“Freedom” and “liberty” are common buzzwords in politics; uttered and heard with increasing frequency as each off-year and presidential election approaches. Every candidate – no matter the office being sought — supports “freedom” and “liberty”; and none would ever admit to acts that might diminish either one.
Unfortunately, a cold, hard analysis of the degree of freedom actually enjoyed by American citizens belies this highfalutin rhetoric. Americans are far less free than government officials admit; and citizens of many states are considerably less free than their compatriots elsewhere.
This is the situation revealed starkly in the latest study, Freedom in the 50 States, just released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. As explained by authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens, its purpose is to examine “state and local government intervention across a wide range of public policies, from income taxation to gun control, from homeschooling regulation to drug policy.” The picture of freedom the authors paints is not a pretty one for much of the United States.
The good news is that if you happen be a citizen of New Hampshire, South Dakota, Indiana, Idaho, or Missouri, you are – relatively speaking — far more free than if you have the misfortune to live in Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, California, New York or New Jersey; states at the or near the bottom.
Because of its perversely high taxes and pervasive Nanny-state mentality, New York is ranked dead last in terms of economic freedom enjoyed by its citizens, and 48th based on personal freedom. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, being the Empire State’s head cheerleader for enforcing restrictive mandates on everything from smoking and fatty foods to Second Amendment rights, probably will take a degree of personal pride in such a ranking, though he publicly would never admit such measures actually diminish freedom.
California, which in decades past was a magnet for individuals and companies seeking growth and opportunity, is now anything but “free.” Like New York, the Golden State continues to suffer an outflow of businesses and entrepreneurs as a result of high taxes and oppressive regulation.
New Hampshire, although surrounded by states that routinely, if not gleefully, take freedom from their citizens, remains – as it did in the 2009 biennial study – the most free state of all.
Georgia fares alright in the study — enjoying an overall ranking of 15th, but suffers a disappointing “personal freedom” rank of 31st. This low ranking is largely the result of restrictive legislation measures imposed in recent years by Republicans, who now control all levers of state power.
While there is not a complete correlation between the “freedom” scores awarded based on the Mercatus study, and the more political “red state/blue state” studies, there is a noticeable match. Most of the states in the bottom half of Freedom in the 50 States, for example, are among the “blue states,” traditionally voting Democratic.
Perhaps in anticipation that politicians in bottom-tier states would fault the Mercatus study, its authors included in the 83-page report an impressive and exhaustive listing and description of all variables considered. The report incorporates the full range of activities by citizens that reasonably might be considered to constitute indices of freedom, and that conversely are subject to regulation or prohibition by state governments.
Government spending and taxation obviously rank heavily in determining a state’s economic freedom; as do myriad regulatory mechanisms in place that restrict personal and business choices available to citizens. Importantly, however, the authors do not shy away from recognizing that such freedoms as the right to keep and bear arms, or to purchase and consume products such as alcoholic beverages or tobacco, also are part of the fabric of freedom devised so long ago by our Founding Fathers; but largely and sadly ignored by so many 21st Century state governors and representatives.
by Bob Barr — The Barr Code