Is it Better to be an Idahoan than an American?

For many people, the question just posed will induce puzzlement. After all, are not all Idahoans also Americans? While that is certainly true, there is nevertheless an important sense in which being an Idahoan and being an American are incompatible. This sense is captured in everyday life when we speak of our “country” or “nation” in an exclusive way. And this is well and proper, for national identity is an important and necessary boundary in human affairs. It provides a sphere of loyalty in which people with a common way of life may pursue political and communal meaning to their own satisfaction. Additionally, it allows other people – other nations – to pursue a different path, shaped by a different culture or way of life.

In this sense, then, one may be primarily either an Idahoan or an American. With that in mind, here are a few reasons why Idaho is better than America.

Reasonableness of Governance

Most federal policy is made by unelected, nameless bureaucrats who dictate the size of our toilets and from whom we may purchase healthcare services. For nearly 20 years these bureaucrats forced wolves onto Idaho’s beleaguered ranchers, and even today our state and local tax dollars must be spent mopping up the mess created with our federal tax dollars.

To top it off, the feds are just plain mean. When Jeremy Hill of Bonners Ferry shot and killed a grizzly bear to save his children, Idaho officials exercised their common sense and ruled that Hill was fully justified. But the feds tried to prosecute him anyway, and even after the absurd charges were dropped they insisted on imposing a fine of $1,000. If there is there any reason short of aggressive intimidation and sheer arrogance that can explain this grotesque behavior, it can only serve to illustrate how utterly separate and disconnected Idahoans are from federal power.

Idahoans are Responsible

This year, the federal government has spent $3.5 trillion, an amount roughly equal to the entire Gross Domestic Product of Germany. By the end of the year, they will have spent approximately $5 trillion, which is roughly equal to the entire GDP of Japan. (Note: Japan and Germany are the third and fourth, respectively, richest states in the world.) But these absurd figures do not give even the slightest pause to the feds, who continue their destructive habits even after hitting the debt ceiling; as of this writing, the “debt limit breach” is over $39 billion. The U.S. Treasury apparently believes this amount is too small to count as a serious violation of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power over taxing and spending. But consider: $39 billion is approximately 4 times the total revenue raised by the State of Idaho. (Source: )

By contrast, Idaho’s total debt represents a mere 11% of the state’s GDP (about $10.4 billion). And it won’t do to simply chalk this up to Idaho’s relative size; unlike the feds, Idaho does not have a central bank with the power to finance every scheme concocted by corrupt politicians. Idaho spending, while sometimes wasteful, is still largely sustainable and presents no serious threat to the value of our money. In other words, while the federal government is on the fast track to bankruptcy, Idahoans still have the will and means to survive.

Cultural Sanity

While federal officials continually bombard us with propaganda about “gun control” and threaten to ban various firearms, Idaho is one of eight states to pass the Firearms Freedom Act. (The subsequent lawsuit is finally getting off the ground in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this year.) The courageous law would protect Idaho manufacturers of weapons and ammunition whose goods do not cross state lines from federal busybodies. Since the U. S. Constitution does not grant the Congress – much less unelected bureaucrats – any authority over intrastate commerce in the first place, the statute is a much-needed step toward forcing the federal government to recognize the highest law in the land.

Idaho’s Proud Individualism

Back in 2004, Idaho caught the attention of the editorial staff of the St. Petersburg Times (recently renamed Tampa Bay Times), who ran a short piece called “Idaho individualism.” An Idaho jury had just acquitted a Saudi Muslim man of charges that he aided terrorist organizations. The paper noted that despite the inflamed passions of the “war on terror” and Idaho’s all-Republican Congressional delegation, Idahoans would not sacrifice fairness and the rule of law. Boise State professor Patricia Fredericksen remarked, “There’s an interesting civic culture here that resists any kind of bullying behavior.” In other words, our way of life still manages to channel the virtues of rugged, frontier individualism that so much of America has lost completely.

As America doubles down on its economic and cultural decline, Idahoans have a unique opportunity to stand defiantly against the forces of tyranny and centralization. True, we have our problems. But that’s exactly what they are – our problems. On every sound principle of law and reason, Idahoans have the right to meaningfully determine our own destiny. An old saying goes, “My country – love it or leave it!” The sad truth is that the federal government and most Americans neither love Idaho nor live here. Yet they still insist on forcing us to run our lives in accordance with their interests.

A lesson in humility and minding one’s own business is something the decent people of Idaho can teach the rest of America.


Filed under Fiscal Responsibility, Idaho, Individualism

9 responses to “Is it Better to be an Idahoan than an American?

  1. Chris Felt

    You wrote a great article and I think that it brings up an interesting question. Should a loyal Idahoan celebrate the 4th of July? I mean our state wasn’t even in existence during the revolution. I think that Idahoans should treat the 4th with no more reverence than any other foreign holiday. Thoughts?

  2. Jackson B. Archer

    An interesting question indeed. Personally, I’ll be enjoying a fair number of pyrotechnic pleasures tomorrow, but I most certainly will not participate in any of the nationalistic reverences too often confused with patriotism.

