Our Most Important Decision
Our Most Important Decision
By Tim Condon, Director of Member Services
The Free State Project
NOTE: This article is now obsolete! Please see Tim's follow-up article, Mea Culpa, It's No Longer North Dakota!
A recurring question for Free State Project "Porcupines" is "Which state?"
If we've heard it a single time, we've heard it a thousand times! It's no
wonder that this is one of the favorite topics of discussion and argumentation
among FSP members.
The final choice of "the Freestate" will be the single most important
decision made by the FSP membership. The decision will affect every member who
has signed the Statement of Intent, and it will affect many thousands of others
who follow the first FSP pioneers.
In fact, the Freestate choice will ultimately affect America...and quite
possibly the world. If the Free State Project pioneers can show America and the
world "what can be done" by people living in simple liberty, with both social
and economic freedom, then the template of freedom can be expected to grow and
spread. For whatever reason, it seems that people need to be reminded, every
few generations, of exactly what freedom means, and what exactly can be
accomplished by this seemingly simple social and economic alternative.
Consider Hong Kong, as a reminder of "what freedom can accomplish."
Consisting of less than 500 square miles of land, situated on a few rocky
outcroppings, subject to monsoons, mudslides, and earthquakes, this tiny
outpost had one of the largest, most powerful, and most vibrant economies in
the entire world until China took over in 1997. Sadly, the remarkable freedom
and economic strength that Hong Kong citizens enjoyed are now fading under the
control of the Chinese communists. The rest will be sad and predictable
Where else? At this point there doesn't appear to be anyplace in the world
that can even hope to follow the Hong Kong example of economic vibrancy and
That's where The Free State Project comes in. Unlike most of our peers in
the United States and virtually all of the rest of the world, Porcupines know
what simple individual freedom can mean. That's why we're signed-up members of
The Free State Project.
Given that the choice of "which state" will be the single most important decision made by the Free State Project pioneers, and given that the choice may well have historic implications, plenty of thought, analysis, discussion, and argumentation is called for.
----The Analysis Process----
Let's start our analysis process with an examination of the two fundamental
schools of thought now contending among FSP Porcupines: On the one hand there
are those who argue that we should choose a state that's "nice to live in."
That is, a state that has beauty, as mild a climate as possible (or at least
"banana belt" areas), coastline, plentiful amenities, etc. After all, we're
asking people to uproot themselves and their families, to leave familiar
surroundings, jobs, and careers, to pick up and relocate. As the argument goes,
if the chosen state isn't a nice place to live, it won't be acceptable to many
FSP members, and if it isn't acceptable the requisite number of members won't
pick up and move, thus dooming our ultimate aim of making wide-ranging
political, economic, and social reforms in favor of individual freedom. The
problem with the "nice place" position is that nicer locales tend to have
larger populations (after all, they're..."nicer places to live").
The other contending school of thought maintains that while "niceness is
nice," it is far more important to choose a state that will enable the
Freestate Project to attain its ultimate goals of wide-ranging political,
social, and economic reforms. Thus, the most important two variables we must
consider are (1) the size of the general population, and (2) the size of the
voting population. Everyone will notice that the State Data Charts on
the web site are laid out according to this last most crucial variable, listing
the lowest voting population state, Wyoming, at the top and moving successively
downward to Maine as voting populations increase.
There are several reasons why voting population is the most important
variable. If there are too many people voting in a chosen state--even if the
population of the state can be said to be generally pro-freedom--the 20,000 FSP
immigrants risk being overwhelmed by a general population that won't support
the "radical reforms" necessary for true "liberty in our lifetime." Which in
turn could result in creating a discouraging atmosphere leading to diminished
participation and ultimately loss of interest. This scenario could be an
insurmountable setback if we fail to choose a very low voting-population
Given the above, the obvious alternative to the "pick a nice place to live"
position is to go for a low population state. This school of thought points out
that not only do "nice states" currently have higher than optimal populations,
but the situation can only be expected to worsen as time goes on. Why? Because
nice places to live will inevitably attract more residents from the general
population over time, creating the unsettling possibility that the Freestate
could start out successfully implementing liberty-enhancing reforms, only to be
reversed later as the population grows with residents not so enamored of
On the other hand, the "nice place" bloc counters that a larger population
isn't a drawback as long as the existing population is generally pro-freedom
anyway. But while the question of how "freedom-oriented" an existing state
population is may be an important one, the absolute numbers of existing and
projected populations must be counted as far more important. Let's face it:
Libertarians and other freedom-lovers are a small minority in the general
population (as shown by the vote tallies for the national Libertarian Party
over the past 20 years), and any choice that dilutes our already low percentage
could be fatal to our ultimate goals.
