Personal Freedom, by State


Douglas Rushkoff is a guest blogger.

The "Index of Freedom," maintained by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, is the first-ever comprehensive ranking of the American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. By measuring across a wide variety of policies and activities, the study concluded that New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota are the most free, while my own New York is - by significant margin - the least (due in part, no doubt, to the famously draconian drug laws implemented during the Rockefeller era and still not repealed). (Then again, as we look at the Mercatus Center funding, another picture emerges.)

State Policy Index


  1. Slight downward trend with increasing Democratic vote?

    Could we presume that once you’re not displaying some variation on “sexual immorality”, Republicans don’t actually care what you do, while Democratic insistence on making a “better world” results in quashing personal liberty to achieve it?

  2. I’ve had serious problems with this index’s claim to “personal freedom.” Their criteria are highly skewed towards gun rights, taxation, and spending limits – the conservative libertarian definition of “freedom.” Check out their weights chart to see what I mean. I won’t try to claim that these things aren’t important to measure, but I think it goes too far to assume that these specific issues as indicators of general freedom.

  3. So these guys made up a statistic purporting to show “personal freedom”, and then drew up a graph purporting to show that Democratic states have less of it… only, their criteria for “freedom” are *very* traditional-conservative, and you look at their actual graphs and the actual data points are all over the place. The conclusion I draw from this is that if you pay people enough money, they can come up with “evidence” to support whatever you want. Which, I kind’a knew that already.

    They’ve set up a framework to argue with the weights they give various factors, and some of those weights just BEG to be argued with (taxes and spending get separate slots, when most states are explicitly prohibited from running a deficit?), but why bother fighting with them on their own carefully-chosen ground?

  4. That’s right, #1, that’s the exact assumption this graph is meant to put in your head.

  5. I see that anti-discrimination laws (with the exception of marriage and civil unions) don’t show up as a statistic at all in their analysis. Hmm. Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with #2 here, that line can be bent however you choose to prioritize one’s parameters.

  6. State Liability Systems (o_courts.xls)
    This file contains a single variable: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranking of the
    reliability of each state’s tort system. The data are based on business surveys.

    So what businesses think of a state’s tort system is an indicator of “personal freedom” according to these people.

    I wonder what their ideology is?

    Also, they don’t consider that cities within each state might have stricter ordinances than the states, and may include a major portion of a state’s population — people can keep bees in most of New York State, but the 40% of New Yorkers who live in New York City can’t.

  7. @#4- Technically, anti-discrimination laws would reduce your freedom to discriminate, no?

    Before yelling out the obvious “No, no, it cannot be– Democrats support more freedom”, consider what’s actually implied by freedom– it doesn’t mean that you’ve got lots of regulations which support making things better for everyone, it means less state regulation overall. Want to cut down a forest? If you own the land, go for it. Insult your neighbor in creative ways? Go right ahead. Stockpile firearms? No problem. Fire an employee because you don’t like his look? Do it.

    Left-leaning philosophy tends to assume that personal freedom should be quashed if it causes conflict, unfairness, or interferes with the “public good”. Right-leaning philosophy suggests that there’s no need to prohibit conflict until it gets violent (and sometimes not even then), that unfairness is part of life, and that the public good should be very weakly protected.

  8. I think this data just needs to be sifted through a bit more. In many ways, I agree with this chart. Large democratic states (CA, NY, etc) tend to have far more regulation and thus less freedom than smaller less population states (say Arkansas). However, many of those regulations are for environmental protection (wait… so I have to run with a catalytic converter ALL the time???), gun control (I CANT shoot that AK I have anytime I want?) and protection for minorities (I can’t fire him cuz he’s gay?). I have to say, some of regulations in CA and NY can make your head spin, but as long as theres freedom of speech then any other infringments can be fought back (like say… draconian drug laws). Don’t dismiss this data cuz of your preceived notions, but rather look to see where they might have a point and where they’re just blowing smoke.

  9. That graph doesn’t show a very dramatic trend, especially considering that

    1) The data sample is relatively small (only 50 states), and

    2) The measures of “freedom” and the way they are quantified are rather arbitrary.

    If you’re going to manipulate data to make a point then you should at least be able to show me a dramatic curve on a graph. Can you imagine how much people would have mocked Gore if he’d used similarly unimpressive charts in “An Inconvenient Truth?”

  10. Ugh, this graph is clearly nonsense and while you use the word ‘significant’ you don’t back it up. That, and the ‘personal freedom score’ (wtf) suggest you could make these numbers demonstrate whatever you wanted them to.

    No, really, bullshit data is bad for everybody, and propagating it is dishonest at best.

  11. Seems to me that there could be a population density factor that is biasing the results, as well. States will larger urban populations are more likely to vote democratic (think California and New York). These states may also be more likely to impose more restrictions to personal freedoms to “control the masses.”

