sorens’s and Ruger’s “Freedom in the 50 States,” which I understand is due out in the Spring of 2013, New Hampshire no longer retains its #1 overall ranking—and that it might indeed slip several spots. (Perhaps neither Sorens nor Ruger cares to confirm or disconfirm this now, but I would be happy to have them do so if they wish.)

2. In the recently released Economic Freedom of North America 2012, which includes most of the provinces of Canada along with the States of America, New Hampshire lands in a disappointing sixteenth place, behind Alaska and above North Carolina. The EFNA report scores New Hampshire particularly low (a) on Social Security payments as a percentage of GDP (NH gets a 5.1 out of a possible 10 on this, 10 being highest), (b) on total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (5.6 out of 10), and (c) on indirect tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (a dismal 3.0 out of 10).

3. CNBC recently published its list of “America’s Top States for Business 2012,” and New Hampshire’s spot is again disappointing: nineteenth—embarrassingly, behind Oregon and ahead of Arkansas.

4. Only today I saw this report from Wired that public buses in many metropolitan systems in America are starting to install listening devices with their surveillance systems, so that they can secretly record private conversations. Which metropolitan systems? You will not be surprised that it includes San Francisco and Baltimore; more surprising, perhaps, are smaller cities like Traverse City, Michigan and Athens, Georgia; but this I found both shocking and disappointing: “Concord, New Hampshire also used part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install its new video/audio surveillance system on buses.” That is wrong for so many reasons.

I also have more general reasons to doubt the possibility of the FSP’s success that are less directly dependent on having chosen New Hampshire as opposed to any state. Perhaps I will outline them in the future.

In addition to my caution that I hope I am wrong about the chances of FSP’s success in New Hampshire, I would also hasten to add that none of these worries entails that one should not still make the attempt. Even if one is certain of failure, some causes are worth fighting for regardless. If one is not willing to fight for liberty and prosperity, even against depressingly long odds, then what on earth would one fight for? One does what one can. One fights for liberty and against oppression, whatever the odds, leaving the rest in God’s hands.

Can New Hampshire be the place?

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Apparently NH lefties are passing around this lengthy condemnation of the Free State Project. Much of it, though, reads like something that could be put in an FSP recruiting brochure:

Free Staters in NH are generally intelligent, focused and diligent people, who are sincerely interested in promoting personal responsibility in its broadest meaning. They are committed to discussion and action on the issues and problems they see facing New Hampshire and the nation.


The migration of Free Staters to New Hampshire has dramatically changed the political discussion here.


Here is an alternative perspective on the FSP from the same Foster’s article, which the passage of time has shown to be more accurate than the others in it:

“Dave Corbin, a University of New Hampshire political science instructor, said the Free Staters could accomplish many of their goals even if only a fraction of the proposed 20,000 moved here. ‘Those who are analyzing the potential effects of the group on the basis of numbers alone are not looking at the situation deeply enough’, he said.

‘Let’s say only 4,000 of them move here. You wouldn’t just say ‘What’s 4,000? That’s only a drop in the electoral bucket.’ That’s not looking at the situation properly . . . When you talk about those people who are politically active in New Hampshire, you’re only talking about 5,000 people; those are the people political candidates target. If you have (only) 1,000 people (from the Free State Project) coming here to make a difference, they will,’ Corbin said.

Corbin pointed out how important activists are to any political campaign, as an index of the influence Free Staters could eventually achieve. Each individual activist represents not just one person, but all the people they will persuade. ‘Any time you have a campaign and you have an activist, you know you have 20 or 30 times the number of votes as activists,’ he said. (emphasis original)

But then there’s the scaremongering (all-bolded!) conclusion:

More New Hampshire residents need to wake up to the reality of the Free State Project.

We can’t wait for the Union Leader and NH Public Radio to fill us in on how expansive the Free State Project’s plans are for New Hampshire, – and how this plan is playing out now on the ground. We need to find out for ourselves, and we need to tell others.

We need to confront Free Staters in our towns, and at all levels of government. And then we need to force them, as proper citizens, to have endless conversations with their fellow residents about New Hampshire’s future. We cannot let them make over the State of New Hampshire in their own libertarian image.

