How Free is Your State?

Blog Post - How Free is Your State?

Americans love to talk about freedom. We see it as the foundation of our Republic. We celebrate it on the Fourth of July. We brag about it to anyone who will listen...

And yet we pay very little attention to our actual freedoms and continually support new laws that takes it away from us. Luckily the Founding Fathers attempted to decentralize as much power as possible by endowing the states with a high degree of leeway to enact laws as they see fit. And some states have done a much better job preserving the freedoms of their residents than others.

One of the best, most complete analyses of the 50 states can be found in the annual "Freedom in the 50 States" report, formerly compiled by the Mercatus Center and now by CATO. It evaluates each state using an incredible amount of data to rank the states on how free their residents are.

What emerges is a picture of an ideologically diverse nation, where people can choose to live in the hands-off state of New Hampshire, whose "Live Free of Die" motto perfectly captures the spirit of its people, or in New York, where the government has a say in nearly everything you do.

It's a key element in the success of federalism, where states serve as the "laboratories of democracy", meaning it may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory to try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country. The reason it's worked so well is the same reason free markets have been successful; it engenders competition in which the bad ideas fail and die out and the good ideas thrive and spread. In the case of states, those with better policies draw population away from those with failed policies, rewarding success in governance.

Unfortunately, the trend in America has been away from states' rights and toward the consolidation of power in Washington. Every new sweeping Supreme Court decision that imposes a one-size-fits-all ruling on all 50 states erodes the ability of the people to make decisions for themselves, and threatens the underpinnings of our once great nation. Whether we've passed the point of no return is debatable, but the fact that there's still so much variance among the states is a good sign.

Below are the main criteria used in the report. And each of these includes dozens of subcategories, which can be found by going here.

Fiscal Freedom: Fiscal policy consists of categories for taxes, government employment, spending, debt, and fiscal decentralization.

Land-Use Freedom: The land use freedom category includes eminent domain reform and land-use regulations.

Incarceration and Arrests: The incarceration and arrests category includes incarceration rates, non-drug crime arrests, and drug enforcement.

Labor Market Freedom: The labor market category includes right-to-work laws, disability insurance requirements, and workers' compensation.

Occupational Freedom: The occupational freedom category takes into account occupational licensing, education, and experience requirements.

Education: The education category takes into account requirements and restrictions for private and homeschools, as well as school choice options.

Health Insurance Freedom: The health insurance category includes variables for state-level mandates and other health insurance regulations.

Marriage Freedom: The marriage category includes the ability for couples to enter into private contracts, both civil unions or marriage.

Cannabis Freedom: This category includes an index of medical marijuana policies and other policy variables.

Tobacco Freedom: The tobacco category includes taxes on tobacco, smoking bans, Internet bans, and vending machine regulations.

Alcohol: The alcohol category includes restrictions on distribution, taxes, blue laws, keg registrations, and “happy hour” bans.

Travel: This category includes seat belt laws, helmet laws, mandatory insurance coverage, and cell phone usage laws.

Gun Rights: The gun control category measures the direct costs of gun laws to gun owners and dealers.

Campaign Finance: This category covers public financing of campaigns and contribution limits.

Asset Forfeiture: This category reflects the extent to which a state’s asset forfeiture rules encourage revenue-sharing with the Dept of Justice.

Gaming Freedom: The gaming category includes an estimated cost of gambling restrictions and whether social or online gaming is allowed.

Victimless Crimes: This category includes variables that relate to individual actions that harm no one else.

Lawsuit Freedom: Lawsuit freedom includes how plaintiff-friendly each state's civil liability system is.

Cable and Telecom Freedom: The cable and telecom category includes telecommunications deregulation and cable franchising.

Miscellaneous Regulatory Freedom: This category includes variables for regulations governing hospitals, auto insurance, and homeowners’ insurance.

Comment list

  • Arian Kelley
    18-Aug-2016 06:57 PM

    Cool post Kevin.

  • Anonymous
    18-Aug-2016 11:40 PM

    This could just as easily be seen as a measure of anarchy. The paper literally gives more "freedom points" to the states where "victimless crime" isn't punished as harshly, but it doesn't stop there. Any regulation at all is seen as less freedom. I don't know about you, but I need the government to watch my back, because I sure as hell don't have the time to keep a watch on all the organizations and individuals in the private sector that are trying to screw me.

  • george
    19-Aug-2016 03:37 PM

    Texas allows people to own lions and tigers and bears and open carry firearms. That is a lot of freedom. I'm not sure how taxes takes so much steam off their freedom as to place them in the lower half with the likes of California and New York. I'm going to disagree.

  • Thomas
    19-Aug-2016 06:29 PM

    I have to agree with George and the first Anonymous commenter.

    Seems like the ranking is backwards. California allows medical marijuana. New York allows women to walk around topless. Doesn't get much more free than that. Texas has no state tax, allows all forms of guns....

    Though Texas is trying to take away women's reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTQA community.

  • Jessica
    20-Aug-2016 07:23 AM

    I have lived in Texas for two years and I believe you have to have a permit in order to open carry. I grew up in Ak and when I moved here I was surprised how much stricter they were on gun laws. Maybe I'm wrong that you don't need a license but I swear when my husband got his concealed that's what he was told. I had to get finger printed to get my drivers license here too. I didn't even need to do that in Colorado when I lived there. Some things I've noticed do not necessarily fit the reputation I thought Texas was supposed to be.

  • Rory
    20-Aug-2016 01:27 PM

    Quit whining Texas. You are always wanting to succeed from the nation....... so just do it.

  • Christie
    20-Aug-2016 05:37 PM allows recreational Marijuana, gay marriage, Dr. Assisted suicide, dogs in stores on beaches & hotels and a very progressive attitude. I'm from NH which is #1 on your list but I feel much more free on here in Oregon.

  • Rebecca
    23-Aug-2016 01:30 AM

    Sorry, Texas, but until you extend your freedoms to include a woman's freedom over her own body, you'll never be orange.

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