The Free State Project is a plan within an element of the Libertarian political movement to relocate a sufficient number of like-minded people to one state in the United States in order dominate the electoral politics of that state, and enact reforms that would lead to a governmental system consistent with their vision. It is then believed that this state could effect national politics and policies, both by serving as an example, and by challenging the federal government’s hegemony and policies whenever possible. The need for such a plan arises, in the opinion of those organizing it, because progress cannot be made through more traditional electoral avenues in the existing American political system.

The Free State Project is the brainchild of a graduate student in political science, and much thought has obviously gone into the planning. Currently, those who wish to join it can pledge their support via the web site, and when 5000 signatures are reached, a vote will be held on which state to relocate to, and pledges will then be called on to follow through on their promise and make the move.

The organizers of the project have somewhat randomly settled on 20,000 as the number of people who can be recruited to move, and through a numerical analysis they have carried out, have decided that they must settle in a state with a population of less than 1.2 million. This means a state with at most around 300,000 voters in any given statewide election, so it seems at least possible that 20,000 voters could significantly alter the political makeup of the state. Thus the states under consideration are Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, Delaware, South Dakota, Idaho, Montana, Hawaii, Maine, and New Hampshire.

A thorough study has been conducted in an attempt to determine which state would be best. Obviously, the smaller the existing population the better, which would favor Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and Delaware, but there are many other factors. The project considers that states with a population already more inclined toward right-Libertarian politics (what they call ‘Liberty’) would be better, and they quantify this, somewhat erroneously in my opinion, by totaling the percentage of the vote received by the Republican, Libertarian, and Constitutional political party candidates in the 2000 presidential election. In this regard Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska rise to the top. They also would prefer a state with a lower percentage of government employees, low taxes, and a state with an already robust economy. This seems to favor Delaware, Vermont, and New Hampshire. They also believe that coastal access would put them in a position to circumvent federal trade regulations and import and export taxes, so this would qualify New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii.

The organizers have all but eliminated Hawaii and Vermont from consideration because they feel, correctly in my opinion, that the existing population of these states would be most hostile to their political intentions. In an informal poll of the current members of the project, New Hampshire is the far and away favorite.

The Free State Project adamantly refuses to ally itself with racist groups, or groups that advocate physical violence against the government or its employees or agents. They also shy away from extreme rhetoric and name calling, which is often a staple of right-libertarian dialogue. The logo of the project is a porcupine, because ‘It is gentle, but you still can’t step on it.’

It is significant that a portion of such a relatively moderate political movement as mainstream Libertarianism now feels that there is no hope of progress through traditional federal electoral politics. This is certainly a testament to the narrow and stunted political landscape in the United States.

the following is my personal opinion on The Free State Project and its prospects for success:

• Even if 20,000 people could be recruited to move to a state, in order to be successful they would have to be sure to spread the incomers all around the state into most of the legislative districts for success. People could not concentrate, as incomers naturally would, in the regions with the best economies or best scenery or whatever. This would require at least some kind of central planning and direction, which is inimical to the attitude of most of the people who would be into picking up and moving somewhere for this cause.

• To enact the sweeping reforms they desire within a single state, it requires that their political party or alliance would need to gain and maintain control of both houses of the state legislature and the governorship, which would take several election cycles, and therefore something like a decade or more. Only then could they begin chipping away at the national political landscape. This is obviously a very long term project, and I’m not confident that the 5000 people who have pledged their move realize that they have literally pledged their lives.

• Assuming they could gain control of the state legislature and governorship, once faced with the power to determine actual policy, the bizarre motley coalition that is right-libertarianism – gun-loving hunters, poindexterish economics professors, home schooling Christian fundamentalists, and alternative-lifestyle drug utopians - would immediately break down. I can only imagine the fight that would ensue in the legislature when a gay marriage, abortion rights, or prayer in the schools bill came before it.

• Personally, I oppose gun control. However, if this state unilaterally loosened its gun laws, a lot of crazy, psychotic people are going to want to move there, and given the small population, this state will have a very high rate of violent crime. It will look terrible on the national stage.

• Right-Libertarianism is a recipe for social and economic disaster. How can you seek to reduce one source of coercion and control, the government, while leaving another, more powerful one, corporations, firmly in place? This state would be a national basket case.

Although it seems likely to me that the Free State Project will fail in its ultimate goal of gaining control of the polity of one state, or of having that state be a model to be emulated, any national publicity or dialogue resulting from such a brazen attempt would be a success of sorts for all of us. Many Americans would be awakened for the first time in a generation to a world of thought and possibility outside the prevailing narrow ideological confines of ‘soccer mom’ ‘centrism.’

Maybe the mere existence of such a bold project would be part of the impetus for renewed national conversation about justice, priorities, and ideals. Perhaps an analogous project could emerge from left-libertarianism, and we could see an attempt to create a state where both major forms of coercion, government and corporations, are kept in a more proper balance with human and environmental needs.

UPDATE: December 2003

The participants of the Free State Project have officially voted for New Hampshire as the location for their experiment. The project was profiled in the New York Times recently in a largely dismissive way. The New Hampshire Republican party is said to be somewhat concerned.

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