Of course, partisan hacks (and yes, they exist on the right too) would rather resort to scare tactics than honest and open dialogue, and that attitude is always wearisome wherever one finds it, but at the same time, it is encouraging that the FSP has moved beyond the “first, they ignore you” stage to the “then they fight you” stage.

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I’ve recently returned from the New Hampshire Liberty Forum, held February 23-26 in Nashua, NH and sponsored by the Free State Project. The two evening keynote speakers were libertarian free-range farmer Joel Salatin and investor and recent U.S. Senate candidate Peter Schiff. In addition, session speakers included school-choice economist Angela Dills, former Libertarian Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Ken Krawchuk, jailed marijuana activist Marc Emery’s wife Jodie, economist John Lott, Institute for Justice litigator Clark Neily, libertarian-anarchist feminist Sharon Presley, and Laissez-Faire Books publisher and former Mises.org editor Jeffrey Tucker.

Unfortunately, I had to help take care of a sick child, and I missed most of the talks, including Joel Salatin’s Saturday-night address. However, I did get to hear Jodie Emery, Ken Krawchuk, and Peter Schiff, and, perhaps more importantly, to catch up with many New Hampshire friends. The event received a good bit of local press coverage. Some examples:

Wire NH:

Events like this and their annual summer Porcupine Freedom Festival not only serve to promote the Libertarian mindset, but also create conversation that Free State Project president Carla Gericke says is of the utmost importance to the group’s goals.

“We are striving to live as free as possible,” Gericke said. “With freedom comes great responsibility. Sometimes, when I think about the movement, it’s almost like a form of localization on steroids.”

Gericke believes the Free State Project is attractive to people because the idea of collecting Libertarians to make a difference in government is a practical one. She added that, since her election as Free State Project president in 2011—three years after her own move to New Hampshire—she has been less focused on getting signatures on the statement of intent.

“Some of my focus has actually moved toward attracting people to move,” she said. “It’s great that they signed the pledge, but in terms of things on the ground, the more bodies we have here, the more we can actually accomplish.”

Nashua Telegraph:

The forum, in its fifth year, is the annual meeting for the New Hampshire Free State Project. Free Staters already living in New Hampshire and those thinking about moving here make up most of the participants, but everyone is invited, said Chris Lawless, a Hopkinton resident and the Free State Project’s forum organizer.

“We want people to come meet us, see we don’t have horns growing out of our heads,” Lawless said.

Nashua Telegraph #2:

Freedom to live as one chooses is a powerful ideal, and a conference exploring the concept was worth the drive from New Jersey for Marcus Connor, 37.

“Liberty is dying every day in the United States,” Connor said.

The government is killing it, he said.

That view was espoused in speeches throughout the morning. It was the drumbeat that would sound throughout the various programs of the forum.

One of the day’s first speakers, John Bush, talked of the need to abandon the U.S. Constitution, which he said was written to protect the interests of the nation’s founding fathers, who were “the privileged elite at the time.”

Bush represented Agora 21, described as “a counter-economic approach to building a free society in the 21st century.”

Bush acknowledged the Constitution marked civilization’s best achievement toward limiting government, but added, “I think we can do better. I think we can do much better.”


Keynote speaker Friday is economist Peter Schiff, CEO of Connecticut-based Euro Pacific Capital Inc., who will talk about the current economic business cycle (a sham), what mistakes have been made (too many to count), what to expect next (something worse than the last collapse), and what you can do to prepare (buy gold, vote for Ron Paul, invest in foreign currency).

As you may have guessed, if you’re looking for someone to paint a rosy picture of the country’s gradual economic recovery since 2008, Schiff is not your guy.

“The future is bleak,” said Schiff in a recent phone interview with Nashua Patch.

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A wry article that captures a good bit of the flavor of an everyday Free Staters’ get-together in New Hampshire.

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That’s from the lede of a new story in Mother Jones about the Free State Project, entitled “City on a Quill.” Mother Jones is definitely coming from the left, but the story is meritoriously free of those lazy, paranoid arguments ad Kochum that we’ve seen about Free Staters from The Nation (no, I’m not going to provide a link, they don’t deserve it). The Mother Jones story doesn’t appear to be online yet. With just a touch of ironic deprecation, the story elaborates accurately the main factional divide among libertarian activists in New Hampshire, between civil-disobedience activists mainly living in Keene and political activists spread throughout the state:

In recent years, Keene residents have been cited for violating the city’s open-container law (during a city council meeting), for indecent exposure and firearms possession (simultaneously), and for smoking marijuana (inside a police station). These incidents share a common root: They were orchestrated by members of the Free State Project–a plan, hatched in 2001, to get 20,000 libertarian activists to quit their jobs, sell their homes, and relocate to New Hampshire en masse.

