Best Libertarian Strategy
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
Why the Free State Project Is the Best Libertarian Strategy
by Jan Helfeld
Jan is an attorney/TV interviewer living in Falls Church Virginia. He has written and produced three libertarian TV documentaries: "The Proper Function of Government," "The Media Against Business," and "The Socratic Technique," and has been published in the LP News, San Juan Star and other papers. His address is:
3709 S. George Mason Dr. T 14 E,
Falls Church, VA 22041
Tel # 703 933 7870
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.
Are you interested in hearing a presentation on the free state project or debating the issue? If so, you can email me at JanHelfeld@AOL.com (subject - free state). For more data on all of the above, see www.freestateproject.org.
October 14, 2002
The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent those of Free State Project, Inc., its Directors, or its Officers.