  12. I looked at the national map showing state-by-state ranking, and I found something _very_ odd:

    The more populated a state, the lower the ranking.

    It becomes pretty obvious why when you read the full abstract:
    “[…] defining 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 other individuals’ ability to do the same.”

    The 2 pieces that catch my attention are, “justly acquired property,” and “infringe on other individuals'”. The first displays an immediate bias towards, “fiscal freedom.” But the second one reveals the inverse correlation between their “freedom metric” and population. The more densely populated someplace is, the greater the chance of, “stepping on someone else’s toes.”

    (Of course, there’s another reason for the correlation, pointed out by Doug: the higher the population, the larger the number of arrests & jailings under zero-tolerance anti-drug laws.)

    Lastly: what would the map look like, I wonder, if we examined statistics of how often someone was fired, denied housing, or even physically attacked because of their skin color, religion, ethnicity, or being gay?

  13. Cognitive Dissonance is a beautiful thing to witness here in the comment section…Personal Freedom can not be legislated. It can only be taken away by legislation.

  14. So if not this graph and methodology, what would make a good way to measure personal freedom?

  15. Personal freedom can be taken away by the government.

    It can also be taken away by individuals, corporations, general societal chaos, etc.

    Your freedom is hindered if you’re robbed, assaulted, fired because of some non-work-related factor (you’re gay, black, a woman, etc.), get toxic waste polluting your land, or overcharged for some product that makes false claims.

    Libertarians will have you believe that all laws take away your freedom in some way. But much of the time laws protect your freedom (unless you wish to be free to manipulate in some negative way, or just harm, others).

  16. @ledge:
    No, that last statement is wrong. Individuals and groups can also restrict freedoms of other individuals and freedoms. Legislation can forbid these activities. As an extreme example, I think the abolition of slavery – the state forbidding the ownership of slaves – increased personal freedom. You’d be hard pressed to argue it restricted personal freedom of slaveowners.

  17. Wait… so a quarter of the rating is decided by tax rates and government spending? What?

  18. If you go to the study website and look at where various states fell it looks about right. Did anyone [i]not[/i] know that there was way more regulation in New York than New Hampshire?

  19. #1, I don’t think voting a Democrat into office has an instantaneous effect on personal freedoms, and as Republicans constantly slam the ACLU – an organization that fights for rights – as liberal, there seems to be some sort of disconnect there. I feel you may be confusing the cause for the effect, and even then it’s just correlation.

  20. Well, I think the actual data is unconvincing, and taking a glance at their actual report they don’t make it clear how they determine significance. (Though, I didn’t read the entire thing.) Nonetheless, I will say that outside of social sciences data like that is considered to be a negative result and I would be shocked if a simple linear correlation proved significant. I suspect they have fit the data with a non-linear curve (the one they show) which is uber-suspicious without major theoretical justification.

    But, they do provide an interactive tool for changing the weightings of the measurement to see how it changes the result, and that is pretty cool.

  21. Rushkoff:

    This was published? Where?

    I’d just like to cross them off the list of reliable sources, along with you.

  22. I was responding to #5, CICADA.

    CICADA, do you really think that taking away someone’s ability (“freedom”) to, for example, buy a house or get a job, just because of that person’s orientation/religion/race, is quashing freedom?

    Another, personal, example. I love cigars. Smoke one at least once a day. But I accept that they are a health hazard, and that most people don’t want to be in a confined space full of Marsh Wheeling stogie smoke. I don’t feel oppressed by nosmoking rules. I don’t whine about my “rights.” It’s just a bit of a price to pay for living in a society that is free, but not an anarchic mob ruled by the strongest/most wealthy/most powerful gang.

  23. Here’s the URL to reweight the data:

    I think an interesting graph to look at is economic freedom vs personal freedom.
    I feel that the economic freedom makes sense as those states tend to have more companies incorporate in them, or file lawsuits. (Eastern District of Texas anyone?)

    Personally, I feel personal freedom is more along the lines of the gvmnt getting out of my business and leaving me alone. I should be allowed to do what I want as long as it doesn’t violate the rights of other citizens.

  24. Uhhhhh. . . I suppose I can see how “taxation” is an infringement on freedom, but how is “spending” infringing upon my freedoms? (I assume they mean “government spending”).

    Note how taxation and spending make up a full quarter of the pie chart? Seems deliberately geared towards showing how blue states are “less free”– if we weighed marijuana laws and marriage laws as 1/4 blue states would suddenly be more free.

    “Labor regulation”?? I guess all the states get poor marks for restricting employers freedom to keep slaves and child labor. Or does that mean an employers freedom to fire a gay employee for being gay (whereas the gay employee has no personal right to BE gay?)

    “Utility deregulation”?? Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this imply the utilities freedom to overcharge, not our personal freedom not to get screwed by high rates? (ask Californians about that).

