This is a very interesting project, a little utopia for the 21st century:
- The Free State Project is a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty-oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S. to secure there a free society. We will accomplish this by first reforming state law, opting out of federal mandates, and finally negotiating directly with the federal government for appropriate political autonomy. We will be a community of freedom-loving individuals and families, and create a shining example of liberty for the rest of the nation and the world.
The Free State Project is a new strategy for liberty in our lifetime.
We don’t want to wait decades for most citizens in the U.S. to realize that the nanny state is an insult to their dignity. For those of us who already understand the debilitating effects of a government bent on reducing liberty rather than increasing it, the Free State Project aims at liberty in a single state.
What do we mean by liberty? We believe that being free and independent is a great way to live, and that government’s only role should be to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud. To quote author L. Neil Smith, we believe that “no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation.”
What can be done in a single state? A great deal. We will repeal state taxes and wasteful state government programs. We will end the collaboration between state and federal law enforcement officials in enforcing unconstitutional laws. We will repeal laws regulating drugs and guns. We will end asset forfeiture and abuses of eminent domain. We will privatize utilities and end inefficient regulations and monopolies. Then we will negotiate directly with the federal government for more autonomy.
The state where we will move will be decided once membership has reached 5,000. We are doing extensive research on all the candidate states. The vote will be conducted according to the method of Cumulative Count, which more closely approximates the ideal of individual choice than simple majority rule.
Before joining, please be sure also to check out our FAQs section, which contains more detailed information about the Free State Project, including answers to common questions like, “What can 20000 activists do in one state?,” “What is cumulative count?,” and “Do you think the federal government will oppose your efforts?,” along with many others.
Consider getting on the FSP Announcement List
Join the Free State Project and take part in a rapidly growing movement aimed at securing liberty in our lifetime.
We don’t want your money, just your signature – and when the time comes, your willingness to carry through on your word of honor.
If you would like to participate in this exciting new venture, please carefully read our Participation Guidelines and sign the Statement of Intent. To view these documents and to join, click here.
A land where libertarianism bumps up against anarchism. I have a few thoughts: why stay in the US at all? Why retain that safety blanket if what you really want is no government at all? Wouldn’t it be much easier to find a spot outside the US where your goals could be immediately attained without having to negotiate with the federal government or deal with the “indiginous” population of the target state?
Here are the thoughts of stragegist Jan Helfeld:
- The Free State Strategy
The Free State Project (FSP) proposes to identify the easiest state in the union to free, and then relocate 20,000 people to implement the liberation. The people interested in moving will sign up with FSP and vote on the state selected to be freed. There are 10 candidate states: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Idaho. Presently, more than 1,300 people have signed up. In order to reach the 20,000 mark, less than 1% of the people who voted for Libertarian candidates in the 2000 elections would have to sign up.
The Feasibility of the Free State Strategy
If we try to liberate the whole nation at once we could quadruple our efforts and still fail. However, if we concentrate our efforts on one state with a low population, we already have enough people and money to liberate it.
Do the math. In the last presidential election 328,000 people voted in the Delaware State elections. Probably 182,000 votes would be enough to win any office. If 6 percent of the 3,278,607 people that voted for libertarian candidates nationwide in the 2000 elections moved to Delaware, they would have more than enough votes to elect a libertarian Senator and Governor.
On the basis of my experience with other libertarians, it is reasonable to assume that one out of twenty would be willing to move. Thus, the free state strategy is feasible. However, if in your view only one out of 160 (that’s 20,000) libertarians would be willing to move, the free state strategy can still work.
If 20,000 libertarian activists moved to Delaware, they would already have between 11 and 17 percent of the necessary votes in a three-way race. Twenty thousand libertarian activists should be able to persuade the remaining necessary voters to vote for a libertarian candidate. If that’s not doable, then none of the libertarian races are, anywhere in the country. In any event, libertarians would certainly achieve some political power.
As far as money is concerned, if libertarians focus their spending, they would be competitive in many sparsely populated states. In Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota the total campaign spending by all US House & Senate candidates in the most expensive election of the last 6 years was around 4.5 million for each state – that’s for Democrats and Republicans combined. Libertarians spent about 5 million dollars in the 2000 presidential election (the LP spent 3.6 million and the Browne campaign spent 1.5 million). Thus, we would have reasonable parity in campaign spending if we focused on one state.
