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

Richard O. Hammer Steps Down as FNF President

The announcement which appeared in Formulations

Richard Hammer's Letter of Resignation


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FNF Future Uncertain
as Richard Hammer Plans to Quit


Richard Hammer has announced that he plans to withdraw substantially from FNF duties at the end of 1999. Rich, who founded FNF in 1993, has served as its only President, and for the past two years has edited Formulations.

In a 28 December 1998 letter to major contributors and Directors, he told that he plans to stop editing Formulations and organizing Forums.

In that letter, reprinted starting on page 7, Rich gives a new explanation of the FNF work plan. Then he explains that his decision is motivated by frustration in trying to advance this work plan, as well as by a need to find income. D

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Letter of Resignation
by Richard O. Hammer

-Plans for 1999
-Financial Implications for FNF
-Plans for 2000 and beyond
Factors Affecting My Decision
-Personal Finances
-FNF Fund Raising
-The Goal: the FNF Work Plan
-Frustrations with advancing toward the Goal
-Concluding Comments

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Dear Friends,

I write to let you know that I plan to stop performing many FNF duties at the end of one more year, at the end of 1999. I plan to stop editing Formulations and organizing Forums. What will become of FNF after that, in the year 2000 and beyond, remains to be seen. In this letter I will describe FNF’s circumstances and the factors that have influenced my decision.

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Plans for 1999

What will continue:

FNF will publish four issues of Formulations, through and including Vol. VII, No. 2 (Winter 1999-2000). And FNF will organize two Forums: the first "Mythology in a Free Nation," will meet on April 10; the second, the topic for which has yet to be decided, will probably be scheduled for October as before. An Annual Report will be prepared and published in February. Meetings of the Board of Directors and ad hoc meetings will occur as before.

What will change:

Since I plan to stop many of my activities at the end of 1999, that changes what FNF should advertise starting now. Unless it becomes clear that publication of Formulations will continue in the year 2000, we should stop advertising one-year subscriptions. Likewise, we should scale back on what we promise to those people who pay for Membership.

For subscribers and Members whose terms expire during 1999 probably I will send notes offering continuation through the end of 1999, for some fraction of the full yearly price.

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Financial Implications for FNF

At present the treasury contains about $2800. Assuming a scaled down operation, with no magazine ads and no outreach mailings, this balance may cover half of FNF’s needs during 1999. Certainly some payments and contributions will continue to come in. Should the treasury fail to stretch enough to fulfill FNF’s obligations, which we have incurred by accepting payments for subscription and Membership, I will donate whatever is required.

For the people who have already paid for subscription or Membership into the years 2000 or 2001, FNF can offer a refund, or make some compensation as each individual may see fit. There are perhaps a dozen people in this category.

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Plans for 2000 and beyond

In February 2000, I plan to produce an Annual Report for the year 1999, for distribution to Members whose terms run to the end of 1999.

Our presence on the Web has a low cost, and probably can continue for years with support which should not be too difficult to solicit. And I will want to continue my involvement in this movement. But what shape my involvement will take remains to be seen.

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The factors which influence my decision include both poverty and burnout.

Personal Finances

The last time I worked in any regular way for pay was 1994. In July of that year I wrapped up my residential building business by selling my last spec house. Since then FNF has received all of my working attention.

Good fortune has enabled this in two ways. First, during 1991-92 I inherited enough from my parents that it looked like I could live on it for a few years while launching FNF, assuming I chose to deplete my inheritance that way. That indeed is what I chose—since I am captivated by this work.

And second, the unusual growth in the value of investments during recent years prolonged the time I could spend trying to get FNF off the ground. The mutual fund in which I placed my inheritance grew in value almost as fast as I withdrew my living expenses. Year to year it hardly declined in value, and I thought dreamily that I might put off paying work indefinitely. Of course it helps that I live inexpensively, without medical insurance, and that I have been able to keep my car running to 240,000 miles.

But reality knocked on the door in August and September of [1998]. For the first time the mutual fund acted more like my usual investments: it dropped 20% in value, and since then it has recovered only partially. I could see an end to my days of dalliance in FNF.

