New York

A new study indicates the states with the most freedom are South Dakota, New Hampshire and Colorado, while Americans see the most complete government control of their personal lives in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and Maryland.

“On personal freedom alone, Alaska is the clear winner, while Maryland brings up the rear. As for freedom in the different regions of the country, the Mountain and West North Central regions are the freest overall while the Middle Atlantic lags far behind on both economic and personal freedom,” said the study, Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.

The study was conducted by Jason Sorens of the University of Buffalo and William P. Ruger of Texas State and release through the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

The researchers say their work “presents the first-ever comprehensive ranking of the American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.”

The study made its assessments by defining individual freedom as the “ability to dispose of one’s own life, liberty, and justly acquired property however one sees fit, so long as one does not coercively infringe on other individuals’ ability to do the same.”

Specifically, it includes measures of social and personal freedoms such as peaceable citizens’ rights to educate their own children, own and carry firearms, and be free from unreasonable search and seizure. It includes more variables than prior studies.

The results can be used by lawmakers concerned about liberty and by business owners who are considering new investment priorities, the authors said. Individuals can use the results to determine moves and retirement options.

The authors said their understanding of freedom “follows from the natural-rights
liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant and
Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the
rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert
Spencer and others.”

It includes the belief in the efficiency and morality of unhampered markets, the system of private property and individual rights and a “deep distrust of taxation, egalitarianism, compulsory welfare and the power of the state.”

“Our definition of freedom presents specific challenges
on some high-profile issues. Abortion is a critical
example. On one account, the fetus is a rights-bearing
person, and abortion is therefore an aggressive violation
of individual rights that ought to be punished by
government. On another account, the fetus does not
have rights, and abortion is a permissible exercise
of an individual liberty, in which case government
regulation of abortion would be an unjust violation
of a woman’s rights. Rather than take a stand on one
side or the other (or anywhere in between), we have
coded the data on state abortion restrictions but have
not included the policy in our overall index,” the study authors cautioned.

Issues considered for various parts of the study include the use of marijuana, state and local government budgets, gun registration and dealer registration demands, restrictions on alcohol sales, camera surveillance, bicycle helmet laws, gambling rules, fireworks restrictions, compulsory school requirements, insurance rules.

The overall order of states, from most free to least free, with the study’s numerical values, were:

1. New Hampshire 0.432
2. Colorado 0.421
3. South Dakota 0.392
4. Idaho 0.356
5. Texas 0.346
6. Missouri 0.320
7. Tennessee 0.284
8. Arizona 0.279
9. Virginia 0.275
10. North Dakota 0.268
11. Utah 0.250
12. Kansas 0.210
13. Indiana 0.208
14. Michigan 0.206
15. Wyoming 0.193
16. Iowa 0.183
17. Georgia 0.146
18. Oklahoma 0.143
19. Montana 0.125
20. Pennsylvania 0.102
21. Alabama 0.092
22. Florida 0.068
23. North Carolina 0.019
24. Nevada 0.013
25. Mississippi -0.004
26. Delaware -0.008
27. Oregon -0.009
28. Nebraska -0.018
29. Arkansas -0.023
30. South Carolina -0.040
31. Alaska -0.071
32. Kentucky -0.082
33. West Virginia -0.097
34. Louisiana -0.110
35. Minnesota -0.111
36. New Mexico -0.150
37. Wisconsin -0.199
38. Ohio -0.205
39. Maine -0.214
40. Vermont -0.217
41. Connecticut -0.225
42. Illinois -0.238
43. Massachusetts -0.242
44. Washington -0.275
45. Hawaii -0.304
46. Maryland -0.405
47. California -0.413
48. Rhode Island -0.430
49. New Jersey -0.457
50. New York -0.784

The online report also includes detailed descriptions for each state.

For example, Alaska, although it has great personal freedom, has a problem regarding freedom is its fiscal policy.

“Over a quarter
of the state’s workforce is employed by state or
local government, and that figure does not include
federal employees. Alaska has the third highest debt
ratio in the country and the second highest state and
local government spending ratio. However, Alaska
does extremely well on personal freedom, scoring first
on our ranking,” the profile states.

California, the study implies, should be avoided:

“Contrary to popular perception, California not
only taxes and regulates its economy more than
most other states, it also aggressively interferes in
the personal lives of its citizens. California ranks No. 48
on economic freedom and No. 37 on personal freedom.
California simply needs to cut government spending.
The budgetary categories most out of line with the
rest of the country are public safety, natural resources
and environment, and administration.”

Highly rated Colorado gets its endorsement through “excellent
fiscal numbers and above-average numbers on regulation
and paternalism. [The Taxpayers Bill of Rights], though suspended
as of this writing, is surely responsible for some of
Colorado’s fiscal sanity. The state is the most fiscally
decentralized in the country, with localities raising
fully 44.5 percent of all state and local expenditures. … “

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