Because the free state strategy would mobilize so many libertarian activists, it would give the Libertarians a great advantage over the Republicans or the Democrats, both of whom would have far fewer than the 20,000 activists we plan to relocate to a vulnerable state. This advantage would permit Libertarians to register large numbers of new voters to vote Libertarian, a factor that could easily make the difference and lead to a Libertarian victory. Not all of our 20,000 will be activists in the Libertarian Party at first, but they will be strong activists for freedom, and the Libertarian Party should benefit most of all parties.
Finally, if we look at history, it is not unreasonable to assume that people are willing to relocate in search of liberty. In fact, our nation was founded by such people. They, and others since them, have been willing to cross oceans in search of liberty. Thus, it is entirely feasible that a small percentage of libertarians would be willing to cross a few state lines.
The Political Benefits of a Free State
How much political power would we achieve if we freed one state? We would gain two US Senators, one or two Congressmen, a state Governor and hundreds of local political positions. This is a thousand times as much political power as libertarians have today. We could have all of that without expending any more political effort than we are today. This political power would be used to free the citizens of that state and begin the process of freeing all US citizens.
In the words of the website, “What can be done in a single state? We could end state redistribution of wealth, repealing state taxes and wasteful government programs. We could privatize education and utilities. We could repeal laws regulating guns, drugs and other victimless crimes. We could abolish asset forfeiture, abuses of eminent domain, inefficient regulations and state monopolies.”
What can one free state do for other states in the union? Quite a bit. Given the nature of the US Senate two senators can do a lot of obstruction in the name of freedom. Also, given the delicate political balance between the Democrats and Republicans, two libertarian Senators could have the balance of power on many issues. At a minimum, they could stop the growing encroachment on our freedoms, if not rollback some of the oppression.
How would the national media’s agenda be affected by freeing one state? No longer would our position be ignored. Our Senators and Congressmen could keep freedom on the national agenda constantly. They could engage their fellow Congressmen and Senators in discussions and debates and persuade some of them to abandon their statist ways.
Two active libertarian Senators could get themselves on national television regularly and have the opportunity to defend freedom in front of the whole nation. They would provide the nation with a perspective that so far has received inadequate attention. All we need to prevail on all the important issues is sufficient public debate. Two able libertarian Senators could create this public debate and win over the nation.
The free state strategy will permit us to break the vicious cycle we are in today. We can’t get elected because the media does not cover us, and the media does not cover us because we don’t get elected. By getting elected to important political positions, the media will have to cover us. When the media covers us, we will be able to persuade more people to vote for us throughout the nation and thus, break the vicious cycle.
A free state would serve as a model of the benefits of freedom for the whole country and the world. The peace and prosperity within the free state would be a concrete example of the benefits of freedom, serving as a powerful argument for the liberation of other states. Those wanting immediate freedom could vote with their feet by moving to the free state. They would be great contributors to the free state and would put pressure on other states to reform.
If you doubt this, just ask yourself why it was that the United States was originally so successful? Why did we becomes so prosperous, why did so many people come here, and why were they successful? There’s only one answer: freedom. Human beings can live better lives when their individual rights (life, liberty and property) are protected, i.e., when they have the right to decide freely how to live their own lives as long as they don’t violate other people’s rights.
The political organization of the United States, founded on and illuminated by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, protected the individual rights of the citizens here, more than in any other place in the world heretofore. As a result, people came here from all over the world and prospered. That was the secret of our success. People here had a better chance of a happy satisfied life than in any other place in the world. To the extent that we return to the principles of our original model of social organization, we will have the same results again. We can get closer to this model in a free state.
Why the Free State Strategy Is the Best Libertarian Strategy
Is there any other strategy that will produce more freedom with the same amount of time, effort and money invested? I think not. If we spread ourselves thin throughout our nation we will liberate fewer people, and to a lesser degree, than if we concentrate all our efforts on one state where it is easy to win. The reason for this is simple: if you invest a given amount of time, effort and money in the free state strategy, it will produce more political power than if the same amount of these resources is invested in a nationwide strategy. The free state strategy is clearly a more efficient use of our resources than the nationwide strategy. Simply put, the free state strategy gives us more bang for the buck.
For instance, in California’s 2000 elections, Senator Diane Feinstein got 5,313,355 votes to win, whereas Delaware Senator Thomas Harper only needed 181,387 votes to win. Libertarians need 29 times more votes to elect a Senator in California than they need to elect a Senator in Delaware. Therefore, it is approximately 29 times harder to elect a California Senator than it is to elect a Delaware Senator.
I said “approximately” because there are other factors besides total vote count that affect the relative difficulty of getting 5,313,355 votes as compared to getting 181,000. For instance, it is true that it is easier to get more votes when the pool from which you’re drawing is larger. However, you should not overestimate the value of drawing from a larger pool. Consider the case of Harry Browne who drew from the largest pool available – the entire nation (104,000,000 voters). His vote total (376,123) was still about 14 times too small to beat California’s Senator, Diane Feinstein. The point is that persuading five million people to vote libertarian is an enormous task no matter how you slice it. It is much easier to persuade 181,000.
Something libertarians should ponder is that sometimes a task’s difficulty increases exponentially as the task increases in magnitude. Consider the difference between walking one mile and 29. Most people can’t walk 29 miles straight no matter how many times they try, and thus, walking 29 miles is more than 29 times harder than walking one mile. But regardless of your view on the exponential increase in difficulty, if you can get what you want by walking one mile, why would you walk 29? A strategy that is twice as hard is a poor strategy; a strategy that is 29 times harder, or anything in that vicinity, is ridiculous.
The bottom line is, if we can’t elect a Senator in Delaware, why are we trying in California where it is 29 times harder? One reason is that we are overestimating our resources and underestimating the difficulty of winning elections. As a result, we are not tailoring our resources to achievable political objectives. Consequently, we are squandering our limited resources.
Clearly this nationwide strategy is not an efficient strategy. We need instead to work as a team, as a real political party. We need to make a concerted effort to smash the weak link in the chains of tyranny.
For those of you who like historical analogies, consider General George Washington’s dilemma when facing the British troops. Should he meet them in an open field and in open battle, or on the other hand, should he hide until he can concentrate all of the army’s efforts on a weak point where he can win. It is a good thing he made the right decision. We need to do the same. We need the free state strategy.
The free state strategy will free the people that don’t move faster than they can free themselves directly and individually.
If freedom-loving people concentrate their efforts on helping to free one “weak” state, the political power achieved in that state will help them more than the small amount of political power they could gain if the same amount of effort is invested in freeing themselves directly in their own state.
Take a state like Massachusetts. How much time, money and effort have libertarians spent, and how much political power do libertarians have in Massachusetts? The amount is embarrassing. The strategy in Massachusetts has produced virtually no political power for libertarians. If instead the libertarians from Massachusetts had spent their political effort in Delaware, in the 2000 elections they would have produced more than the 182,000 votes needed to elect a Senator in Delaware.
In the 2000 elections, Massachusetts’ Libertarian candidate for Senate, Carla Howell got 308,000 votes. This achievement would have been more than enough to elect a Senator in Delaware, but since the votes were cast in Massachusetts, she lost badly to Kennedy. As a result, libertarians got zero senators and zero political power. If her great campaign had been focused on Delaware and activists from all over the country had relocated in Delaware, and libertarians had supported her instead of their home state candidates, she would be a Senator today.
Does anyone doubt that the libertarians from Massachusetts would have gained more political power by electing a libertarian Senator in Delaware than they gained from their efforts to elect libertarians in Massachusetts?
A libertarian Senator from Delaware provides the libertarians from Massachusetts with more political clout than the present strategy. A libertarian Senator from Delaware will be as committed to defending freedom in Massachusetts as he will be in defending freedom in Delaware. The reason is that he or she is committed to defending the individual rights of all US citizens in principle. He will try to stop tyranny wherever he finds it. Therefore, the libertarians from Massachusetts will be as protected as those from Delaware.
A libertarian Senator is a libertarian Senator. Regardless of the state from where he is elected, he has one vote, and he will vote libertarian. He is not trying to bring home the bacon; he is trying to stop the slaughter of the pigs (taxpayers). Therefore, electing a libertarian Senator in any state helps all libertarians – and all US citizens for that matter.
The Past and Present Libertarian Strategy
My criticisms of the past and present libertarian strategy should not be viewed as disparaging remarks or attacks on the hard-working courageous members of the Libertarian Party and their work to promote freedom. Quite the contrary, it is because I value and respect them that I don’t want their efforts to be wasted. It is because I know that most people don’t have the determination and strength of character to continue working for the cause defeat after defeat. It is because I fear that the flame of freedom could burn out if we don’t have some success soon.
