Big Brother Is Watching You: How 'Free' Is Your State?

statue of libertyHome state pride seems to be something that's innate in most of us. I used to think it was just stronger out on the east coast -- "I'm from JERSEY!" "MASS pride! Go BRUINS!" -- but when I went to college, I realized I had even more love for Illinois when I moved away. Well, a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University set out to find out just how "free" all of our beloved home states are.

The libertarian think tank looked at regulatory freedoms (labor regulations, health insurance policy, etc.) and personal freedoms (gun control, driving laws, same-sex marriage) or, in other words, just how "paternalistic" the state's laws are.

Here, according to this criteria, the 10 most and 10 least free states ...


Top 10 Most Free States

  1. New Hampshire - They actually keep to their motto, "Live free or die" -- at least when it comes to economic (read: tax) freedoms. It's a good state to shop in!
  2. South Dakota - Apparently, low taxes and not much gun control mean this state's residents are some of the most free in the country. But they come in 34th in personal freedoms, like marijuana laws (and cough, abortion, cough).
  3.  Indiana - Researchers consider the Hoosier state as a bastion of freedom, because Indiana has deregulated natural gas, telecom, and cable, and it licenses the fewest occupations in the country as a percentage of its workforce.
  4. Idaho - Idaho has the third-least restrictive gun laws in the country. Bang, bang.
  5. Missouri - Low taxes and not too much government spending help Missouri free it up.
  6. Nevada - It's where you go to gamble, drink, and not remember what you did the night before, so obviously it's free! No, but seriously, the legal prostitution and gambling makes it a very libertarian state.
  7. Colorado - The Centennial State earned its rank by being the most fiscally decentralized state in the country.
  8.  Oregon - Hipsters and personal freedoms abound here. Oregon wins thanks to its enactment of same-sex civil unions and a substantial decline in tax collections.
  9. Virginia - The most free state in the South, Virginia is better on economic freedom than personal freedom by far, thanks to low tax burden, government spending, and debt.
  10. North Dakota - Pretty much the same situation here as in Virginia.


Top 10 Least Free States (from most to least)

  1.  Illinois - The Land of Lincoln loses in part because it has the fifth-"harshest" gun-control laws in the country and due to the state’s "victimless-crimes" arrest rates.
  2. Ohio - Libertarians hate that government spending (including administration, education, and social-service spending) and taxes are high in the Buckeye State.
  3. Maryland - Strict gun control, marijuana laws, many restrictions on motorists, and a tight rein on gambling relegate MD "The Free State" to the bottom of the barrel.
  4. Alaska - Sarah Palin's home state loses over money. It has the highest debt and government spending to personal income ratios in the country.
  5. Rhode Island - Doesn't matter that it's teeny-weeny. Its spending, taxes, and debt are ginormous.
  6. Massachusetts - The state where Romney-care is the law of the land fails on personal freedoms, such as highly restrictive gun laws, fairly restrictive gambling laws, a total fireworks ban, high cigarette taxes, and a total statewide smoking ban.
  7.  Hawaii - You can't smoke pot or carry guns easily, so the study gives Barack Obama's birthplace a thumbs-down.
  8. California - The Governator wasn't just careless in his personal affairs -- apparently, he spent too much on the state, too, and although California does well on same-sex partnerships and pot, but it also has the most restrictive gun laws in the country.
  9.  New Jersey - Too many taxes and spending on education (gasp) make Joisey a restrictive place to go to the gym, tan, or do laundry.
  10. New York - High taxes and strict gun laws make The Empire State the least free.

The study overall looks at every state through Libertarian-colored glasses. Whether or not you agree with them on these rankings will likely be based on your politics and economic philosophies. Either way, it really does show one person's definition of free might be another person's hell, so as far as this Mercatus study goes, you can take it or leave it.

Do you agree with the ranking of your state?


Image via Mark Heard/Flickr

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