Læserinterview med Jason Sorens

Sidste onsdag kunne Liberators læsere stille spørgsmål til Jason Sorens, grundlægger af Free State Project, da han besøgte Liberators chat. Jason Sorens svarede på spørgsmål fra veloplagte Liberator-læsere i en time, men blev også på kanalen et stykke tid bagefter til en libertariansk hyggesnak. Næste debat bliver med SF’s folketingsmedlem, ligestillingsordfører(!) Kamal Qureshi om ligestilling. […]

Sidste onsdag kunne Liberators læsere stille spørgsmål til Jason Sorens, grundlægger af Free State Project, da han besøgte Liberators chat. Jason Sorens svarede på spørgsmål fra veloplagte Liberator-læsere i en time, men blev også på kanalen et stykke tid bagefter til en libertariansk hyggesnak.

Næste debat bliver med SF’s folketingsmedlem, ligestillingsordfører(!) Kamal Qureshi om ligestilling. Datoen offentliggøres her på sitet i løbet af næste uge.

Her følger læsernes interview med Jason Sorens i let redigeret form:

Liberator: Jason, as an introduction, could you please elaborate on how you came up with the idea of the Free State Project, and how come you have chosen New Hampshire as your target?

Jason Sorens: I came up with the Free State Project while I was still a graduate student, researching secessionist and autonomist movements in Europe and North America. One finding from my research is that in the developed West, central governments are losing power to their regions – especially when those regions have strong secessionist parties. In the United States, the trend has been the reverse – toward more central power.

Since the U.S. is a federal system, I concluded that libertarians could have a significant influence on politics by working at the state level.

Thus, I wrote an article proposing a “Free State Project” that would gather 20,000 libertarian activists in a low-population state, where they could probably use their leverage to win electoral majorities.

Liberator: Isn’t it naive to think that a majority of the volunteers actually will move? One thing is to sign a non binding internet statement of intent, it’s quite another ting to convince your spouse, uproot your family and quit your job.

Jason Sorens: After the article came out in “The Libertarian Enterprise,” two hundred people e-mailed me to say they wanted to do it, and thus was the Project born. In the early days, we decided to hold a vote on which state to choose. We would hold this vote after reaching 5,000 signatures. We reached that level in August 2003, and New Hampshire was the chosen state.

Liberator: So, was New Hampshire chosen only because of its low population or the low tax rate, or the combination between the two?

Jason Sorens: That’s a good question. Certainly, many of the people who initially sign up for the Project will forget about it and will not move. For that reason, we really need to keep signing people up even after we reach our goal. Also, we are trying to help people make the move early if they want to. So far over 130 families have moved – perhaps as many as 200 individual people.

Liberator: What is the prospects for getting influence in New Hampshire, even if you actually manage to mobilize 20.000 people?

Jason Sorens: I think a variety of factors affected the choice. Some people were impressed by the fact that the governor of New Hampshire welcomed the Free State Project, even before the state was chosen. New Hampshire also has the lowest state and local taxes in the U.S. (except Alaska, which relies on oil revenues), the lowest dependence on federal subsidies of any state, ample personal freedoms (no seatbelt law, few gun laws, no motorcycle helmets etc.)

These factors apparently outweighed the fact that New Hampshire is not quite the least-populated state in the country (Wyoming is).

I did some research on the influence 20,000 people could have in a low-population state. You can view that research here.
In a nutshell, if the people who move are somewhat active in politics, they should influence the votes of a far larger number of people .

In fact, the people who have moved so far have already scored some impressive political victories.

Liberator: What is the population of New Hampshire?

Jason Sorens: 1.2 million

Liberator: Could New Hampshire function with 20.000 people moving in so fast? How would unemployment be, for example?

Jason Sorens: I don’t think people will move in all at once. So far the growth in the project has been gradual. The 20,000 people will move in over a period of about ten years, I think. New Hampshire created over 120,000 new jobs in the last ten years; it is quite economically dynamic. The only problem with that is that its economy may draw in non-libertarians too!

