This study comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. It updates, expands, and improves upon our inaugural 2009 Freedom in the 50 States study. For this new edition, we have added more policy variables (such as bans on trans fats and the audio recording of police, Massachusetts’s individual health-insurance mandate, and mandated family leave), improved existing measures (such as those for fiscal policies, workers’ compensation regulations, and asset-forfeiture rules), and developed specific 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 the first 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) 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.
We find that 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 now 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 our study are Oregon, Nevada, Maine, and Washington, while Wyoming, California, Arizona, and Massachusetts have fallen the furthest. Two of the most intriguing findings of our statistical analysis 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.
The data used to create the rankings are available in the Data Appendix, and we invite others to see how the overall state freedom rankings might change given their own weightings of the various public policies