Congratulations to the Free State Movement
By Scott Sumner
Last weekend I gave a talk up at the Liberty Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire. While there, I learned more about the Free State Movement, an idea about which I was only dimly aware. The following is from memory, so there might be a few errors.
The movement began about 15 years ago when Yale grad student Jason Sorens wrote a paper discussing the idea of encouraging lots of libertarians to move to one state, in order to try to create a sort of libertarian model, which could inspire others. I.e., the goal was to show that libertarianism was feasible, and even desirable.
It was decided that they would aim to get pledges from 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire. Those who pledged would agree to move within 5 years after the 20,000 pledge total was reached. At the meeting I attended they announced that they had just achieved that pledge target.
Of course they are aware that not all 20,000 will actually move, and thus are continuing to accept pledges. The new goal is to get 20,000 people to actually move. Fortunately, the pace of new pledges has recently sped up dramatically, as they have gotten better at using resources like Facebook to get their message out. So even if only 50% of the pledges actually move, the next 20,000 will be signed up far more quickly than the 15 years it took to get the first 20,000.
You might also notice that the target is still only 1.5% of New Hampshire’s population. But of course this does not include the libertarians already in New Hampshire. And even a small share of the population can be influential on policy questions if they are highly committed and motivated. Thus groups like farmers and schoolteachers have a big impact on public policies despite being a small share of our population. The New Hampshire state house has 400 representatives in the lower chamber, and thus each district is tiny. As of now, 14 free staters are currently members of the House (12 GOP, 2 Dems), and many more previously elected legislators have libertarian leanings on most issues. Pay is $100/year, not changed since the 1800s. And who says wages are not sticky!!
In another recent post I suggested that in some ways New Hampshire was already the most successful place on Earth. So don’t mess it up! Seriously, its current success may be partly due to the fact that its public policies are already a bit more libertarian than most other places. One exception is housing, where the zoning rules are unfortunately somewhat restrictive. This has boosted housing prices and may help explain why New Hampshire’s population growth is no longer above average. (Although I think the bigger problem is the back to the city movement among millennials.) In this way it (oddly) reminds me of Hong Kong. Admirably libertarian on many issues, with the notable exception of housing.
Jason Sorens, who now teaches at Dartmouth, seems like a sort of anti-Trump; very modest but quietly effective. I would add that the Free Staters in general seemed like a great group of people. The sort of people you’d want to have as neighbors.
Also, kudos to Carla Gericke, who has headed the Free State Project during a period of successful growth.
PS. Tomorrow at 1pm EST I will do a Reddit “ask me anything”. I hope you will tune in.