In other words, if a state population is small enough, there will be little
question about whether the FSP migration and reforms will ultimately be
successful, especially in view of the continuing influx of freedom-lovers that
will occur after the initial FSP-led migration takes place. A successful
initial move to a low-population state will greatly increase the chance of
successful implementation of freedom-oriented reforms, which in turn will
create an oasis of freedom in the United States, not to mention the rest of the
This is not to say that the other measures of state suitability should be
ignored. Far from it! But all other variables must be secondary to the most
important issue of voting population. Porcupines on the "nice place" side may
object that choosing a low population state will mean that we're choosing a
less desirable place to move to, thus making it an unacceptable option to more
FSP members, and thus endangering a successful migration when the time comes.
After all, low-population states are low-population states obviously because
fewer people want to live there, usually because both terrain and climate are
extreme and rigorous. In addition, goes the argument, a smaller population
means less economic activity, meaning that jobs and making a living may be more
difficult, especially for the first waves of FSP immigrants to arrive.
What can a low-population partisan offer to such objections? Are the goals
of a successful FSP migration doomed unless a state with plentiful amenities is
chosen? Must we choose "a nice place to live," even if it necessitates choosing
a state with a larger population that may dilute FSP voters? (Of the
larger-population but "nicer" states, think New Hampshire, Idaho, Montana, and
Delaware, in decreasing population order.)
The short answer to all the above is that such concerns are overblown.
Think about it: The members of the Free State Project are above all
"committed." By joining and "signing up" they are making it quite clear that
they do in fact want "liberty in their lifetimes." And to gain that priceless
prize they are willing to uproot themselves, and in many cases their families,
to leave the familiar and comfortable surroundings of their homes and
neighborhoods...just to have a chance at building and living in a free
Do such people sound familiar in history? They should: These are the
spiritual descendents of the millions of people who uprooted themselves and
their families from the lands of their ancestors, those who cast their lot in a
wild, unknown New World filled with uncertainty, all for a chance to live free
and breathe free...and for their children and grandchildren to do the same.
They risked death for only a "chance" to live free and succeed. There were no
guarantees of success or even help. Yet they did it anyway, arriving in the
millions to escape the stifling political, social, and economic straits of the
So here's a question: Are the liberty-lovers of the Free State Project any
less motivated? Any less courageous? Any less energized? I think not. No
matter which state we choose, we will not face even a tiny fraction of the
physical obstacles and dangers faced by our forebears. Thus, taking a look at
the lowest-population states, also presumably the "least nice" states to choose
from---Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont---we can confidently say that
those places are a cinch compared to what America's earliest immigrants
faced, a "walk in the park" by comparison. So given the commitment of the
members of the FSP, it is not too much of an overstatement to say, "When we
choose it, they will come, no matter which state is chosen!"
But wait! What about the second objection to choosing a more rigorous
low-population state? Even if the FSP members are brave and courageous, it
makes little difference if they can't find a job, if they can't support
themselves and their families. What if the state's economic climate (in
addition to the meteorological climate) is so poor that we can't find jobs?
What if there's just not enough of a state economy to absorb our migration into
the state? This is a scary and legitimate question, a possible scenario that
must be faced, especially by those of us who support families and children.
