Free State Object


Interesting reporting on the Free State Project, the bid to get a bunch of freedom-loving folk to move to one state to make it happen. An aide to the governor of Idaho declared that state residents do not want to live "under the threat of drunk drivers, drug addicts, or criminals." Wow, no kidding. How about wife beaters and child molesters?

And note to the editors working this story, make sure you get the "Libertarian" and "libertarian" thing straight.


NEXT: Too Much Faith in Democracy

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  1. Joe offers that the Free Stater project might demonstrate that “libertarians can govern, not just talk about how others govern.”

    Last time I checked, there were over 500 Libertarians in elective or appointed government across the country, so on the local level, at least (and occasionally, over the past couple of decades, in the state houses) ordinary people are able to see that libertarians can indeed “govern.” It’s been a while since I looked: check with to get whatever the actual number is today. The important thing to note is that a great many of today’s libertarian officeholders were RE-elected to their respective offices, or elected to a new office after having earned public approval in other offices. More than a few have survived ideologically motivated recalls or contentious elections where their libertarianism itself (e.g., the platform of the Libertarian party) was at issue. Especially since the 1990s, we have seen a lot of demonstration that libertarians can function well in the real world and earn voter loyalty. Unfortunately, the demonstration, while real and valid, is diffuse from a nationwide point of view. The Free State Project, if successful, will show the value of concentrated effort and action in a single region.

    There are openly Libertarian city council members, county supervisors, regional commissioners, school board members, judges, state commissioners, and many other types of officeholders. Such offices, while not blessed with the high-profile and glamour that many political wonks would prefer, are significant nevertheless. When I first started paying attention to the Libertarian officeholder tally, in the early 1990s, there were only a couple of hundred part members in office: the number has more than doubled in the last ten years, although it is obviously still dwarfed by the huge crowd of GOP and Demo office holders. If my money had earned the same “rate of return” in a mutual fund over the same period, I would be quite pleased!

    As the current crop of Libertarians is re-elected to office, and more join them after subsequent elections, it will be possible for more Libertarians to go, more routinely, to state houses and state senates, to the House and Senate in Washington, and even to the governor’s mansion (something Libertarian Ed Thompson got closer to in Wisconsin last year than anyone ever thought he could, for example, even without a “support group” of currently elected libertarians in his state!). The rate of progress has been steady, if frustratingly modest. I think the Free Staters are tired of slow progress and want to see some ignition. More power to them if they can succeed with their strategy. Even if they are successful, however, from the point of view of libertarian efforts elsewhere, they can only serve as inspiration — perhaps, by their example, helping voters in other regions see that Libertarians can make a positive difference, and that a vote for a Libertarian need not be “wasted.” That being said, the “quick-ignition” strategy of the Free Staters complements — perhaps even synergizes with — the “slow burn” approach that the LP has followed so far. If the Free Staters make a dent in Idaho, we will still need a pool of qualified candidates in Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Indiana, California, Florida, etc., to make a go of Libertarian success across the country. Every local office won is therefore important to establishing that critical mass infrastructure, which will be doubly true if the Free Staters DON’T succeed, because the more Libertarians who win low-profile local and regional office, the quicker the critical mass will be achieved that can cause ignition even without the Free Staters’ concentrated effort.

    Libertarians may someday get lucky with a high-profile win ahead of schedule, and such a victory will indeed be sweet. But if we depend on that kind of thing, to the exclusion of building the party with strong grass roots and establishing the necessary national infrastructure of elected libertarians, I don’t think we’ll manage any better than the Reform Party or any other short-attention-span, immediate-gratification movement. I say this as someone who has been a Libertarian for the long haul since the early 1980s. I’ve seen sustainable growth and progress for 23 years, although I, too, have had my share of disappointments when glamorous breakthroughs that we could practically taste (and for which, many burned themselves out) did not occur. I have hung in there because the Libertarians are right: the passage of decades has only made clearer how bankrupt the two-faced monoparty is, and how toxic its electoral dominance is to the American body politic. My only fear is that, when the Libertarians finally get the wheel of our out-of-control ship of state, it will be because the power-drunken captains of the Demos and GOP will have abandoned it, jumping overboard before the ship reaches the rocks (or the falls), and leaving any poor sap who tries in vain to correct the course to deal with (and take the blame for) the inevitable shipwreck. In that sense, I welcome the Free Staters’ efforts to hasten Libertarian victory at the polls. In the worst scenario, we’ll at least need a lifeboat. To where will we row when the Volcano blow? Perhaps, as Jimmy Buffet sings, it is time “to tie up de boat in I-de-ho.”

  2. Oops. Misquoted Mr. Buffet (and me a fan and former radio DJ! Shame! Shame!). “Day After Day (It’s Slipping Away),” in which we “better get ready to tie up the boat…” was actually from another group a few years earlier (Shango, I think, circa late 60s, anybody?).

    Oh well. It was still great tune, albeit about earthquakes and not volcanic explosions. Either cataclysm is an apt metaphor for what seems to be down the road for us if we don’t start getting it right, don’t you think?

  3. I had forgotten the Libertarian local officials, sad to say. Still bottom line: LIBERTARIANS DON’T GOVERN ANYWHERE. Having a Mayor or a Council person is NOT running the town. It’s easy to vote for ole Larry the Libertarian, because his vote doesn’t really count… the police are still going to be there, the hookers will still be illegal, the dope smokers still under threat of condign punishment.
    So, the next hurdle is to run something… well. I think as a third party the LP does OK, it’s a steady performer and has the right idea, local elections over prominent national elections, a la Perot and Buchanan.
    But right now the reality is, the LP or Libertarians have no power. It is at the point of acquiring REAL power that I think the fun of observing truly begins, because the reality is Libertarians are a MINORITY and so must appeal to cross-over votes. So the question will become how much of Libertarian ideology will Libertarians sacrifice to achieve power thru cross-over votes? Will the LP give up on dope legalization to appeal to Republicans or will it sacrifice on smaller government to attract Democrats? That is what I think it will be interesting to watch.

  4. Joe says that local libertarians don’t govern. One might ask how much state and national elected representatives “govern,” in the sense of one person actually acting in such a way as to make a difference (good or bad) in people’s lives. It would seem to me that the local city councilman or zoning official, the county supervisor, or the DA or sheriff (all of which have been libertarians, depending on locality), do manage to “govern,” at least in ways that might qualify them as serious and popular candidates for higher office in their next electoral go-round.

    But I get Joe’s point. We think, political mavens think, and the media think that the “real” governing takes place — the real power is wielded — in relatively high office. This is certainly the way that things have evolved under the two-party confidence game, I must agree. Joe then asks how much of the libertarian ideology must be compromised in order for libertarians to get their hands on those levers of “true power.” Here’s certainly the paradox, because libertarians are all about reducing the power of the government and leaving it (and the corresponding freedoms and responsibilities) in the hands of the people, or at least units of government much closer to the people. So the question Joe is really asking is, how much power will Libertarians allow government to keep, in order to become the custodians of that reduced power — more the guardians against its abuse than the wielders of whatever is left? I phrase it that way because, if Libertarians have to allow the huge size and power of present-day government in order to become officials within the government, then the battle is well and truly lost, and libertarians might as well melt into the two “power parties,” or get out of politics altogether, because they’ll never get enough of what they want to make the fight worthwhile.

    That’s another reason why the Free State movement is important. It’s not just enough to get concentrated, critical mass for electoral victory. A big chunk of the population must truly understand and WANT the liberty and smaller government that elected libertarians would bring. They have to demand, and be willing to face the consequences of, the libertarian approach, with eyes wide open. A greater concentration of libertarians in the population may help ensure that a state is ready to deal with, and benefit from, a major shift in the libertarian direction.

    On the other hand, that is also why incremental, local victories are important. When Larry the Libertarian wins as mayor in a large Denver suburb, for instance, he can take every opportunity to say, “here I am, using libertarian principles to govern, and looky here: the results are at least as good as you’d get otherwise and often better … even the big changes are better.” If he can make that case well and often enough, more people will be able to justify voting for libertarian candidates in Larry’s town, and the press he gets for succeeding as a libertarian can help convince voters in nearby areas (maybe even Denver itsself) that maybe Larry ought to go to the statehouse where he can apply his approach to bigger problems, and so forth.

    Eventually, I think, those who take the “concentrated effort” approach and those who take the “bottom-up, grass-roots” approach will meet to find success in the middle, at a key point of critical mass and electorate preparation. I had hoped that we would have reached that point sooner, but I am encouraged to see continual progress being made, with no long-term, worrisome obstacles or setbacks so far. As hard as it is for some to believe, real progress has been made in the couple of decades I’ve been watching. It is important, however, for those who are right now “holding the libertarian fort” across the country to know that they are not alone, so that they see the party’s effort as being one of connecting one outpost to the next and filling in the gaps between them, until a strong, nationwide fabric results. Too many activists despair and burn out as they perceive LP effort to be lighting candles here and there, blowing on a few of them at random until they burn down to nothing, while letting the others flicker out entirely. To combat that in a small way, I have taken to writing appreciative notes to activists around the country, whose efforts I learn about via email, the LP website, CSPAN, or such wonderful services as the Advocates for Self-Government’s “Libertarian Clips” press-clipping notification emails. I highly recommend that any fellow libertarian with a few spare moments spend some effort to find a libertarian in a different area or state, to whom he or she can send some sincere “fan mail.” Let ’em know that you understand what they’re doing, that you appreciate it, and that you’re out there in your own neck of the woods, toiling in the libertarian vineyards and being encouraged by their example.

  5. There was a segment on Free State on last week’s This American Life as well that’s worth listening to… You can listen here.

  6. Perhaps they meant “librarian.”

  7. Maybe he could sell autographed copies on ebay to pay for his legal expenses.

  8. Please ask all those free staters to move out here to Eugene.

  9. I can hardly wait for this “Libertarian Voortrek” to occur, mostly from an observing the train wreck angle. It’s going to be fun watching the leadership and then the movement itself fragment along the lines of the “realists” versus the “purists.” It will be interesting watching the interaction of the Libertarian agenda with the electorate and the rough and tumble of politics.
    That having been said, this will be good for Libertarians, if it happens. It will be a chance to show that Libertarians can GOVERN, not just TALK ABOUT HOW OTHERS GOVERN. It will provide a track record for Libertarians, and demonstrate, mayhap, that a Libertarian vote is not a wasted vote. More than likely the “trek” will not happen or if it does happen it will end up like some many other Millennial/Utopian Communities in US History, New Bedford Indiana, or the Shakers, but it will prove interesting.

  10. “Please ask all those free staters to move out here to Eugene.”

    I would go for Oregon. A little larger population wise then fits the criteria, but we could gain a lot of converts from the state itself.

  11. Now, if only those of us who favor the Libertarian approach to personal liberties, but still enjoy and want several things from government (like the government money that’s paying for my university tuition) could do something similar.


  12. Robert: Didn’t they already do that? Isn’t it called Vermont?

  13. Rober: That is MY money you are using, not the Govts. Would appreciate a thank you.

  14. “They will try to slash taxes for everything except public safety and defense.”

    Isn’t nearly every new tax or increase in tax given its justification as a public safety measure?

  15. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/26/2004 03:49:17
    Often the test of courage is not to die, but to live.

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