    I suppose to really get to the heart of why they weighed this pie chart the way they did I will have to read the entire report, and I don’t have time for that.

  25. C’mon, Rushkoff, you can do better than this.

    Ledge: “Personal Freedom can not be legislated. It can only be taken away by legislation.”

    Seriously! Especially all those laws regarding murder, theft, assault, etc.

    Do you need a broader brush to paint with? More Ayn Rand books?

  26. @#5: Whose freedom is restricted by anti-discrimination laws? One could argue, perversely, that the freedom of the oppressive groups is being taken away, but I think you know that argument is intellectually weak. Anti-discrimination laws result in a net gain of freedoms to those who are the subject of discrimination.

  27. Umm, no category for public land? Sorry, I’ve lived in California and Texas and despite CA regulation, having public land where you can hunt, hike, camp without being a rich person makes it much more free. No contest.

    If you are very rich, then you can do what you want in some of those “free from regulation states”. But that’s true in many feudal societies.

  28. Please read up on the history of and who funds the “Mercatus Center” and get back to us. The “study” is a joke, it is funny though, to see their totally unscientific rankings. So how many of you want to move to Mississippi and Alabama right now? I’ll take my oppressive state thanks..

  29. From the link:

    We find that the freest states in the country are New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place. All three states feature low taxes and government spending and middling levels of regulation and paternalism.

    It’s not a “freedom” index: it’s a low-tax, low-spending index.

    Further, if South Dakota is among the “freest states,” the it’s clear that even their claim to “middling levels of . . . paternalism” is suspect, given the state’s efforts to criminalize abortion and continuing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    Propaganda FAIL, Rushkoff.

  30. @#12 Bat Guano

    Libertarians will have you believe that all laws take away your freedom in some way. But much of the time laws protect your freedom (unless you wish to be free to manipulate in some negative way, or just harm, others).

    Being a Libertarian, I take exception to that overgeneralization. Libertarians generally support laws that defend people against violence and fraud as well as defending the natural rights of the minority against majoritarian tyranny. But that is about it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of laws that have nothing to do with those conditions.

    @#18 Bat Guano

    Another, personal, example. I love cigars. Smoke one at least once a day. But I accept that they are a health hazard, and that most people don’t want to be in a confined space full of Marsh Wheeling stogie smoke. I don’t feel oppressed by nosmoking rules.

    Actually, the argument against smoking bans is that it takes freedom away from the business owner who should be allowed to determine whether smoking is permitted on his/her property or not. There would be a sign on the door explaining to patrons whether or not smoking is or is not permitted and as soon as you walk through the door you have voluntarily conceded to being in that environment. The public, as in on the street, smoking bans are just bad policy based on an unsubstantiated extrapolation from a study where the methodology is based on those confined spaces you mentioned, and not the open air condition of a street.

  31. Some of you are arguing something different than you think you are. Freedom /= “good.” Arguing that we’re better off with something is not the same as arguing that we’re more free because of it. Pretty much any labor law, like, say, minimum wage, is a decrease in freedom. Sorry, but it is. (Notice I’m not saying whether or not such laws should exist.) There’s no point twisting rationales around, just to avoid a rhetorical trap based on a faulty premise.

  32. Big problem here in your attribution. It’s GEORGE MASON, not Georgia State. I am pretty sure those schools are about as ideologically opposed as you can get between schools in the South.

    George Mason is explicitly pro-Chicago School across the board. It’s an excellent school, but they make no bones about the ideology in the classroom. As a liberal, I have no problems with big, conservative schools; there should be a counter-weight that is not just crazies. But this should study should read “Most GOP-friendly Libertarian States (And Pot!)”.

  33. I don’t doubt the validity of their data, but I would like an r value, just to check.

  34. cicada’s point is a good one: more government intervention means less freedom for some. It may average out to a net gain, if those interventions are freedom-enhancing for other people, but then again, it may not. Is there more or less freedom if the government requires cyclists to wear helmets? Does the theoretical decrease insurance premiums for everyone (as a result of fewer head injuries) outweigh the restriction on your right to not wear a helmet?

  35. I read the details. The authors (conservative libertarians, evidently) did not count access to abortion as a personal freedom. Put that one in and the curve’s going to completely shift, and the desired conclusion (Democrats = slavery) would then go away, because Republican states do their best to limit access to abortion by every trick they can come up with.

  36. I wonder if the South Dakota Indian tribes were included. They are certainly free…to rot on their reservations.

  37. Why does the graph use 2004 data when 2008 data has been available for well over 6 months now?

  38. Taking up Neon Tooth (#23)’s hint, I did some research on the Mercatus Center.

    They are an extremely pro-corporations organization, and their definition of “freedom” is freedom for companies to do whatever they want.

    A company wants to be able to pour arsenic in drinking water? They’ll fight for them against the EPA [1].

