"There's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it." ~ William James
The Road to Freedom
Exclusive to STR
October 20, 2006
F.A. Hayek warned us about the road to serfdom, but he was also sure of the road to freedom: convince the intellectuals about the virtues of freedom and capitalism, and the rest of the people will follow. Hayek's strategy continues to be very popular among libertarians, but unfortunately it works so slowly that it leaves only little hope of liberty in our lifetime.
As the state gets more and more power over more and more parts of our lives, the task seems nearly impossible and you might even feel like taking the blue pill and quitting. However, what if only a small group of devoted people could make a huge difference by building a libertarian competition to the state? Not only would they be living in freedom themselves, they would also be a living example of a flourishing libertarian society to whoever might doubt the benefits of freedom. I have examined the different roads to freedom in our lifetime and finally found one that seems both realistic and attractive.
The most traveled road for those who try to attain political changes is of course through the established democratic system. Whether you vote for the main candidate who seems the least socialist or try to get votes for a third party, the advantages and especially the disadvantages of the democratic strategy remain the same.
This road has one big advantage: you can keep living where you live and you can keep your work, your neighbors, your culture, and your friends.
Of course, the disadvantage is that 120 million people must want to break their chains. If you are as optimistic as Jim Davies, 100 libertarians will each year be able to convince another 100, who in turn will be able to convince another 100, and so on. After 21 years, 209 million libertarians will be the overwhelming majority in the US . If, on the other hand, you prefer to look at things more realistically, you know that a lot of people never will buy into libertarian arguments no matter how good they might be: maybe this is because they are fed with socialist propaganda through the media every single day, or maybe because they have come to rely so deeply on government services and the generous nature of politicians that they cannot imagine a world, nor their personal finances, without them.
I believe that with so many people having a personal interest in increasing government budgets, we have passed the point of no return and the democratic strategy is very unlikely to succeed. Even if it can be done, the process is so very slow, thus not favorable for liberty in our lifetime.
Free State Project
The Free State Project also works within the democratic framework but makes use of the fact that voters can move to other democratic units. The goal of the project is to get 20,000 libertarians to move to New Hampshire . Together, the 20,000 will have much more to say on the state level than they would have had if they were scattered all over the US . The advantage of this strategy is that you can introduce libertarian reforms a little quicker than with the purely democratic strategy.
On the other hand, is it worth sacrificing your house and living close to your family and friends for this tiny advantage? After all, at the time of writing, the FSP has only 7,300 members. Even if they reach their goal of 20,000, how big a difference will they be able to make in the New Hampshire population of 1.2 million?
If a Free State Project should really make a difference, and not just turn out to be a libertarian coffee club, the target state must be of such a size that the arriving libertarians will play a large role, if not the major one, in upcoming elections. Also, as the federal government gets increasingly more powerful, the advantage of having libertarians governing a state diminishes. This is why you would have to look outside of the U.S. to find ideal target countries for a Free State Project. European micro-democracies like Liechtenstein and Monaco with about 35,000 inhabitants, Andorra with a population of 67,000, or maybe even the Faeroe Islands with 47,000, if you are able to secede from Denmark , all seem more advantageous for a Free State Project. If you are in an even more exotic mood, you could even try the world's smallest democracy. Polynesian Niue seems quite easy to win over with only 800 voting citizens.
The larger a part of the population the libertarian newcomers make up, however, the larger is the risk of the native inhabitants rejecting such an enormous immigration. A lot of them will not at all be interested in having a libertarian society and even more will fear a boost in unemployment as the "foreigners take our jobs." Unfortunately, it is still a widespread misunderstanding that the supply of work does not follow the demand for work. The imminent risk of political regulation of immigration makes Free State projects in micro-democracies much less attractive.
A few loads of Kalashnikovs, some artillery, and maybe even a few kamikaze bombers should be more than enough to coup the state. The libertarian revolution has succeeded.
Many people claim, like the founding fathers and Henry David Thoreau, that it is not only man's right but also his duty to overthrow an unjust and corrupt state. If so, I guess we can safely begin with the American one.
The problem is that the power of any authority depends upon the consent of its subjects. We already know too well that the vast majority of Americans believe that government is the solution to our problems. That is, after all, what they are told every single day of their lives.
Without widespread public support for overthrowing the government, a libertarian revolution will inevitably end up like many other violent revolutions in history: with rebellion, counter-revolutions and violent conflicts. As Franklin Sanders wrote: If the current U.S. government were to suddenly disappear, "the present American slave mentality would only erect another system of slavery [read: government]."
Put a different way, the goal depends upon the means. If violent means are used in order to reach the goal, then the goal will also be violent. If we want a peaceful and libertarian society where all human interactions are voluntary, then the means must be of the exact same nature. As Gandhi said, "Our progress towards the goal is always in exact proportion to the purity of our means. This method may appear to be long, perhaps too long, but I am convinced it is the shortest."
