11 June 2011

Freedom in the 50 US States: Mercatus Center GMU

Since the earliest days of the North American colonies which later became the United States, residents have voted for freedom with their feet. If they find conditions around them growing intolerable for lack of freedom, they will move to another area. Even within the one nation of the USA, it is possible to find a wide range of personal and economic freedoms.

The Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Virginia has published a free downloadable PDF report: Freedom in the 50 States, which looks at the wide variability of different freedoms between the different states of the US.
This study comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. It updates, expands, and improves upon our inaugural 2009 Freedom in the 50 States study. For this new edition, we have added more policy variables (such as bans on trans fats and the audio recording of police, Massachusetts’s individual health-insurance mandate, and mandated family leave), improved existing measures (such as those for fiscal policies, workers’ compensation regulations, and asset-forfeiture rules), and developed specific policy prescriptions for each of the 50 states based on our data and a survey of state policy experts. With a consistent time series, we are also able to discover for the first time which states have improved and worsened in regard to freedom recently.

Our approach to measuring freedom in the states is unique in three respects: (1) it includes measures of social and personal freedoms such as peaceable citizens’ rights to educate their own children, to own and carry firearms, and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; (2) it incorporates more than 150 distinct public policies; and (3) it is particularly careful to measure fiscal policies in a way that reflects the true cost of government to the citizen.

We find that the overall freest states in the country are New Hampshire and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place, while New York is the least free by a considerable margin. On personal freedom alone, Oregon now comes first, with Vermont and Nevada not too far behind, and Maryland brings up the rear. On economic freedom alone, South Dakota easily takes first, and New York is a distant last. The most improved states since the last edition of our study are Oregon, Nevada, Maine, and Washington, while Wyoming, California, Arizona, and Massachusetts have fallen the furthest. Two of the most intriguing findings of our statistical analysis are that Americans are voting with their feet and moving to states with more economic and personal freedom and that economic freedom correlates with income growth.

The data used to create the rankings are available online at http://mercatus.org/freedom-50-states-2011, and we invite others to see how the overall state freedom rankings might change given their own weightings of the various public policies. _PDF Freedom in the 50 States Executive Summary PDF

Freedom in the 50 States PDF

More from the Mercatus Center website:
Measuring Freedom & Government Intervention

We explicitly ground our conception of freedom on an individual-rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.

Fiscal Policy
We divide fiscal policy equally into spending and taxation subcategories. These subcategories are highly interdependent; we include them both as redundant measures of the size of government.

Regulatory Policy
In this study, regulatory policy includes labor regulation, health-insurance coverage mandates, occupational licensing, eminent domain, the tort system, land-use regulation, and utilities. Regulations that seem to have a mainly paternalistic justification, such as home- and private-school regulations, are placed in the paternalism category.

In deciding how to weight personal freedoms, we started from the bottom up, beginning with the freedom we saw as least important in terms of saliency, constitutional implications, and the number of people affected, and working up to the most important.

Ranking & Discussion
By summing the economic freedom and personal freedom scores, we obtain the overall freedom index, presented in table 5. New Hampshire and South Dakota again find themselves in a virtual tie for first.

Although we hope we have demonstrated that some states provide freer environments than others, it would be inappropriate to infer that the freest states necessarily enjoy a libertarian streak, while others suffer from a statist mentality.
_Mercatus Center
As economic conditions continue to grow worse over most of the 50 states under the Obama government, residents and businesses will take closer looks at many of the parameters which are highlighted in the Mercatus Center study. A large portion of new jobs over the past two years, have originated within the top 20 ranked states.

In general, crime rates are lower in states which provide citizens greater personal and economic freedoms. Crime rates and other factors relating to quality of life will need to be considered alongside the freedom ratings when choosing an optimal location, whether in the US or any other country.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is hard to let that pass without a comment on the fixed weightings that were employed, which are biased heavily towards the libertine rather than the libertarian or conservative.

If the weightings are corrected away from the libertine towards places where right-thinking people would care to live, the usual suspects emerge: Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. There is much to be improved in each of those states, but they lead the others.

Sunday, 12 June, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, I agree that the weightings are far from perfect for a "freedom index". If the three areas of emphasis were each given 33% weighting, rather than giving 50% to "paternalism", the ranking would have been many times more accurate.

Any ranking that labels Oregon as more free than Wyoming or Montana, has serious problems.

The Mercatus rankings are worthwhile as a starting point. But many other factors come into play for any given person who is looking for an optimal residence.

The failure of Mercatus to look at crime, cost of living, or to include a more extensive examination of government meddling, leaves Mercatus open to serious criticism.

Sunday, 12 June, 2011  
Blogger Howard Roark said...

I have found this list to be pretty weak as compared with the Tax Foundations ranking of states. The 25% ranking of fiscal issues is a joke. It ranks New Hampshire #1, a hardcore liberal New England state that is a bastion for Obama voters.

Tuesday, 14 June, 2011  
Blogger Prizm said...

Well worth the read. I found it very informative as I have been researching a lot lately on practical matters such as you talk about.Mercatus

Thursday, 17 May, 2012  

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