Free State: Pioneers or Isolationists?

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Free State: Pioneers or Isolationists?

by Ari Amstrong, March 3, 2004

Recently I had a conversation with a skeptic of the "Free Wyoming" project. He cogently expressed some important objections that I wish to address. The skeptic outlined three main arguments against moving to Wyoming for political purposes, which I'll summarize.

1. America is already a relatively free land. Sure, there are problems, but in general we can practice many of our basic freedoms without much hindrance.

2. Living in a wealthy area is important. Going off to live in isolation in the woods somewhere doesn't make for a very good life. Living in economically advanced parts of the country gives a person greater access to good health care, cultural amenities, social networks, and other benefits.

3. The "Free Wyoming" project is likely to appeal mostly to fundamentalist religious types. Authoritarianism is implicit in religion (as Ayn Rand describes in "Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World"). Living in a predominantly Christian culture would not contribute to a quality life.

I'll discuss each point in turn. First, while it is true that the United States are relatively free, taxes are high and getting worse, the drug wars and gun wars continue at full force, the government controls most children's education, and economic restrictions choke industry and entrepreneurship.

Already there is a migration of people from the coasts to the "Inland West," the four corners and the states to the north. However, while the political climate in Colorado is marginally better than it is in California, the improvement isn't much to get excited about. The sort of change possible in a well-conceived "free state" migration is more substantial.

The risks of a general political decline in America, and the benefits of a political safe-haven in Wyoming, are outcomes about which we can make only educated guesses. My crystal ball is in the repair shop. Obviously, those who fear national economic decline and political repression will be more likely to move to Wyoming, as are those who think significant reforms are possible in Wyoming.

Let us turn to the second point. In today's world of auto and plane travel, things like quality healthcare are available throughout the nation. True, living in a relatively isolated area slightly increases some risks, but it also decreases some risks (such as the risk of violent crime).

With technology, we're able to maintain social networks even over distances. Besides, Wyoming borders Colorado, so weekend trips to Denver are easy to arrange.

The "Free Wyoming" project, at least as described in Boston T. Party's Molôn Labé!, is not some back-woods cabin sort of isolationist movement. Instead, Boston envisions a movement that will bring new industry to the state and create a free-market haven. True, Boston promotes Wyoming because it is sparsely populated, but he has two specific reasons for that: a low population makes serious political reforms more feasible, and a region with plenty of country offers many opportunities to improve shooting skills. "Free staters" are deluding themselves if they think significant political reform is possible in a high-population state.

High-density areas are associated with more aggressive politics for a simple reason: honey attracts flies. That is, high-wealth areas are capable of supporting a larger and better-fed leech class. For standard public choice reasons, the beneficiaries of forcible wealth transfers tend to organize politically. Less-developed areas simply can't sustain the same levels of bureaucracy and subsidy. The hope is that the new productivity in Wyoming would be due to an influx of libertarians who would keep the statists at bay.

As Boston has noted, the first migrants to Wyoming would be those with portable jobs. Any sort of tech service should do well there, along with any production plant that serves a national clientele. Obviously, the more Wyoming prospers, the more free-market people it will attract.

Of course, a prosperous, economically advanced Wyoming is a hope, not a guarantee. The early movers will have to pave the way for others. But to argue they should not do so (assuming they have rationally calculated the potential risks and rewards as well as they're able) is to argue against pioneering per se. The pioneer is by definition a person who moves to a frontier in order to build a new world starting in a harsh environment. Relative to the Old West, or to space today, the modern Wyoming "frontier" is a cushy place indeed. Yes, early movers to Wyoming will face tougher challenges than those who follow, but they'll also play a hand in creating (what could be) the most exciting free-market environment in the world. The lifestyle of the pioneer is not for everyone, but I look to pioneers with reverence. America is the land of pioneers.

Third, I don't think Wyoming migrants will be predominantly conservative Christians. True, Boston espouses a fairly traditionalist Christian ideology. However, the "free state" idea is not original with him. Besides the official "Free State Project," decades ago a woman from Fort Collins (Colorado) tried to get other libertarians to move to that town. (Nothing much ever came of the effort.) The "free state" idea is likely to appeal only to those Christians who value a free society. Libertarians are more likely than the masses to be atheists, so the free-state idea is bound to attract a disproportionate number of atheists.

Not all Christians are alike. Boston is an empiricist Christian of the Enlightenment vein. Other Christians are quick to use state power to achieve their religious objectives. Authoritarian Christians simply won't be attracted to a free Wyoming -- they will be repelled by it. ("What, no drug laws? No adult-pornography laws? No pledge or prayer in schools?")

We already live in a predominantly Christian culture. True, metropolitan areas tend to be more secular than rural areas. It's possible that Wyoming is more conservative and more Christian than Colorado is. I simply don't know. It's also true that metropolitan areas tend to be more socialistic. Offhand, it's not obvious to me that trading a few atheistic socialists for a few Christian libertarians is a bad deal. (And let's not forget that Colorado is already home to Focus on the Family.)

My skeptic friend and I also discussed the "martyr factor" of Christians. Because Christians believe a better life is waiting for them after they die, they're more likely to surrender their lives fighting for a cause. Atheists, on the other hand, believe this life is the only one we've got. However, I don't think this has much to do with a move to Wyoming. Christians might well take more chances than atheists, but surely this is an individual decision. Also, surely there are risks worth taking, and causes worth dying for, among atheists, too.

Thus, I conclude that the "Free Wyoming" idea is one Objectivists and atheistic libertarians (as well as Christian libertarians) should take seriously. Wyoming is already more free than many other areas of the nation, and the potential to improve the situation strikes me as real and significant.

In a best-case scenario, Wyoming government becomes a "night watchman," the people bear arms and crime drops even more, free enterprise and technology thrive, and Wyoming becomes the center of a global Renaissance. The possibility excites me, and I don't see how anybody who cares about free markets and individual liberty can fail to seriously contemplate the matter.

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