Houston Trounces L.A. and New York City in New Ranking of America's Freest Metros

A new Reason Foundation report finds cities in Texas and Florida have the highest degrees of economic freedom.


Reason Foundation

More often than not the government that matters most is the government closest to home. That's the idea behind a new study from the Reason Foundation (the non-profit that publishes this website), which ranks U.S. metro areas by their level of economic freedom.

There already exist country and state-level indices for economic freedom. Useful as those are, they also obscure a lot of policy diversity says Dean Stansel, the author of the Reason Foundation report.

"Ultimately, the farther down we drill, the closer we get to locality, the more accurate it's going to be," says Stansel, telling Reason that these local policies can play a big impact on economic outcomes across cities.

Stansel's report looks at Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) which usually include multiple cities and even counties, and which give a more complete picture of a local area's economy.

The report divides these MSAs into two lists, those with a 2012 population of one million or more, and those with less than that. Each is then scored on their levels of government spending, taxation, and labor market regulation to produce an index score between zero and ten, with ten being maximum, Galt's Gulch levels of economic freedom.

Of the 52 American metros with more than one million residents, the report finds that the booming Houston Metro Area is where freedom rings the loudest, with a score of 8. Jacksonville, Florida, comes in at a close second place, with an economic freedom score of 7.92.

Of the top ten most economically free MSAs, eight of them are either in Texas or Florida—with Nashville, Tennessee, and Richmond, Virginia, also finishing in the top 10.

The poor performers on the index are much less geographically concentrated. According to Stansel's rankings, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area in Southern California comes in as the least free metro area in the country, with a near Soviet-level score of 5.23. The country's two largest metro areas of Los Angeles and New York City both landed in the bottom 10, as do Portland, Oregon, and a collection of metro areas in Ohio and New York State.

Naples, Florida, ranks as the most free metro area with a population less than one million residents, while El Centro, California, was the least free small market metro area.

Far from being an abstract measurement, Stansel's report finds that higher economic freedom rankings across metro areas have higher levels of economic growth, population growth, and even better city credit rankings.

The top quartile of 'most free' metros had per capita incomes that were 5.7 percent higher than average, while the bottom quartile of 'least free' cities had per capita incomes that were 4.86 below the average.

"The biggest punchline is this stuff matters for real outcomes, for how well the local economy thrives, but also for how well off the people are," says Stansel.

Whether economic dynamism is worth the heat and hurricanes that plague Texas and Florida is something individual readers of the report will have to decide for themselves.

NEXT: Portland Cop Told Subordinates To Shoot Random Black People. He'll Likely Get a $100K Payout.

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  1. Of course, this will all end thanks to lefties fleeing lefty states, yet continuing to vote for leftist policies in their new homes.

  2. Wish they’d leave Tampa alone.

    1. And Colorado.

    2. And Georgia.

    3. And Texas. They come here because they can find jobs and afford nice houses, then they want to “Turn Texas Blue.”

  3. I would agree and that’s why I set up business in Texas years ago but I don’t think Rhogena Nicholas or Dennis Tuttle would think it was all that free.

  4. a near Soviet-level score of 5.23

    It would be interesting to have some actual Soviet cities listed. Caracas and Havana too, heck throw in Moscow, all the current versions of course.

    I am much to lazy too even look up how they scored cities, let alone attempt such scoring.

  5. while El Centro, California, was the least free small market metro area.

    If you should find yourself in El Centro, your life choices, rather than your level of freedom, should be your greatest concern.

    1. I’ve been their several times on contracts. It’s pretty bleak. But the desert has it’s own beauty.

  6. Yeah, but would you rather be free in Houston or enslaved in Torrance?

    1. Houston, for sure. Work your butt off, save your money, and then leave.

    2. I don’t even need an excuse to go hang with Bushwick Bill.

  7. Chief Art Acevedo will see about that, and he has enough stars on his collar to do it. Don’t forget, Art doesn’t care what you proles think about freedom anyway.

    1. Ever notice that they tyrants, wherever they are, inflate their rank?

  8. Having lived in NYC and LA let me say = they suck

    1. You seem to be a good candidate to enjoy West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, or Mississippi.

        1. She’s just insinuating you don’t fit well into skinny jeans.

          1. Sweet, new theory that the Rev is a woman?

            1. No dude is that bitchy.
              Well, maybe Tony.

              1. Well, I don’t know about that. I don’t know if I’d describe the Rev as bitchy either. It’s why I wish we could get him to open up and engage in real conversation.

              2. With Tony, you’re playing fast and lose with the term “dude”.

  9. The cops are shit though.

  10. Houston?

    Was “free to build a street-level home in a flood plain” a criterion?

    How about “free to be subjected to statist womb management?”

    “Free to enjoy a ‘war on doobies’ state that criminalizes medical marijuana?”

    “Free from textbooks unapproved by superstitious, backward kooks?”

