Jason Sorens, who started the Free State Project, recently observed on the FSP web forum that "the VIABILITY and CULTURE factors may be the ones ultimately determining the decision" about which candidate state to select. That set me to thinking...
Jason's research indicates that regionalist movements are most successful in areas from which central governments take more than they give. By this measure, NH comes out way ahead of every other candidate state (it gets only 71 cents for every dollar it sends to D.C.); WY gets $1.14 for every $1.00 it sends, ID $1.24, and Alaska a whopping $1.63 (to choose the four states I see as the leading contenders). The other viability measures in the spreadsheet are coastal access, an international border, and the percentage of Federally-owned land. Here again NH comes out ahead on the first two (it has both a coast and a border, whereas WY has neither, ID has one, though Alaska has both); and only 13% of NH is Federal land, whereas the numbers are WY 46%, ID 63%, and Alaska 67%. Now we can argue about how valuable these viability numbers are, and about whether there are other better measures, but on the measures we have NH comes out looking good.
As to culture, we have a lot of variables to choose from (too many, IMHO -- I'm not sure how strongly each of them is correlated with the overall freedom-orientation of the local political culture, and here again we can argue about them for hours, I'm sure). However, one thing that strikes me from having researched the matter a bit over the last few weeks is that NH does have a distinctive political culture. It has a unique system of checks and balances on the power of the Governor in the form of the elected Executive Council. It has a true citizen legislature that is effectively unpaid. It spends only 6.6% of "gross state product" on state and local government (lowest of any FSP state -- compare to 9.4% for WY, 9.5% for ID, and 9.7% for Alaska). It has a strong tradition of local decision-making in the form of town meetings. It really does seem to have a "government of the people", which I'm less confident of in a place like WY (where my understanding is that large mining and oil & gas interests exercise quite a bit of control at the state level -- they do pay most of the taxes in WY, after all, and "he who pays the piper calls the tune").
I'm not saying that NH is paradise on earth -- after all, they even have state liquor stores! If NH were already a Jeffersonian utopia, there would be no need for the FSP. But I do think that NH has retained more of Jeffersonian principles than any other state -- especially because it is less dependent on the central government, and has a smaller state and local government sector, than any other FSP candidate.
Naturally, we need to balance these viability and culture measures against population, which I continue to think is hugely important. I remain skeptical of the 20,000 activist number (or 1:64 ratio), because I'm not sure that the Quebec experience is applicable to the FreeState and I doubt that all 20k who sign up will be truly active (we'll be lucky if the 80-20 rule holds and 20% or 4,000 are active enough to show up at town meetings, run for office, or write letters to the editor). Of course, even 4,000 activists will dwarf the number of freedom activists in any state right now, so I think the results will be profound no matter where we go.
Finally, I'm glad to see the focus in this thread on the long term prospects for this project. Too many people on the forums and on various email lists seem to be expecting some kind of immediate "libertopia". It ain't gonna happen, folks, and to expect that is to set yourself up for immediate disappointment. The free state is a long-term project. It will be 2010 before the 20,000 have moved, and at least another 10 to 20 years before the efforts of those on the ground truly yield fruit -- i.e., it will take until 2020 or later to build a truly free society in the chosen state. So those who join the FSP and move to the FreeState and become active there really need to have "2020 vision" and realize that it will take years and years of often-small victories (and probably lots of setbacks along the way) in order to build what we trust will eventually become unstoppable momentum for freedom.
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