With that said, let’s review the record objectively. Many of you know the record better than I do, but as far as I know the Libertarian Party started in 1976 with a nationwide strategy similar to that of the Democrats and Republicans. Our strategy was to win any and all positions, recruiting as many candidates as possible and running them all over the country. There have been variations in tactics but all within the nationwide strategy. Here are the results as summarized by Jason P. Sorens in his article “The Case for Libertarian Pessimism”:
1976 is the first year in which Libertarian Party votes are tabulated for the whole country. In that year the party received 0.1% of national ballots for the House of Representatives. This increased to 0.7% in 1980 and 1982, fell back, and only reached 0.7% again in 1990. Since 1994 party vote has been rising slowly but steadily, from 0.6% in 1994 to 1.6% in 2000, mostly because of a greater number of candidacies. We have seen some real progress over the last eight years in percentage terms, but in absolute terms the growth is very small. Let’s say we kept pace and increased congressional vote one percentage point every six years from now on: it would be the year 2204 before we reached 35% of the national vote, possibly enough to elect a majority in the House of Representatives in a three-party system. . . It’s clear: a national Libertarian strategy is doomed to fail. No libertarian party will ever win the Presidency or a majority of seats in the U.S. House or U.S. Senate. We have to admit that fact before we can begin to make strategy for the future.
Why has the nationwide strategy failed? Simply because it is not the most efficient use of our resources. The concept that captures this issue is return on investment. It refers to the fact that how you invest your capital, in our case, the time, money and effort of the members, determines what return you will get. If a business repeatedly makes the wrong decision on this question, it will not make profits and will go broke. If our political party repeatedly makes the wrong decision on this question, it will not obtain political power because it will be trounced in election after election and it will lose members.
Why do you think that less than one percent of the people that voted for libertarian candidates in 2000 belong to the Libertarian Party? Could it be that they are disenchanted with the present strategy and past results? Are they disillusioned as a result of so many devastating defeats? Does it make sense to continue a strategy that guarantees more devastating defeats? Do these continued defeats drum into the minds of the voters that libertarians cannot win? What will happen when this idea becomes firmly entrenched in the national consciousness?
We need success above all else. Success breeds success. The free state strategy gives us the best chance for electoral success. We should not continue to use the failed nationwide strategy, election after election. We have tried it for 31 years. Isn’t that enough? Don’t we make fun of the Democrats when they try to reduce poverty with more government spending and then, when they fail, they propose to do even more of the same? We see the structural flaw in their strategy, why can’t we see it in ours?
The Essence of Political Leadership
The fundamental purpose of a political party is to obtain political power to implement, through law, the values of its constituents. In our case, this value is freedom.
The essence of leadership in a political party is to estimate the resources of the party, namely the time, money and effort of the members, and then decide what is the most effective way to employ these resources in order to achieve the greatest amount of political power, in our case, to further freedom. In this regard, it is important not to overestimate the party’s resources or underestimate the difficulty of winning a particular election, because once the election is over, the resources are spent and, in large part, all you have to show for the spent effort is whatever political power you have gained. Thus, if we follow a strategy that overestimates our resources or underestimates the difficulty of elections, we will pay the ultimate price, i.e., squandering our limited resources, regardless of the good intentions of everyone involved.
Given the importance of identifying the optimal strategy, leadership consists in fostering discussion and formal debate on the subject, in order to maximize the opportunity for the best strategy to surface. Once there is a consensus on what strategy embodies the most efficient use of the party’s resources, leadership consists in persuading the rest of the members of the party that you have identified the most effective strategy and then getting them to rally behind that strategy.
The Personal Benefits
Why you should consider moving to the targeted free state
What kind of people do you like to associate with? Do you like to be with people that respect your rights? Are they by and large more rational, productive, joyful, and benevolent people? Do you usually enjoy their company more?
People that respect other people’s rights are more likely to be independent, responsible, fair, friendly and fun loving (my kind of people). The reason is simple: grasping the idea that it is in your own self-interest to respect other people’s rights requires a certain level of intellectual development and maturity. This intellectual development and maturity makes it more likely for these people to have reached other important conclusions about optimal living and the character that it requires. They are more likely to have concluded that they must use reason to understand life and know what to do (rational), that they should produce what they need to live (productive), that they should treat other people as they deserve (fair), that they should assume responsibility for their own conclusions and lives (independent and responsible), that facilitating material and spiritual trade is in their own self-interest (friendly and benevolent), and that they should pursue their own personal happiness (joyful). Consequently, you are more likely to be surrounded by good people if you move to a free state.
How important is it to you to live in a community of people that believe in respecting your individual rights and value freedom? In principle, will you have more economic, intellectual and romantic opportunities in such a society? Obviously yes. People that are rational, productive, independent, friendly, benevolent and joyful have more to offer than their counterparts. Thus, you will have more and better opportunities in such a community.