The reporter also interviewed Free Staters who’d been elected to the legislature:

Dan and Carol McGuire relocated to New Hampshire from Washington state in 2005… Political novices, they both won seats in the House of Representatives (Carol in 2008, Dan in 2010).

They’ve taken different approaches to fighting tyranny. Carol’s goal for the 2011 session was culling anachronistic laws that have remained on the books through bureaucratic neglect. She succeeded in axing an 1895 statute, the result of lobbying by Big Butter, that requires margarine to be served in triangular containers so that diners don’t confuse it with the real thing. Dan had his sights on something of potentially much greater consequence. He and a few allies succeeded in passing a bill to eliminate the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which is planning a high-speed line to Massachusetts. Their argument was simple: Government shouldn’t be in the business of building railroads. The state’s Democratic governor, John Lynch, vetoed the bill.

After summing up the disagreements among Free Staters on strategy and end goals (no government versus limited government), reporter Tim Murphy concludes: “And therein lies the problem with attempting to create a libertarian utopia: No one–least of all libertarians–can agree on what it looks like.” You might say that’s a problem for any effort to create a utopia.

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As many of our readers may know, fellow Pilei Jason Sorens was the founder of the Free State Project (if you don’t know much about it, here is the project’s website).  Thus it was with some interest that I opened David Weigel’s piece at Slate on the movement that Jason founded.

Unfortunately, all I got was a rather sensationalist account that focused primarily on an offshoot of Free Staters, the Free Keene project.  I’m still making my mind up about the Free Keene folks, their “voluntaryism,” and their more radical tactics.*  But Weigel does a real disservice to the FSP’ers by not painting a broader picture of the movement in a piece that suggests it is going to introduce us to this interesting but not well-known experiment in liberty.  I’m not an expert on FSP’ers, but I’m guessing that there is a bigger range in that group than we see on display in the Slate piece.  I think I might have to go to PORCfest or another of the movement’s gatherings and see for myself what those committed to “liberty in our lifetime” are really like – though even this may only represent a certain type of Free Stater.

*My adherence to a form of “virtue libertarianism” and the importance I place on prudence in politics suggests my take is going to be mixed, but I’m open to going either way once I get to know them a little better.

UPDATE: I think it is worth noting that I am not currently a member of the Free State Project because I cannot commit to my satisfaction to move to New Hampshire within 5 years of 20,000 people joining the movement.  However, I am in full agreement with the goal of the rest of the FSP’s statement of intent:  “I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire. Once there, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.”  And I would certainly join and move if I could get a decent equivalent position in my chosen profession (or a job for which it was worth leaving my profession).

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I was recently interviewed for a National Journal story, which has just come out, on how the Free State Project may influence the 2012 presidential primary. Pileus also gets a link!

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At AmCon, James Banks gives his take on the Christopher Beam piece in New York magazine on libertarianism. Like many other critics of the piece, Banks believes Beam focuses too much on the fringes of the movement. However, Banks still argues that libertarianism has inherent “limits”:

[I]t is still difficult to imagine a robust libertarian movement in the United States (at least in a form of which the Cato or Independent Institute would fully endorse). Libertarians might have the best ideas when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, the TSA, or the Federal Reserve. A central problems for libertarians is one of outreach rather than policy… The larger problem for libertarians, though, is more substantive: because they are so vigilant in their opposition to expansive government, libertarians often end up overemphasizing its significance. This mistake does not show up in their specific policy proposals, however, and thus libertarian institutions that emphasize policy over political activism fare better; libertarian politics, however, often end up embodied in initiatives like the Free State Project that have difficulty germinating into a mass movement.

It’s hard to know what to make of this critique, which I hear frequently from both left and right. Libertarians are politically inept, supposedly. In this variant, libertarians are good at making their case for specific policies, which certain politicians may pick up piecemeal, but they can’t create “mass movements.”

I think there are two things to say about this. First, political ineptness on the part of libertarians doesn’t have anything to do with the validity of the ideas. It’s unclear whether Banks himself makes this argument, but I have often heard variants of the argument: “You libertarians are just so far out of the mainstream; I can’t see how your views could possibly be right.”

Second, I question whether the lack of a libertarian “mass movement” is libertarians’ fault and whether libertarians really are all that politically inept. Libertarianism is still a relatively new ideology and by all accounts one of the most successful new ideologies in the U.S., other than perhaps the green movement (and I would argue that the green movement’s close alliance with standard-issue liberalism has set that movement back significantly). Breaking out of standard left-right thinking requires close attention to politics and, more importantly, political theory. That is not something that the vast majority of voters will ever undertake. Given the inherent limitations of a rationally ignorant electorate, libertarians actually seem to have outsize influence on public policy and electoral politics.

The example of the Free State Project helps make the point. The FSP was never intended to be a “mass movement” across the country as a whole. Rather, it was (is) aimed at highly self-conscious, activist libertarians who wanted to make a bigger political difference in their lifetimes. The FSP recruits these people to the state that the FSP membership has chosen, New Hampshire. The FSP actually doesn’t undertake any political activities in New Hampshire as an organization, but individual migrants do. And in fact we do see an emerging libertarian/classical liberal “mass movement” in New Hampshire. The NH Liberty Alliance is one of the most influential public-interest lobbies in the state, the NH Republican Liberty Caucus is one of the strongest state affiliates in the country and recently elected a state senator, at least a dozen self-consciously libertarian state representatives have been elected (that’s the tally of FSP movers alone) and one of them is now in state house leadership, and in a recent 2012 presidential poll 7% of NH Republicans and independents volunteered Ron Paul as their most likely choice, fifth out of the field, ahead of Pawlenty, Barbour, and Santorum. Is libertarianism the dominant ideology of New Hampshire? Of course not. But a strong movement exists. We shouldn’t expect most Americans to be activist libertarian ideologues, but then, we shouldn’t expect most Americans to be activist conservative, liberal, or green ideologues either.

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In a recent series of posts (finale here), I estimated the size of the liberty constituency in each state by conducting a principal components analysis of four variables: per capita donors to the Ron Paul campaign, unexplained Ron Paul primary vote share, mean Libertarian Party presidential vote share 1996-2004, and Libertarian Party presidential vote share in 2008. Then, I regressed estimates of individual freedom from the Ruger-Sorens Index on the estimate of liberty constituency size, finding that states with larger liberty constituencies have more freedom.

Some conversations have raised the possibility of using these regression results to predict the effect of the Free State Project (see an exchange with Patri Friedman here). The idea is that I could plug in hypothetical values for New Hampshire on all the four variables above, assuming that they get 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 more libertarian activists. In other words, given my estimate of the effect of the size of the liberty constituency on freedom, what would be expected to happen to freedom in NH if the liberty constituency in that state grew?

To do this, I first added 2000 Ron Paul donors and Libertarian Party voters to the state, along with 4000 Ron Paul voters. (Why? Because elsewhere I’ve found that each additional Free Stater in a New Hampshire town generated two additional votes for Ron Paul. Now, of course, there probably won’t be another Ron Paul campaign, but there will be other ways in which libertarian constituencies evince themselves – remember, I’m just trying to get a reliable measure of the size of the liberty bloc; the inputs as such don’t matter.) Then I figured out how that would change the estimate of the size of the libertarian bloc in New Hampshire. The aggressive assumption behind this move is worth noting. In particular, I’m assuming that the overall ideological distribution in NH on the libertarian-populist dimension shifts as a result of these activists. In other words, the overall relationship behind number of activists and size of liberty constituency remains constant – the liberty activists don’t just become an ideological ghetto. Presumably, it will take some time for activists moving into the state to have an effect on the mindset of the people already there, so the estimates I’m giving here are for a fairly optimistic, long-run-ish view of what the FSP can accomplish. (On the other hand, I’m assuming that the state remains fairly liberal on the left-right spectrum, which might be a pessimistic assumption.)