    If I’m not mistaken, Jefferson himself once referred to the US Congress as a “foreign legislature” vis-à-vis the sovereign states, although he also insisted that cultural bonds would continue to loosely unite Americans even if the Union broke into multiple confederacies.

    Based on that, my proposed solution is to celebrate the freedom my ancestors declared on July 4th only after a day of quiet reflection on the freedom Idaho lost by joining the Union on July 3rd.

    Thanks Chris for a thought provoking observation!

  3. I realize this question may be slightly off topic, but when reading the following, I couldn’t help but wonder as to your thoughts:

    “And this is well and proper, for national identity is an important and necessary boundary in human affairs. It provides a sphere of loyalty in which people with a common way of life may pursue political and communal meaning to their own satisfaction.”

    I may be interpreting what you meant here incorrectly, but it seems to me that you are making a case that it is desirable for individuals to self-identify with a particular group of people (be it an Idahoan, an American, etc.), not simply stating that this is the way people are. I would agree that most people tend to see themselves as a member of the society they live in, though I would argue that this is a negative rather than a positive thing.

    For example, people seem to have a problem with outsourcing “our jobs” to another country. I feel this type of thinking comes from this concept of individuals associating themselves as part of a group of individuals based on geographic location. To me, it seems illogical to be upset that jobs are being taken from other “Idahoans” and given to “Chinese”. Why should we actually care, so long as the jobs are being shipped over seas for economic purposes (those being that labor is cheaper over there, which means we will have less expensive goods over here). I can understand having angst toward someone who took my job, but I have never understood why people would be upset that someone in Idaho was laid off to employ someone in China. A person is a person, no matter where they’re from; why shouldn’t we all simply see ourselves as “human beings”?

    I guess what I’m really trying to get at is that the whole idea of associating yourself with a group of people based on geographic location leads to undesirable effects such as crusades to “Buy Idaho”. I’m curious as to whether you think this is a good thing, or if you simply think I’m wrong and that these types of feelings come from something other than simply associating ourselves as part of a group?

    • Jackson B. Archer

      Thanks again for taking time to comment and pose a good question. I could probably write another post on this because there’s a lot of layers to think about here, but for now I’ll share some general points in my thought process.

      I do think that group identities are a necessary and good thing insofar as they are a fundamental part of human flourishing. Not all group identities are good, some are better than others, and some are only good when their influence is limited in scope. For example, close family ties are good, but I know you’ll agree society is better off if we don’t all depend on our brother-in-law for food, clothing, and a job. In this sphere, a wider market obviously benefits everyone.

      I think of national identities as similar to, though obviously much weaker than, the family example. At best they can provide a meaningful context for human flourishing via culture (and I don’t mean the drivel of American “pop culture”, but real art, song, dance, and folklore of a shared way of life) as well as a framework or vehicle to organize defense against foreign invasion (especially in a non-state form). This goes a lot deeper that merely drawing an imaginary boundary around an aggregate of disconnected individuals.

      As with everything in human affairs, there is a dark side to group identities – you point out a very important one in mentioning economic nationalism/protectionism. Figuring out the limits of the “sphere of loyalty” is an important task for political economy, philosophy, community leadership, etc. Of course, government regulations and policies that artificially increase economies of scale make the “Buy Idaho” issue a bit more complicated, but we probably agree that ending corporate welfare and subsidies to industrial agriculture would go a long way to clear up the issue, both philosophically and practically.

      You raise a very interesting question in asking “why shouldn’t we all simply see ourselves as ‘human beings’?”, and I would love to go into all the deep philosophical questions that come to mind; sadly, I would need more space than a single comment. But I will say this: I am skeptical of any system that claims to see only human beings. Any such system necessarily abstracts away from the concrete concerns and real-world variety of different ways of life. Further, the conclusions of any such system will almost always claim to be the final word, because the system claims validity and truth across all humanity. Therefore, it makes cooperation across different ways of life difficult. For example, Christianity and Islam claim validity for all humanity, but this has not always lead to peaceful cooperation, even among adherents. If Christianity, which was founded by a living example of a perfectly peaceful man, is not enough to solve this problem, I think it’s safe to say this path is a dead-end. The secular attempts at a universal system, such as communism, have IMO caused far more harm than even the religious ones. Closer to home, the claim “American values are universal values” has provided cover for the deaths of probably a million Iraqis and countless other foreigners. The opponents of universal systems are often treated with increased brutality, because they become “enemies of Truth” or “enemies of Humanity”. By no means am I trying to whitewash the economic or other bigotries of small communities, but they simply pale in comparison to universal designs, both religious and secular.

      What I’m getting at is that group identities are part of the human condition, sometimes aiding in human flourishing and sometimes destroying it. To abstract away every group until we’re left with nothing but the whole species does not seem to me a good solution. I’ll admit it does have an attractive element, and economics illustrates this well. Like a shared belief in a universal religion of love and compassion, it has clear advantages. But it has a dark side as well.

      Hopefully that speaks to your point and isn’t too overwhelming for a comment. (Just think of it as two posts for the price of one!)