Will your rights be less likely to be violated in such a society? Clearly, you will be much safer in a society where most people believe in respecting your individual rights. It will be less likely for the government to violate your rights (as a result of the free state reforms) or for individuals to violate your rights (as a result of their intellectual convictions). For all these reasons, and others mentioned previously, you will, other things being equal, have a better chance of pursuing and achieving your own personal happiness in a state targeted for freedom. Therefore, it is in your own self-interest to move.
Do you want to do something great in your life? How much satisfaction would you derive from contributing to the liberation of one state in the union? How much satisfaction would you derive from contributing to the liberation of the United States and the world? The Free State Project has the potential to achieve all of these objectives. First the state, then the United States, and then the world. We can turn things around and be the benefactors of our families, friends and humankind. That’s a pretty big accomplishment. It is heroic.
Are you doing anything else more important? If so, maybe you can join us later. If not, you are absolutely welcome to join us now. Personally, I can think of few things that would be more important for me to achieve in life. Consequently, I am enthusiastic about the project. I hope my enthusiasm is contagious.
I wonder if he thought through the disease analogy. The individual is approaching the Free State concept from a specifically Libertarian (as in political party) standpoint, which will not be the only standpoint of those interested in the Free State project, many of whom will think the Libertarians too organized and hierarchical. I sense an endless reduction here: who can outfree whom amongst those drawn to such a concept.
Fundamentally, my objection to he concept stems from the fact that people aren’t perfect, and the only perfect people could make such a project work. What about those who fall by the economic wayside? What do you do about them, or do you kick out those who can’t support themselves economically? The group’s FAQs answer many questions, but raise others:
- Q. Who is welcome to participate?
A. Anyone who can agree to the clause in the Statement of Intent which says that you should support the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and property. In essence, this includes everyone who wants to cut the size and scope of government by about two-thirds or more. Put in a positive way, most FSP members support policies such as abolition of all income taxes, elimination of regulatory bureaucracies, repeal of most gun control laws, repeal of most drug prohibition laws, complete free trade, decentralization of government, and widescale privatization. People of this disposition may go by many names: “classical liberals” (not the same as modern liberals at all, but followers of Thomas Jefferson and similar thinkers), libertarians, paleoconservatives, constitutionalists, fusionists, etc., etc.
Q. Are non-American citizens welcome?
A. Yes, if they are willing to undertake the move. Even if they cannot vote at first, they can assist the cause in other ways. Furthermore, states in the U.S. have the right (within bounds) to determine who may vote. There is no reason why our state could not give non-citizens the right to vote, if we decided it were in our best interests to do so.
Q. Is there an “age limit” to joining? Are retired people welcome? Are there any “good health” requirements?
A. All are welcome in the FSP. We already have members in a wide range of ages, and encourage those with life experience to join our efforts. We have no health requirements — it’s none of our business, and we appreciate any support we get from liberty-lovers in any stage of life.
Q. What states are you considering, and on what criteria?
A. Obviously population is the critical factor. Our research so far indicates that 20,000 activists could heavily influence only states with under about 1.5 million population, or which spend less than $10 million on political campaigns in any given two-year election cycle. The following states are under consideration: Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, Idaho, and Maine. Other important criteria include: 1) coastal access (to make ourselves less dependent on the American market and by extension American policies); 2) a native culture that’s already pro-liberty; 3) lack of dependence on federal funds (states that lose out on the Union will be more willing to stand up to the federal government and will hurt less from rejecting federal highway funds and other mechanisms of control); 4) a decent job market. By these criteria, some states float to the top. As we have done more in-depth research, we have found that the following four states seem far ahead of the others: Delaware, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Alaska. There is also a middle group of states which may have potential: North and South Dakota, Vermont, Idaho, and possibly Nevada and Montana. The other states so far seem unlikely targets, though there is still some research to be done. See the state data page for detailed information.
Q. I am interested in joining the FSP, but I wouldn’t be willing to move to a place like Wyoming or Alaska. What can I do?
A. Actually, we’ve already implemented a solution for people like you: we have allotted a space on the Statement of Intent for you to list states to which you reserve the right to refuse to move. So you can put down states like Alaska there, and you won’t be obligated to move there, just in case the vote came down in favor of that state. Another point that should be stressed is that there’s absolutely no risk involved in signing up for the FSP. Some people have said they want to wait and see if the Project gets off the ground before they sign. But you don’t need to do this, because if for some reason the Project didn’t get off the ground, your signature would not obligate you to anything: the move will only take place if and when we reach 20,000 signers.
Q. But I know that if you really considered [a state not on the list], you would see it should be a target state. Why won’t you reconsider?
A. We receive many emails with thoughtful suggestions about why different states should be added to our list of candidate states. However, our project is based on well-researched, documented number-crunching (see this essay), and an absolute cut-off for consideration is a state population below 1.5 million. Additional factors have since eliminated other states. Our project has been set in motion, and we intend to continue to follow the business plan.
Q. Why don’t we try “taking over” a city, a county, a group of counties, or a foreign country?
A. Counties do have some substantial powers, but states have even more powers, including control over most sales, income, and property taxes, control of the state police, and full control over statewide legislation. At the same time, it would be more difficult to get a few hundred people to move to a single county than to get a few thousand people to move to a single state. As larger territories, states have more diverse economies & communities than counties. Trying to break off a group of counties to form a new state would not work. The Constitution requires the Congress and state legislature to approve the creation of any new state, and that would not happen. “Taking over” a foreign country would be too difficult & costly. We couldn’t get a lot of people to move there, and then we’d have to get citizenship.
Q. Is the Free State Project considering American commonwealths such as the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa?
A. No. A poll of the membership was taken on this issue, and the “No” side won. In addition, the Participation Guidelines and the Statement of Intent say only that one agrees to move to a “state” of the U.S. To include territories in the vote would require amending the Participation Guidelines, which would mean that everyone who has signed up so far would be released from their obligations. For all these considerations, we have decided not to consider commonwealths.
Q. I love the idea of the FSP, but I only want to live someplace warm — I’d never make it in those cold states. Can’t you make a warmer state an option?
A. If wishes were weather patterns, we’d have a Free State in someplace with weather like Santa Barbara. However, the many factors conducive to success for our project mean we will likely end up in a colder state. This is one of the sacrifices our warm-weather-loving members will have to make. If weather is a deal-breaker for you, however, we still can use your help with raising awareness, recruiting, donations, etc.!
Q. What is the time frame for the Free State Project?
A. The Participation Guidelines state that a signature on the Statement of Intent becomes void, and must be renewed by the signer, if three years pass before we reach 5,000 members and select the state. The Participation Guidelines also state that once we reach 20,000 members, everyone has five years to move to the selected state. The Participation Guidelines do not specify a requisite time period between reaching 5,000 members and reaching 20,000 members. However, the assumption has always been that if 20,000 is not close at hand within five years of the launch of the Free State Project (officially September 1st, 2001), the Project will fold. To get 20,000 signers by September 2006, we will need approximately 15 new signatures per day on average. In the month of September 2002 we averaged 7 new signatures per day, while in August and October we have averaged about 20 signatures per day, compared to 4 per day in February and below 1 per day before then. As we continue to expand our publicity and advertising efforts, a constant average of 15 per day should be well within reach.
Q. Why will this Project succeed where others have failed?
A. First, it has become increasingly clear that pro-limited-government activism at a national level does not work; that realization has begun to sink in among people, and these people are now ready for an alternative like the FSP. Second, we are not asking for your money, just your signature – and eventually, of course, your following through on your word. Third, we offer formal organization and a Statement of Intent. These devices are intended to get people committed to the Project. No more half-hearted suggestions with no follow-through. Fourth, we are choosing the state on the basis of carefully and rationally considered criteria. We’re not just saying: “Everyone come to where we live!” In fact, the leading strategists and researchers of the FSP are all from different states.
Q. Why don’t we make common cause with white separatists?
A. The Free State Project unequivocally condemns racism and all other forms of bigotry. Although we do not support a government ban on racial discrimination by private individuals, and we do not attempt to divine our members’ private thoughts, we will exercise our right as a private organization to expel anyone who undertakes racial agitation.
Q. Why don’t we start shooting government agents?
A. The Free State Project likewise unequivocally condemns violence and fraud, and we will not participate in these or any other illegal activities. Provocateurs are not welcome.
Q. Why does the FSP’s logo have a porcupine?
A. When we started thinking about a logo for the FSP, the first suggestions centered around the Gadsden flag and the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake. Then we thought we wanted something a little more original and PR-friendly, to emphasize the freshness of our approach, while still indicating the same idea. Porcupines are certainly cute and non-aggressive, but you don’t want to step on them! Mary Lou Seymour first suggested the porcupine in our forum, and Joe Littlejohn was the designer of the present logo, which won over various other designs in a vote of visitors to the FSP website.
