Can New Hampshire Be the Hong Kong of America?

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?

19 thoughts on “Can New Hampshire Be the Hong Kong of America?

  1. I think that rumor got started with my post about it on Pileus (, which you commented on, BTW. 😉 No, NH will not be #1 again. The Dakotas have significantly surpassed it, due entirely to their performance on economic freedom issues. Still, NH will be in the top 5, and it may be that the 2011-12 legislature restored it to #1, but we won’t know until the 2015 Freedom in the 50 States edition, if there is one.

    Also, I have significant problems with EFNA’s methodology. You’ll note that they find that California and Illinois are doing just fine. That doesn’t pass the smell test. I could go on to pick apart their choices (why is indirect taxation double-counted? why do federal social security transfers to a state reduce that state’s freedom? and so on), but I’ll just say that I think our index is more valid. 🙂

    I agree the FSP is unlikely to succeed, if “success” means creating a new Hong Kong (with more personal freedom) in North America. But then everything else is even less likely to succeed, so unless we want to give up, the FSP is our best shot. IMHO of course!

  2. Living as close as I do to NH, enjoying the benefits of no tax shopping, and having personal experiences with the hardy and hale of (mainly) rural NH residents, I have high hopes that a few determined people could very well make a huge and positive difference in NH’s level of freedom.

  3. BTW, you’ll note that on that CNBC index, there’s only one variable that has to do with public policy directly (“business friendliness”). On that indicator, NH is #2, behind South Dakota.

  4. Jason, not only did I comment on that post, but my comment specifically addressed this particular question! I didn’t want to be presumptuous in this post. 😉 On that topic, however, I for one would be happy to hear the details of your criticisms of other rankings.

    Elizabeth, I hope you are right. If I join the liberty movement in New Hampshire, will you commit to doing it with me?

  5. That so-called “study” done by CNBC is utterly bogus, with nothing whatsoever scientific about it. It’s so subjectively weighted as to be disregarded as absolute BUNKO.

    EXAMPLE California is experiencing massive CAPITAL FLIGHT to Nevada. California is ranked #40, which almost makes sense, but capital flight to a state that is ranked #45? What are all those idiots thinking? Didn’t they see the CNBC study?

    What’s wrong with the “study”. Right from the horse’s mouth:

    “…we separated those metrics into ten broad categories,
    weighting the categories based on how frequently they are cited in state economic development marketing materials. That way, our study ranks the states based on the criteria they use to sell themselves.”

    See that? States rank themselves, isn’t that convenient? And based on, OF ALL THINGS, “STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (read=artificial public sector economic advantages) MARKETING MATERIALS!”

  6. Well, I’m packing up and moving to NH, Maybe NH will be #1 this year and #5 the next. Maybe it will take 10 years or 20 years or 30 years. None of that sways me, but what I do find exciting and motivating is that somewhere in this country people who value liberty over entitlements have chosen to make a stand. Of course I will throw in my lot with them; how could I not?

  7. James: One of the 1000+ movers here, sorry for posting 2 weeks late but I just saw this. I am interested in hearing your reasons for doubting the FSP idea at all, but on the NH-specific points, I have some comments.

    1. FSPers in the legislature didn’t have many bills pass before the Republican session elected in 2010, which will not appear in Sorens’ index until 2015 (assuming my calculations are correct, Jason). Democrats increased many taxes in the period the 2013 study covers. The NH Republican Party has a strong libertarian-leaning contingent and undid many of these increases. These ups and downs are to be expected in a swing state. If NH doesn’t move up again in 2015, I will be really surprised, since there was a record 11% actual budget CUT.

    2. Soren’s index has AK and DE much lower than NH on economic freedom, which points out the different methodologies he commented on. SD is the only state ahead of NH, as of 2009. So is NH the 2nd or 4th best on economic freedom of the 12 states with fewer than 1.6 million people, that’s really the dispute here. I wonder if the other index is covering a different time period. Also, since the project is not yet complete, how does that make NH a bad choice? Canadian provinces and larger states would not work for the FSP so they are irrelevant, though we could quibble about the population cut off. Raising it to 2 million only adds NE and WV. NE is also ahead of NH on the referenced economic freedom index, but only 21 on Sorens’ study. And you’re minimizing the importance of the personal freedom index that only Sorens and Ruger measure, as far as I know.