      • Thank you for the lengthy reply (and I agree that you should write an entire post on this subject when you have time in the future, because I am very curious for a more detailed description of your views on this topic).

        “I am skeptical of any system that claims to see only human beings. Any such system necessarily abstracts away from the concrete concerns and real-world variety of different ways of life. Further, the conclusions of any such system will almost always claim to be the final word, because the system claims validity and truth across all humanity. Therefore, it makes cooperation across different ways of life difficult”

        I would like to start by stating that I may have misinterpreted what you had meant in the original post and to draw a distinction between different types of group associations. When I made the claim that it is better to see all individuals as just that, “individuals”, rather than members of some group, I mean that in the sense that we should owe no more loyalty to members of Idaho than we do to members of Texas, New York, or even Iraq (in the sense that we are all human beings and should respect each other as such). For some reason we often feel it is our responsibility to “take care of our own”, meaning other Americans or Idahoans. Yet, we feel no such responsibility to take care of those dying of starvation or lack of water in Africa. It seems very odd that we place a higher value on the life of an American child than we do on the life of a child born in Zimbabwe. This is the type of self-identification that I am attempting to speak out against (to which I’m still slightly unsure on how you feel).

        I think this is different than associating ourselves as Idahoans for the sake of solving “local” issues, such as what to do about pollution in Idaho rivers and lakes, etc. I think you made a great point that there are real differences between cultures and that they should not be abstracted away in an attempt to make every recommendation universally applicable. Just because we have found a way of defining property rights in Idaho to solve a particular environmental issue does not necessarily mean that the same will work in another country (though it is possible). This makes perfect sense to say that we should allow decision making to happen at the local level because they have more information about the local characteristics that dictate the proper solution, and as a supporter of Hayek, I tend to favor any decentralized solution over the alternative. With regard to this type of self-identification, I can understand its desirability; however, I would argue that one does not necessarily need to see himself as an Idahoan in order to make a claim that a particular solution is best for the area of Idaho while there is a better solution for the area of Texas for a similar issue (so, I still hold that self-identification with a particular group of people is not necessary for this “localism” to take place).

      • Jackson B. Archer

        Sorry for the delayed reply; the time required to craft a worthwhile response simply wasn’t here this week (but I’ve made it priority 1 for this Saturday morning).

        I do think it is natural and generally good to care more for people similar to oneself. Adam Smith puts it this way: Our good will is unlimited, but our ability to act on them – our “good offices” – are inherently limited. He says:

        We do not love our country merely as a part of the great society of mankind: we love it for its own sake, and independently of any such consideration…Every independent state is divided into many different orders and societies, each of which has its own particular powers, privileges, and immunities. Every individual is naturally more attached to his own particular order or society, than to any other. His own interest, his own vanity the interest and vanity of many of his friends and companions, are commonly a good deal connected with it. He is ambitious to extend its privileges and immunities. He is zealous to defend them against the encroachments of every other order or society.

        As I see it, this doesn’t imply that an American child is inherently more valuable or better than an African child. At most, it implies that we have a stronger duty to relieve suffering when it is closer (and I mean not just geographically, but culturally, linguistically, etc.) Americans’ great wealth, combined with a universal religion like Christianity or a universal secular ideology of human dignity and rights, means that we can practically extend our good offices far beyond what Smith could have imagined. There is no downside to this that I can see. (Any potential negatives stem from the dangers inherent in universal systems I mentioned in my previous comment.)

        To your second, related point, I’ll just say I think you’re right to say that identifying as Idahoans is, at bottom, unnecessary to solve many problems. If we identified with smaller societies than Idaho, we could solve most problems on that scale. However, most Americans identify with a much larger society – the entire US aggregate. My suggestion is to let Idaho take the place of the US in our thinking and self-identification, thereby freeing up energy to focus on even smaller units. If you like, think of Idaho as the first step toward devolution and decentralization of power and identity. (I’ll add that personally I think Idaho isn’t yet too large to make it an artificial society and therefore might ultimately deserve preservation, although it would be better if it were divided into two regions – north and south. The US, however, is as artificial as the EU or the USSR simply by virtue of its size and scale. A minor point.)

        Does that come near to addressing the issue, or have I missed it?

      • I think this addressed exactly what I was hoping for. I still don’t entirely agree with everything, particularly in the statement that:

        “As I see it, this doesn’t imply that an American child is inherently more valuable or better than an African child. At most, it implies that we have a stronger duty to relieve suffering when it is closer (and I mean not just geographically, but culturally, linguistically, etc.)”

        But, it looks as though we are simply going to have to agree to disagree on that point.

        I guess I take a much more utilitarian argument, and therefore I would argue that Americans would be better off helping foreigners (such as African children) because we get more for our money. If we are going to do what we can to improve the lives of the less fortunate, I would rather put my money to efforts that are either (A) Positively impact as many people’s lives as possible (no matter who these people are), or (B) Impact one person’s life as much as possible for the amount of money I have (again, regardless of who the individual is that I’m helping).

        I believe this is basically the only point on which we truly disagree.

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