Q. Why is the FSP a nonprofit tax-exempt corporation, and what are the implications of that status?
A. Nonprofit tax-exempt status helps make us accountable to the public and to our membership, helps us obtain contributions more easily, and lessens some of the burdens of government that would apply to private trusts and unincorporated associations. We are accountable in that we have to file annual informational returns indicating our revenues and expenditures. We would do this anyway, but obtaining nonprofit, tax-exempt status allows to make a public notice to the effect that we expect to bound by the rules governing nonprofits, including the lack of financial profit for Directors. Our 501(c)(3) status will help us obtain contributions more easily, because contributions to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit are tax-deductible. We have two significant in-kind contributions waiting in the wings for our 501(c)(3) status to be confirmed by the IRS. Finally, a corporate structure allows us to file informational returns but to avoid the special excise and income taxes that might otherwise apply to our group or to individuals in the leadership of the FSP. The main drawback of our status is probably the fact that we must scrupulously avoid attempts at influencing elections and legislation. Influencing elections and legislation will be the work of future groups separate from Free State Project, Inc.
Q. Is the FSP a political organization?
A. No, the Free State Project is a nonprofit corporation (tax-exempt status pending), organized for the public benefit and performing educational and charitable functions. We do not endorse candidates or legislation. The goals of the Free State Project as an organization can be accomplished without the election of any candidates or the passage of any legislation: the Free State Project’s purpose is simply to get 20,000 classical liberals and libertarians into a single state of the U.S. What happens next is up to those 20,000.
Q. Is the FSP part of the Libertarian Party?
A. We are not in any way affiliated with the Libertarian Party. However, many FSP members are also LP members, as there is some natural overlap in the goals of both organizations. We also do some recruiting and publicity at LP events for the same reason.
Q. Is the Free State Project some utopian power trip?
A. By no means. The Free State Project is ameliorative, not utopian. We’re not trying to create heaven on earth, just a sphere of liberty, a framework for individuals and families to make of their lives what they will. The Free State Project is not controlled by any one person. All major policy and strategy decisions are made in consultation with the membership, sometimes through referenda on this website, sometimes through discussion in the Free State Project forum.
Q. I love the idea of the FSP, but for practical reasons I just can’t sign the Statement of Intent right now. I still want to be involved – do you still want me anyway?
A. While we need 20,000 activists in the Free State to meet our goal, we also need the support and assistance of those unable to commit to the move. We encourage and appreciate the participation of non-signers in our forums, and welcome assistance in publicity, recruiting, research and all the other work to be done. Please see our page on How to Help
Q. Does the Free State Project advocate secession?
A. No. Some FSP members believe that some kind of sovereignty would be desirable in the long run, but it is far too early to make a definitive judgment on this issue. Everything depends on what state we choose, and whether we are able to achieve our goals through negotiation. Certainly, free trade and free movement of people between the Free State and the rest of the U.S. should always be maintained.
Q. I’m mostly a libertarian, but I don’t agree with [issue X]. What do you have to say about that?
A. We welcome all who love liberty. We are not a lockstep movement, requiring all who join to subscribe to a long list of agreements on every point. All we ask is that that you agree that government’s maximum role should be to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud. We welcome you and support your desire to live according to your values. We ask only that you support others in their right to do the same.
Q. How possible is it for 20,000 people to take over a state?
A. Highly possible, if you pick the right state. Remember that these 20,000 people are going to be activists, not just voters. For every activist you get several voters. How many? One way to quantify it is to look at campaign expenditures. In 2000 the Libertarian Party had 40,000 members and spent $5 million. So we can expect to spend $5 million over any two-year election cycle (probably more – because once we have a chance of winning contributions from PACs will increase, which third parties don’t currently get). There are several states in which $5 million would be enough to outspend the Democrats and Republicans put together. See below for further discussion about the states we’re considering and this essay for an in-depth examination of how 20,000 activists could elect majorities in certain U.S. states.
Q. How does the Cumulative Count vote mechanism that you’ll be using to decide on the state work?
A. Cumulative Count gives each voter the same number of votes and allows them to distribute these votes among the available candidates however they choose. Let’s say, just for example, that the vote is between Alaska, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Montana, and each voter is given 10 points. You can give 6 points to Alaska, 3 to New Hampshire, 1 to Delaware, and none to Montana if you choose. This method is superior to majority rule because it takes account of strength of preference (distances between candidates) and because it allows compromise candidates (which may be no one’s first choice but a good second or third choice for everyone) to gain votes they wouldn’t get under majority rule. It is also better than sequential elimination voting, in which one candidate is eliminated each round, because it can be done all at once and with less expense. To try out Cumulative Count among 11 states, see the State Data page.
Q. The Statement of Intent says that I should “exert the fullest possible effort” toward the creation of a minimal-government society, but I have moral objections to voting. Would the FSP require me to vote?