Now that I have a hypothetical value for New Hampshire’s future liberty constituency, I can plug that into the regression equation to see what value of freedom pops out, assuming that New Hampshire remains the same on every other variable. I do this by running 1000 simulations of the freedom regression, so that I can pull out a margin of error. When I do this, I find that New Hampshire’s expected freedom value increases by 0.37 on 0-1 scale, with a 95% confidence interval of 0.017-0.685. OK, what do those numbers mean? Well, that’s roughly the difference between New Hampshire and Nebraska today, or between Nebraska and New Jersey. That’s still pretty abstract, though.

To get a more concrete sense of what that means, I played around with the state policy data to see what changes would correspond to that kind of increase in freedom. I cut state and local spending by 3% of personal income (from 17.3%) and state and local taxes by 1.5% of personal income, from 8.4% (these don’t match up, because federal grants cover roughly half of state spending). Then I cut government employment by 2% of the workforce, from 10.8%. Then I gave New Hampshire Alaska’s gun laws (concealed carry without a permit and removal of some other minor regulations). Then I completely privatized wine and liquor and cut beer taxes to zero. Then I completely legalized marijuana possession, legalized cultivation and sale of medical marijuana, and decriminalized cultivation and sale for recreational use. (No state is actually this good.) Then I completely deregulated homeschooling: no testing, recordkeeping, or even notice required. (No state is actually this good.) Finally, I gave New Hampshire same-sex marriage, because, well, it already has that – but it got it after our data came out. That got New Hampshire up to the expected level of freedom after having had 2000 activists move in.

Now, there is a good bit of uncertainty about this estimate. It could be that these 2000 activists will have a much bigger or much smaller effect on freedom. The bottom end of the 95% confidence interval corresponds to just same-sex marriage, the gun law change, and medical marijuana. Not a huge deal. The upper end corresponds to everything mentioned, plus adding right-to-work, adopting the best existing occupational licensing regime in the country (Indiana’s, just 20% of the workforce licensed, compared to NH’s 23%), reducing victimless crime arrests by about 50%, to Hawaii’s levels, repealing all smoking bans on private property, abolishing cigarette taxes, legalizing prostitution, abolishing all campaign finance regulations, and cutting state and local debt burden by about a half. By that point, New Hampshire starts to look like a mix of Amsterdam and Alaska on personal freedoms and Hong Kong on economic freedom.

What about if 10,000 activists move to NH? Well, the freedom regression model doesn’t build in diminishing returns, so the simulations yield a predicted change in freedom of 1.46, roughly five times that predicted for 2,000 activists, unsurprisingly. At that point, we’re talking about cutting government to the bone, including tax and spending reductions of 50% or more and abolishing all of the remaining petty, paternalistic restrictions on freedom that we code, from gambling laws to sobriety checkpoints, legalizing assisted suicide, and completely deregulating education, complete with a strong tax credit-based school choice program, in addition to everything previously mentioned.

But at this point we are so far outside the range of observed politics that I strongly caution against taking these inferences all that seriously. It is possible to push a regression model much further than it can bear. I simply wish to get a sense of the orders of magnitude of change that might be possible with the FSP’s success.

In conclusion, it appears that with 2,000 activists who are smart about educating the general voting public and do not isolate themselves, the long-term gains to freedom in New Hampshire could be fairly extensive, though not approaching what anyone would describe as a “libertarian utopia.” It’s at about 4,000 effective libertarian activists that we could reasonably expect NH to start to look like the Amsterdam/Alaska/Hong Kong hybrid.


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I just returned from the seventh annual Porcupine Freedom Festival in Lancaster, N.H. (see the Daily Caller profile here). PorcFest is the annual summer event of the Free State Project (the New Hampshire Liberty Forum is the FSP’s winter event). Unlike the Liberty Forum, the emphasis at PorcFest is on community building and socializing rather than speakers and formal discussions, but there are a few speakers every year. This year, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and founder of the Our America Initiative, was the concluding speaker. For the anti-political anarchists, there were also speakers like podcaster-author Stefan Molyneux and tax rebel Larken Rose. Radio host Ernie Hancock, who invented the “Ron Paul Revolution” logo, was also there.

