The United States is the “land of the free.” Different people value aspects of freedom differently and therefore may have different definitions of what freedom means.
Under the United States Constitution, each state has control over many of the laws and regulations within its own borders. Because of this, laws can vary widely between states. People
Freedom in the 50 States is a report that ranks each state based on a combination of personal and economic freedoms. The report defines 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 another individual’s ability to do the same.” These include fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom.
Fiscal policy includes:
- State taxation
- Local taxation
- Government consumption and investment
- Government debt
- Cash and security assets
Regulatory policy includes:
- Land-use freedom
- Health insurance freedom
- Labor-market freedom
- Lawsuit freedom
- Occupational freedom
- Miscellaneous regulatory freedom
- Cable and telecommunications
Personal freedom includes:
- Incarceration and arrests
- Asset forfeiture
- Mala prohibita and civil liberties
- Travel freedom
- Campaign finance
Each state was scored on over 200 policies involving fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. Policies were weighted according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims. Fiscal policy was weighted at 30.4%, regulatory policy at 34.0%, and personal freedom at 34.1% (percentages do not equal 100% because of rounding).
Based on the rankings, Florida is the freest state in the United States. Florida is ranked first for fiscal policy, 11th for personal freedom, and 22nd for regulatory policy. Florida is one of seven states that do not levy a state income tax. Florida’s overall state-level tax collections are more than a standard deviation and a half below the national average.
New Hampshire is the second-most free state in the country. New Hampshire ranks second for fiscal policy, with the government taxing less than any other state but Alaska. New Hampshire also ranks fifth for personal freedom, with low incarceration rates and drug arrest rates.
Indiana ranks 10th for fiscal policy, 10th for personal freedom, and fifth for regulatory policy. Indiana has built itself as the freest state in the Great Lakes region by a wide margin. State taxes have fallen while government debt has also declined. Educational freedom is excellent in Indiana. Legal gambling is extensive, victimless crime arrests are low, alcohol freedom has improved consistently over the past few years.
Colorado takes the number four spot for the freest states. Colorado ranks eighth for fiscal policy and fourth for personal freedom. The state has led the way in recreational cannabis regulation and has above average legal gambling and run rights. Colorado is ranked first on the report for freedom from cronyism (the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority without proper regard to their qualifications). When it comes to regulatory policy, however, Colorado does not perform as well and is ranked 25th.
Nevada ranks second for personal freedom. Nevada is number one for legal gambling and is the only state with legal prostitution (in certain jurisdictions). Incarceration in Nevada is about average and non-drug victimless crime arrests have fallen in recent years. While personal freedom is Nevada’s strength it does perform as well for fiscal or regulatory policy, which it ranks 22nd and 17th for.
6. North Dakota
North Dakota is the sixth-most free state in the U.S., ranking fifth for fiscal policy, 29 for personal freedom, and 19 for regulatory policy. North Dakota’s tax burned is about 4.5% of adjusted income. State debts have been paid down and financial assets have been built up. North Dakota falls behind for regulatory policies, although its policies are still good. Land use is lightly regulated, there is a right-to-work law, and there is no state-level minimum wage.
Tennessee has the third-freest regulatory policies in the U.S. and is ranked tenth for regulatory policy; however, it ranks 45 for personal freedom. Tennessee is one of seven states with no individual state income tax and both state and local taxes and state and local debt have decreased. Tennessee ranks poorly for personal freedom due to its criminal justice policies and an above-average incarceration rate.
8. South Dakota
Ranking just two spots under its northern neighbor is South Dakota. South Dakota sixth for fiscal policy, 37 for personal freedom, and eighth for regulatory policy. South Dakota has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country and state and local debt is well below the national average. While the state’s regulatory policies are well above average, its criminal justice policies are very strict. Incarceration is high as well as drug and other victimless crimes.
Arizona is the ninth-most free state in the United States. Arizona ranks 18th for fiscal policy, 14 for personal freedom, and 16 for regulatory policy. Arizona has made significant progress in the rankings in the last 20 years, specifically on personal freedom. This is due to growing gun rights, declining victimless crime arrests, legalization of same-sex marriage, the abolition of its sodomy law, and liberalizing its wine shipment laws.
Kansas takes the tenth spot on the freest states in the country and ranks first for regulatory policy. Kansas is one of the best states for freedom from cronyism, land-use freedom is high, and occupational freedom is high. Kansas does significantly worse for fiscal policy and personal freedom, ranking 32 and 21, respectively. Government employment and debt in South Dakota are higher than average. Additionally, while Kansas does relatively better than other conservative states when it comes to criminal justice, its incarceration rate has been slowly increasing over time.