    3. It’s not YET the best for business, but what if we already had 20,000 movers? It is likely to come up in the legislature to lower the business profits tax below Massachusetts’, and I think even many Democrats could be persuaded to consider that to preserve the “New Hampshire Advantage” (though they’re likely to try to raise other taxes, if the thin-majority Republican Senate allows it).

    4. Since you’re talking about the state capital, it’s hardly relevant to a comparison with non-capitals, as they tend to concentrate the people who are the most interested in controlling others and don’t reflect the state as a whole. Yes, some cities in NH tend to be fairly authoritarian, though that’s certainly not limited to this state. I’d have to see how the large cities in the other mentioned states compare before I would consider your example to be more than just anecdotal. Anyway, even if Concord wasn’t the capital, this surveillance at the city level is not relevant to a discussion of states to be chosen for a statewide project, except that it might indicate we need more people to move to Concord to reverse this action. This project could easily succeed in reducing the role of the state government without having a single representative from Concord, or any of the other truly authoritarian cities be on our side.

    About NH, since it’s been almost 10 years since the state was selected in 2003, it seems to me that second-guessing the state choice is not really helpful. People who don’t like NH can do their own project, and there is one in WY, but having 50, 10 or even 5 different projects would lower the chances of having an FSP succeed.

    About doubting the project of FSP no matter where it went, I think the only major problem is how quickly federal and UN tyranny are advancing, but that doesn’t mean the FSP movement won’t have a positive long-term effect for liberty even if federal action delays it for a few years. I do wish it had started 10 years earlier, but I’m glad Jason Sorens came up with it when he did rather than not having it at all. Perhaps this and other libertarian advances are forcing the statists to ramp up their federal domination sooner than they had planned and will make its failure more likely. It’s certainly better to do this than to throw up our hands and say it’s too late.

  8. Even assuming their methodology is accurate, the numbers on the EFNA study show relatively small differences, for instance there are 8 states that all round to 7.0 including AK and NH, with SD only 0.1 point better, WY 0.2 and DE 0.5 higher – I notice the entire group of 60 subnational governments tend to be fairly close so it wouldn’t support your implication that this indicates NH was a bad choice. Even if Soren’s economic freedom ranking is way off, after combining his personal freedom index with the EFNA economic freedom ranking, I think NH would still be 2nd overall, with only AK staying above it (of the 12 smallest states, I didn’t try to keep track of all 50 states in my head). However, given that he measured on a scale centered at 0, and they measured from 0 to 10 I’m not sure how you would combine them.

    Sorens was looking at political structure and specific government policies so it’s hard to know how to compare these two studies. Also, may I shudder when I read someone saying they used “econometric” data, given what that term usually goes with, meaning Keynesian mathematical abstract models in place of real theory?

  9. What kind of economic growth are you expecting when the only manifestation of your “free state” project is a gang of screeching whiners who try their best to provoke the police into looking bad on camera, and scare away business from downtown Keene? This is simply a George Soros-type program to destroy local governments with antics like “Pussy Riot” to aid the takeover by the banksters and DHS. Destroy our country from within, and call it “freedumb”. Are you friends with Jed Sunden?

    1. @Gordon:

      1) Keene police don’t need to be provoked to look bad, on or off camera.
      2) “…scare away business from downtown Keene…”? That said a mouthful about you, not Keene. If Keene businesses even could be adversely affected by that (hint: they aren’t/weren’t, but let’s play poop-stupid anyway and pretend they were) — what would that say about Keene in general?
      3) Conflating Soros-type programs, “Pussy Riot” and Jed Sunden (of all people) with FSP? Square peg in a round hole much?

      Come on, is that the best you’ve got?

  10. The Free State Project movers are not limited to those in Keene, and even in Keene there are other styles and methods of freedom activism than that. Perhaps the judgment about the success and by some people, the dangers of the FSP are based on misunderstanding the nature of a decentralized voluntary grassroots effort. We have over 1300 people who have moved to NH. There are probably less than 50-100 people confronting police corruption directly in Keene (not that I keep up to date with what’s going on there although I have met a number of the Free Keene people and consider them to be nice and good people) so don’t conflate the two things. And no, our project has nothing to do with George Soros, who advocates for government control of many aspects of people’s lives, the opposite of our libertarian ethics.

