This article was published in the Autumn 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation

Get a Free Nation by Running a Professional Think Tank

by Richard O. Hammer

(to table of contents of FNF archives)  (to start of essay)

What is the Goal?  What Does "There" Mean?
A Think Tank Is the Stepping Stone Which We Need
More Professionalism: A Step Which We Can Take
FNF's Formulations of Critical Institutions Will Never Be Perfect, And Do Not Need to Be

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For my contribution to our Forum topic, "How Do We Get There From Here?", I will express again what I have called the FNF work plan. But, before starting on that, I had better repeat what I mean by "There," since it seems to me that those of us who participate in FNF are working to achieve different ends.

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What Is the Goal? What Does "There" Mean?

I want to see the creation of a new free nation on Earth. By "nation" I mean what is most commonly meant: a piece of real estate with borders separating it from other nations, borders which will be drawn in atlases. This nation will have a population of at least several thousand people.

When I say "nation" I do not mean a nation in cyberspace. And I do not mean a people who form a nation by virtue of the fact that they share libertarian values—even though they live dispersed as a minority among a large population of statists within a country such as the US.

When I say "new free nation" I do not mean the US or any other first- or second-world nation. All strategies of which I am aware to free any of these nations follow the standard popular-persuasion paradigm. Now I grant that popular persuasion might work one day. If popular persuasion is your thing, go for it. But I founded FNF because I see another path open before us. Unless I delude myself it should be possible for a sufficiently strong organization to establish a new Hong Kong, on land rented or purchased from some other nation.

I want a feeling of community where I live. Because the inhabitants of the free nation will live within one geographical space, they will form one national community. And, within this national community, smaller communities, including families, will form and grow as guided by natural forces, and not as dictated by some government.

I want to live in a nation where people can live openly. Suppose I have three wives, or punish my children when they err, or smoke dope, or make my living by selling treatments without a medical license from the government. I want to live where I can be open about this, where my neighbors and any strangers who might be passing through can know this about me. I want to live without fear that my candor will provoke a raid from the police.

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A Think Tank Is the Stepping Stone Which We Need

So my goal is the establishment of something like a new Hong Kong. But I must think of this goal in abstract terms because it is too grandiose for me. I can imagine the end, in which a corporation of wealthy libertarians pays a half billion dollars to purchase an underpopulated corner of a poor, third-world nation. But I must recognize that I am not in any position to start shopping for real estate. Furthermore, I think that any non-billionaire who shops for real estate on this scale is simply wasting his time; he would be smarter to spend his resources on building a stepping stone.

Neither am I in a position to try to start such a corporation, which would eventually purchase real estate. The founding of such a corporation would require more wealth and respectability than I can bring to it. I think a committee of people such as Bill Gates, Thomas Sowell, Margaret Thatcher, Charles Koch, and Ron Paul could launch such a corporation, with reasonable hope of success. But I cannot. Furthermore, I think that anyone who starts now to form such a corporation, who does not have the wealth or respectability of one of the people I named, is simply wasting her time; she would be smarter to spend her resources on building a stepping stone.

So, unless you happen to be a billionaire or a famous leader, I think that the goal of a New Hong Kong requires more resources than you and I have. If we hope to see the goal achieved we need to find a way to catch the respectful attention of people who have more resources.

I believe that a New Hong Kong could work. But I must admit that I am more starry-eyed than most. I suppose that the reason why some wealthy corporation has not already undertaken this is because the idea sounds too farfetched. I can see why levelheaded businesspersons stay away from this.

Given the reasoning thus far, the idea occurs to me to run a think tank which focuses upon issues concerning the establishment of a new free nation. In founding the Free Nation Foundation I made this assumption:

If a think tank, with the professionalism of the Cato Institute, regularly held meetings and published documents in which various solutions, to the numerous problems which can be foreseen concerning establishment of a New Hong Kong, were proposed and debated, this would raise the credibility of the idea of establishing a New Hong Kong. If such a think tank operated then it would not be long before billionaires and famous leaders could be recruited to the cause of establishing a New Hong Kong. Do you agree with my assumption?

Note that a think tank can be started with comparatively modest resources. In FNF we have done it already, in the formal sense. Of course FNF has not approached the size of the Cato Institute; this would require much more funding. But still a think tank on that scale, with a staff of 10-30 professionals, can be started with modest funding—when compared with the financing which I suppose would be necessary to shop for real estate.

But, a word of caution, notice that I may be biased toward the idea of think tank. Perhaps it occurred to me because I like this sort of thing anyhow. I like to read, write, and work on making a professional presentation. So my suggestion needs to be evaluated by others.

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More Professionalism: A Step Which We Can Take

Thus far FNF has not found financial support to hire professional staff. We have only volunteers. And while we often turn out good work, we have a long way to go to match the Cato Institute in professionalism.

