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June 17, 2011

How “Free” is Your State?

Joe Charlebois

For those who are of the opinion that the country has morphed into one big overpowering federal conglomerate, there is hope. There are still 50 different states with 50 different and distinct governments.


One good measurement of how the states differ has been released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Entitled “Freedom in the 50 States,” this index was released last week and ranks each individual state on personal and economic freedoms.


The index measured freedom for individual rights, the level of government intervention, level of taxation and spending, as well as the level of regulatory control.


The study that created the index was led by William Ruger and Jason Sorens, and it ranks the 50 states on comparative data with the most “free state” ranking first and the least 50th. As one might assume those ranking lowest were California, New Jersey and New York. The most-free states were New Hampshire, South Dakota and Indiana.


The overall rankings of “Freedom” ranked Maryland 43rd. Neighboring Pennsylvania ranked 31st while Virginia was the only mid-Atlantic state ranked in the top half of the study. Virginia ranked ninth overall.


Mr. Ruger and Mr. Sorens broke down the key measurements into two separate categories – Economic Freedom and Personal Freedom. Economic Freedom was then further analyzed in two separate ways; first Fiscal Policy and then Regulatory Policy. In regards to fiscal policy, which references taxation and spending, Maryland ranked a surprising 11th best while Pennsylvania and Virginia were 34th and 13th respectively. They took into account state, local and municipal governments and how decentralized funding to local governments was.


Regulatory Policy – defined as policies that include labor, licensing, land use and utilities labor regulations, and health insurance mandates – ranks Maryland 34th, Pennsylvania 23rd and Virginia 4th.


The study’s results on personal freedoms focused on the level of “paternalism.” They view personal freedom from a truly libertarian perspective including the regulation of gaming, firearms, marijuana, alcohol, automobiles, tobacco, marriage and civil unions as well as curriculum requirements in schools.


In regards to personal freedom rankings the “Free State” is anything but free. The State of Maryland ranked dead last in personal freedoms. Maryland not only ranked last but was statistically far more restrictive than the 49th ranked state which was Illinois.


Not that this study proves that the reason that business is leaving Maryland for other more desirable locations, or that an individual will use this information to find a better place to raise kids or retire, but it may.


This does confirm, however, what those of us living in Maryland have confirmed – that we are overregulated both economically and individually.


(Reference: The Mercatus Center, George Mason University.)


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