On Sunday I returned from five days in Lancaster, NH at “Porcfest,” short for the Porcupine Freedom Festival. (The porcupine is the mascot, because it doesn’t attack but can ably defend itself.) My first experience was at Porcfest 2011, where I had a blast, and once again Porcfest 2012 turned out to be my favorite week of the year. In this article I’ll explain why I now save up my vacation for this event, and why it’s relevant to everyone who loves liberty.
The first thing to say about Porcfest is that it’s a lot of fun. Now admittedly, some of this comes from the fact that there are plenty of libertarians who are “Friends” on Facebook, and they only get to meet at events like this. But beyond that, it is undeniably true that Porcfest differs from most other official liberty events, because it is located at a campground. It started out as a simple gathering of liberty-minded individuals who wanted to camp and talk about these issues, and kept growing over the years so that now its total attendance in a given year breaks 1,000.
I have described Porcfest as “Woodstock for libertarians” only half in jest. There really are bands, all of whom support liberty and several of whom play music specifically in that vein (such as Jordan Page with his Ron Paul-themed songs). And where else would I have the opportunity to say this?
Yet Porcfest is more than a week-long party. As the crowds have grown, it’s made sense for the organizers to bring in speakers. For example, last year I spoke on the possibility of Stateless legal systems, while this year I was on one panel discussing Austrian Economics and gave a separate talk on what money and banking would look like in an unregulated market. This year also featured talks from economists Ben Powell on the economic analysis of sweatshops, and Dan D’Amico on prison privatization.
There’s something more, though, that conveys just how unique Porcfest is. To understand this aspect, you need to realize that Porcfest is an offshoot of the Free State Project (FSP), which has the slogan, “Liberty in our lifetime.” The FSP has chosen New Hampshire as its target site, and encourages the mobile and liberty-minded to move to the state. (Currently 1,039 people have moved to New Hampshire under the auspices of the FSP.)
Although some view the FSP as an effort to implement small government at the local level (through concentrating libertarian voters in a small geographical area), the broader goal is simply to immerse oneself in a community of people who believe that voluntary social arrangements are preferable to coercive ones. Although they know they are still beholden to the claims of the federal government, the participants in the FSP try to deal with each other through peaceful means, turning to arbitration brokered by other Free Staters rather than the police when problems arise.
Within this context, we can now talk about some of the other events at a typical Porcfest. In addition to the speeches on academic, theoretical topics, there are also very practical panels telling people how to find a job and an apartment if they move to New Hampshire, how to homeschool one’s children without running afoul of state laws, and how to navigate the legal system if one wants to engage in activism (such as protesting outside City Hall, handing out leaflets at the airport decrying the TSA, etc.).
It is because Porcfest is composed of hundreds of people who are living out their professed lifestyle, that I was so taken with the event last year. As I walked out of an event on homeschooling, I saw food vendors who accepted silver and Bitcoin, as well as U.S. dollars (or “FRNs”—Federal Reserve Notes—as the Porcfest attendees disparagingly call them). At the same time, there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people openly carrying guns and large knives, yet everyone felt perfectly safe. Indeed, many parents bring young children to Porcfest, where there are fun events designed especially for them. At other libertarian conferences, you can hear speeches on what a free society might look like, but at Porcfest, you see it—at least a glimpse—with your own eyes. Even though my entire career has focused on the study and advocacy of a society based on voluntary relations, I myself believed in the vision more, after visiting Porcfest in 2011.
The event is certainly not for everyone—I imagine many social conservatives would feel uncomfortable—and the Free State Project is obviously not the long-term solution to an overbearing government: We can’t all move to New Hampshire. Even so, I am a strong supporter of what the people in the FSP are doing, because they provide a real-world model of how libertarianism could work. Moreover, as any free market economist knows, as more minds are incorporated into a project, the more likely it is that great ideas will emerge.
For example, last year I became hooked on one vendor’s signature dish called a “Thai-rrito,” a Thai version of a burrito that consists of chicken curry and rice, rolled into a flour tortilla. Someone told me that at PorcFest 2010 the vendor had realized that people didn’t want to sit down with a plate to eat their curry — they had friends’ campers to visit and beer to drink! So the Thai-rrito, which could easily be eaten while walking, was developed in response to the needs of the consumer.
For a more significant development, I ran into some guys who had laminated a business card containing a U.S. pre-1964 dime. On the back of the card was a table showing how much silver such dimes and quarters contain, and what their market value was when silver was $30/oz. This technique allows people to easily engage in commerce using silver, but with little risk of the government cracking down on the operation. After all, how can the feds object if people are buying things with official U.S. coins?
Those who desire more freedom have adopted many different strategies to achieve their goals. Although it can’t be the only technique, the plan of the Free Staters is worthwhile. In any event, adventurous liberty lovers should check out Porcfest 2013!