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A Look Inside The Movement Transforming New Hampshire: An Interview With Jeremy Kauffman
Libertarians are winning in New Hampshire—Jeremy Kauffman answers some questions about the movement and what it wants to do with the state, plus more.
Jeremy Kauffman is the founder and CEO of LBRY (library), one of the earliest protocols developed for completely decentralized (meaning not corporate or state controlled) content-sharing, and one of the only crypto platforms whose use-case I understand besides bitcoin.
“LBRY does to publishing what bitcoin did to money,” says the LBRY website, that is, it abstracts content publication from control by anyone besides the individual creator, the way bitcoin abstracts a digital store of value from control and manipulation by governments and central banks. LBRY is the libertarian ideal of the social internet. Which makes sense considering Jeremy is on the board of directors of the Free State Project, a movement designed to get thousands of libertarians to move to New Hampshire.
I’ve wanted to talk to Jeremy for a while after awkwardly standing next to him at a tech event in Miami Beach, and getting the chance to pick his brain here was a great way to make up for not having done so before.
Jeremy holds both a physics and computer science degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he’s a father of four, and was a nominee for the New Hampshire State Senate in 2022. If there’s an interesting figure worth paying attention to, he’s it. To hear more from Jeremy, follow him on his Twitter here, and to learn more about the Free State Project, check out their website, Twitter account, and YouTube channel.
There’s no better way to understand who someone is than by learning about the roots they sprang from, so I want to know some cool things about your family history! Is Kauffman Jewish or German? Who were the Kauffmans?
Many Kauffmans come from Germany, but this specific Kauffman is a hybrid with vigor. My dad’s side of the family came from western Russian and are ethnically Jewish. Now most of my dad’s side of the family is in law or politics (how cliché), though my dad was an exception as a blue-collar manager.
My mom’s side of the family was Irish Catholic. In a blow to the stereotypes, my grandfather had a PhD in math and did work at IBM and an economics policy institute. My grandfather wouldn’t speak to my dad because he was Jewish for several years of my life, so they were pretty different in politics and values. I’ve ended up with some heterogeneous values myself, and wonder if this is part of the cause.
A libertarian parent sounds like an oxymoron since you guys don’t like prescribing behavioral norms and all that. How do you reconcile the issue of being a good parent which requires strict norm enforcement with libertarian ideals? Are libertarians laissez faire in the streets but “centrally planned behavioral economy” in the sheets? I’m half joking because I know you’re a good parent and want to know what your parenting style is like, but at the same time I really wonder how far your politics goes you know?
Libertarianism to me is a system of property rights and mutual contract that says little about social values or parenting. However, it is true that my impulses towards individualism and logic underlie both my politics and some of my parenting practices.
My household has fewer rules* than many households, but the rules that do exist are strongly and reliably enforced. We give them a lot of low supervision and low- or unstructured play, especially with other kids. However, there absolutely are certain skills we want them to acquire or developmental experiences we think it’s important they have, and when there’s something in that space we’re quite thoughtful and diligent about it. Other kids may be kicked out of the house for doing drugs but my children are more likely to be kicked out for being unable to properly track their usage in a spreadsheet.
Finally, as a somewhat precocious kid myself, I resolved a long time ago to always treat other capable children the same way I wanted to be treated. So if the five year old expresses an interest in knives or fire and can show himself to be responsible, he’s welcome to learn more about them or even “play” in ways that could cause some non-permanent harm.
*I spent a minute entertaining whether rules are countable and remain undecided.
There’s currently this debate on Twitter about how being a father sort of stands in the way of men achieving great things, that it’s a big pitfall for fatherhood to be a man’s highest aim. Men should instead seek to build brotherhoods, something similar to a fraternity of men at war or a cadre of men organized toward some other, higher aim, like the Illuminati or something. My feeling is with the opposite camp, that the great achievements of our species happen under the purview of civilization, and that the most basic building block of a society is the family, with the father at its head. But how do you feel about all that, about fatherhood as a father of, I think, two? You’re a pro-natalist right? Is fatherhood the radical, pro-civilization, pro-growth position?
What would the point of “civilization” or “growth” even be if not to create more humans? I’m about as pro-growth and pro-natalist as one can get, but that’s partially because they’re highly overlapping concepts. The idea that one shouldn’t have kids so they can achieve some “higher aim” sounds like some socialist bullshit.
It’s true that fatherhood changes men and can scale back ambitions, but to impugn fatherhood for this gets it completely backward. The ambitions exist because they are a mating impulse. If you’re a young ambitious man I encourage you to be as ambitious as possible, then cash in that ambition for an intelligent, complimentary, and attractive woman. Then have at least one son and let the cycle begin anew.
Of course, if you’re incredibly masculine and virile, you might have enough ambition to continue to want to shape the world even after kids.