The answer, again, if we think about it, is pretty clear. Consider what
happens anywhere when waves of talented, committed, energetic, educated,
independent, self-supporting, entrepreneurial people move into any geographic
area. Think back to tiny Hong Kong, virtually without resources other than its
people. How could such a tiny place at one time have had one of the largest
economies in the world? One word: "People." With virtually nothing else, Hong
Kong was able not only to economically survive but also to prosper to an
incredible degree. Are the committed people of the Free State Project any less
creative, hard working, or entrepreneurial?
Let's take another example, the relatively small island of Taiwan. Today it
has about the 20th largest economy in the world. In comparison with other
national economies which draw upon giant landmasses, such as the United States
(#1), China (#2), India (#5), Brazil (#9) and Russia (#14), it is astounding
that such a small place could generate such economic energy and wealth. But
there's no great mystery that Taiwan, and Hong Kong in its day, were the
beneficiaries of waves of migrants escaping communism, just as south Florida,
for another example, benefited economically from waves of Cubans escaping the
gulag of communist dictator Fidel Castro.
To those who understand the dynamics of social, economic, and political
freedom, the examples above provide no great mystery at all. Free minds, free
men and women, and free markets create great wealth. It's as simple as that. In
fact, no matter where the Free State Project members migrate to, that
place will enjoy a tremendous outpouring of creative energy and
wealth-creation. It will be the luckiest state in American history.
So, to revisit the original question, will the migrating Freestaters face
the possibility of not being able to support themselves and their families in
the Freestate? Not a chance! If the immigrant Porcupines can implement the
political, social, and economic reforms that they support and foresee, the
Freestate will be a fortunate place indeed. All of which is an additional
argument in favor of a low-population state. Only by successfully implementing
the major FSP reforms can such success be realized. To choose a
higher-population "nicer" state could mean ultimate failure. As voting members
of the Free State Project, we must face an all-important fact: We must choose a
low-population state for our best chance of success, and "the lower the
better." The voting populations of the 10 remaining FSP candidate states range
from 213,000 (Wyoming) to 647,000 (Maine). Four of the states have voting
populations of less than 300,000, while the remaining six range from 316,000 to
the most populous (in order from lower to higher, the higher-population states
are South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Idaho, new Hampshire, and Maine).
Thus, because of all of the above, I believe "the state" for the Free
State Project should be chosen from the four lowest-population states, those
with less than 300,000 voters: Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, or Vermont.
(This eliminates, incidentally, what have heretofore generally been regarded as
the "leading states": Montana in the west and New Hampshire in the east.) While
some may regard this as radical and uncalled for---especially those who
champion the more popular states---I see it as a net benefit, a chance for us
all to start with a "clean slate" and look at the remaining four candidates
with clear-eyed appraisal. (After all, among the lowest-population states, the
only one that seems to have a contingent seriously pushing for it is
----Analyzing the Final Four----
Now it's time to apply the state variables to the final four states under
consideration. (As an aside, when I completed the process described below no
one could have been more surprised at the outcome than me.)
As we know, the "final four" states, from least to most populous, are
Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont. Only by choosing one of these very
low population states will the Free State Project be guaranteed at a better
than average chance of success in its ultimate goals. I should also mention
that my analysis involves using some of the FSP state variables while others
are rejected or downgraded as being less important or not even germane. I have
already explained why I reject what I call the "niceness" factors. In the
General Data FSP list, these include, for instance, population density and
By the same token, I downgrade some variables in the In the Economic and
Political Data matrix as being less than edifying. For instance, I don't
believe the median household income measure or the current unemployment rate
are particularly enlightening (particularly the last, in view of the economic
growth that will be generated when Freestaters begin moving into the state).
Similarly, I don't believe the "Gov1" (federal, state, and local government
spending as a percentage of gross state product) or "Gov2" (state and local
government spending as a percentage of gross state product) are particularly
valuable, partly because the numbers are skewed as to Alaska with its huge oil
revenues, and partly because Vermont, with it's highly socialist-tending
political culture, comes out "first" on both measures while coming out "worst"
on the more important measure of state and local taxes as a percentage of state
per capita income.
