Freedom attracts citizens, according to study Jersey and New York Ranked as Worst States for "Individual Freedoms"

...]researchers at George Mason University's Mercatus Center .... used a variety of statistics to rank the 50 states for their just-published report on which states are the freest -- and least free -- from taxes and government regulation.

... Ruger said there are two critical policy implications from the study that could have serious economic implications.

First, freer states are attracting citizens from other states while less-free states are losing citizens -- and their tax dollars. "This is true for both economic freedom and personal freedom," Ruger said. "People are voting with their feet and moving to open, tolerant, and economically free states and away from nanny-states."

Where did your state rank on this study? Do you feel the socio-economic effects of gov't regulation in your area?

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Charlie's picture

I'm skeptical of this survey, because it doesn't seek to discover trends in migration. The single largest factor was completely ignored. Migration is determined, above all other factors save emergency situations like war or plague, by population density. In general, population flows from higher to lower levels of density.

This illuminates "freedom" as well. There is a general correlation between population density, supposed individual freedoms, and public benefits. The more dense the population, the more care needs to be taken on a public level. Transit is a good example. In rural South Carolina, there is almost no public transportation, and consequently no taxes devoted to that. However, people without transportation of their own are forced to live in very specific neighborhoods to hold jobs, or they do not hold jobs at all. So, they probably do not consider the lack of public transportation to be freedom.

In NYC, the populace largely relies on public transportation, and thus pays toward it. No alternative exists. Shutting down the NYC subways and forcing people to walk, drive themselves, or take taxis would create tremendous problems in that urban setting. So, having to pay toward transportation isn't a restriction of freedom, but a necessary part of living a metropolitan lifestyle. To the architects of this study, though, it's just "taxes."

In general, choice is weighed against efficiency, and as population density rises, the consequences for inefficiency rise.

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Susan R's picture


From the report-

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. Redundancy in variables reduces error in measuring the underlying concept.

We rate lowest the narrow, technical variable, local government budget constraints (local ownsource revenues as a percentage of local spending). Local government budget constraints, a measure of how much local governments depend on their own resources rather than on grants from state and federal governments, are a prudent fiscal measure aimed at ensuring that local governments spend within their means.

Fiscal decentralization (local own-source revenues as a percentage of total state and local spending, adjusted for state population— higher is better) is considered to be four times as important, and state and local government employment as a percentage of total employment (lower is better) is considered to be three times as important. The remainder of the spending subcategory (onehalf of the total) is devoted to aggregate measures of state and local spending. Taxation is a simple subcategory. We include debt burden here because it represents future taxation. State and local tax revenues as a percentage of personal income (lower is better) account for threefourths of the total taxation weight—fully 9.4 percent of the total freedom score—while state and local outstanding debt as a percentage of personal income (lower is better) accounts for one-fourth of the total taxation weight.

What do you think about how the authors of this study factor in whether or not states are depending on federal funding as opposed to operating within their means?

On ]paternalism , I was particularly interested in how they viewed education, since that is of special interest to me. Ohio ranked #42.


Education is the most important subcategory under paternalism, worth roughly twice as much as marriage and civil unions, asset forfeiture, and arrests for victimless crimes and worth more than three times as much as alcohol regulations. It represents almost one-twelfth of the total freedom index. Besides taxing and spending, which are each worth one-eighth of the overall index, education is the most important subcategory. The reason we consider education regulations so important is that they affect the future course of liberty by affecting how and what the next generation is taught. Education regulations lie within the paternalism category because they are fundamentally justified on the claim that parents do not know how or where best to educate their own children.

Many families consider education policies, the quality of school districts, and homeschool regulations as high priorities when relocating.

Charlie's picture

Something that concerns me is the repeated use of "better" in the study. Unless it has a technical meaning, the assumption seems to be, for example, that 0% government employment would be the best possible scenario, or that 0% "reliance" of local governments on state or federal funding is the best situation. Depending on the variable, it assumes that either 100% or 0% is the best values. This assumption may hold for some variables, but I wonder if the truly best solution does not usually lie somewhere inside the spectrum. For example, would a 0% government employee rate actually produce the most free society? Would a 0% tax rate? Would no regulations on education? In other words, what would a state with a 100% freedom score actually look like? How does this distinguish freedom from anarchy?

Now, I do think it is theoretically possible to generate a comparative freedom ranking, but only by using a philosophically thin definition of freedom. For example, "Freedom is your ability to act without government hindering you." On the contrary, what we consider a free lifestyle actually includes government prohibiting certain desires and activities.

I suspect that many readers of this survey, if not the architects themselves, will succumb to another fallacy: assuming more free is better. As I mentioned before, some areas of individual freedom naturally vary with population density. Higher density requires more precise zoning, more sophisticated transportation, more structured systems at every level. So, the pertinent question is not whether freedom, in the abstract, is good or bad. Rather, it is whether a particular area, say Maryland, would be a better or worse place to live if certain types of regulations were added or subtracted. I'm sympathetic to smaller government myself, but I don't at all believe that New York could be run like Montana.

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