Liberator: What kind of initiatives will the Free State Project try to get through? Like reforms of the existing institutions, Friedmanite voucher programs and so – or more radical abolition of areas of state power (eg. education on the market)?

Jason Sorens: I think most free staters would like to get government out of education altogether. However, initial reforms are going to be modest. One free stater had her legislator introduce a bill deregulating homeschooling, and it looks as if that bill will pass and be signed by the governor. Other free staters are working on medical marijuana legislation. Another area is taxation; there is a great deal of support for abolishing the statewid.

Liberator: “Statewid”?

Jason Sorens: There are two types of property taxes in New Hampshire: the larger portion is from local governments, and the smaller portion is from the state government.

New Hampshire has no general income or sales taxes, but there are a few other small taxes on hotels, meals, and businesses.

Liberator: Ok there’s a lot of questions about the reactions from other groups, institutions etc. – here’s a few:

It’s kind of a long term planned democratic coup d’etat. Do you get any reactions from non-libertarians getting provoced by your intentions?

Jason Sorens: Yes, certainly. In New Hampshire most of the newspapers and most of the democratic party apparatus have opposed the free state project, while, interestingly, conservative republicans and the union-leader newspaper have largely supported the free state project. In New Hampshire, republicans are friendly to libertarians; they are concerned about tax and spending issues and don’t really care that libertarians want to legalize drugs.

Liberator: Could any interventions from the federal government be a future issue?
Jason Sorens: It is very unlikely that the federal government will directly interfere in state and local politics, but the real rub comes in when we try to get powers back from the federal government. Ultimately, we will want to have our citizens exempted from social security, the federal income tax, the federal war on drugs, and so on. How can we get the federal government to back down? We could try using the federalism argument, based on the much freer society and a “natural laboratory” for the ideas of liberty.

Liberator: If the project succeeded how much government intervention would you think there would be?

Jason Sorens: I look forward to the day when free staters can debate that issue! Personally, I think everything should done by contract. Even a welfare state could be legitimate if it is agreed on by everyone affected. such a society would probably be highly decentralized and highly diverse, with many different local authorities.

Liberator: Everything by contract? Even law enforcement?

Jason Sorens: Morally, I think that even law enforcement must be based on contract. The trouble is that some people may prefer one law enforcer, while others prefer another. Coercing one group or the other to accept a single enforcer would be unjust. Robert Nozick grappled with this problem in “anarchy, state, and utopia.” For practical reasons, I don’t think there will be competing law enforcers.

Liberator: Ok so we’re not talking property anarchy…

LA Times had an article about Christian Fundamentalists attempting somewhat the same as the Free State Project in South Carolina. Do you think that in the end, all would be better of if all political groups took over their own state?

Jason Sorens: so long as they respect constitutional procedures and don’t try to overwhelm unwilling local populations, I think these movements are beneficial. South Carolina is already very religious and very conservative. christian exodus fits into that environment, just as the free state project fits into the environment of New Hampshire. With more diversity among states, more people can live in an environment they enjoy and morally approve.

Liberator: www.europeanfreestate.org seems to be the European equivalent of the Free State Project. It does not seem to be active though. What do you think will be different about a European free state project? What should they look out for?

Jason Sorens: I think a European free state project might work, but there is an additional barrier: cultural differences. I’m not certain that the residents of Graubuenden (Switzerland) would welcome several hundred polyglot European libertarians into their small community. Immigration can be a highly divisive issue in Europe. Nevertheless, in some ways, the opportunities may be greater for a European free state. There are more very small jurisdictions.

Liberator: It appears that it is difficult enough to organize a project of this scale and ambitions in the US, but given the cultural and political traits of Europe, an equivalent project in Europe could face problems a lot more difficult to surmount – how did you get started, and do you have any methods to recommend as “best practice” for starting this kind of project?

Jason Sorens: The internet is a wonderful tool for organization, because it dramatically reduces the costs of organizing people who are spread out over large distances. I think it’s probably true that most of Europe is not quite as “wired” as the u.s., a fact that may inhibit use of this tool for a European project. Language differences can also be a problem.

