Libertarianism is a political philosophy and movement that upholds liberty (freedom) as a core principle. It is seen as an extreme laissez-faire (hands-off) political philosophy, advocating minimal state intervention. Libertarians strongly value individual freedom and believe that only individuals should make choices and are responsible for their actions. Libertarianism believes that individuals have a right to life, liberty, and property and that a government or society does not grant these rights— they are inherent in the nature of human beings. The libertarian social analysis states that order in society is not imposed by a central authority but rather arises spontaneously out of millions of people's actions.
A common misconception about libertarianism is that the philosophy is “people can do anything they want, and nobody else can say anything.” Individuals in a libertarian society are free to pursue their own lives so long as they respect the equal right so others. The libertarian rule of law means that individuals are governed by generally applicable and spontaneously developed laws. The government’s power should be limited. Other key concepts of libertarianism include: free markets, the virtue of production, the natural harmony of interests, and peace.
Libertarianism in the United States
The Libertarian Party (LP) in the United States is a political party promoting the aspects of libertarianism, such as laissez-faire capitalism, civil liberties, non-interventionism, and limiting the size and involvement of government. The slogan of the U.S. Libertarian Party is “Minimum government, maximum freedom.” The LP was conceived in August 1971 in Westminster, Colorado, and was officially formed on December 11, 1971, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The party is currently the third-largest political party in the United States by Voter Registration. There are about 609,000 voters registered as Libertarians in 31 states and Washington, D.C. The Libertarian Party has one seat in the House of Representatives, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan.
The Most Libertarian States
Under the United States Constitution, each U.S. state has control over many of its own laws, causing laws to vary greatly among states. Because of this, some states are considered to be more free or libertarian than other states. 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 ones sees fit, so long as one does not coercively infringe on another individual’s ability to do the same.” The report’s rankings include fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom.
Fiscal policy includes: state taxation, local taxation, government consumption and investment, government debt, and cash and security assets. Regulatory policy includes: land-use freedom, health insurance freedom, labor-market freedom, lawsuit freedom, occupational freedom, miscellaneous regulatory freedom, and cable and telecommunications. Personal freedom includes: incarceration and arrests, guns, gambling, marriage, education, alcohol, asset forfeiture, marijuana, tobacco, mala prohibita and civil liberties, travel freedom, and campaign finance.
The report scored each state 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 these findings, the most libertarian states are:
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, and 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 gun 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).
Nevada is the fifth freest state in the U.S. The state ranks second for personal freedom, scoring first 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 yearsWhile personal freedom is Nevada's biggest strength, it does not perform well for fiscal or regulatory policy, which ranks 22nd and 17th, respectively.
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. The state’s debts are down, and its financial assets are up. The state’s tax burden is about 4.5% of adjusted income. North Dakota lacks a state minimum wage, land use is lightly regulated, and the state has a right-to-work-law.
Tennessee has the third-freest regulatory policies, being one of seven states with no individual state income tax. Additionally, Tennessee’s state and local taxes and debt have decreased in recent years. Tennessee also ranks tenth in the country for regulatory policies. Unfortunately, Tennessee ranks 45 for personal freedom due to its above-average incarceration rates and criminal justice policies.
8. South Dakota
At the eighth spot is South Dakota, which ranks sixth for fiscal policy and eight for regulatory policy. South Dakota’s tax burden is very low, and state and local debt are both below the national average. South Dakota ranks a little lower for personal freedom at 37 due to its strongest criminal justice policies and incarceration rates.
Arizona is the ninth-most free state in the U.S. The state has made significant progress in the last 20 years, especially in personal freedom, where it is currently ranked 14th. This is because of Arizona’s growing gun rights, declining victimless crime arrest, abolishing its sodomy law, and liberalizing its wine shipment laws. Arizona also ranks 18th for fiscal policy and 16 for regulatory policy.
Kansas is the tenth-freest state in the country and ranks first for regulatory policy. Both land-use and occupational freedom are high in Kansas, and the state is one of the freest from cronyism. Unfortunately, Kansas’s ranks for fiscal policy and personal freedom are not as great, ranking 31st and 21st, respectively. The state’s incarceration rate has been slowly increasing in recent years
States with the Most Libertarian Voters
Looking at voting patterns in each state, the states that have the highest numbers of libertarian voters are Montana, New Hampshire, Alaska, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona.