zone of liberty

Zones of Liberty

Arnold Kling offers some suggestions for slowing or reversing our present decline into totalitarianism. One of his suggestions begins with this:

[E]nable people to escape the power of monopoly government. This could be all-out escape, as in seasteading or charter cities. Or it could be incremental escape, as I propose in Unchecked and Unbalanced, with vouchers, charter communities, and competitive government, meaning mutual associations and standard-setting bodies in which people enter and exit voluntarily.

I like the idea of charter communities, which I see as a form of competitive government. I call my version zones of liberty. These would be experiments in liberty. If successful, they would lead the way to the kind of federalism envisaged by the Framers of the original Constitution.

The 50 States (and their constituent municipalities) are incompatible with the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers. Today’s State and municipal governments are too bureaucratic and too beholden to special interests; they have become smaller versions of the federal government. For, in today’s populous States and municipalities, coalitions of minority interests are able to tyrannize the populace. (The average State today controls the destinies of 25 times as many persons as did the average State of 1790.) Those Americans who “vote with their feet” through internal migrration do not escape to regimes of liberty so much as they escape to regimes that are less tyrannical than the ones in which they had been living.

The kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers — and the kind of federalism necessary to liberty — would require the devolution to small communities and neighborhoods of all but a few powers: war-making, the conduct of foreign affairs, and the regulation of inter-community commerce for the sole purpose of ensuring against the erection of barriers to trade. With that kind of federalism, the free markets of ideas and commerce would enable individuals to live in those communities and neighborhoods that best serve their particular conceptions of liberty.

What do I have in mind? A zone of liberty would be something like a “new city” — with a big difference. Uninhabited land would be acquired by a wealthy lover (or lovers) of liberty, who would establish a development authority for the sole purpose of selling the land in the zone. The zone would be populated initially by immigrants from other parts of the United States. The immigrants would buy parcels of land from the development authority, and on those parcels they could build homes or businesses of their choosing. Buyers of parcels would be allowed to attach perpetual covenants to the parcels they acquire, and to subdivide their parcels with (or without) the covenants attached. All homes and businesses would have to be owned by residents of the zone, in order to ensure a close connection between property interests and governance of the zone.

Infrastructure would be provided by competing vendors of energy, telecommunications, and transportation services (including roads and their appurtenances). Rights-of-way would be created through negotiations between vendors and property owners. All other goods and services — including education and medical care — would be provided by competing vendors. No vendor, whether or not a resident of the zone, would be subject to any regulation, save the threat of civil suits and prosecution for criminal acts (e.g., fraud). Any homeowner or business owner could import or export any article or service from or to any place, including another country; there would be no import controls, duties, or tariffs on imported or exported goods and services.

The zone’s government would comprise an elected council, a police force, and a court (all paid for by assessments based on the last sale price of each parcel in the zone). The police force would be empowered to keep the peace among the residents of the zone, and to protect the residents from outsiders, who would be allowed to enter the zone only with the specific consent of resident homeowners or business owners. Breaches of the peace (including criminal acts) would be defined by the development of a common law through the court. The elected council (whose members would serve single, four-year terms) would oversee the police force and court, and would impose the assessments necessary to defray the costs of government. The council would have no other powers, and it would be able to exercise its limited powers only by agreement among three-fourths of the members of the council. The members, who would not be salaried, would annually submit a proposed budget to the electorate, which would have to approve the budget by a three-fourths majority. The electorate would consist of every resident who is an owner or joint owner of a residence or business (not undeveloped land), and who has attained the age of 30.

A zone of liberty would not be bound by the laws (statutory and otherwise) of the United States, the individual States, or any of political subdivision of a State. (The federal government could impose a per-capita tax on residents of the zone, in order to defray the zone’s per-capita share of the national budget for defense and foreign affairs.) The actions of the zone’s government would be reviewable only by the U.S. Supreme Court, and then only following the passage of a bill of particulars by two-thirds of each house of Congress, and with  the concurrence the president. (A zone could be abolished only with the approval of four-fifths of each house of Congress, and with the concurrence of the president.)

Absent such an experiment, I see only one hope for liberty — albeit a slim one — a Supreme Court that revives the Constitution. Politics as usual will only take us further down the road to serfdom.

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Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
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