I think a “European free state” would be a big media story, especially with all the talk of a future “Europe of the regions” and so on.

And some European countries are obviously more sympathetic than others to libertarian/classical liberal ideas. Switzerland would be an ideal location if it were an EU member…

Liberator: What are the costs of organizing a project this large, do you need a lot of donors (like big corporations etc.), is it possible to organize as a smaller “grass roots” project?

Jason Sorens: We’re an all-volunteer project, so we run on a small budget (about $30-50,000 per year). However, that has put a lot of strain on our volunteers. It would be better to have at least one full-time administrator. All our donations have come from individuals, nothing from corporations or foundations. I would advise a European organization to choose a lower threshold than 20,000 – something like 5,000 would be attainable.

Liberator: How many people does the Free State Project employ?

Jason Sorens: Zero. However, we have paid people for specific projects occasionally

Liberator: I believe the easiest way to get into America is by getting married. Have you thought about making a dating site for libertarian singles in the Free State Project? :)

Jason Sorens: Actually, there is one! It’s not “official,” but some people use it. It’s at groups.yahoo.com/group/fspsingles if I remember correctly. People also make connections at the porcupine festival we hold every year. in fact, several free staters have met each other at the festival and later gotten married!

Liberator: Alright then that’s settled :) Moving swiftly on to a more serious subject:

Speaking of the war on drugs: in essence, any individual should be able to choose for one self, e.g. if he/she want to do drugs, but do you acknowledge the possible social implications of freeing narcotics? If the social implications, as feared by many, are quite negative, how can you morally justify pursuing such actions?

Jason Sorens: Ethically, I’m a Kantian, not a consequentialist. In other words, I think we must do what is right and respect the autonomy of others, even when they make bad decisions. At the same time, I think it’s arguable that the negative effects of drug prohibition are as great or greater than the negative effects of legalization. Certainly, violent, gang-controlled crime has increased substantially since prohibition was first introduced.
Liberator: Alright, here’s one about the “War on terror” and the general prospects of liberty:

Hasn’t the current situation with the fear of terror eroded many civil liberties and furthermore made your project less viable

Jason Sorens: The war on terror has certainly eroded some civil liberties, but four years now after Sept 11th, I am actually a little relieved that things have not become worse. The most disturbing element of the current war on terror in the United States is the Bush administration’s claim that it may detain U.S. citizens indefinitely without charge and perhaps even torture them. This idea contradicts the very basis of constitutional government.

Whether ordinary people will ultimately realize that the federal government creates more terror than it prevents is, of course, questionable – but we can hope for the best.

Liberator: Which considerations do you have for the future while building up a completely free market?

Jason Sorens: I am not sure that I understand this question… is the question about my personal plans?

Liberator: hmm – well I think it’s more like, did you make any contemplations on future problems to surmount for your project?

Jason Sorens: Oh, sure. Well, one of the problems will be opposition from the federal government, which I’ve already addressed. Another issue is whether individualists and libertarians can work within the existing political parties in New Hampshire. I see two possible courses of action here. The first option is to work mostly within the republican party as long as we can, and try to take it over.

Liberator: “Take over” the Republican party?

Jason Sorens: Essentially move its platform in a libertarian direction and elect our candidates in the republican primary elections.

It is possible that the “centrist” republicans will oppose this agenda and successfully retain control of the party, in which case we may need to form a new party.

Liberator: What about the libertarians?

Jason Sorens: Actually, there is another scenario as well: the Idaho option. Idaho is a one-party state; almost everyone is a republican, and the real competition takes place in the primaries.

Liberator: I’m thinking about Badnarik…

Jason Sorens: Yes, there is a libertarian party in New Hampshire already, and they have been effective in some ways. I don’t believe it is possible to get elected just on the libertarian line, however, even in New Hampshire. People are so habituated to vote either democratic or republican that a third party option is really difficult. However, new parties have succeeded in American history when they are formed from (a sizeable part of) the lead.

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