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
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 “trickle-down” model of social change widely adopted by libertarian organizations. The idea, following Hayek’s essay, “Socialism and the Intellectuals,” is that creating new academic research showing the benefits of liberty will filter down through journalists and other “secondhand dealers in ideas” to the general public, eventually resulting in a freer society. But academic economics has long leaned free-market, and journalists don’t seem to understand the key insights of that discipline. If anything, the general public’s views are worsening in key respects. People under 30 are more likely to favor socialism than capitalism. The enterprise of educating the public via secondhand dealers in ideas seems doomed on a national scale, but it could work on a small scale.
Eric Crampton says libertarians should move to New Zealand. If only we were all lucky enough to have employers willing to sponsor our emigration there! They won’t just let you move without a job, after all. In my view, New Zealand and Switzerland are the only places in the world with a long-term better prospect for liberty than the United States, and I understand why some libertarians might move to those places. But they aren’t realistic options for most of us.
I fully agree with Eric that libertarians need to put their money (and bodies) where their mouths are. If they view liberty as important, either as a means to the ends that one enjoys personally or as a moral imperative for society, then it should be valuable enough to move for. Is enjoying significantly greater liberty worth a smaller car, a smaller house, a less fancy phone, slightly slower Internet, no cable TV, Chinese rather than Swedish or American furniture, making dinners at home rather than going out, or all of the above? If you think that gross injustice exists, don’t you have a duty to do something that plausibly could stop it? American society falls far short in protecting the rights and dignity of all its members. We have a real opportunity to change that situation in one place, and we are changing it.
Many other libertarians may not have my family’s personal reasons for moving, and for some it may be a true act of sacrifice for the sake of pursuing a more just society. For a (very) few, there may be better ways of promoting liberty than participating in the FSP. But over the long term, we will enjoy deep friendships, countless comrades in liberty, and having our daughter grow up in a place and in a manner of which she can be proud. Many others could expect to see the same benefits over a lifetime in the Free State. You don’t have to literally accept the state motto — “Live free or die” — to see the basic truth it expresses and to act on it.