Quality of Living
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.
Quality of Living: A New Recruitment Strategy for the FSP
Address to First Annual Porcupine Freedom Festival
by Jason Sorens 26 June 2004
Well, the topic of my talk is supposed to be, "We're Making History." But I think that part of the Free State Project is pretty much self-evident, so I'm going to concentrate on some more subtle aspects of the Free State Project, grouped under the general heading, "Quality of Living."
The Free State Project appeals, I think, to the project pursuer in all of us. (And here I am going to touch on the formal title of the talk.) Human beings are naturally project pursuers. We aren't content with merely surviving in a hand-to-mouth existence, or in a totally unreflective hedonism, or in a mindless collective stupor. We're beings that wish to shape the environment in which we live, to see our intentionality reflected in our surroundings and respected by others. The libertarian philosopher Loren Lomasky even believes that this capacity and yearning for pursuing projects is the aspect of our nature that yields moral rights and responsibilities toward each other.
The Free State Project itself is obviously a grand project aimed at enhancing the environment in which we all live, and I think part of the lure of participation is that it invites us to imagine what could happen if people really could translate more of their hopes and dreams into reality by working together. The original idea behind the Free State Project was that those of us who favor a freer society could actually make some of our visions of the future come true, while the alternative seemed to be simply allowing distant political forces continue to act without regard for our persistent, sincere interests and demands. So that much is clear the Free State Project is a loose coordinating mechanism that should yield substantial political reform. But I believe that to sell the FSP to the 14,000 additional people we're looking for, we need to emphasize the nonpolitical features of the FSP that affect our Quality of Living but that may have been overlooked to date.
First of all, the FSP isn't about instantiating some kind of society that seems ideal in the abstract. It's about very concretely and incrementally improving the conditions of living for everyone. What I'm thinking about here is the fact that a free society allows for diversity in people's projects. So long as they don't hurt others, people are permitted to pursue their own projects and plans of living in a free society. Individuals will be much happier the freer they are to design their own immediate environment and join together with others voluntarily to shape the wider environment. Even more than that, though, I think human beings enjoy observing the projects of others. Why do we like to travel? I think one of the biggest motivating factors in leisure travel is the desire to see how other people live. Sometimes we can find out through travel ways of living superior to what we are used to. For my wife and myself, selling our car and living an urban neighborhood lifestyle in New Haven, Connecticut was partly stimulated by our experiences in Europe. But even when I observe a way of life that I would not want for myself, I can respect that way of life and relish the fact that people are allowed to live that way if they want to. Because I know that their freedom means reciprocal freedom for me I can feel more secure in my life plans when others are secure in theirs. A free society allows significant diversity in projects within the same society or population. You don't need to travel to appreciate the ways different people live in a free society. The Free State Project enhances quality of living by allowing for a greater diversity of projects that we can observe and participate in if we choose.
Second, quality of living is enhanced by enjoying access to others' talents, capabilities, and interests. The social aspect of the Free State Project comes in here. While we've always wanted the FSP to be loose and decentralized, totally nonhierarchical and noncommunal in the strict sense of that word, we have to admit that the FSP has its own social aspect. By participating in the FSP, you have an immediate bond with a number of people sharing some of the same interests. Everyone in the FSP shares a common ideological background, but there are many different backgrounds in the FSP as far as culture, ethics, religion, and aesthetics. We need to make it easy for people involved in the FSP to find others both within the FSP and in the existing population of New Hampshire with the same interests and general goals. The social aspects of the FSP were what impressed me most when I revisited New Hampshire for the first time since my wife's and my first anniversary in 1999. That was just a couple of months ago, and I met other Free Staters and friendly Granite Staters at a barbecue in Somersworth. It was clear that people who move to New Hampshire are getting the royal treatment. They're invited to parties, they can get help moving in, they hold regular get-togethers, and they're plugged into the political scene in any ways they wish to participate.
So I think we're seeing some of that same social dynamic here at the First Annual Porcupine Freedom Festival. Let's face it, it's nice to have friends. Many of the projects we as individuals wish to pursue require the cooperation of others of like mind. Socialists have frequently claimed that human beings are social animals, and that this mere fact meant that individual rights do not exist. It's true that human beings are social animals, but it's a system of equal maximum freedom that allows individuals to maximize their voluntary and effective cooperation for common goals. So I think one of the Free State Project's campaigns will be, more or less, "You have a friend in New Hampshire." That's simply one of the benefits of participating in the FSP and moving here.
Another aspect of Quality of Living is simply what New Hampshire already has to offer. New Hampshire has consistently been ranked as having among the best, if not the best, qualities of life among all 50 states. The numerous advantages of New Hampshire are catalogued on our website, but we need to go further and tailor specific information for people considering relocating. That will be a large task, but I think we have to recognize that people participate in the Free State Project only when it suits their own life plans. And that's the way it should be. The Army advertises an "Army of One" to potential recruits, and we need to stress a "Free State Project of One." One idea to address this point might be to have permanent counselors who can give some advice to participants and potential participants about economic opportunities in their field, their particular tax situation in New Hampshire, where to find out about real estate, and so on. Some people may, because of an unusual situation, find that they don't get a tax cut from moving to New Hampshire, although I think most will. So then those people will have to consider whether the other advantages I'm highlighting here make relocation worthwhile. Certainly we can stress with the Free Staters relocating, future tax increases in NH are extremely unlikely, so the long-run climate for investment is quite stable. Probably quite a few more people will find that their tax burden decreases substantially, but that their wages will take a cut by moving to New Hampshire. They also have to make a decision as to whether quality of living makes up for the pay cut. In addition to the quality of living advantages of the FSP itself, the crime rates in New Hampshire are very low, natural beauty abounds, the neighborly spirit is strong. All these things should be enhanced by a migration of likeminded Free Staters attracted by those qualities.
Another aspect of the "Free State Project of One" approach is to acknowledge that this is a long-run endeavor. Some people may take a few years to arrange a relocation around their own life plans. We should encourage people to do whatever's necessary to ensure that they can eventually make the move. I certainly applaud those who are moving now, and I know you're looked on with a bit of awe and respect by others, but at the same time, there's no reason to pressure everyone to do that. The FSP is a substantial commitment as it is.
So in short, I think to get our next 14,000 participants, we need to take a more free-market approach to recruitment. We have something to offer them, and they have something to offer us. We offer them the prospect of enhanced quality of living and for some, even long-run monetary rewards, and they can offer us their commitment to help make those things happen. By stressing these less tangible but very important rewards of participation, I think we can sell the FSP much better than by simply focusing on the political-strategy aspects that originally motivated the idea.
So that's all the serious stuff from me. Now go forth and enjoy yourselves!