M E R C A T U S C E N T E R A T G E O R G E M A S O N U N I V E R S I T Y
This study comprehensively ranks
the American states on their public policies thataffect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. It updates,expands, and improves upon our inaugural 2009
Freedom in the 50 States
study. Forthis new edition, we have added more policy variables (such as bans on trans fats andthe audio recording of police, Massachusetts’s individual health-insurance mandate,and mandated family leave), improved existing measures (such as those for fiscal poli-cies, workers’ compensation regulations, and asset-forfeiture rules), and developedspecific 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 thefirst 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) itincludes measures of social and personal freedoms such as peaceable citizens’ rightsto educate their own children, to own and carry firearms, and to be free from unrea-sonable 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 truecost of government to the citizen.We find that the overall freest states in the country are New Hampshire and SouthDakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place, while New York is the leastfree 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. Oneconomic freedom alone, South Dakota easily takes first, and New York is a distantlast. The most improved states since the last edition of our study are Oregon, Nevada,Maine, and Washington, while Wyoming, California, Arizona, and Massachusettshave fallen the furthest. Two of the most intriguing findings of our statistical analysisare that Americans are voting with their feet and moving to states with more economicand 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 freedomrankings might change given their own weightings of the various public policies.