Political philosopher and jurist Carl Schmitt says in the concept of the political that a group unable or unwilling to identify and organize itself against those who challenge its way of life will quickly be dissolved, with some examples being the aristocrats of Soviet Russia preceding the Bolshevik revolution and the aristocrats of France before the French Revolution. The anarcho-capitalist position and group seem subject to the same fate as the aristocrats of Europe by default, they don’t want a powerful central state that could impose on other groups of people and suppress actions that would be harmful to libertarian ideals. There are a huge number of groups who would be more than happy to use the lever of state to flatten pluralist societies like a ball of cookie dough on a baking sheet, which I think all ideological groups are likely to do. But the anarcho-capitalist position seems to ignore this. What is the libertarian response to this critique? Like, communists would try to kill you if they could, why not build a libertarian utopia that forces everyone to be free, non-communists?
Some libertarians are deluded about the nature of power, politics, and other people generally. Libertarians who desire a libertarian order absolutely need to strengthen their understanding of these areas. This is a bit of a crusade of mine within the libertarian movement broadly, trying to get libertarians to appreciate some key aspects and fundamental differences in human nature, as well as the naiveté of some of their ideas and approaches.
However, many anarcho-capitalists understand these ideas quite well. It’s the anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe who describes a libertarian order that uses private-property covenants to bar communists from existing within it, as well as the use of private-property covenants to create non-democratic orders. Solutions in this space are a great idea.
Libertarians should be focused on succeeding on the smallest scale possible. How can they create the smallest bubble of libertarian order that can maintain itself and grow from there? Given the realities of human differences, creating a libertarian order will require a density of libertarians in a geopolitical area that doesn’t currently exist.
Once a libertarian order exists, internal stability will be a challenge, but external stability seems plausible given the unpopularity of aggressive wars. In fact, the broad external hostility to libertarianism may help maintain internal stability. Groups tend to be more cohesive and meritocratic when faced by external threats. People turn to more intra-group competition during times of peace and stability.
Carl Schmitt wanted a presidential system that could proscribe the actions of political coalitions that endangered the integrity of the Weimar government. He saw that it was necessary for a state with enough power and authority to create a state of exception and ban parties that were ideological. A presidential system was implemented, but, as I understand it, Hindenburg didn’t have the wherewithal to suspend the Weimar constitution and exclude groups that were dangerous from vying for power, giving rise to the Nazi regime, a path of excess militarism, and the eventual defeat and dissolution of the Germany that Schmitt knew. Without the necessary machinery and scale of state, there’s no guarantee of a political groups’ subsistence. Groups that threaten your way of life have free rein to organize and take political action. What is the libertarian ideal of the state, and how would it fulfill the requisite of legitimacy, the “protego ergo obligo,” the necessity of a state to protect those who it obligates? What kind of government do you guys want?
Human beings will form coalitions to compete and conspire against other human coalitions. I have no naive visions of libertarian utopia, nor a belief that libertarian order would alter or change our fundamental nature. I do think it can be a mistake to overly focus on formal power structures, because even if certain political strategies can be formally barred, deviants can always use subversive techniques to form a coalition for flipping the table.
The government I want is one in which as many services as feasible are provided privately and competitively, and one in which regions with differing rules are free and encouraged to compete amongst each other for inhabitants. Whether a minimal state is required for this framework a la Nozick or whether it can be done via full private-property anarchism a la Hoppe is an empirical question that I’m ambivalent on. I’d take either.
To the extent I or most libertarians would offer our loyalty or our obedience to another entity in exchange for protection, it depends on the scale of the entity and whether they deserve it. The United States certainly does not protect its citizens to any degree that would necessitates obligation. But I’d be comfortable obligating myself to an entity that did actually share my values and that sought to protect me from external entities that threaten them.
You have a crypto company, LBRY (which was actually one of the first digital currencies I invested in when I was like 19), and you’re part of a community that really believes that crypto protocols will be the substrate of the next phase of the internet. Web3 was a huge, huge trend last year, with conversations happening everywhere around the idea that tokenization will replace the advertiser model of the internet, that bitcoin will replace traditional currencies, that NFTS will empower individual creators, and more. I think this all was mostly bullshit. I like the idea of being empowered by technology, but the empowerment that was promised here hasn’t happened and doesn’t seem like it ever will. Crypto seems like a way to do what the internet already does in ways that are more complicated and harder to explain to women. Is this a mostly useless technology? What is the deal here as an actual insider?
Unfortunately, I agree with you that it was mostly bullshit. It’s still mostly bullshit. It’s depressing.
A big part of what made crypto so full of bullshit was the focus on investment, which I repudiate. Not just at the advice of my lawyers, but because the Buffet/Munger criticism that currencies don’t do anything is mostly correct.
With Bitcoin, you’re essentially speculating on it becoming an international reserve currency (which is possible). With a web3 token, you’re speculating that both the law of one price will hold for these tokens and that there will be sufficient future demand. Even the VCs didn’t seem to be bothering to do the math, especially once they realized they could just dump on retail.
Despite all of this, I think the fundamental promise of a distributed database that’s not controlled by anyone is a revolutionary idea that (ugh) we’re still early on. Bitcoin and Ethereum really are both doing things that never have been done in world history before, in ways that will affect both international economies and governments. So long as governments continue to threaten to censor speech, or ban mutually beneficial market activity, crypto will play a role in circumventing these efforts. Governments and other threatened power centers may also be content with a strategy similar to that against BitTorrent, restricting it to a smaller domain of mostly technically-competent men.
