Give Them Libertarianism, and a Moving Van ; for 4,800 People Seeking a Bastion of Hands-Off Rule, the Most Alluring State Has the Motto 'Live Free or Die.'

By Seth Stern writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Give Them Libertarianism, and a Moving Van ; for 4,800 People Seeking a Bastion of Hands-Off Rule, the Most Alluring State Has the Motto 'Live Free or Die.'


Seth Stern writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


It wasn't just the cheap rent and quiet living that convinced Justin Somma to move from the suburbs of New York City to the southwestern corner of New Hampshire last month.

Equally appealing to this libertarian-minded 20-something is his new state's lack of an income tax or even a motorcycle-helmet law.

Mr. Somma's migration is just the first of many encouraged by the Free State Project (FSP), which has set out to flood New Hampshire with 20,000 people bent on shrinking government. This month, FSP members chose the "Live Free or Die" state as their destination in an online vote.

They don't lack ambition: Not since the Mormons moved west and Utopians built communities in the 19th century has a single group attempted a migration of this scale. Their goal: Use a concentrated presence to make one of the nation's most fiscally conservative and small-government minded states even more so.

How many FSP members actually make the move - and how much influence they exert once they arrive - is far from clear. But few here are surprised that their state beat out its New England neighbors and western competitors, given New Hampshire's frugality, "live and let live" social policies and tradition of local rule.

"The appeal is almost obvious," says B. Thomas Schuman, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "New Hampshire has a tradition of low-tax, low-service politics and government, and their hatred of broad-based taxation is fairly legendary."

Birth of an idea, rise of a movement

At first glance, the other northern New England contenders might seem appealing, too. Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire share the "live and let live" attitude that puts privacy first in social policies such as gay rights or abortion, says Dartmouth College professor Richard Winters.

Yet what libertarian wouldn't prefer a state where legislators take such pride in their own thrift that they haven't raised their $100 annual salaries since 1889?

Sure, Wyoming and Idaho residents may mistrust government more than most New Englanders. But New Hampshire's small size has forced citizens since the Revolutionary War to work together.

The byproduct is perhaps the nation's most accessible government, with local rule by town meeting and a 400-person House, the largest in the country. Plus, as home to the nation's first presidential primary, New Hampshire offers greater national visibility than any prairie state.

If those criteria sound too fuzzy, the FSP conducted statistical regression analysis of each of the 10 nominees - based on factors such as tax burden, dependence on federal dollars, projected job growth, and crime rates.

That academic approach isn't surprising for a political movement born in a Yale graduate student's online journal article. The author, Jason Sorens, argued "liberty-oriented people" could have the biggest impact by concentrating in a single state. Once there, they could work to roll back gun-control laws and drug prohibitions.

His message struck a chord with 4,800 people who've signed on to relocate to New Hampshire - though only a handful have actually moved. The group hopes to recruit an additional 15,000 people by 2006, at which point members will have five years in which to relocate to the state. …

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