    A company doesn’t want nanny states legislating that a truck driver can only be behind a wheel for up to 12 hours straight? They’ll fight for your right to have truck drivers stay behind the wheel all night.

    Sure, the freedom to pour arsenic in public drinking water could be called a “freedom,” but personally I consider the freedom for gays to marry, Blacks to apply for housing, people to smoke marijuana, and to die when they want, to be rather more pertinant to the discussion on what counts as “personal freedom.” These are all ranked very low, compared with pro-corporate freedoms like low taxation.

    The one-to-one correlation of this groups views and their ranking of “freedoms” is fairly hard to miss, Rushkoff. Was it not relevant to the post?

  39. Exactly SAMSAM,
    Hey Mercatus, thanks for giving me the freedom to drink polluted water or the freedom to be more likely to be killed by an unregulated truck/car driver.

  40. Observations:

    1. The chart appears to be a straight horizontal line, zoomed in to a microscopic scale, using data designed to show desired results.

    2. 25% of the data is taxation. The claim is that half of that is spending and half is taxation, but as these are directly proportional (many states even have balanced budget amendments), this is really one category. States with big cities have more infrastructure, more potential (and actual) conflict over public vs. private resources, etc. States with big cities also, for many reasons, tend to vote democratic.

    3. Other things, like parking/driving regulations are generally more complex (and “less free”) in higher density areas due to, again, resource conflicts.

    4. Even gun control has similar issues. Out on the range in South Dakota, sure you should be able to carry an AK47. I have nothing against that. But on a subway in NYC, no. Really, no. The situations are different, and the citizens want different regulations.

  41. Chris @19

    I had a peak at the reweight-the-numbers site (which is pretty cool – URL again:, and it seems like you’d have to read the study before you knew what the factors meant, and correspondingly how to adjust the weights. That is:

    Do “Environmental Regulations” increase my freedom from cancer because industry thinks my lungs are an externality, or do they decrease my freedom to pollute?

    Do “Labor laws” increase my freedom from exploitive employers, or do they decrease my freedom to exploit my employees?

    Do “sobriety checkpoints” increase my freedom from nonconsensual endangerment by drunk drivers, or decrease my freedom to drive drunk?

    Oh, right – it’s both.

    Which brings up an interesting point about that site – you can’t weight the numbers negatively, i.e. you can’t express that the freedom the authors chose to de-emphasize is actually the more important one to you; you can only remove the statistic from consideration altogether.

    Also Cicada @5 – Bat Guano @12 makes a good point. The typical US Conservative take on “freedom” seems to be limited to freedom from oppression by government – but to carefully exclude oppression by any non-government bodies; like you somehow can’t be oppressed by your spouse, your employer, race-rioting hooligans, etc., or at least that any government attempt to curb non-governmental oppression is automatically more oppressive than the activity being suppressed.

    Mypalmike @32 – you have a good point. I think it’s potentially still valid to include in a personal-freedom score though – if you want to be free to do certain things, consider moving where the resources required to do those things are less scarce.

  42. I lived in New Jersey, and I currently live in Texas.

    There is no way you could tell me for a second that living in Texas (top quintile by the study) is more free than living in New Jersey (bottom quintile by the study.)

  43. You get penalized more for regulating homeschoolers than you do for punitive drug laws or off-the-charts victimless crime arrests.

    It also seems like % of population incarcerated ought to be a relevant statistic, but it’s not there. Three strikes law? Didn’t see it.

    Bottom line is this: anyone who ranks Mississippi above Hawaii in personal freedom has never f***ing lived on planet Earth.

  44. I’ll bet every one of those states takes away my freedom to slaughter children, rape old ladies, and burn down churches. Socialist dogs!

    The overreaching arm of government is getting waaayyy to strong here folks.

    They came for the axe murderers, and I said nothing.
    Then they came for me…

  45. this is merely an index of “laws and policies related to governing densely populated communities” so of course the “least free” coincides with the most densely populated cities and most active welfare states while the “least free” coincides with states that are less populated and have a historical bias to “self-responsible” social programs.

    What would be interesting to me are the deviations from that established pattern – what highly populated areas are going against the tide of high safety nets or what lightly populated areas have significant social programs?

  46. Rushkoff’s posts always make me think of a passage from Mencken:

    “Of all the classes of men, I dislike most those who make their livings by talking—actors, clergymen, politicians, pedagogues, and so on. All of them participate in the shallow false pretenses of the actor who is their archetype. It is almost impossible to imagine a talker who sticks to the facts. Carried away by the sound of his own voice and the applause of the groundlings, he makes inevitably the jump from logic to mere rhetoric.”

  47. I feel a number of posters in this thread are conflating “freedom” with “public interest.” Many laws do not exchange one type of freedom for another (the way the GPL restricts developer freedom to enforce end-user freedom), but sacrifice freedom for the public good. Sometimes the loss of freedom is justified (asbestos legislation), sometimes it is not (Prop 8).