    To give you an idea of the success of the FSP, I was just at the final dinner of the Liberty Forum where about 250-300 people were present to hear a speaker, Tom Woods. The FSP president also announced a plan to raise nearly $300k in donations to help pay for her push to get the number of signers up to 20k by the end of 2014, triggering the move for all 20,000 movers within 5 years. She asked everyone to donate $1000, and within a few minutes had raised $50k. We’re going to have thousands more people move to NH by 2019, peaceful people who just want the government to leave you alone and therefore ought to be your best friends, not political enemies, and most of them will not have their focus on confronting police over court rules etc though it is a worthy cause in my view. Anyway, that’s why I’m sure you’re wrong, as one of the people who has moved for the FSP I have never engaged in that sort of thing and I can’t see myself ever doing it.

    Our economic growth will come not only from keeping the statists from throwing away the tax advantages of NH over its neighbors. We also have an enormous amount of free-market businesses, agorism, which anyone would know who ever once attended our other annual event, Porcfest, where buying and selling is a big part of the event. Anyway, your so-called “whiners” are just pointing out a FACT that most people seem to want to ignore: when the police enforce laws against victimless “crimes”, it is the police, not the prisoners, who have violated the rights and freedoms of others. It is the police using violence to solve problems, the most uncivilized way to do this, and not the people they arrest in these incidents. Basically, I agree that the police doing this are wrong, even if I won’t join in this form of protest for personal reasons, such as wanting to keep my job and not go to jail.

  11. Correction: I should have said we have over 1100 movers already (I got it confused with the figure of nearly 14,000 people who have signed up to move including the 1100 who have moved).

    1. This piece just mimics what others have said before and it is still a bogus charge. Sorens is no tool of the Kochs. And be careful before charging that this person knows more about NH than Sorens or any of the rest of us.

  12. One more NH based perspective on The Free State Project, to keep in mind:

    “The town of Grafton has become ground zero in the fight between longtime residents and newly arrived Free Staters on a mission to slash budgets and dismantle government.

    In a letter to the editor of the Valley News, Graftonite Angus Gorman says if Free Staters “would simply observe their surroundings instead of storming into town determined to ‘free’ us, they would see that Grafton was much freer before it had a porcupine on its back:”

    Free Staters are not bad, violent or evil people, but what they do to pass their time (and waste the time of the townsfolk in the process) is entirely unacceptable.

    Please keep an eye out for their sneaky footprints on the ballot: Certain warrant articles reek of ignorance and irresponsibility.

    If they would simply observe their surroundings instead of storming into town determined to “free” us, they would see that Grafton was much freer before it had a porcupine on its back.

    They need a new hobby — one that, ironically, would not infringe on the liberty of others. The Free State Project’s political agenda is one of the most obnoxious and disrespectful things I have ever seen in my life.”

    1. Pamela, now you have me curious. What are they doing, specifically, that infringes on the liberty of others? What liberties?

  13. Actually, there is quite a bit of recent, practical information in Susan’s blog, aside from the Koch part. The FSP story continues. We are watching it unfold every day.

    As far as how much Mr. Sorens and others at this site know about New Hampshire, I can’t say. I do know that Mr. Sorens is just an occasional visitor, and of course a studier of NH.

    From what I’ve seen as a 30 year New Hampshire resident, Susan’s words ring true. Libertarians involved in NH life, or watching the NH experiment from afar, don’t know as much as they think they do. It’s all mostly theoretical, – and seems to have no heart to it. That doesn’t’ sit well, with people who love this state.

  14. Mr. Douglas – An example: I’m concerned about my freedom, and the freedom of my parents, and kids – to be able drive down a back road in New Hampshire in the evening and trust that some drunk won’t run me off the road.

    This requires things like speed limits, reasonable closing hours for bars and restaurants in the area, even sobriety checkpoints on holidays.

    Free Staters would remove all of those safety measures, in order to protect their freedom. It’s only about them.

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