Idiotic “Freedom” Map

Freedom Map

Regular readers know where I stand on libertarianism. I understand its appeal, but it is a silly philosophy and does not hold up to even a cursory examination. And nothing is quite so silly as the professional libertarian. Enter William P. Ruger and Jason Sorens of the Mercatus Center and their idiotic (I do not use that word lightly!) “freedom rankings” of the 50 United States.

These guys have put together a list of things that make us free and then tabulated them to see which states are the most free and which states are the least free. Can you say “setting up a model so it provides the outcome you want”? I sure can! Before we look at their criteria, let’s look at their results. The freest states in the union? North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plains. The least free states in the union? New York, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.

Wow! Blue states are unfree and red states are free! How do you suppose that happened? And this brings up one of my biggest complaints about libertarians: when you push them for details, they always end up with conservative policies because they are conservatives, they just don’t like the moniker. Let’s look at one notable missing element to their list of policies: reproductive rights. They aren’t on the list at all, because the authors claim that you can’t distinguish between the rights of the mother and the rights of the fetus. But Matt Yglesias notes an interesting inconsistency: after a fetus has been born, they have no rights at all. At birth, suddenly all the rights are with the parents. That’s not very libertarian, that’s more, oh, what do you call it, social conservatism.

The rankings get even more nutty when you look at the criterion. For example, people are more free if they can get less education. Apparently, they would be most free if 5-year-olds could just decide they don’t want to go to school at all. Oh, I’m sorry; not 5-year-olds; they don’t have any rights after they are born; their parents decide. So the most free place in terms of education is Afghanistan where religious fanatics can decide that girls don’t need an education.

There are three broad categories of freedom: fiscal, regulatory, and personal. In other words, freedom for these bozos is heavily tilted toward what businesses can do. Fiscal is the largest single category and it includes: Tax Burden (28.6%), Government Employment (2.8%), Government Spending (1.9%), Government Debt (1.2%), and Fiscal Decentralization (0.9%). You can forget everything but “tax burden,” even though the rest make precious little sense. It is all about taxes. But as usual with conservatives, there is no sense in which the programs that the taxes pay for increase freedom. Are we more free because of public roads, libraries, a judicial system? I think so. But for the liberty boys, paying taxes just reduces freedom. That alone delegitimizes their their rankings, but I will move on.

Regulatory is probably the most perverse category. It includes: Freedom from Tort Abuse (11.5%), Property Right Protection (7.6%), Health Insurance Freedom (5.4%), Labor Market Freedom (3.8%), Occupational Licensing Freedom (1.7%), Miscellaneous Regulatory Freedom (1.3%), and Cable and Telecom Freedom (0.8%). Pretty great, huh? Freedom from tort abuse. Tort abuse is, in case you don’t know, what companies who are getting sue call any lawsuit. Again: there’s no plus side: reducing individuals’ ability to sue has no down side. I’m sure you can figure out what “property rights protection” is. But what about “health insurance freedom”? That’s the freedom of businesses to not provide health insurance to their employees.

“Labor market freedom” is “right to work” legislation. As I’ve written before, Right-to-Work Limits Employer Freedom. Libertarians always claim that people ought to be able to make any contracts they like. But the moment those contracts give power to workers, libertarians pretend like contracts are a bad thing. This is a great example of how libertarians are not pro-liberty and not pro-individual; they are pro-business, and when it comes to it, pro-big-business over small business. In other words, they’re just conservatives. Moving on.

The Personal category includes: Victimless Crime Freedom (9.8%), Gun Control Freedom (6.6%), Tobacco Freedom (4.1%), Alcohol Freedom (2.8%), Marriage Freedom (2.1%), Marijuana and Salvia Freedom (2.1%), Gambling Freedom (2.0%), Education Policy (1.9%), Civil Liberties (0.6%), Travel Freedom (0.5%), Asset Forfeiture Freedom (0.1%), and Campaign Finance Freedom (0.02%). I don’t have a problem with “victimless crime freedom” although I would think that ought to be even more important. Paying someone to have sex with you can result in you being put in a cage for a long time. Unlike the “freedom” to pay less in taxes, this is a real issue of freedom. But I’m glad they highlight it. (Note, however, that being able to sue is a bigger threat to freedom than victimless crime laws.)