PorcFest 2010 ComicThere’s a good bit of speculation around Gary Johnson as the possible “Ron Paul of 2012.” A libertarian-leaning Republican, Johnson vetoed 750 bills as governor (not counting line-item vetoes), never raised taxes, favors withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, and advocates the legalization of marijuana. Unfortunately, his name recognition in the general population is very low, and he hasn’t cultivated as many constituencies as Paul, such as the John Birch Society. However, he does not suffer from some of the drawbacks that Paul did, such as the quirky advocacy of the gold standard and the “blowback” theory of 9/11 that gave him such trouble in the debates. (For what it’s worth, I agree with both Paul’s position that the government should withdraw more or less entirely from currency and banking markets and the argument that U.S. foreign policy was one of the causes of bin Laden’s attacks on the U.S.) As a speaker, Johnson might not be considered “dynamic,” but he is more direct and to-the-point than Paul, who tends to wax philosophical (not that there’s anything wrong with that). His personality is easy-going and straightforward, unlike most politicians I’ve met, who as a class lean rather toward “blowhard.”

I also spoke with a reporter from The New Republic, who asked me mostly about Johnson’s fanbase in the libertarian campoutgroup and chances in New Hampshire should he decide to run in 2012. If Johnson were to run, I think he would enjoy near-unanimous support among Free Staters who engage the political process, just as Paul did. Now, Paul has been around a lot longer, and it’s difficult to imagine that Johnson would enjoy quite the sheer enthusiasm and cult following that Paul did – but with Ron Paul’s blessing and full-throated support, he should be able to do just as well in raising money. If, as I suspect, he also does better among mainstream Republicans, he could do pretty well in terms of vote share. He has two terms of executive experience, unlike Paul and many other potential candidates for the nomination, and the party should be in a relatively libertarian mood by then. Tea Party types are politically homeless right now; while they tend to support either Sarah Palin or Ron Paul, there’s also a consensus among conservatives that neither of these would be an effective candidate in the general election. Johnson could expect to receive vociferous attacks from neoconservatives and hawks in general, but my sense is that their standing in the Republican base has declined. By 2012, Afghanistan and Iraq will be firmly Obama’s wars, and if both wars are still ongoing then (a fairly good bet), then many more libertarians who initially supported Afghanistan (like myself), will turn quite a bit more skeptical.

Turning to the title of this post, I’ll mention a few things about the state of play in New Hampshire. By reports that I’ve gotten, 27 or 2821-28 Free Staters are running for state office this year, including the four who won last time. (By “Free Staters” I’m referring purely to people who have moved to New Hampshire from elsewhere; there are many more local allies in and seeking office.) Most of them are running as Republicans, but several as Democrats. The feeling among most political observers is that Republicans are favored to take back both houses of the legislature. The conservative Democratic governor, John Lynch, is also looking vulnerable for the first time since his election in 2004. Republican candidate Jack Kimball (one of several) gave a short speech at PorcFest; he seems to be a down-the-line conservative, but the issues he emphasized were 10th Amendment state sovereignty and strong support for the 2nd Amendment. Lynch has also been primaried by a very strongly liberal representative, Tim Robertson (several people of sober mind have characterized Robertson as “virtually a communist”), who is upset at Lynch’s veto of medical marijuana. Robertson has no chance in the primary, but his candidacy points up the cracks in the NH Dems’ base.

One interesting story cropped up on the newswires this past week that relates in more ways than one to the FSP. A husband and wife who are Houston Libertarian Party activists were harassed by police, in part because of a pill that dropped onto the seat (a prescription medication). In most states, you can be prosecuted for having any prescription medicine outside its original container unless a registered physician or nurse put it there (including those pill boxes!), and in some states it’s a felony. The linked story reports that the victims are considering moving to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project. It turns out that this plan of theirs would make sense for more reasons than one. Representative Joel Winters, who moved from Florida, authored a bill that removed such penalties in New Hampshire, and it was passed by the legislature and signed into law. Just one example among many of policy changes that have happened in New Hampshire due to the work of Free Staters…


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Topless protests on school bus routes. I really have no idea what point these people thought they were making, especially since female toplessness is not illegal in Keene, New Hampshire.

Full, but begrudging disclosure: These activities are mostly organized by people with ties to the Free State Project, the movement I founded. The libertine, anarchist, civil-disobeying wing of the FSP is a tiny minority of the whole, but alas, they get all the press.

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