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FNF Fund Raising

In spite of the threat of poverty, and in spite of the feeling of burnout which has been overtaking me, in October [1998] I found new hope for FNF in a new plan. I speculated that some of the difficulty, in five years of faltering FNF promotion, stemmed from my failure to focus on particular market segments. Some people give money. Different people in most cases give writing.

But I had been treating these two categories of prospects in much the same way. I had scouted for contributions of writing even among generous donors of money. And I had expected payments of at least $15, to continue receiving Formulations, even from scholars who might at some time have contributed writing. Our magazine ads in Reason and Liberty, by trying to find both types of contributors, failed to reach into markets where one or the other type of contributor might have been found.

With this observation, and with a few ideas for newly differentiated marketing, I felt hope that FNF might find more of both scholarly and financial contributors. This hope offered the possibility that FNF might pay me for the first time.

In order to launch this new hope, I imagined that FNF might more that double its budget for 1999 by raising more funds from existing sources. I imagined we might gather enough to pay me $10,000 during 1999—if I worked harder on the content of fund-raising letters and increased the frequency of fund-raising letters from one per year to three per year.

So I produced a fund-raising letter right away in October, rather than waiting for December which had become the default time of year for FNF’s annual fund-raising letter. And I gave it my best shot.

The results, while heartening in the usual way were discouraging in another way. We received generous support from a few regular contributors and renewals of basic-level support from about twenty others, about $1800 altogether. This, as before, is sufficient for FNF to carry on with work done by volunteers—but it does not promise paychecks to anyone.

With this experience I now doubt that it is reasonable to expect substantially more from FNF’s small group of regular and loyal supporters. Unless we apply new and more aggressive methods, I believe that we could substantially increase fundraising only by finding a new pool of supporters.

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Finances are not my only difficulty. Over the years I have been burning out on pushing the FNF work plan among libertarians.

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The Goal: the FNF Work Plan

In order to describe my experience of burnout I believe it will help if I outline, once again, what I have been trying to do. In Figure 1, I have prepared a graph of four steps to attain a new free nation. While the captions in Figure 1 give an overview, I will not attempt in this letter to answer all the questions which commonly arise in regard to the work plan. Here I make only a few points which seem worth telling at this time.1


Economic Engineering

First, let me put down the foundation, and tell why I believe the overall plan should be viable. I admit the idea is certainly ambitious, and that it is perhaps unprecedented in human history. But, because of what we now understand about economics, it seems to me that such an achievement should fall within reach of human design.

Generally, free nations prosper more than unfree nations. And greater prosperity enables more-free nations to spend more on security than less-free nations. While it is easy to find counterexamples, still the overall trend is evident and overwhelming. In spite of all the parasitism which we can observe in the life of nations, the trend across human history is toward more property, more security. Regimes which secure property rights prevail, on average. The Cold War and its outcome gives one example to support this thesis.

Humans long ago observed that water runs downhill. This observation of a fact of nature led to the building of roofs, waterworks, and many other useful things. We now observe another fact of nature: that greater freedom in markets leads to greater prosperity and greater security. But this observation, being still relatively new, has barely been employed in design of human institutions.

This is where we come in. We can employ this fact of nature. We do not have to wait for happenstance to create the next free nation on Earth. And we do not have to wait until we can teach economics to 51% of our neighbors. We can design institutions which employ freedom to generate security. We can design a whole new Hong Kong.

Availability of Real Estate

Now this work plan makes an assumption that real estate is available. It would probably be in the third world, because third-word regimes would be most poor and most probable to accept a deal for an amount which our organization could offer. As evidence, I believe projects such as those undertaken by Michael van Notten demonstrate the availability of real estate. What is lacking is not real estate which might be purchased, but a buyer prepared to take this step.

But what can an ordinary person do, in the face of such a mammoth undertaking?

Given that I believe these things about the working of economics and the availability of real estate, I step back from the ultimate goal, which I know is far too grand for me to attempt. I try to find a plausible sequence of steps to the goal which starts with something I could hope to achieve. I come up with the four steps in Figure 1. Six years ago I undertook Step 1.

