Mercatus Center project rates states on freedom

The Mercatus Center at Mason has released the results of the Freedom in 50 States project, a study aimed to show how states match up to each other in terms of freedom.

The Mercatus Center, located in Arlington, conducts research on political and economic issues.

The Freedom in 50 States project was conducted and authored by William Ruger and Jason Sorens and ranks states based on different aspects of freedom.

"We thought that that was a downside of a lot of studies that measured freedom and ranked states either internationally or domestically on freedoms,” Ruger said. “They focused on the economic freedoms. Yes those are very important, but freedom is more than economic freedom. It's also personal freedoms. The most important question was how to include personal freedoms."

A state's score is based on fiscal policy, regulatory policy and personal freedom. Fiscal policy is weighted the most, followed by personal freedom and then regulatory policy.

Some of the liberties, such as civil liberties, gun control, marriage freedom and education, are widely discussed across the nation, while issues such as helmet requirements, family friendliness and fireworks are much less controversial.

Each category of freedom contains a color-coded map of the United States and detailed lists of states ranked in order of their calculated freedom. Each state page also has a short video presenting the material about the state of whichever freedom the reader chooses.

The 'overall freedom' section of the study combines personal and economic freedoms. According to Freedom in 50 States, North Dakota ranked highest on the list, followed by South Dakota, while New York was ranked the least free. Virginia was ranked as the eighth most free state. Detailed breakdowns of each state's freedoms and restrictions can be found on the site as well as policy suggestions to increase freedom.

Ruger cautioned against trying to separate any of the freedoms.

"[The freedoms are] interconnected,” Ruger said. “As economist Milton Friedman said, economic freedom is important in order to have political freedoms. So they're connected, we do it as a whole."

The third edition of Freedom in 50 States gives citizens a chance to rank their valued freedoms and see how the states currently stand.

According to the Mercatus Center’s Director of Communications Carrie Conko, page views of the study have increased 92 percent since it has become interactive with users.

The third edition has also looked at migration patterns in the United States, which have proven that low ranking states are losing taxpayers to the states that have more freedom.  People tend to vote with their feet, Ruger said. States that have been surprisingly affected by out-migration include New York, ranked 50, and California, ranked 49.

"I was surprised that there was a lot more movement of people than expected,” Conko said. “So that notion that people follow jobs and jobs follow freedom, that was a theory, but to actually see that playing out in the data was really interesting."

Freedom in 50 States shines an unflattering light on many states with serious economic and regulatory issues who stand to lose taxpayers and workers.

"In so many areas and so many places, there's such a huge reach into peoples' lives, whether economically, regulatory, fiscally or in their personal freedoms,” Ruger said. “Whether that's involved with dealing with marijuana use or how they can home school their children or rules about occupational licensing. A lot of those issues in our study really cut across traditional conservative [and] liberal politics.”

The detailed information provided for each state can help students who plan to vote in the upcoming elections. The policy suggestions can help undecided voters know what to look for in candidate platforms as well as what to avoid.

"I think political literacy is important because whether we like it or not, politics affect us,” Ruger said.  “So this provides particular state profiles, a kind of handy way to look at what's happening in your state."

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