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May 31, 2003

One state under liberty?

I'm a big fan of liberty, my personal political orientation is pretty much libertarian, but I have resigned myself to the fact that libertarianism, along with atheism, rationalism, etc. are oddball norms & views that will never really convince the majority [1]. So I'm glad to see that someone is trying to get libertarians to move to a small state and pool their power. Check it out, The Free State Project. Ex-GNXPer and Lady from Gotham Diana Moon once asked sarcastically that all libertarians should move to the Dakotas and we can have our libertopia there. Well actually...I thought at the time, "sure," why not?

This nation, this republic, was formed at a time when fewer than 10% of the eligible males in a population of 2.5 million could vote and intermediary institutions were far more powerful (the Senators were elected indirectly through the state legislature, etc.). I am personally skeptical of the scalability of the republican project to 300 million individuals-especially when evolutionary pscyhology tells us that the average human can't really keep track of more than 150 people as fully-fleshed personalities.

More on this later....

[1] My political factionalism has waned as my concern for the safety and health of western liberalism has grown.

Posted by razib at 03:47 PM

I'm signed up. At the rate we're going, we'll be voting on which state by the end of the year.

Posted by: Jacqueline at May 31, 2003 03:51 PM

Love your footnote. Enough to blog it, even. ;)

Posted by: Jay Manifold at May 31, 2003 04:08 PM

OK, now that I've done that, I'm going to question the applicability of your reference to the "rule of 150." Numerous organizations of all types, including polities, several orders of magnitude larger than this function at least reasonably well. Commitments to continuous improvement, personal excellence, and even tradition are powerful forces for homeostasis; and modern communication technologies make formal processes -- which are what is required in the absence of intimate personal knowledge -- much easier to create.

Posted by: Jay Manifold at May 31, 2003 04:25 PM

so is unlimited democracy incompatible with the liberties that allow for wealth and enlightenment? That' Fareed Zakaria's premise in The Future of Freedom, and I think he has a point.

Posted by: eric at May 31, 2003 04:55 PM

Here is the difference between more purist libertarians like you and whiggish classical liberals/libertarian fellow travellers like me who value liberty for its utilitarian benefits. I'm reasonably happy with secular Western liberal democracy. There is room for improvement and I'm prepared to raise my hand up and speak up about it and generally prefer to see government shrink further in lots of areas - more free trade, lower and flatter taxes, labour regulations replaced by contracts as much as possible, people being free to read/watch what they want, and so on. However on this I am primarily an incrementalist not just in terms of being patient but also thinking that the difference between the real and ideal is more a matter of magnitude than kind. It's not a matter of principle for me that the real world does not fit into some Lockean blueprint. The blueprint itself is a means for further improveents in welfare (in the economic, preference satisfaction sense of the term), not an end in itself. More opportunity sets plus compossibility of claims is to me what defines liberalism/libertarianism whatever you want to call. On the other hand, I would rather live in a generally more tightly regulated culturally complex society like Sydney or New York than among gun nuts and survivalists (however much they may love their liberty) in Texas or Utah or some other cultural wasteland like that. I don't give a rat's ass about guns as a matter of principle or believe that gun control is equivalent to totalitarianism. I don't mind having food safety regulations and suffering some slight increase in food prices because of that. I don't mind paying extra taxes for good mass transit systems or to have some basic welfare safety net so that I don't need to have to carry a gun around to defend myself from starving masses. Too often the purist libertarians miss the wood for the trees and this need to go away into the wilderness and create this rugged utopia is a symptom of that.

Posted by: Jason Soon at June 1, 2003 12:55 AM

PS meant to say 'miss the forest for the trees'
Generally what I'm trying to say is I'll vote for the less statist parties and think there is room for improvement but Western liberal democracy at least as it currently exists in US, Australia and UK is a wonderful system, the best we can attain in general though room for improvement in specifics, no need for this 'libertopia' stuff

Posted by: Jason Soon at June 1, 2003 01:01 AM

well, i wouldn't say i'm a 'purist libertarian,' i don't think one of that species would have had the footnote that i did-factionalism is the heard & soul of purist libertarians.

btw, i have read fareed's book and am going to a seminar at the waldorf-astoria where he'll be speaking on the 5th of june (ergo, i'm in NYC), and will comment after hearing him speak.

Posted by: razib at June 1, 2003 01:04 PM

I saw the proposal and Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska are the only real possibilities. All have an existing libertarian streak. New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are too close to Mass. and N.Y., and the present population in the Dakotas is very, very stodgy.

In Montana and Wyoming you can still drive while drinking a beer as long as your BA is within the limits. This is a big political issue right now -- the head of the Legislature, plagiarizing multiculturalism, says that drinking and driving is "part of our culture". When I went through in 1970 or so they had driveup windows in the liquor stores, presumably so drunks wouldn't hurt themselves falling out of their cars on their way into the store.

The problem with Alaska is that so much of the income comes from the feds. This leaves Wyoming and Montana. The problem with these two states is that people don't live there because it's hard to make a living. But internet or direct-mail startups could probably do pretty well.

In the Dakotas, on the other hand, you can by a livable house for $2000. No joke.

Posted by: zizka at June 1, 2003 02:54 PM


i made most of your points to jaq-i think the dakotas are the best because they have declining populations.

Posted by: razib at June 1, 2003 04:14 PM

Hi guys,

What a coincidence, I haven't checked out Gene X for a while, and today I did, and saw my name. The actual quote that I ripped off was from paleo Thomas Fleming, with whom I disagree about much, but I think this is brilliant:

Libertarians, hearing such a description, run gagging to the sink. There are no nations, no communities, no families. Only self-seeking individuals exist, and the "common good" is a term invented by fascist oppressors. This is the only answer they have for any social question, from drugs to pornography to fast food. This shopworn and counterintuitive platitude from the Enlightenment is so self-evidently stupid as to require no refutation, though David Hume supplied one in his great essay on "The Original Contract." Nonetheless, people such as Ayn Randóand the nerds and geeks who cling to her in the naive belief that her rotten novels will turn them into supermenócould never understand the fact that human beings are social animals. This is a part of human nature which no libertarian theory can eradicate, and my advice to them is to find another planet where they can all live in solitary caves, where they can snort coke and watch porn videos to their hearts content. Their ideas are irrelevant, not just to present circumstances, but to the human condition.

But that $2,000 house in South Dakota sounds awfully tempting........

Posted by: Diana at June 1, 2003 04:21 PM

My wife and I may sign up for the free state project. Problem is that we would not be willing to move to some of the states in question (Alaska, for example). If Wyoming or the Dakotas are the destination, that would be a different matter -

Posted by: bbartlog at June 2, 2003 06:24 AM

When you sign up you can indicate which states you're opting out of. As long as you don't opt out of all the states but your own home state. :)

Posted by: Jacqueline at June 2, 2003 01:38 PM

Jacqueline -
yes, I saw that on further investigation. My wife and I are now signed up. I'm hoping for Wyoming myself ...

Posted by: bbartlog at June 3, 2003 08:39 AM

But why regard the FSP as a 'purist' exercise? I am far from being a libertarian purist - heck, i don't even object to state redistribution of income (I like Milton Friedman's ideas on negative income tax). And whatever is accomplished will be done by changes to the existing political structure - it's not like someone is trying to create a libertarian utopia in some uninhabited wasteland.

I suppose you could characterize it as radical - but that's a different matter -

Posted by: bbartlog at June 4, 2003 08:33 AM