|Publication:||Orange County Register|
Getting practicalOK, there are a few things that could foil the best of plans.
By Steven Greenhut Senior editorial writer and columnist The Register 06/08/03
Before you chide the Free State Project, in which freedom-lovers move to some yet-disclosed state where they implement a society based on (small "l") libertarian ideals, consider that it is not as radical as it seems. In fact, most of the project is based on that quintessentially American idea of political activism and voting.
Let's see. The freedom-minded activists want to gather like-minded people, get them to run for office or vote for like-minded candidates. Once they control local and state legislative majorities, they implement their political program. Everything in that program is consistent with the founding principles of the American nation.
It's a surprisingly conventional program, except that free-staters are going to move to one low-population state where they can gain some power. The idea is simple. States such as California are so big and hard to influence.
Send 20,000 people to, say, Wyoming, a big state with a population roughly the size of Santa Ana and Garden Grove combined, and that might accomplish something. Even more so when you consider that Wyoming's populace already leans in the right political direction.
Even the moving part of the Free State program is not so radical. Every day, Americans leave less-free states such as California for more-free ones such as Nevada. In fact, the whole idea of federalism, with separate sovereign states linked by a limited national government, is based on the notion of competition among them. If life became unbearable in Massachusetts, one could always go to Virginia.
Free State is a neat idea, but it faces hurdles. The reasons are obvious to anyone who knows libertarians. For starters, as explained earlier, the project is based on conventional ideas: politicking, organizing, voting, compromise and governing. Really, I've never known many libertarians who excel at any of the above five things.
Most libertarians hate politicking. They view it as a compromise with the state. They see electioneering as something tacky and cheap. They are right, of course. Seeing politicians promise ridiculous benefits, taken by force from other citizens, is a vulgar and typical election sight. Libertarians avoid the process like the plague. Which also means that few of them are any good at it, which is a problem if one's goal is to take power of local and state government offices.
Ditto for the organizing. What, me go door-to-door urging a vote for a candidate? Heck, candidates always disappoint. They always make false promises. They never deliver, especially when they promise to cut government down to size. As one famous conservative put it, whenever one of us gets elected to office, he instantly becomes one of them. True enough, but you're starting to see the problem.
How about voting? Some libertarians vote. I certainly do, although many of the libertarians I know don't. Those who do can't ever decide on whom to vote for. Do we vote for the limited-government Republicans who rarely end up supporting limited government? Or do we vote for the pure libertarians who will never win office, and sometimes seem a tad nutty? In a new Free State, the candidates might be more obvious, but more likely different factions and parties will emerge, given that for every two libertarians one is likely to find five different viewpoints.
Then there's the issue of compromise. That word probably isn't even in the libertarian vocabulary.
Wherever they settle, the free-staters will be stuck with a long list of federal laws. Back before the Constitution was relegated to the dust heap, Americans were citizens of their respective states and the feds had limited power. Now states function as administrative units of the federal behemoth.
That means libertarian principles will have to give way to federal realities. I can see the fireworks now. Those who support civil disobedience to fight off the feds will face off against pragmatists, and the whole project could degenerate from there. There will be plenty of other reasons for compromise, given that 20,000 new residents will affect the political process but won't control it. Other people will be involved, and they will have different views of the role of government.
Then there's that issue of governing. Provided half the new residents don't move elsewhere (leaving two Kinda Free States) in a huff over some picayune dispute, the free-staters will, potentially, be left governing city councils and some state offices. I'm not saying libertarians can't run things. If they keep their wits about them, they will do a great job only funding those government agencies that have a legitimate purpose.
But expect a learning curve, and some heated debates over what's a legitimate government purpose. This still would be far better than the current world, where government officials are eager to expand their power at every chance. But problems will emerge, although problems emerge in any thoughtful endeavor.
Basically, even though our ideas are ensconced in the U.S. Constitution, the nation has moved so far away from them, that it will be no easy task to figure out a way to re-implement a system of limited government. Still, I like the idea of trying, even if some bizarre forms of factionalism emerge.
I can see the disciples of Ayn Rand settling in one part of Cheyenne, and the followers of Andrew Galambos in another. We won't have neighborhoods based on race, religion or ethnicity, but the ideological barriers might be equally strange and dysfunctional. But, as long as everything is freely chosen, who really cares?
Truly, the possibilities are exciting. The project's founders, based on what I've read, seem level-headed and non-utopian, even eschewing the "libertarian" label. The idea of fighting over whether to, say, privatize many public services or eliminate them entirely seems much better than the usual debates over how much more tax money said poor-performing government program needs. My only beef is with the potential choice of cold-weather locations.
Hasn't anyone considered the Cayman Islands?
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