A billionaire could start at Step 4

Necessity might compel you or me to start with Step 1. But I believe a billionaire could move directly to the final goal.

It would be necessary, I suppose, for this hypothetical billionaire to pause briefly to prepare a transition plan and a constitution. But, while debate about the best way to constitute a new Hong Kong may persist for a thousand years, I believe an adequate plan could be prepared rapidly, drawing upon present knowledge. So I suppose a billionaire could start right away to shop for real estate.

The purpose of Step 2

In the overall plan, the work of FNF (this present corporation) is Step 2. Since I think the first three steps are necessary only for us non-billionaires, let me try to make this point clear:

The purpose of Step 2 is to help us attract the respectful attention of a billionaire, or of 1,000 millionaires, or of some sufficient combination of interests. I believe that if a think tank with the professionalism of the Cato Institute were to sponsor an ongoing free-nation forum, in which top-notch constitutional and legal scholars proposed and debated solutions to the various issues which would surround establishment of a new Hong Kong, then that would establish plausibility in the minds of investors who could accomplish Step 3. So the purpose of Step 2 is to build the believability of the whole plan, and to give investors confidence to proceed with Step 3.

Of course Step 2 should also produce a beneficial by-product in that it should achieve the nominal goals announced for Step 2: It should build a body of knowledge about transition plans, constitutions, and systems of law. Those of us who participate in Step 2 should become experts in these fields. I fancy we might prove valuable as consultants to the investors who launch Step 3.

But I believe that knowledge already exists to piece together a sufficient plan—even without the additional expertise which we who perform Step 2 will gain. The main thing we need to build is believability, to give confidence to investors.

This plan avoids the tangle of persuasion

Let me repeat another important point. This entire effort requires no conversion of statists to libertarian beliefs. All it requires is that people who are already libertarians form an organization which commands enough assets to shop seriously for real estate. After that organization exists then we will need to deal with statists—but only as trading partners and not as compatriots.

Notice that we buy goods and services every day from trading partners who may be statists; political values generally do not impede trading. This will be true when our nation-strength organization starts shopping for real estate. Surely there will be some regime happy to trade—provided they have reason to trust our organization, provided they believe that our organization can and will keep its end of the bargain.

Thus this plan steps completely around the barrier of popular persuasion which daunts most libertarian efforts.

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Frustrations with advancing toward the Goal

Now I hope you will forgive me if I cry on your shoulder and tell of the frustrations which I have encountered in getting other libertarians to understand this plan and to work within it.

Failure to see the remoteness of Step 4

We are not close to being ready to shop for real estate, in that we are nowhere near having a nation-strength organization. Before starting to look for real estate we need to complete Steps 1, 2, and 3. But libertarians who have become aware of FNF commonly misunderstand. They expect me to tell them now where on Earth the free nation will be, and some dismiss FNF when they are not satisfied with my answer.

Failure to recognize the necessity (for non-billionaires) of step 3, the building of a nation-strength organization

I believe that only a large and potent organization—commanding perhaps one billion dollars—could secure real estate on terms which would be acceptable to start up a new Hong Kong. But again I have trouble getting libertarians to think this way.

On the one hand, many libertarians seem to think that a few poor or middle-class jerks operating from a rowboat might stake out a nation for themselves—so they associate FNF with such a scheme. But on the other hand they know that they do not trust such a scheme—so they dismiss FNF. I can not seem to get these libertarians to listen long enough to imagine a scenario with a nation-strength organization.

Failure to focus upon step 2

Step 2 calls for formulating transition plans, constitutions, contracts, and means to provide both domestic security and national security. I have had difficulty getting enough material on such subjects.

Many people who join our process seem to have other primary interests, such as philosophy and morality. I believe that these people will judge the new Hong Kong to be philosophically and morally superior to less-free nations, assuming the FNF plan succeeds. But I do not care about how they will arrive at those judgments. I want to get on with the building. As such I am often torn when I have to decide whether to publish a submission which contain a few threads of practicality, which I want, mixed in with mountains of philosophy or morality, which add to the confusion among our readers about what FNF is trying to achieve.

