What states are most, least free?

A unique index published by the Cato Institute ranks states by how free they are based on weighted criteria.  "Freedom in the 50 States" ranks the states using dozens of measures for each of three major categories: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. 

The authors seek to improve their methodology with every publication, refining the methodology to render a result as close to what their notions of "freedom" are.

This 2016 edition of Freedom in the 50 States presents a completely revised and updated ranking of the American states based on how their policies promote freedom in the fiscal, regulatory, and personal realms.

This edition again improves upon the methodology for weighting and combining state and local policies in order to create a comprehensive index. Authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens introduce many new policy variables suggested by readers. More than 230 policy variables and their sources are now available to the public on a new website for the study. Scholars, policymakers, and concerned citizens can assign new weights to every policy and create customized indices of freedom, or download the data for their own analyses.

In the 2016 edition, the authors have updated their findings to:

  • Improve estimates of the “freedom value” of each policy (the estimated dollar value of each freedom affected to those who enjoy it);
  • Provide the most up-to-date freedom index yet, including scores as of December 31, 2014;
  • Include citizen choice among local governments as an important factor modifying the freedom value of more locally based taxation;
  • Significantly expand policies affecting business and personal freedom, including new variables for occupational licensing, tort liability climate, land-use regulation, entry and price regulation, alcohol laws, and civil asset forfeiture;
  • Analyze how the policies driving income growth and interstate migration have changed pre– and post–Great Recession.

In addition to providing the latest rankings for year-end 2014, the 2016 edition provides biennial data on economic and personal freedom and their components back to 2006, plus scores for 2000 for long-range comparisons.

You're going to want to take your time perusing this index – it's that good.

According to the index, the freest state in America is New Hampshire, followed by Alaska and Oklahoma.  The least free state in the country is New York, followed by California and Hawaii.

The overall freedom index is slightly misleading.  For example, in "Government Employment," California is ranked 7th best, while in "Health Insurance Freedom," New Hampshire ranks a middling 21.  Some states that rank poorly in some areas rank better in others.  The authors hope the overall ranking reflects an accurate picture of the level of freedom in that state.

Is Cato's idea of "freedom" close to yours?  No doubt our friends on the left are going to be apoplectic about how the libertarian think-tank weights certain "freedoms."  For instance, gun control.  Overall, the authors give the issue a weight of 3.2. 

Gun control: 3.2%

Local gun ban: 1.0%
Concealed-carry index: 0.4%
Initial permit cost: 0.4%
Firearms licensing index: 0.3%
Waiting period for purchases: 0.3%
Initial permit term: 0.2%
Stricter minimum age: 0.2%
Assault weapons ban: 0.1%
Open carry index: 0.05%
No duty to retreat: 0.05%
Any other weapon: 0.04%
Dealer licensing: 0.03%
Built-in locking devices: 0.03%
Nonpowder guns: 0.03%
Restrictions on multiple purchases: 0.03%
Background checks for private sales: 0.02%
Registration of firearms: 0.02%
Design safety standards: 0.01%
Machine guns: 0.01%
Ammo microstamping: 0.01%
Large-capacity magazine bans: 0.01%
Sound suppressor: <0.01%
Short-barreled shotguns: <0.01%
Short-barreled rifles: <0.01%
.50 caliber ban: <0.01%

On the other hand, liberals may disagree with the weight given to fiscal policy:

  • State Taxation: 13.4%
  • Local Taxation: 78.6%-10.1%
  • Government Subsidies: 2.3%
  • Government debt: 2.1%

There will always be some subjectivity when we try to define freedom, and that's why this index can be a source of illumination.  Everyone's notion of "freedom" is different.  If you're a whiz at statistics, maybe you want to plug in some of your own weighted data and see what you get.  This interactive site gives you the opportunity to do that.

The authors also give policy recommendations on how to improve a state's ranking.  Overall, a brilliant job by authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens.

A unique index published by the Cato Institute ranks states by how free they are based on weighted criteria.  "Freedom in the 50 States" ranks the states using dozens of measures for each of three major categories: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. 

The authors seek to improve their methodology with every publication, refining the methodology to render a result as close to what their notions of "freedom" are.

This 2016 edition of Freedom in the 50 States presents a completely revised and updated ranking of the American states based on how their policies promote freedom in the fiscal, regulatory, and personal realms.

This edition again improves upon the methodology for weighting and combining state and local policies in order to create a comprehensive index. Authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens introduce many new policy variables suggested by readers. More than 230 policy variables and their sources are now available to the public on a new website for the study. Scholars, policymakers, and concerned citizens can assign new weights to every policy and create customized indices of freedom, or download the data for their own analyses.

In the 2016 edition, the authors have updated their findings to:

  • Improve estimates of the “freedom value” of each policy (the estimated dollar value of each freedom affected to those who enjoy it);
  • Provide the most up-to-date freedom index yet, including scores as of December 31, 2014;
  • Include citizen choice among local governments as an important factor modifying the freedom value of more locally based taxation;
  • Significantly expand policies affecting business and personal freedom, including new variables for occupational licensing, tort liability climate, land-use regulation, entry and price regulation, alcohol laws, and civil asset forfeiture;
  • Analyze how the policies driving income growth and interstate migration have changed pre– and post–Great Recession.

In addition to providing the latest rankings for year-end 2014, the 2016 edition provides biennial data on economic and personal freedom and their components back to 2006, plus scores for 2000 for long-range comparisons.

You're going to want to take your time perusing this index – it's that good.

According to the index, the freest state in America is New Hampshire, followed by Alaska and Oklahoma.  The least free state in the country is New York, followed by California and Hawaii.

The overall freedom index is slightly misleading.  For example, in "Government Employment," California is ranked 7th best, while in "Health Insurance Freedom," New Hampshire ranks a middling 21.  Some states that rank poorly in some areas rank better in others.  The authors hope the overall ranking reflects an accurate picture of the level of freedom in that state.

Is Cato's idea of "freedom" close to yours?  No doubt our friends on the left are going to be apoplectic about how the libertarian think-tank weights certain "freedoms."  For instance, gun control.  Overall, the authors give the issue a weight of 3.2. 

Gun control: 3.2%

Local gun ban: 1.0%
Concealed-carry index: 0.4%
Initial permit cost: 0.4%
Firearms licensing index: 0.3%
Waiting period for purchases: 0.3%
Initial permit term: 0.2%
Stricter minimum age: 0.2%
Assault weapons ban: 0.1%
Open carry index: 0.05%
No duty to retreat: 0.05%
Any other weapon: 0.04%
Dealer licensing: 0.03%
Built-in locking devices: 0.03%
Nonpowder guns: 0.03%
Restrictions on multiple purchases: 0.03%
Background checks for private sales: 0.02%
Registration of firearms: 0.02%
Design safety standards: 0.01%
Machine guns: 0.01%
Ammo microstamping: 0.01%
Large-capacity magazine bans: 0.01%
Sound suppressor: <0.01%
Short-barreled shotguns: <0.01%
Short-barreled rifles: <0.01%
.50 caliber ban: <0.01%

On the other hand, liberals may disagree with the weight given to fiscal policy:

  • State Taxation: 13.4%
  • Local Taxation: 78.6%-10.1%
  • Government Subsidies: 2.3%
  • Government debt: 2.1%

There will always be some subjectivity when we try to define freedom, and that's why this index can be a source of illumination.  Everyone's notion of "freedom" is different.  If you're a whiz at statistics, maybe you want to plug in some of your own weighted data and see what you get.  This interactive site gives you the opportunity to do that.

The authors also give policy recommendations on how to improve a state's ranking.  Overall, a brilliant job by authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens.