Which States Are the Most Free? Let's Rank Them

New study ranks states on economic and personal freedom.



Which states in our union are the most tolerant of marijuana and guns? Which interfere the least with your life? Which are likelier to hand out special goodies to politically connected companies? Those are some of the questions answered by economists Will Ruger and Jason Sorens in the 2016 edition of their study "Freedom in the 50 States."

Their ranking of the states in the U.S. in terms of freedom is based on three public policy dimensions affecting economic, social, and personal freedoms. Sorens, a lecturer in the government department at Dartmouth College, and Ruger, vice president of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, scored more than 200 policies, including things such as gambling restriction, trans fat bans, the audio recording of police, occupational licensing restrictions, mandated family leave and the ability of couples to enter into private contracts.

According to their open-source methodology, in 2014 the freest states were New Hampshire, Alaska, and Oklahoma, while New York, California, and Hawaii ranked the least free. In terms of just one indicator, South Dakota, Idaho, and Tennessee are the freest economically and New York, California, and Hawaii the least. And personal freedoms are best served in New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, with Kentucky, Texas, and Alabama ranking the least free.

It's valuable to know how free your state is. I, for instance, value freedom for its own sake, so I'm interested in knowing that Virginia, where I live with my two school-age daughters, ranks 21st in the overall index. I also enjoy knowing that the state isn't too bad on fiscal issues, that its land use freedom is decent, that it has no minimum wage, that it's one of the best states for gun laws, that it has too many government employees and that it's in serious need of criminal justice reform because it has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, even controlling for crime rates.

The rankings also deliver important lessons for lawmakers. In Virginia, Sorens and Ruger write, "victimless crime arrest rates are about average. Asset forfeiture is virtually unreformed, and local police frequently circumvent it anyway with equitable sharing. The state's approach to cannabis producers and consumers is draconian." They suggest that the state reform "sentencing for nonviolent offenses with an eye to reducing the incarceration rate to the national average in the long term."

The report shows that when controlling for climate and other variables, all three dimensions of freedom are positively correlated to migration, but the results are exceptionally strong for economic (fiscal and regulatory) freedom. Edition after edition of the "Freedom in the 50 States" index confirms that people tend to move to economically freer states because economic freedom tends to be a fairly good indicator of prosperity. More economic growth usually means more jobs, and that attracts people.

The lesson for lawmakers is that if you want to attract productive people to your state or if you want to lose fewer productive taxpayers, you'd better implement policies that trigger economic growth and create jobs. In 2014, New York's net migration was negative 11.2 percent. California was negative 4.9 percent, and Hawaii was negative 3.3 percent.

That raises the question of why so many people still live in the least free states. The fact is that when it comes to where people choose to live, intrinsic characteristics of a state weigh heavily in the decision. Among the factors that keep people in less-than-free places are jobs, family, friends, and city amenities. There's a certain stickiness to states that has nothing to do with how free these places are.

The federal tax and regulatory systems are incredibly burdensome and can weigh on us all more than most state policies, which can hinder interstate mobility. However, there are times when that stickiness isn't so important—for example, when you are younger, are looking for a job and haven't settled anywhere yet, or when you're about to retire. (Net migration in Florida was 10 percent in 2014.)

The bottom line is—whether you value freedom intrinsically or you're a lawmaker who wants to improve your state's economic outlook or slow down out-migration—you're better off knowing where your state stands so you know what to do. "Freedom in the 50 States" will help you achieve this goal.


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  1. Edition after edition of the “Freedom in the 50 States” index confirms that people tend to move to economically freer states because economic freedom tends to be a fairly good indicator of prosperity.

    …and then proceed to vote for the same shitty policies as the places they fled from, like we’re seeing in East Los Angeles (AKA Las Vegas).

    1. Yep, this is what they do. They’re fleeing Commiefornia in droves to go to NC so they can do the same thing there. Leftists are a fucking disease.

      1. Doing the same thing in places like Austin, too, from what i understand

      2. To be fair, people do the same thing. They move into California for a specific job then proceed to bitch and complain about how California is so damn awful and how they wish it were more like [insert other place].

        It’s a people thing, not anything to do with any specific ideology.

    2. Yes, but that’s because they don’t realize *why* they moved. It wasn’t because they read a 50 state freedom ranking article, it was because the new place was where they found a better job and could afford a better house for the money. But since they have no idea why, they have no reason to appreciate the new rules or not try to make the new place more like the one they left and really liked (apart from the inexplicable expensive housing and weak economy).