For any FNF participant to be valuable to this undertaking two things seem necessary. First, the participant must understand the work plan. Second, the participant must value the work plan enough to be willing to work on it. While many people show eagerness to participate in FNF, precious few people pass both these tests in my opinion.

Concerning the first requirement, if I judge other people’s understanding by what I have been able to observe of the way they act, speak, or write, then I lament that perhaps only ten people understand the work plan (out of the hundreds whom we have contacted). And concerning the second requirement, among those ten who have displayed understanding of the work plan, only a few have shown that they are willing to work on it.

My attempts to lead FNF in performance of Step 2 have been difficult. And in my opinion FNF’s performance in Step 2 has been spotty.

Failure to complete Step 1

I know that I am in no position to attempt Step 4, or even Step 3. But I do flatter myself to imagine that I could facilitate Step 2—if only I could complete Step 1.

Unfortunately, at this stage after six years of effort, Step 1 has never been completed as I envisioned. FNF has never gotten off the ground with ability to pay its scholars and staff. Volunteers have performed all of our scholarship and management.

Overall, I might summarize my frustration by saying that I feel almost alone in promoting the FNF work plan. It seems to me that if I relax my control of FNF then the aim of the organization will scatter into more usual libertarian habits such as popular persuasion, philosophical debate, and trying to start a country today with three men and a rowboat. I feel like I am driving a bus full of people who, even though they have voluntarily gotten onto the bus, would each choose to steer down a different road if given the wheel.

Unfortunately at present I cannot think of anyone who might step forward to fill the management roles which I plan to relinquish.

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Concluding Comments

This letter has been difficult for me to compose because, as you might observe, I still believe in most aspects of the FNF work plan. I am reluctant to set aside a project that seems so right in so many ways. And I am torn because I feel an obligation to you who have responded generously to FNF’s solicitations. I do not want to let you down.

Along the way FNF has definitely had its successes. Often I have found pleasure in leafing through an issue of Formulations on those days when, shortly after mailing it, I imagine our readers are receiving it. Typically I have felt proud as a peacock. And we have built a working concern here. Presently FNF has about a dozen participants who volunteer regularly—giving of themselves within the little community of diverse interests which FNF has become.

Perhaps I have been overly optimistic in the pace of progress which I expected. And let me acknowledge something else: the failure of other people to carry the banner of my brilliant vision may suggest not so much the sluggishness of those people as the failure of my own understanding. I have failed, it must be, to comprehend something important about humans and the organizations which we form. So my burnout may be a good thing. It may push me into new undertakings where hopefully I might apply my energies more efficiently toward our common goal.

You will notice that I am not asking for donations at this stage. Hundreds of dollars, or even a few thousand, will not change the course which appears best to me. Now if $20,000 were to fall out of the sky that could prod me onto a different course for at least another year. But I am not planning on that.

Let me repeat that I anticipate FNF will continue in some form in the year 2000 and beyond. At least our presence on the Internet can continue indefinitely. And there are many FNF tasks that I will be happy to continue. At least I will want to keep in touch with free-nation activists, corresponding and acting as a hub of communication where that proves useful. And if energy to advance the FNF work plan emerges in other volunteers, I will want to work with them in any way possible.

Thank you again for your contributions. These have supported the operation of FNF during years of exhilarating research and writing. I hope our sharing may continue for many years to come.

With the drafting of this letter behind me, I look forward to 1999 in FNF. There continue to be topics concerning a new free nation that I want to discuss in FNF meetings. And there are still many subjects about which I want to write.

A happy 1999 to you,

Rich Hammer

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 1 For another description of the FNF work plan see the founding prospectus “Toward a Free Nation,” 1993.
 The work plan was also described in my article “Solution: Coalesce and Build a Free Nation,” Freedom Network News (a publication of the International Society for Individual Liberty), No. 48, March 1997, pp. 18-20.
 Additionally, important aspects of the work plan were suggested in my story “A ‘Nation’ Is Born,” Formulations, Vol. V, No. 1, Autumn 1997.

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