Eric Crampton is right that New Zealand may be freer than the United States right now, and that few libertarians value the difference enough to move there. But I don’t think that proves that libertarianism is just “cheap talk.” The difference in economic freedom between New Zealand (82.3 on the Heritage scale) and the United States (77.8) is relatively small. Moreover, it has often been smaller still in past years, and could easily shrink again in the future. The difference in noneconomic freedom is probably also minor, and in some areas (especially freedom of speech and gun control) may cut in favor of the US.I will quibble with Ilya on personal freedoms: campaign finance is restrictive, but we have nothing like the thousands of pages of FEC regulations. South Park and HBO series air, unedited, on broadcast. Gun laws here are more restrictive than the best US states but less restrictive than the worst. And I put a whole lot of weight on that there's zero chance here that the armed offenders squad (our SWAT team) will bust down my door in a wrong-address no-knock raid and point guns at my kids, or that I'd be shot by the cops for goofing around on my lawn with a water hose. But folks put different weights on different aspects of personal freedom. The police state stuff weighs heavily for me, less for others.
The real test of whether libertarians (or anyone else) are willing to move to secure greater freedom is the pattern of migration when people have a choice between jurisdictions where the difference in freedom is substantial. Here, there is plenty of evidence that people tend to “vote with their feet” for societies with greater economic freedom.
I'm not particularly puzzled by that folks in general don't move to New Zealand: we're poorer, it's an expensive place to live, and it's awfully far from family. I'm a bit surprised that more US libertarians - the really high demanders - don't move. But the costs aren't trivial.
But why do so many American libertarians choose to live in less-free states?
I took a quick flip through the contributors to Block's libertarian autobiographies. When I could match a contributor to a US state of residence through a Google search, I did. Of the 56 I think I've placed correctly, ten lived in California (Mercatus score -0.413), eight in Virginia (0.275), six in New York (-0.784), six in Texas (0.346), four in Arizona (0.279), four in Alabama (0.092), and others elsewhere. The median freedom score enjoyed by this set of libertarians is 0.019. None seemed to live in the four most-free states: New Hampshire (0.432), Colorado (0.421), South Dakota (0.392), and Idaho (0.356). Lots lived in the least free state: New York.
The median (I'm sticking with medians in the likely case I miscategorized some of the 56) libertarian lives in a state like North Carolina (0.019) while the median American lives in a state like Delaware (-0.008). At least the difference is in the right direction; I'd feared that the median libertarian would be in a less free state than the median American because of the number of academic jobs in the Cal State and New York systems.
Unless already living in one of the most free states, it's hard to imagine anything a libertarian can do to increase the level of freedom he enjoys that is more effective than moving.
Some bottom lines:
- Libertarians regularly choose to be less free than they could be in exchange for better job opportunities, more income, better amenities, or a host of other gross substitutes. But it's not like we didn't already know that.
- There is nothing wrong with being a pluralist and putting weight on a whole bundle of things besides liberty.
- Rights-based libertarians who take a hard line, or at least it's been my experience in various barroom arguments, will say that where efficiency and liberty diverge, we have to pick liberty.* I tend to think that blackboard economics has overestimated the extent to which we can increase efficiency by treading on liberty, but there surely are some policies that fit the bill. I'm just not sure it squares well to claim always to prefer liberty to efficiency while, for example, living in New York rather than commuting in from New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
- Walter Block's list has some of the most committed libertarians. If many of them choose to live in New York and California and none choose to live in New Hampshire (Free State promises aside), the potential for "Going Galt" just might be overstated. Fortunately, Seasteading's initial business model, as I understand it, will rely more on temporary visits, medical tourists, and specialized research rather than on a bunch of libertarians actually being willing to make a high cost move.
- A very good counterargument is that freedom is heterogeneous and that you're living in California because access to medical marijuana dispensaries outweighs the other nonsense.
- If you've moved to a less free state because it has better amenities/job opportunities, and then complain about the regulations and policies, how different is that from moving next to a pig barn (because the land prices are cheap) and then complaining about the smell? In the latter case, it might be worth your while to go and chat with the neighbors to see if you could pool your money to pay the pig farmer to reduce emissions - just like it might be worth your while in the former case to point out the real world costs of the regulations and policies and hope you can help coordinate folks around a change most will prefer. But if the neighbors say that the smell doesn't bother them, why spend so much time being angry about the stench instead of just moving? And if the difference in price between the stench-house and one a ways farther down the road was $5000, and you chose the stench-house, we can probably put some bounds on how offensive the smell really is.
It's just surprising that seemingly few ideological libertarians are the ones making the move, and why I found Walter Block's choice of title, "I Chose Freedom", a bit fun. "I Would Have Chosen Liberty But The Academic Job Market Was Thin The Year I Went Out and The Weather Here Is Nice And Who Wants To Live In Flyover Country Anyway" would be cumbersome.
*I'm a pluralist: if the efficiency gains are big enough relative to the loss of freedom, I'll sign on. How could I not? If I put that much value on freedom, I'd be out living in the bush somewhere instead of South Brighton where the swimming pool inspectors hassle me.
Update: Ilya comments further; I'd like to make a couple of clarifications. First, I left DC folks out of the measures entirely: DC isn't ranked in the Mercatus study (or maybe I missed it), and it's too hard without home addresses to tell if DC folks live there (horribly anti-free place), in Virginia (decent), or Maryland (also horrible). If we put the DC folks back in as DC, the median would move a bit, but not much. That's the nice thing about the median - it's robust to my screwing a few things up. The difference between "libertarian-chosen" and the American median is trivial. The median American lives in a state two spots worse in terms of freedom than the median libertarian (by the measure above). If we put the two DC folks in as being in DC, it would be a one state rank order difference. That's trivial in a small sample.
I'd mentioned a couple of pro-freedom things about NZ. What impressed me most when I interviewed here? First, the safety nuts hadn't taken over. Cavestream had one minor warning sign. Back in the States, there would have been someone with a rifle ready to kill (for his own good) anybody who tried doing it without five permits and a guide. All kinds of crazy dangerous roads had no safety rails. I wouldn't mind safety barriers on our dodgy roads, but it was a signal of a place where the safety nuts were kept in line. Second, political discourse seemed far more free. On an evening news programme, a sitting MP told the interviewer to "stop shooting rapid fire questions at her like some 15 year old premature ejaculator." A bit more fun than C-SPAN.