    3. Start working at home with GOOGLE! YAHOO. ABCNEWS AND MORE GLOBAL SITES? It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Monday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this ? 4 weeks past. I began this 7-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $97 per hour. i work through this web.. Go this website and go to tech tab for more details… http://goo.gl/jrG8Uv

    4. Yup. I love Vegas, but I don’t think it’ll be forever for me. A decade from now I expect us to basically be California, and I plan to be gone by then.

  2. Why do you oppose bringing civilization to the wilderness? Now pay for my sportsball stadium!

  3. Freedom is just another word for oppression.

    1. Your comment would be taken as sarcasm if it weren’t for the fact that Marxians do believe that liberty means oppression. Expose yourself to the wonderful writtings of our resident Marxian pbilosopher, Tony, and you will see. He uses the word “free” meant to be used for saying “being protected from” to then argue that freedom means more government. Or he equivocates, to put it succinctly.

      1. Free from evil corporations, free from scary people…

        IOW, they want everywhere to be a safe space where they can be free from being aggressed on by others, and that can only be done by the government controlling those other.

        OTOH, I view freedom as being able to do whatever the fuck I want, as long as I don’t actually hurt someone.

  4. I read over the report. I was a bit skeptical because Sorens was once head of the Free State Project. Given the criteria used and the weighting used, I can see how NH is ranked number one. I still think the criteria is slightly gamed, though I like that you can change the weightings.

  5. Why is this report so long? The only thing that matters for freedom is whether or not I can amoke pot in the bathroom of my choosing.

    1. You forgot Mexicans and imaginary gay pizza weddings

      1. So, now gay pizza can get married? This whole marriage for anyone thing is further along than I realized.

  6. …or you’re a lawmaker who wants to improve your state’s economic outlook or slow down out-migration?you’re better off knowing where your state stands so you know what to do.

    Which is to line your pockets as much as you can before everything in your state goes tits up.

    1. Say, how did you get a copy of the Chicago City Council Handbook?!

  7. That whole “Oklahoma is in the top 5 states for freedom” thing makes me think the ranking system is seriously flawed.

    Unless you think mass incarceration for non-crimes is something to be ignored.

    1. It means the bar is low. Hell, literally every state does that exact thing.

      FWIW, Oklahoma gets very low marks for cannabis and alcohol policy and is average-to-below for personal freedom, asset forfeiture, and victimless crimes. If these are your bag then OK isn’t for you.

      1. I’m trying to figure out how Oklahoma gets in the top 5 and Texas gets in the middle of the pack. Not seeing a huge difference between the states, other than OK seems to be even more of a police state than TX.

        1. It’s complicated; unfortunately I don’t have the time to really give you a proper summary. You should dig into the data; it’s exhaustive and really quite interesting.


        2. Oklahoma is just the Canada of Texas

  8. Hope New Hampshire can hang in. Too many Massholes have moved there.

    1. ‘Er, we come from Bahston. We have, like, four or five major world class colleges plus the Sahwx, so you’d better listen to us!’

      Ironic that Boston has something called the ‘Freedom Trail’, eh?

      1. Don’t get me started!

      2. Nah.

        Read “Albion’s Seed”. The Puritans’ idea of freedom of religion was the freedom to impose their religion on others.

  9. That raises the question of why so many people still live in the least free states.

    Because we don’t want them here.


  10. There are no free states. They all feed at the big money trough of big daddy state.

    1. Yeah, I’m inclined to think that the differences between the states aren’t as great as they’re often made out to be. I live in a bottom-feeder state and then I hear about some horrible intrusions on freedom coming out of the so-called “freer” states and wonder if the grass is really any greener.

  11. This report isn’t online anywhere? I smell a rat.

    1. Reason: “We already published a whole article announcing its publication. Do we have to do everything for you lazy fucks?”


      1. That’s exactly what a rat smells like.

  12. When a progressive relocates it is not for more “freedom.” They move because they have a job, like the view, or enjoy to weather to which they are going and hold onto their beliefts about the “right” sort of government they have always dreamed about, Once in place this government should be empowered to drag everyone else along to their vision of dystopia, which means more regulations because “their” politicians and government knows what is best and less freedom is required to move us toward an overall “better and safer” society. You need this, because most of us is just too stoopid to figure out what the enlightened have know all along. We have to be made to be like them.

    1. A lot of the time it’s to escape the extremely high cost of living, especially real estate, that their progressive policies have caused. But then like brainless insects, they push the same policies in their new location until they’ve turned it into where they left. Then they flee again. They’re like a plague of locusts destroying everything in their path.

      1. Good point and analogy. I lived in such a community where paying taxes and having extensive community services was equated with civilization. And when you dare oppose a new high school [when it was predicted that the one built a few years ago would be outstripped by population growth, but the mil was passed regardless and now they’re back for more] you “hate children.”

  13. The personalized weighting is clutch. While I’m all in for libertopia, I’m a straight, married man who like guns, booze, and cigarettes. I’d prefer a lower overall tax burden, and I want to own property and be able to do more or less what I want with it. While I’m totally psyched for gay people getting married and hair braiders being free to braid hair without undo regulatory burden, these are not personal priorities when it comes to my choice of a new home.

    1. Case in point. Georgia is ranked relatively low for reasons such as civil asset forfeiture and DOMA-style stuff, but for all the things I care about in my day-to-day–which is essentially not being inconvenienced by the government as I act like a surly old man–it’s probably a great place for me to be. I’m coming from Maryland, mind you, so my standards are fairly low.

  14. I already know my state is at the bottom (literally) of every one of these lists. I will read the article now.

    1. And I was right.

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  16. TL;DR, but I’m guessing that the freest states are the “purple” ones which are midway between Left and Right?


    1. Just wait until Twitter increases the 140 character limit, then even those will be TL;DR.

  17. How is New York not in the bottom three for personal.freedom?

    1. We are laxer on booze than many other states.

      That’s all I’ve got.

  18. The most heavily regulated states with the least freedom, New York and California, are also among the wealthiest states. Someone better explain that lest people conclude that less freedom means more wealth.

    San Francisco and New York City are fabulously wealthy, although upstate New York is a disaster and California farming has gone fallow.

    CA and NY aren’t losing the uber wealthy, they’re losing small businesses and independent contractors. Soon, NYC will be nothing but bankers, investment brokers and their personal servants, a kind of resurgence of feudalism. That’s the progressive’s dream political state where all serve an elite that rules by nudges, fines and imprisonment.

    1. Enough personal wealth can make any place or circumstance endurable. If you’re not out their vying for a living, negotiating your way through bureacratic mazes, and getting taxed for every $ you earn and can repose in your villa it ain’t so bad.

      And then you can proclaim what everyone else should do and think. Was on a fishing trip recently where this guy from Seattle, decked out in Orvis toggs [surely the fish were quite impressed if not taken by such haberdashery] was proclaiming his liberal and enlighted views. It’s only when you have money that you can afford to not worry about it, or care about how your beliefs and votes will impact those working for it.

      1. Look at the biggest cities in the three lowest ranked states:

        New York City: TWO major rivers coming together to empty into the sea, with a navigable port.

        San Francisco: One major river emptying into the sea, with a navigable port.

        Honolulu: An island surrounded by ocean, with a navigable port.

        Some places are just gonna have a lot of people, despite the governments there totally fucking them over.

    2. I remember hearing in the 90s about something similar going on in Paris. Basically, Paris on the surface looked like an incredibly wealthy city because so many wealthy people lived there. Problem was (and is), that the astronomical cost of living and sky-high taxes made it so that only the uber-rich and the poor could live in the city–the latter via public assistance, of course–whereas everyone else, including not just folks like baristas and construction workers but doctors and lawyers, had to live well outside. Eventually, the people outside the city, which is to say the people that you kind of need for a civilization to function, stopped working in the city and found work in more affordable areas that were less expensive, to the detriment of Paris. We’re seeing a comparable dynamic I think with people leaving places like CA and particularly NY for more business-friendly, more affordable places, especially the South.

    3. Freedom is not evenly distributed in those states. If you are wealthy in California (and probably NY although I have always avoided that state) you don’t have restrictions on where you live, where you drive, where you can park, what beaches you can go to, what businesses you can own, and you can afford to ignore laws on drugs, laws on gun ownership, etc. because no one can get into your walled off garden to see what you do except the gardeners themselves. Those same gardeners, construction workers, and other below median income workers find they must live in crowded areas, must restrain their behavior lest they piss off the neighbors or some rich guy that owns the building, can’t even park at the beach, and often are forced to run businesses outside of the legal regulations simply because it is the only way they can remain self-sustaining. In short, in these states, the less wealthy you are, the more likely you live outside of the law in order to survive.

  19. >In 2014, New York’s net migration was negative 11.2 percent. California was negative 4.9 percent, and Hawaii was negative 3.3 percent.

    Which is really the goal of most Liberals; keep out the riff raff…

  20. Yes, but that’s because they don’t realize *why* they moved. It wasn’t because they read a 50 state freedom ranking article, it was because the new place was where they found a better job and could afford a better house for the money. But since they have no idea why, they have no reason to appreciate the new rules or not try to make the new place more like the one they left and really liked (apart from the inexplicable expensive housing and weak economy).
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