    I think it would be an interesting exercise to make our own freedom index. What’s your hot-button issue?

    Topics brought up in this thread:
    Discrimination (Violent, freedom-vs-good variety)
    Discrimination (nonviolent, freedom-vs-freedom)
    Gay Marriage (Can maybe be lumped into the above)
    Industrial health regulations
    Gun control
    Drugs Legalization
    Drug Usage (e.g. smoking bans, open container laws)

    Probably a ton more.

  48. Maybe someone has already pointed this out — I don’t have the eyes to pore over all above — but the Mercatus Center is at George Mason University, not Georgia State University.

  49. I grew up in South Dakota, and that’s complete baloney, unless you’re defining freedom to include only things that matter to heterosexual men, such that access to birth control and abortion, or the freedom to have a picture of your same-sex spouse on your desk at work without risking being fired, don’t count as “freedom”.

  50. Wonder how all the gays in TX and ID feel about living in some of the most free states in the country? Must be really nice for them.

    Course that sites authors entire agenda is prominently displayed as soon as you click the Category Weights image. Only a Conservative would say the single most important category for personal freedom is taxation. While you can make an argument that low taxes gives you more freedom, there are VERY strong arguments against such a notion (For example higher taxes to pay for universal health care would encourage entrepreneurship since people don’t need to stick at their job to hold on to their health insurance).

  51. Well, if we define “freedom” according to the Republican Party platform, you’d expect to see more freedom in Republican Party states. Here’s a more interesting question: is there a correlation between percentage of persons of minority identity in prison and percentage of Republican vote? If so, how does that affect your interpretation of this graph?

  52. Wendy Enron Gramm, wife of Phil Enron-Nation of Whiners-Architect of the financial crisis-dirtbag Gramm was/is(?) one of the heads of The Mercatus Center.

  53. More overuse of “freedom.” You can formulate pretty much anything as a “freedom,” it doesn’t mean it makes any sense. Universal healthcare (which is something I favor, not that it should matter), it not a “freedom,” even if you say “freedom from lack of health coverage” or whatever. It’s taking away a freedom. It’s forcing you to buy something, essentially, in the name of the greater good. In fact, that could describe literally anything funded by taxpayers. “Freedom from exploitive employers” is vague, but if it means stuff like minimum wage, then it’s B.S. You have to really twist some logic around to argue that taking away the right for two consenting parties to make an agreement that doesn’t affect anyone else is a “freedom.” You have to basically extend it to the point where it could mean anything, and therefore nothing.

  54. Probably the reason NY is listed is because of its strong environmental regulations and social safety net. The Mercatus Center is a radical-right think tank, with an anti-environmentalist streak and major support from ExxonMobil, Scaife, and the Kochs. Anything they publish is probably corporatist propaganda. Whyfor give them any ink at all? They are no friends to you and yours.

  55. No matter what the Mercatus Center, the authors or (maybe) Rushkoff may think, the right to pour arsenic in public drinking water is not a “freedom.” (See above for the Mercatus Center fighting for this right). To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr: the right to run your company however you see fit ends where affecting public health begins.

    Yes, someone who is only out to win libertarian rhetorical points can state that pouring arsenic in drinking water, discriminating against hiring minorities, and driving drunk are all “freedoms,” and then make some platitude as many have tried to point out above that freedom /= good, but this is not what is meant by “freedom” by virtually any thinker on the subject. f your “freedoms” affect my livelihood, then they are not freedoms that any state should support.

  56. @moriarty: certainly when its only two consenting parties that make an agreement, some logic twisting is required. the problem is that the alignment of the interests of those with capital (and by implication, employment to offer) tends to be a lot more obvious than the alignment of the interests of those without. so the natural tendency in a society of any size is for the dominance of informal, often even emergent, arrangements that favor the interests of the more clearly shared interests. laws against certain kinds of contracts are not targetting two individual consenting parties – they are designed to counter-weight the fact that birds of a feather tend to stick together, and in most cases, those that carry the gold tend to be most able to wear the feathers and see them on others.

  57. “My freedom to swing my fist ends at your nose.” Everything else is deciding where my fist ends and your nose begins, and there’s a lot of wiggle room there, like who owns the space between us?

  58. @PaulDavis:

    Yes, that’s the argument for why we should have minimum wage laws. I’m fairly ambivalent on the matter, but am generally in favor. I don’t think it’s an argument for “freedom,” however.


    I’m one of those who says that freedom /= good. Your examples are different than mine, however. I don’t consider “freedom to dump arsenic in the drinking water” to be a freedom, either, because that directly affects other people. Maybe the people who made this chart think it is a freedom. They are wrong, and contradicting their own claimed criteria.