A. The short answer is “no.” “Possible” is to be defined by each individual for himself; that language in the Statement is intended to be a proud statement of courage, to inspire. Obviously, everyone who joins the FSP has a deep commitment to liberty, given the sacrifices that are involved in the Project. Our job is not to assess or judge that commitment.
Q. What’s to prevent statists from moving in after us and destroying our good work?
A. There’s no guarantee that this won’t happen, but there are several reasons to think it improbable. First, once we’ve created a free-market economy with strong communities, people who want a free ride from the government are not likely to come. Second, over time the values of liberty should take hold in the population as a whole, so that any incoming statists would be overwhelmed. Third, after 20,000 people have moved into a small state, it’s not likely to be able to take many more for a few years. Fourth, even if the state could take more, there’s no reason to think that the people moving in will be statists and not anti-statists who are excited about what’s going on. Fifth, we can enact strict constitutional proscriptions (stricter than the ones in the current U.S. Constitution) that will effectively prevent the growth of another welfare state.
Q. Won’t federal or state governments consider us dangerous? Won’t they do things to stop us?
A. We are a legal, peaceful group with legitimate views, exercising our democratic rights. There’s nothing the government may legally do to stop us, though they may try delaying tactics like regulations on the sale of property or tightening voter registration requirements. However, these tactics did not stop left-liberals and socialists from taking over Vermont in a coordinated effort. Some people have suggested that the government would kill us for exercising our constitutional rights. This view is a very far-fetched one: whatever the evils of the modern welfare state, we are not living in Nazi Germany. In addition, it’s not clear why a belief in the U.S. government as some sort of totalitarian monster would be an argument for complacency and not participating in the Free State Project.
Q. What about having the FSP buy some property and lease small plots to people who live out of state so that they can establish legal residence and vote in the Free State even if they don’t actually live there?
A. The FSP is at this stage quite loath to engage in property speculation and to become a landlord to FSP members; this situation would be ripe for conflict and controversy. (However, if individuals want to do this on an entrepreneurial level after the initial move has taken place, they are of course free to do so.) An important point to make is that people who can’t actually move in state are welcome to help out in any way they choose, but these people should not be considered part of the 20,000 participants. In other words, please don’t sign the Statement of Intent unless you believe you will actually be able to move. There are several reasons for this, all having to do with the benefits that geographical proximity offers for the purpose of activism. We don’t want to get involved in the political process until we have a strong community actually living in state and ready to participate in in-state activism.
Q. Do you think it’s wrong to move in and “take over” a state? Won’t that antagonize the residents?
A. We will be choosing a target state that has a native culture conducive to the values of liberty. That way, we will be able to integrate into the existing culture and help the residents of the state achieve the values in government that they already hold. In most states citizens do not have much control over the state government. People in a state that is already oriented toward liberty would probably be grateful to have a group of committed activists come in and help them make their state government more accountable. That having been said, we will need to be ready to encounter some opposition and accusations of “carpet-bagging” wherever we go.
Q. Will your members be required to purchase land and/or houses? Will “full-time RV’ers” be eligible to join?
A. No purchase of land or house is required — we would never require any investment from our membership, per our participation guidelines — although we do assume members will relocate to the Free State for at least several years. Full-time RV’ers are welcome, although our requirement of 20,000 people is based on the assumption that each of those members will be an activist, which could be an issue if a member is on the road several months a year.
Q. Would your members be under a legal contract (or at least, a moral contract) to stay for a designated length of time? If so, what is that length of time?
A. While we do not require a commitment for a particular length of residency in the Free State, we would hope and expect the members would keep residency in the state for several years. Our plans to achieve the reduction in the nanny state and increase freedom will take years, and we need all hands on deck for that lengthy and critical process!
Q. Don’t you think some people will back out when the time comes to move?
A. We don’t think so. People who have signed up have already signalled their commitment to achieving liberty. Why would they back out just at the moment when our goal is in sight? If they value liberty enough to decide to move at one time, why would they not value liberty enough to move at a later time? Certainly there may be some emergency situations, but the large majority of people will follow through on their word. Following through on our word is something we partisans of freedom value very much. We realize it would be immoral, although not illegal, to back out on an agreement like this. In addition, the Free State Project will be dedicated to making the move smoother for people. For example, we will research the real estate market and let people know which areas of the state might be right for them.
All very reasonable, but almost every point brings up the same question, what do you do when things go wrong? When voluntary doesn’t work? This sounds like an Amish community where banishment is the ultimate punishment. And, my God, haven’t we relearned of late the consequences of a poorly regulated economic system, let alone a virtually unregulated economic system? Does anyone recall the 19th century?