Thursday, February 26, 2009

Virginia Is for Freedom Lovers

If you value personal and economic freedom, Virginia is a good place to live. New York is not; neither are New Jersey or Hawaii.

If you're really, really interested in liberty, then the states best suited for you are New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota -- or so says a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a think tank in Arlington, Virginia.

A paper released today by Jason Sorens of the University of Buffalo and William P. Ruger of Texas State University, called "Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom," says:

We find that the freest states in the country are New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place. All three states feature low taxes and government spending and middling levels of regulation and paternalism. New York is the least free by a considerable margin, followed by 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. Regression analysis demonstrates that states enjoying more economic and personal freedom tend to attract substantially higher rates of internal net migration.
A map accompanying the report shows that Virginia is in the top quintile of this index of personal and economic freedom, while the bottom quintile includes California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

The researchers used a comprehensive list of inputs -- ranging from "marriage & civil union laws" to "arrests for victimless crimes" to "occupational licensing" to "taxation" -- in three large categories: paternalism, fiscal policy, and regulatory policy. As the abstract explains the methodology:
This paper presents the first-ever comprehensive ranking of the American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. We develop and justify our ratings and aggregation procedure on explicitly normative criteria, 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.

This study improves on prior attempts to score economic freedom for American states in three primary ways: 1) 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; 2) it includes far more variables, even on economic policies alone, than prior studies, and there are no missing data on any variable; 3) we adopt new, more accurate measurements of key variables, particularly state fiscal policies.
To a certain extent, this new comparison of state policies that affect individual liberty is a parallel to international indices like the annual Freedom in the World report published by Freedom House or the annual Economic Freedom of the World report published by the Fraser Institute. In any case, it will prove to be a useful reference tool for legislators, regulators, bloggers and other journalists, and average citizens looking for information about their state governments. As an extra bonus for us, the researchers provide a link to all of the raw data they used to complete their study, including updates as they become available.

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