    Drunk driving, interestingly, is one example of a grey area. You’re not actually harming anyone by doing so. You are at a greatly increased risk of harming someone, true, but the harm itself is a separate crime. And merely driving a car in the first place is arguably putting other people in not insignificant danger, and the slippery slope inherent in “doing something that could conceivably hurt someone” is obvious. Yet all but the most hardcore (ridiculous) libertarians I know agree it should be illegal, because of the degree of risk of “infringement.” At what point does increasing the chance that you cause someone harm become equivalent to actually doing harm? The consensus is before drunk driving.

  59. @33 (skr): just how big is the door on the restaurant? is there enough room for it to include all the disclaimers that might be posted regarding (e.g.) ingredient sourcing, kitchen hygeine, sanitation hygeine, fire safety, potential employee liabilities, building structural safety, and so on and so forth? If they’re not posted, what are the implications for the individual who freely steps across the threshold? And if they are posted, what of the collective decision of a society that decides it doesn’t want to read this stuff every time it goes out for dinner? Oh, so sorry. I forget: there is no society, which means there is no collective decision. The restaurants all carry the blue seal of the SKR Institute which certifies that potential diners in categories A1, B2a and C3 will be safe and happy within its walls. Just like the bond raters. I just can’t wait.

  60. Y’know, you wingnuts, yes, I mean you people who are offended by such things as minimum-wage and environmental laws, are giving freedom a bad name. I mean it. It’s the first thing I think of, now, when I see someone writing about “freedom.” I check: is this another criminal complaining that laws interfere with their “freedom?” Usually it is, and they get the literary what-for. I’d like to be able to at least see the words “freedom” and “choice” without having to wonder if they were being used to mean their exact opposite.


  61. @Moriarty:

    Thanks, a fair response. You are right, drunk driving in that case is a slightly grayer area in terms of “freedom” than I was giving it credit for.

    My point (for Rushkoff, not you) still stands, though, that this organization’s views of what counts as “freedom” is quite likely pretty far out of whack of many (most?) people’s views, and their weighting is simply absurd. Unfortunately, libertarians like Rushkoff repost this kind of thing without really acknowledging or caring about the specifics, because it fits with their preconceived beliefs about nanny states.

  62. Moriarty – do you maintain that it’s impossible for your personal freedom to be impinged by anyone but the government?

    Stepping back from the current-affairs topic of minimum-wage legislation for a moment, let’s take what I think is a fairly stark example:

    We’re in a mining town in 1931. There is one employer, the mine boss. There is one landlord, the mine boss. There is one shop owner, the mine boss. Working conditions are dangerous, and those who are unable to work because of black lung, crippling mine accidents, or any other cause, are simply not paid. A miner’s pay is 10% cash, 90% scrip redeemable at the company store. Wages, rent, and store prices are such that a frugal family will be in debt for more than a month’s wages, within six months of starting work at the mine. Employment is completely at the employer’s discretion. Anyone suspected of organizing to improve worker’s conditions is fired and evicted on the spot, and his outstanding debt settled by forfeiture of his possessions.

    All of this is understood at the outset, and nobody forces the employees to take that job – they are entirely free to pick rubbish at the dump, prostitute themselves, or starve in the streets.

    Do you really think that’s a meaningful freedom? Or is it actually freedom-enhancing for the state to enforce minimum wage laws including mandatory cash payment, anti-trust laws, anti-discrimination laws, just-termination laws, workplace safety laws, injured worker’s compensation laws, and free association laws, where all of those include freedom from retribution not only by the state but also by the employer – even though that impinges on the employer’s freedom to run his own business how he wants?

  63. @#65 Pauldavis

    With regard to hygeine, out here in Los Angeles the Health Department gives out placards for restaurants with ratings a-c showing how they did on their last health inspection and everyone I know likes that. And, I have no problem going into a restaurant that has a C rating if it is in an old building, because having gone to culinary school I know just how easy it is for a 40-50 year old kitchen to get dinged. With regard to ingredient sourcing, there are already restaurants that list sources on their menus, and if that is important to you you can choose to patronize thoes establishments over those that do not provide that information. As far as fire and structural safety are concerned, those are offenses that will get an establishment shut down because it will pose an immediate threat to the lives of occupants. Potential employee liabilities is a little vague, but I assume you are refering to the claim that employees are subjected to prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke and that could cause health consequences. This is the only valid valid argument for workplace smoking bans, but since smoking isn’t permitted in every workplace I view this as a choice issue. Especially when you consider that the laws generally don’t allow for employees to consent to a smoking environment. I have been to plenty of bars where every employee smokes and has to go outside on their break to have a cigarette. At this point you are not really protecting employees. That’s enough for setting fire to straw. I’ll end with saying that the converse of signage announcing “smoking permitted” which was “no smoking” worked just fine and didn’t really impact the lives of smokers or business owners. I am simply talking about an opt in arrangement where smoking is assumed to be forbidden unless specifically stated.