I believe that you, who now volunteer in FNF, are capable. Even though you have other commitments, you could do a better job of making an appearance that FNF is staffed by professionals, if you work at it.

If FNF appeared more professional I think it would be easy to raise larger sums of money, and it would entice new professionals to join in our process. We could take a step down our path toward "there from here." We should do such things as:

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FNF’s Formulations of Critical Institutions Will Never Be Perfect, And Do Not Need to Be Perfect

I sometimes hear libertarians speak as though they believe that the plans for a new free nation must be perfect before the nation is launched. These people might say, for instance, that the constitution must be airtight, to eliminate any chance that government might grow. But I think that plans are never perfect.

The Unites States was founded, and provided a home to many liberties for a long time, even though there was never a perfect plan at the outset. People work on improving their plans until they are confident that they can proceed. Then they do proceed—without wasting more time on planning. So, as I see the future of the free-nation movement, entrepreneurial corporations will start new-country projects when they are willing to bet that the pieces will fall together.

Our role, in running a professional think tank, is to raise the level from which these risk takers jump toward the goal. As the quality of our work eases the doubts of more people, we should expect to see more and better attempts to launch free nations.

But we should not necessarily expect to see a direct correlation between the plans which we publish and the plans which nation-forming corporations employ. Indeed, the leaders of these corporations may be unknown to us until we learn of their projects in the news.

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With the announcement of this topic, "How Do We Get There From Here?", we published a list of questions suggested by Phil Jacobson. Here I respond to those questions.

How much planning is needed? How much organization is needed?

FNF, as I describe it, will deal with planning and organization of free-nation projects—but only in an abstract way. As a non-profit think tank it will not become directly involved in any projects. Rather, I assume that most of the detailed planning and organization will be carried out by the for-profit corporations which undertake those projects.

Of course FNF will have to plan and organize its own functions. But FNF is only a think tank, with expenditures on meetings, publications, and (hopefully) staff.

What activity should be done before a site is occupied? What activity after a site is picked and occupation begins? Again, FNF might publish formulations about how a for-profit corporation could address these questions—with the purpose being to convince investors to take such questions seriously. But we in FNF would not become directly involved. Must there be one path? Is there even a "best path"? Of course there are many paths to freedom. But in my opinion some paths are more promising than others. A person trying to escape from jail will judge a path which leads through an open door to be more sensible than a path which must be chipped through two feet of concrete. I think I see a path, the FNF work plan, which is like an open door when compared with the path of popular persuasion, at which most libertarians spend their lives chipping away. Until FNF, this path of building the credibility of the free-nation movement has been entirely overlooked. Could several free nations emerge simultaneously? Is this a wasteful diversion of resources? I think several free nations could emerge simultaneously. Since investors will decide for themselves how to invest, I do not suppose it is my place to judge whether their resources are wasted. But I might be disappointed if a dispersion of resources among numerous projects delayed the first success, because I want to live there. Are there key resources which will be required for a free nation project? If so, what are the best sources for these? Should any of these be lined up before a specific free nation project begins? Yes, one major resource is lacking. It is credibility. If credibility can be built people and capital will gravitate to a free-nation project. There will be no shortage of either people or capital (as I argued in the FNF’s founding prospects, Toward A Free Nation, 1993).

Most libertarians view the free-nation movement with skepticism—for good reason. Almost all free-nation reports tell of attempts which are superficially irresponsible and flamboyant. We can change that. By running a think tank in a professional way, we can supply more credibility to the movement.

Is it better to seek a site for a free nation in an economically "underdeveloped" part of the world or a "developed" territory? Of course "developed" sounds better to me than "underdeveloped." But we must also consider the price.

In the scenario which I imagine a deal will be struck between a corporation and the rulers in a government; the corporation will pay money in exchange for autonomy. But I cannot imagine something like this happening in the US, or in another nation which is as wealthy and proud as the US, because the rulers will be giving up more than just their authority over the real estate—they will be giving up their pretense that their government is above deals such as this one.

In the US the price of this pretense would be astronomical. I doubt that our nation-building corporation could pay it. But in a poor third-world nation, with a teetering regime which few natives respect anyhow, I imagine that payments which our corporation could afford would open the necessary doors.

Is it better to seek a site for a free nation in an uninhabited space?" Of course it would be simpler to take uninhabited space. But, because almost all land has at least a sparse population, I think FNF should formulate strategies for dealing with indigenous populations. I believe this is manageable, although not simple. D Richard O. Hammer, who was born in 1948, has been active in the libertarian movement since 1987. He founded FNF in 1993 and became editor of Formulations in 1997. Now he is withdrawing, as the principal driving force in FNF, and will complete this process before Y2K.

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