Let’s talk a bit about the free state project, the movement to get libertarians into New Hampshire. Can you describe the free state project and what’s going on in New Hampshire?
The Free State movement, which was kicked-off by a non-profit called the Free State Project but not really controlled by it, is the idea to concentrate libertarians in New Hampshire and create a libertarian society. It started with an assurance contract to get a requisite number of libertarians to agree to move to one state, and there are probably over 10,000 of us here in New Hampshire, or around 1% of the population.
The movement initially had no specific plan much beyond the recognition of the sociological phenomenon that a surprisingly small number of people can have an outsized effect on the political order. Now there’s a small cabal of us that secretly control all of New Hampshire politics. That’s not entirely true, but it certainly helps our cause when Democrats repeat it.
However, the Free State strategy has unquestionably worked: over 40 Free Staters are in the state legislature, including the House Majority Leader, and our first Senator was elected this year. Libertarians cut taxes, cut spending, enacted school choice, deregulated licensing, nullified the ATF, legalized more child labor, and much more. Over 100 representatives are graded as voting the libertarian way 90% or more of the time. We’re the top enemy of the progressive establishment. We own small businesses, run for local school boards, get involved in our communities, and try to be good citizens.
Aside from politics, it’s a big lifestyle boon for libertarians as well. Kids’ peer groups play a huge role in how they develop, and my kids are able to have playgroups that are much closer to my values than what was available in Philadelphia. I have friends that aren’t going to shun me for what I say, even if they think I’m an idiot sometimes.
How does libertarianism reconcile its desire for complete individual freedom with the fact of group differences in intelligence and ability, and the inverse correlation that these things have with traits like criminality? Giving free rein to everyone is a bad idea, not having a sufficiently large government to control wild ass populations is also a bad idea. The libertarian principle of leaving everyone to their own devices sounds good, I want to be left alone and kind of want to leave other people alone, but some people would misuse that freedom. Does this ever come up in libertarian conversations?
Libertarians aren’t against order, they’re just against the way that order is produced. Setting aside deontological arguments about the coercive nature of government, it’s just not clear at all that democracy produces more order than private-property anarchism. Even if there will be fewer public parks in private-property anarchism (questionable), the ones that do exist would definitely have a lot less drug addicts in them.
One way in which I differ from conservatives is that I’m not interested in forcing social order on people who don’t want it. I’d rather those people either be barred from a community that prefers more order or be contained to a sub-area, rather than pay for their rehabilitation or to keep them in jail.
There are a few clips and comments online where you suggest that political persuasion is basically ineffective, that politician orientation is more heritable than sexuality. What is the solution for extending the reach of libertarian ideas if this is the case? How do you proceed to victory? How does anyone with a non-dominant social idea-model proceed to victory? I can see the minority rule concept that Taleb talks about working maybe, where if you convince an amenable minority of an idea, then that minority can exert pressure on the majority to change the status quo. Is that the plan? Do we trust this plan?
Ironically, I’m interested in persuading libertarians that they can’t persuade people because I’m trying to persuade them of something else. Persuasion is funny that way.
Most people tend to think of other people’s psychology as similar to their own, which means that people with strong political opinions can struggle to understand this isn’t most people. Most people are agreeable, consensus-minded, and form their opinions by averaging out what others are saying. These concepts are related to Taleb’s “most intolerant minority”, as well as the Overton window, etc.
Even most enthusiastic democracy-believers have already settled on team red or team blue and care more about that than anything else. Since they don’t really have a strong underlying ideology, they support anyone running on their team or that’s on their team. If local party operatives see someone be involved in politics and they helped Republicans win, then they learn that person wants to privatize the schools, many just end up more comfortable with the idea.
You’re probably the most empirical person I’ve seen and it’s a pretty laudable way to be in my view. We should all try to let the facts inform our decision-making and push personal preference aside as far as humanly possible. What are some of your favorite data that have made you change your decision making processes? What data should people consider more?
As someone with some contrarian inclinations, my instinct is to first defend anti-empiricism. There are many spaces in life where aesthetics, gut, and instinct should rule. Neither my selection of friends nor my design choices are predominantly empirical.
Instead, I think we should try to be conscious about when we lead with our rational and empirical systems. When it comes to figuring out how the world actually works, our gut systems have little role to play. And so in terms of my own worldview, I’ve taken the approach of that of a physicist. Trying to build up from first principles and the smallest units to understand why things are the way that they are.
Probably the area where data has moved me the most is evolution and genetics, as well as empirical social science data. So much of what our schools and culture teach us about human nature is just feel-good bullshit. In the interests of charity to the bullshitters, I’ve consumed little research on the benefits of noble lies. Maybe I’ll do that after this.
In terms of data consideration, one common mistake I see truth-seeking people make is ending up in ideological bubbles that end up with weird adjacent ideological contagions. There’s no reason the crypto people should all be against seed oils, for example. There are good empiricists, researchers, and scientists of all beliefs and persuasions. If you’re not following and seeing data from people you disagree with regularly, you may be in a bubble.
To read more from Jeremy, follow him on Twitter!
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