  64. Moriarty – you posted your response to SamSam before I posted just now… It goes some way to answering my question.

    However, I still hold that wage slavery is just as incompatible with freedom as is chattel slavery, and I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory argument to the contrary.

  65. I wonder if there’s a Boing Boing policy on putting edits or amendments to the main post after a visible “Edit:” line.

    The post has been amended to say “(Then again, as we look at the Mercatus Center funding, another picture emerges.)” which, were one to assume it was there in the beginning, makes all the people who took the trouble to point that fact out look like they ignored that line. (Plus the line is a bit opaque unless one knows who Charles Koch is).

    Further, it does nothing to counter the main argument made in the post by highlighting the graph and agreeing with it, which is that states that vote Democratic are less “free.” The gaping errors in the “study” have been repeatedly pointed out, yet those who find that this fits with their preconceptions, like Rushkoff I presume, ignore this (or acknowledge it but will still pass the graph around).

  66. #20:

    Wait… so a quarter of the rating is decided by tax rates and government spending? What?

    A lot of people here are asking that question. I’ll try to put it in libertarian terms for you.

    “If you’re like most American workers, you spend at least 40 hours a week on the job. You do this to feed, clothe, and shelter your family, among other things. You’re unable to leave at will or do anything other than what you’re being paid to do, at the risk of losing your job. In exchange, your employer is required to pay you at least a minimal amount of money per hour worked. In many cases, you receive more due to the nature of the job and how hard it would be for your employer to replace you.

    “However, in order to maintain itself, your Federal, state, and local governments will then confiscate a portion of those earnings from you, as either a percentage of your income or of the prices of the things you buy with it. Most people don’t consider this a very big issue, but again, as with losing your job, the consequences for refusing to cooperate with taxation are severe.

    But remember, you originally received those taxed earnings because you gave up a large portion of your personal freedom as part of your bargain with your employer.

    “This is why libertarians equate economic freedom with personal freedom: if you don’t personally benefit from the fruits of your labor, which is unquestionably the case as government spending expands into areas that don’t even indirectly benefit you or the society you live in, then the question becomes, who does benefit? The person who benefits from your labor while doing nothing for you in return is indistinguishable from your master, and you are indistinguishable from his slave. Economic freedom is therefore an important aspect of personal freedom.”

    Does that help, or do I need to find a way to phrase it even more, um, objectively?

  67. The least “free” states also seem to to be (generally speaking) those whose residents have the highest education levels, the highest incomes, the least obesity, the lowest rates of smoking, the highest rates of seatbelt use, the best health, the best access to health care, the best schools, and the highest property values. And as others have noted, they seem to be the most “tolerant” states. In and of themselves, all of these aren’t necessarily the “best thing” (e.g., high property values) but they sure make it seem to me like nobody’s got a serious freedom problem there. Here in MA I don’t feel terribly oppressed.

  68. The economic freedom/personal freedom relationship is not nearly as objective as libertarians would have you believe.

    For example, if you are a poor person who lives in a country that has a socialized education system then you have more “freedom” to choose your future role in society than you would otherwise. In exchange you give up some portion of your future “economic freedom” in taxes. How you calculate a cost/benefit “freedom” analysis depends entirely on which form of freedom you value more.

  69. The person who benefits from your labor while doing nothing for you in return is indistinguishable from your master, and you are indistinguishable from his slave.

    I usually agree with libertarian principles, but the inevitable Randian hyperbole always pisses me off. Libertarians would get so much more sympathy if they could occasionally just *try* being the bigger man.

    Anyway, that still doesn’t answer why Spending is another category altogether. I can’t think of any reason more likely than “they wanted taxation to count twice,” myself.

  70. (sorry for the double post)

    #78, brainspore: The fact that you have to put air quotes around your use of “freedom” suggests that not even you believe that definition.

    Come on, people. This argument is general enough not to have to resort to deliberate mislabeling.

  71. @#48 aelfscine

    “They came for the axe murderers, and I said nothing.
    Then they came for me…”

    Best. Comment. Ever.

  72. It’s amazing how aleatory that bio of Koch is (and I wonder about its accuracy.) But accurate or not, here’s another view of the Koch family and its businesses:

    Koch Industries, (pronounced “coke”), is the largest privately-held company in the United States, with annual sales of $90 billion. (Cargill comes in second for privately-held companies with sales of $75 billion.) Koch’s owners, brothers Charles and David H. Koch, are leading contributors to the Koch Family Foundations, which supports a network of conservative organizations and think tanks, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, the libertarian Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, the Manhattan Institute, the Heartland Institute, and the Democratic Leadership Council.


  73. I usually agree with libertarian principles, but the inevitable Randian hyperbole always pisses me off. Libertarians would get so much more sympathy if they could occasionally just *try* being the bigger man.

    Likewise, people who disagree with Ayn Rand would get a lot more sympathy if they could occasionally just try something other than ad-hominem arguments.