Finally, I do not recommend using the state "Rankings" without close
examination. A simple ranking "from top to bottom" fails to take into
consideration the actual differences between states for the various variables.
We need to look not only at what is being measured, but also how far apart our
final four states are on each one.
Fine. Then let's start. Vermont first, because it has the highest voting population (although not the highest absolute population) of the Final Four. I believe it can most easily be dismissed from our final list (and this despite the fact that I have posted positive remarks on the FSP list in the past in favor of Vermont). Although Vermont is home of the famous "Vermont carry" rule, which means that anyone may carry any concealed firearm at any time, in any place, Vermont uniformly comes out wanting on the most important measures. As mentioned above, Vermont is not the most populous state of the final four, but it does have the highest voting population, possibly reflecting a very politicized citizenry resulting from the net influx of politically left-oriented residents in the 1970's and '80's. Even worse, its overall population is projected to outstrip all but Alaska of the final four by 2025. Plus, because of its location in the east and its proximity to the population centers of the eastern seaboard, its population may grow even faster than projected. What follow are the projected population increases of the final four states for the year 2025, gathered from the web site at www.fairus.org/html/042uspj1.htm.
There are other factors that militate against Vermont as a wise choice.
Reflecting its generally socialist-leaning political culture, it comes up with
a zero on a 10-point scale regarding statewide land planning, while the other
three states all score a perfect 10. Of the four states, Vermont also has a
higher rate of state and local taxation measured as a percentage of income (in
fact, it scores worse on this measure than any of the other final 10 states
under consideration by the FSP). It also scores third to last among all the
final 10 states on the Economic Freedom Index. And it scores lowest among the
final 10 states on the percentage of vote for Republican, Libertarian, and
Constitution Presidential candidates in the last election (although,
paradoxically, it has the second largest number of state elected libertarians
in the country). Among the final four, Vermont only scores well with respect to
federal tax receipts versus amounts paid out in federal taxes; percentage of
state population employed by some level of government, and the fact that it has
a small border with Canada. However, those positives are not enough to lift the
state into "final contention." In addition, it should be noted that many Free
State members reject eastern states in general because of their proximity to
population centers and centers of government power and control.
We must reject Vermont as "out of the running."
Let's now search for the "next-least-attractive" state out of the final
four. Despite its vocal supporters and a culture very friendly toward
individual freedom, that state would have to be...Alaska. The reasons for this
are several: First, more FSP members "opt out" of Alaska than any other state.
Second, although we agreed we weren't going to worry so much about "niceness,"
Alaska is undeniably remote and subject to a very harsh climate. And those who
uproot themselves to move when the Free State migration begins are still going
to have mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives in the
"lower 48." If Alaska is chosen, it will be hard to visit those we love who
have stayed behind.
In addition to parts of Alaska having extremely harsh winters, other parts
are among the rainiest places on earth. And for the areas in the milder weather
of the panhandle, travel is difficult except by boat or airplane. (In fact,
travel is difficult throughout the state, which is why it has a higher number
of licensed pilots per capita than any other state in the U.S.)
But those are small quibbles compared to other limitations of Alaska. It
has a huge amount of territory owned by the federal government, fully 67% of
the state. It also has rich natural resources that guarantee the federal
government will "watch very closely" everything that goes on in the state. In
addition, it is an expensive place to live, with a surprisingly low Economic
Freedom Index compared to the remaining two states. And finally, 29.6% of the
state's population works for some level of government, federal, state or local
government, which thus employs almost one-third of the state's population.
Alaska is a wonderful place, and I'd go there if it were chosen...but
ultimately it's not a good final choice for the FSP. In order to maximize the
possibility of success for the Free State Project, we must turn Alaska
And that leaves two. The lowest-population state in the nation, Wyoming,
and surprisingly, North Dakota, with no vocal supporters and which everyone
seems to be ignoring. There are some characteristics of Wyoming and North
Dakota that are quite similar. Like Alaska, both have very rigorous climates
featuring severe winter conditions. They both have what might be called
"medium" tax burdens for state and local government, 9.1% for Wyoming and 9.5%
for North Dakota (compared to Alaska's lower 6.8%). They are also similar in
that, in 20 years, as shown above, they will be the two least-populated states
in the U.S. Their campaign funds listings are both commendably low, for what
they're worth, and their population densities are both relatively low compared
to the other 10 states under consideration.
