To Stay or To Go

Recently I posted on Facebook that my partner and I are considering moving to Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilmington has just about everything we have been looking for in a city. It is cheap, a college town, is about the right size (~100,000 people), dog friendly, and bike friendly (both intercity and intracity). Being a college town means there are good breweries (and home brewing options), social opportunities, fitness options like aerial silks, dance, and martial arts, has transpersonal therapists in the city, and is vegan friendly. It also happens to have a pretty awesome location near the beach, but within driving distance of the mountains, hot springs, Asheville, festivals, and swinger clubs. Yes… we have a document where we track things and give it a rating, you can’t take my economics training away.

Anyway, the one criticism about this move is that it is North Carolina and they have shitty politicians. This is mostly in reference to HB-2. It isn’t really worth getting in to my views on HB-2 as a libertarian/anarchist, I’m more interested in this idea that the best response to government you disagree with is to leave. Personally, I don’t think that is always the case.

I do need to take a moment and recognize my privilege a bit. As a white, straight-passing male in a heterosexual relationship, I am able to safely live in places that others can’t. If I were transgender, homosexual, or even African-American, some areas of the country would be an actual danger to my life to live there. In those cases I 100% support people moving… hell, I support people moving for any reason that makes them happy. But, I don’t think that “the government is shitty” is a good enough reason for me to abandon a place.

First, as a libertarian the government is pretty shitty everywhere. Every local, state, and federal government has laws on the books that I philosophically oppose.

Second, change doesn’t really happen by abandoning a place. A few libertarians are trying to gather in New Hampshire via the Free State Project… kind of trying to turn it into a version of the Bay Area but for libertarians instead of progressives and LGBT individuals. If that is what makes them happy then go for it, but unless the plan is for New Hampshire (or the Bay) to secede from the United States then they are going to be effected by the power in other places. Which is why I think it is an important tactical issue for social change for people to live where they can and fight how they can. This doesn’t necessarily mean political activism or voting (which is the weakest of all forces for social change), but simply having a libertarian or progressive presence in a conservative region can slowly impact that region.

Let’s look at what can happen to a place where people of a certain view abandon it. Let’s take a fictional state called “Not Cool” (NC). This state sends 100 representatives to the federal government and each of these representatives is chosen by their district. These representatives can effect change on the federal level through the legislative process, and the more representatives of a certain view point the more powerful the change. When more people of an opposing viewpoint lives within a district that forces representatives to become more moderate, or to adopt some positions of the opposing side in order to get elected or stay in office. (This same argument can be used to show how things will get worse within a state as people leave because the same people will be electing state level representatives)

Now, right now the political landscape is a bell curve that ranges from Liberal on the left (1-7), Moderate in the center (8-14), and Conservative on the right (15-21). Due to the history of NC the representation tends towards conservative, but the tip of the bell curve is actually on the conservative side of “moderate”. Sure, some conservative legislation can be introduced by this group but there will also be one liberal and a ton of moderates to help balance that a little.

Political Dist of NC 1


Now, what happens if liberals decide to abandon NC as some sort of protest against some bad laws. Well, the state still has 100 representatives, but the views of the populace have shifted to the right and the next round of elections puts more conservatives into office, thus opening the “Overton Window*” in that direction. Now, the political leaders in NC have the numbers to introduce even more conservative legislation on all levels, making thing more difficult for non-conservatives nationally and at the state level.

Political Dist of NC 2

Anyway, the whole point of this is to show that I don’t find it the argument that a place has terrible politicians as a great reason to not live somewhere, at least not on it’s own. I’m also not trying to convince people to stay in a place that has terrible politicians. Like I said earlier, if I was in a position where I would be in danger then hell yeah I would leave a place. I think that is really the crux of it, we should all just live where we want to live and take all relevant factors into consideration. If you want to live in the Bay and pay $4,000 a month for a broom closet, go for it. If you want to live in New Hampshire where it is -5 degrees for eight months of the year, have fun. If living in Phoenix with 105 degree weather from February to October is your thing, get some. There are a variety of issues that make a place the perfect home for someone, and for me the politics is the least interesting or important part.


*The Overton Window is the range of policies that the population will accept. For example, most people aren’t going to kick someone out of office if they support legal marijuana for adults  or some punishment for marijuana possession, but if a politician’s views are to far in either direction (marijuana available in middle school vending machines or the death penalty for simple possession) then they probably won’t be elected or kicked out quickly. This is why I would be terrible in politics, my views are way outside the mainstream. The Overton Window is generally shifted by forces outside of politics. Politicians, after all, aren’t leaders, they are followers. They very rarely go against the public will on issues. Real social change comes outside of elected politics.

Notes: Clearly the numbers and bell curve design are used for simplicity to make the point. In reality, things are much more complex than that. Hell, the simple “left-right” paradigm is pretty inaccurate in a lot of cases. Also, political parties play a roll in generally trying to make federal offices more moderate. This is simply to show that abandoning a place may have negative unintended consequences.

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