Thus, the revolutionary strategy has the same disadvantages as the democratic one: it requires widespread public support. When you eventually have this widespread public support, the democratic way seems easier after all.
See also Voluntary Resistance.
Why not buy some small and uninhabited island and declare its independence just as Americans did 230 years ago, or as Danish hippies did with government property in the Seventies when they founded Christiania? You will be completely self-determinant with no democratic opponents or rebellious socialists.
The question is if whatever state that previously controlled the area will invade it and demand to remain sovereign. While it is against the very nature of the state to give up power voluntarily, politicians will not act in ways that will deprive them of votes at the upcoming election. Thus, the objective is to win over public opinion. By renouncing all government handouts as health insurance, education, and protection in return for nothing else but to live in peace, libertarians will seem harmless while the intervening state will seem ruthless and totalitarian.
Indeed, if you ask people if they will allow libertarians to live in any way they want to on an island, most of them have nothing against that. I once asked Danish semi-communist Member of Parliament Rune Lund the same question and even he saw no reason for the state to intervene. However, if the secessionists are to be taken seriously, they cannot consist of eccentric, tax-shunning millionaires alone (not that I can be said to be a millionaire). It must be a broader group of ordinary people willing to stand out and tell the world why they will not submit to the chains of the government.
No matter what, however, you never know what the state might come up with and you do have a serious problem when the entire forces of Leviathan are assembled outside your door, demanding back the sovereignty of the state. Furthermore, you have only scanty possibilities to enlarge the area as the population grows. The next strategy in my examination avoids both problems.
Make new land
While some maintain that a legitimate secession requires you not only to buy land from the owner, but also from the state, no state can rightfully claim ownership of newly developed land in the high seas. Technically, it can be done either by dumping large amounts of dirt, sand, or gravel in the ocean or by building stationary or floating platforms.
The drawback is that as of 1999, the state has control as far as 24 nautical miles (27 miles) from the coastline. And this might not even be enough because the UN has ruled that states have the exclusive right to the use of natural resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone which is no less than 200 nautical miles (230 miles) from the coastline. Furthermore, this strategy is initially a bit more expensive than the democratic and the Free State strategies, especially if you decide to go with dumping dirt.
On the other hand, you are not going to be paying any taxes at all. Furthermore, concrete is incredibly cheap, so building platforms is not very expensive. Floating platforms inhabited by one family or a small neighborhood has another very big advantage: they can be connected to each other, forming larger modules. This way the libertarian society can gradually grow bigger. Last but not least, every single unit can leave the community simply by floating away. Compared to today's cost of moving, this is incredibly cheap and easy.
Thus, if the state hunts you down, you just float to more peaceful waters. This applies to already existing states as well to states that might develop on board. The smaller the costs of moving, the harder it will be for a state to gain power. As David Friedman writes in his book Machinery of Freedom: "Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a house trailer and speaks the same language. One day, the president of France announces that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next morning the president of France finds himself ruling a peaceful but empty landscape; the population having been reduced to himself, three generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents."
To conclude this part: if you omit violating the state's "right" to ocean resources in the Exclusive Economic Zone, you can site new land on floating platforms 27 miles from the coastline and have the same advantages as with secession: complete freedom and independence, but still close to the rest of the world. Furthermore, the risk of the state intervening is much, much smaller; and if it still intervenes, you just float away. Moreover, you are not limited to occupy only a certain seceded area: after all, only 25% of the earth is occupied by states. The remaining 75 floating percent are just waiting to be homesteaded. To build new land seems to be both the most realistic and most attractive strategy.
Homesteading the seas is exactly what the Seastead project sets out to do. Wayne Grimlich and Patri Friedman, grandson of Milton, have made a plan for how to incrementally move from building swimming pool models to the first floating, seaworthy colossus. The current step is to finish the book, explaining in detail how the floating platforms will work. The objective of the book is to build interest and make contact with investors. The draft is about 100 pages and can be read online.
There have been earlier attempts to build new micro-nations at sea, but they have by and large all been extremely unrealistic. Take, for instance, New Utopia which is still waiting for some unknown billionaire to show up and fund the whole thing. The Seastead approach is different, incremental, and surprisingly cheap with an estimated cost of roughly $56/sq ft. of area on the first couple of small models. The seaworthy models will of course be bigger and therefore, all other things equal, cheaper per sq ft. The hexagonal design of the Seastead even makes it fit into larger modules, so that the free area can be enlarged spontaneously and gradually just like cities on the continent.
Unfortunately, the project seems to be in a bit of a lull with less than monthly updates on the blog. But that should not keep us from reading the book, learn from their ideas, and make them happen. Besides, the fact that several industries would have an interest in residing in a completely unregulated tax haven, rich libertarians do indeed exist. Maybe they would be no less than excited to invest in a seasteading project?
See also the presentation of Seastead at the University of Colorado on video.
Mark Twain, 1800's: "Buy land. They've stopped making it"
Seasteaders, 2003: "Memo: Production Resuming"
Pictures are copyright of Seastead.org