“Gun control freedom,” of course, is the usual 2nd Amendment loon complaint: any restriction on my ability to build an army is tyranny! Again, no thought is giving to the other side: the freedom not to be murdered by a nutjob or angry family member. And then there is “alcohol freedom.” This is the freedom not to pay alcohol taxes. And it is more important to the liberty boys than the government disallowing same sex couples to marry.

By far the biggest problem with these rankings is that they don’t provide any freedom value from government programs. This is ridiculous. A libertarian could make the argument that the decrease in freedom from taxes is greater than the increase in freedom from, say, Social Security. But they absolutely cannot make the argument that Social Security adds no freedom. As a result of this, these rankings are worse than meaningless. All they demonstrate are the prejudices of the men who put this “study” together.


As a former scientist myself, I think the presentation of their data is poor. If I had done it, I would certainly have provided a table that showed the actual numbers. Also, there is no way to reproduce these results. I don’t suppose this too much matters, because this isn’t actual research. It is just a couple of libertarian idiots throwing out some slapdash notions of freedom and judging states based upon them. Anyone who wanted to do this work seriously would just start over; there is nothing in the work done here that is worth saving.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Idiotic “Freedom” Map

  1. The "freedom" score here for the Dakotas is based entirely on their fracking oil boom. Those states have been able to lower upper-level taxes because they’re raking in payroll-tax dough from oil workers living in makeshift trailer parks. You can’t get a hotel room without a reservation in the Dakotas; they’re booked through eternity.

    Now, there are geologists suggesting that the Dakota oil shales have already peaked, and that may be true or not, but we can certainly count on those oil fields diminishing eventually. At which point the Dakotas will be dead broke, as Texas perennially is, and for the same boom/bust reasons.

    North Dakota still has, I believe, the only state-run bank in the nation (something poor farmers always wanted), and there’s a history there of electing Democrats. The current atmosphere there, with the oil money, is profoundly creepy. A few years ago I visited there with my SO and we had sandwiches in a diner; the guy behind us was giving a major stinkeye, and the SO didn’t get it. "Should we talk to him?", the SO asked. "He keeps looking at me."

    No, I told the SO — he wants to start a fight, stab you in the femur, and hightail it back to his trailer. People from Minnesota just don’t understand these things. In small-town Minnesota, if you have a flat, you get help from rednecks who might want to bloviate on their political persuasions. In Oregon, or Idaho, you keep driving on the rim until you get to something resembling civilization. The rural public high schools have huge murals with Jesus bleeding from all pores painted on the outside gymnasium walls.

    We visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in North Dakota. We asked what the best drive and best camping options were to see the park. A young park ranger, with that beautiful hair one generally attributes to people of Native descent, took one look at my cheesy sweat-soaked "Star Trek" shirt and said "thank you. thank you so much for wearing that."

    The Dakotas are a terrifying place. Good parks, though.

  2. @JMF – I’ve never been, but I have been to Oklahoma and Tennessee. As with all such places, if you are in a populated area, they are fine. The problem with this "study" is that they are pretty much defining backwaters as more free and then working toward their definitions. Living all alone on an island would be most free, according to them. But the freedom would be the freedom to starve to death.

    In the simplest sense it comes down to what you value. If you value being able to buy a slice of pizza at 3:00 am, then New York is a pretty free place and North Dakota is not.

    What I find most offensive is that these guys pretend to be scientists. This is politics and nothing more. It is so simpleminded. It is like saying every dollar you spend is lost because they pretend that each dollar buys nothing. How can anyone take such nonsense seriously? And how can these people live with themselves when they are being so deceptive?

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