    Where, exactly, does the “taxation as forced servitude” comparison fall apart, in your mind?

    And can you tell me your opinion without calling a certain 1950s writer a nutcase, psycho, hypocrite, loon, or twit (even if all of those terms can actually be fairly used to describe the writer?)

    Seriously, it gets old. I’m not a devotee of Rand myself, being someone who’s interested only in functioning models of human nature, but if the only way people can argue against objectivist and/or libertarian economics is by belittling their advocates on a personal level, that just makes me think there aren’t any valid counterarguments out there.

  74. @ Beelzebuddy #80:

    #78, brainspore: The fact that you have to put air quotes around your use of “freedom” suggests that not even you believe that definition.

    First, they aren’t “air quotes” if I didn’t use my fingers to make them. They’re just regular old quotation marks.

    Second, I used them to underscore the fact that there IS no universally accepted definition of what constitutes freedom, so any chart that purports to quantify said quality is bound to reflect the biases of the chart-maker.

    1. First, they aren’t “air quotes” if I didn’t use my fingers to make them.

      Sweet Jesus! What appendage are you typing with?

  75. #86: What part of “I usually agree with libertarian principles” did you completely fail to read before kneejerking with fallacious accusations? I like the logic that goes into libertarian philosophies, I’m just turned off by the crazy that comes out. The kind of crazy you seem determined to embody.

    And can you tell me your opinion without calling a certain 1950s writer a nutcase, psycho, hypocrite, loon, or twit (even if all of those terms can actually be fairly used to describe the writer?)

    I could, but that isn’t half as satisfying as doing both. I’d also add “misogynistic bitch with a rape fetish” and “terrible, terrible, HORRIBLE writer, we’re talking internet fanfiction bad” to that pile of insults you got there.

    #88: They’re quotation marks if you’re quoting someone or referring to the word itself, which you weren’t. They’re air quotes if you’re trying to use the word without really using the word, which you were.

  76. Good to have that settled.

    Now, who wants to make a chart showing which states are the most “virtuous?”

  77. They exclude abortion laws, existence of the death penalty, and incarceration rates, and spending on indigent defense.

    How is this correlated with freedom again?

  78. Their weighted chart seems to be saying that more education is less freedom, they also call more government spending less freedom (separately from their measure of taxation), and call more health insurance less freedom. Basically, they’re not very nice people.

  79. To these people, building roads, bridges and schools is lack of freedom, regulating the ability of corporations to buy politicians is a lack of freedom.

  80. This is a fascinating discussion :)

    I’m always amazed by what people want to have the right to do – or think they should. Drug use is a very interesting one, for example smoking.

    Smoking bans are intended to reduce your addiction to a substance that if discovered today would not be given a licence to profit from your early death and increased illness and to prevent you from affecting others.

    I think in general you should be allowed to use whatever drug you like and the State should treat the issues as a public health issue (I don’t drink, smoke, shoot up, pop pills or anything else like that, BTW).

    You can take the drug and the State will educate the rest of us about what an idiot you are :) and why we’re better off not taking it. No police or courts unless you put other people at risk (eg heroin use and driving). However, the State should provide services to drug users because they are members of the civil society.

    Bicycle helmets are a good point. The State acts to prevent you from being a complete fool. You’re a complete fool if you don’t wear one. No Brain. No Pain. You should not go to gaol though. Just be fined and allow the money to be used for when you fall off. You’re also putting the community at risk of increased cost and the small inconvenience you suffer is massively outweighed by the advantages to you and the community.

    @ #48 posted by aelfscine, May 15, 2009 9:57 AM

    “I’ll bet every one of those states takes away my freedom to slaughter children, rape old ladies, and burn down churches. Socialist dogs!

    The overreaching arm of government is getting waaayyy to strong here folks.

    They came for the axe murderers, and I said nothing.
    Then they came for me…”

    I think you got this reversed. It should be first they came for you…it sounds like they’ve got the other bits covered then :))))

    @ #89 posted by Antinous / Moderator, May 15, 2009 4:11 PM

    “First, they aren’t “air quotes” if I didn’t use my fingers to make them.

    Sweet Jesus! What appendage are you typing with?”


    I can tell you that I typed this with my fingers!


  81. Their ranking is not consistent.

    For example, Nevada has legal gambling, legal prostitution and decriminalized pot.

    It has no income tax, easy gun laws and strong property rights.

    Somehow, they ranked many states with none of those things as being more free.

  82. If you look further at this study they offer the following:
    A method to create your own “freedom ranking,”….where you give your own weight to the variables = a unique personalized analysis.
    The easiest way to create your own state ranking is to use this nifty, interactive website created by a reader. This site is independent of, so we don’t make any guarantees, but we have found it useful. The rest of this section deals with how to use the spreadsheet directly to create your own ranking.

    I found this helpful in our search for a place to live that was in line with our ideals.

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