NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Which State Is Most Free?

June 17, 2011

Freedom in the 50 States, a study from the Mercatus Institute, comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social and personal spheres.

Mercatus' approach to measuring freedom in the states is unique in three respects: (1) it includes measures of social and personal freedoms such as peaceable citizens' rights to educate their own children, to own and carry firearms, and to be free from unreasonable 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 true cost of government to the citizen.

  • The overall freest states in the country are New Hampshire and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place, while New York is the least free by a considerable margin.
  • On personal freedom alone, Oregon comes first, with Vermont and Nevada not too far behind, and Maryland brings up the rear.
  • On economic freedom alone, South Dakota easily takes first and New York is a distant last.
  • The most improved states since the last edition of the study are Oregon, Nevada, Maine and Washington, while Wyoming, California, Arizona and Massachusetts have fallen the furthest.

Two of the most intriguing findings are that Americans are voting with their feet and moving to states with more economic and personal freedom, and that economic freedom correlates with income growth.

Source: Jason Sorens and William Ruger, "Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom," Mercatus Institute, June 7, 2011.

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