But there are several important "General Data" measures in which North
Dakota clearly outstrips Wyoming. First, Wyoming is totally landlocked within
the continental United States. North Dakota, by contrast, has a long, porous
border with Canada, divided about equally between the two freedom-oriented
provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And secondly, Wyoming is burdened
because it has a huge percentage of the state owned by the federal government,
45.9% (more than any of the 10 finalist states except Alaska and Idaho).
When we look at "Economic and Political Data," we find that Wyoming comes
out ahead of North Dakota in the measure of the amount of money received back
for every dollar paid in federal taxes, $1.14 for Wyoming vs. $1.95 for North
Dakota (which is the highest for that variable of any of the 10 states,
probably the result of heavy farm subsidies flowing back into the state).
However, while the Economic Freedom Index is similar for both states (4.41 for
Wyoming, 5.00 for North Dakota), projected news jobs forecast between 1998 and
2008 are lower for Wyoming, 27,450, than North Dakota, 34,350 (although it
should be pointed out that Wyoming and North Dakota are the worst and
next-worst on this measure of all the 10 states under consideration).
Both Wyoming and North Dakota score perfect 10's in land controls, they
both have strong votes for ostensibly conservative presidential candidates
(69.9% for Wyoming, 61% for North Dakota), and they have similar gun freedom
levels (a -4 rating for Wyoming and a -5 for North Dakota). Wyoming, however,
scores somewhat lower on the percentage of its citizens who work for some level
of government---22% vs. North Dakota's 18.5%---and the crime rate in North
Dakota is the lowest of all the 10 original candidate states.
In the end, choosing between the final two states is a difficult
proposition. However, in two important factors one stands out clearly above the
other. First, a very large part of Wyoming, 45.9%, is owned by the federal
government, while only 3.9% of North Dakota is (thus making North Dakota a
"larger state" than Wyoming in terms of the land mass available for private
ownership). And second, Wyoming is totally landlocked within the 48 contiguous
states, while North Dakota has a long border with Canada. On two other less
important measures, North Dakota also has an edge over Wyoming, the percentage
of the population employed by government (18.5% vs. 22%), and in the projected
new jobs outlook, 34,350 vs. 27,450.
Even as I write this, I shake my head. "North Dakota"? And yet, the numbers
are there, the statistics are undeniable. And the fact is, most FSP members
have unjustly ignored North Dakota. It is a very attractive "stealth state"
that has been flying "under the radar" of the FSP membership (as such, it can
be hoped that the state will remain "under the radar" with respect to attention
from the federal government also).
Look this beautiful state up on the Internet, check out the amenities, and check out the business-friendly atmosphere of the state. Examine a map of the state with its huge border with Canada. In the end, it will be clear to you, as it is now clear to me, that the Free State Project should choose...North Dakota.
A note from the author: I wish to thank Amanda Maxwell for her editing help on this article; despite the fact that North Dakota is not her favorite state---yet---she was still kind enough to assist me. I also want to point out to everyone that I believe every one of the 10 states under consideration would be a good choice, and I will move to any one that is chosen. I must also say that North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana are my current favorites (with Alaska being edged out because it's too remote and Vermont being set aside because of it's socialistic native political culture). Does my decision in favor of North Dakota mean that I will vote all of my 10 votes for North Dakota when the time comes? No it does not. Doing such a thing defeats the purpose of "cumulative count" voting (and I urge everyone else not to fall into the trap). I intend as of now to cast 4 or 5 votes for North Dakota, perhaps 3 for Wyoming (it's a beautiful state!), and maybe 2 or 3 for Montana. Things change, admittedly. So while the Free State Project is surging toward our 5,000 memberships, I urge everyone to think closely about which state you will choose, for it will be the most important decision many of us ever make. Tim Condon