    1. You can go ahead and read the methodology and argue with it if you want to.

    2. Observe the amazing lack of self awareness.

    3. Houston is a proggie stronghold where the lesbian mayor championed transgender bathrooms.

      Maybe she should have spent more time on flood management?

      1. Most of Houston is barely above sea level. Houston “Heights” is at 59′. “Flood management” is a wet-vac.

    4. “Was “free to build a street-level home in a flood plain” a criterion?”

      Probably not. But free to build an oil refinery in city limits probably was.

      1. As I recall, Houston became an economic center and built up around the refineries after the Texas City explosion of 1947. (A shipload of fertilizer, not petroleum.) Or it may have been the 1919 Corpus Christi hurricane.

        But I live 500 miles inland.

    5. Economic freedom is the ability to start and run businesses. Marijuana is the feds law. Housing is tangentially related depending on if its personal or apartments. The other two have absolutely nothing to do with economic freedom.

      Sorry, not every hobby horse fits under every definition.

      1. You believe that opening a marijuana dispensary, operating a clinic that offers abortions, building a home, or selling a textbook does not involve economic freedom?

        Next question: Hillsdale, Liberty, or Ouachita Baptist?

        1. Arthur L. Hicklib doesn’t like it when his ignorance of local governments is exposed.

  11. Ah! Nashville’s up near the top. I did like living there a lot. Not sure if it’s the freest place in the world, but there’s no state income tax at least. You definitely didn’t notice the cops too often, so that’s a plus.

    Richmond though? Really?

    1. I’ve come to the conclusion that a state income tax isn’t as terrible as imagined.

      I’d much rather my dollars go to Frankfort than DC, since they have to go somewhere.

    2. Tennessee is overall not very free compared to what it could be but definitely freer compared to Blue states.

  12. And yet, Reason remains homed in LA. Practice what you preach, eh?

    1. Cocktail parties better than freedom?

      1. They work in the entertainment industry and thus are tied to a few locations.

        1. The web has no walls other than paywalls.
          Live wherever you want, submit your daily pack of lies online.

        2. A quick search shows vast majority of available entertainment editor jobs concentrated in LA and NYC. Silver Spring, MD was a distant 3rd.

      2. That should be some kind of slogan:

        “Cocktail parties are better than freedom.”

        1. Slogan printed on coasters and cocktail napkins.



    2. Reason remains homed in LA.

      The Reason office is in L.A., but the business is world-wide. When Sacramento figures out how to tax views and comments (and they’re probably working on it) Reason will load up a U-Haul and vamoose.

  13. Most of these are not surprising but some are. I’ll have to look at the methodology.

    1. That was great, thanks!

  14. Titty bars right there in your neighborhood, walking distance to home. Now that there’s freedom.

    1. No more pesky DUI charges.

    1. Only one boob?


  15. I am also curious about methodology. I lived in Columbus, Ohio, before and found it to be pretty live and let love, both economically and socially. I’m not sure in what world San Francisco ranks ahead of it.

    1. There is some skewing with this.

      After all, Reason still pushes that its operated by Libertarians when it clearly operated by Lefty Cosmos and Anarchists.

  16. Just don’t get accused of selling black-tar heroin. The cops will shoot your dog, then shoot you.

  17. One’s concept of freedom will vary by socio-economic status, culture, gender, politics, etc.
    Try walking down the street with an open beer. How about marijuana? Dry counties? Buy a car on Sunday? Marry whomever you want? Get divorced without hassle? Terminate a pregnancy legally? End your life on your own terms? Take any medicine you want?
    Like it or not, our economic freedoms don’t always translate to social freedoms. And many immigrants I’ve talked to laugh their asses off when they hear Americans bleat about how free we are compared to the rest of the world.

    1. And many immigrants I’ve talked to laugh their asses off when they hear Americans bleat about how free we are compared to the rest of the world.

      Doesn’t seem to have stopped them from leaving their shithole countries to move here. Apparently the white man’s welfare trumps “freedom” to them.

    2. One thing though:

      SOME freedoms ARE more important than other freedoms. Anybody who doesn’t get this is a moron.

      Free speech, gun rights, etc ARE more important than saaay legal weed. Anybody who disagrees is a fucking moron.

      Some of the other things may get closer, but for me personally, those two probably trump any and all others, and for most normal non freakazoid people they should too. If you want to off yourself or smoke dope, you can always just break the law!

  18. Yeah, something is whack with the methodology. I only had time to take a quick cruise through the PDF, and they don’t have the pretty map! Which is lame. But from what I can make out, they ranked Seattle higher than Spokane… Which is utter bullshit, as anyone with a brain will know.

    A couple things in the methodology looked like it may be skewed by things like total government spending/taxing as a percentage of local GDP/income or some such… Which means that it is an automatic massive handicap for LOW cost of living places. Seattle has in all regards higher taxes, more regulation, etc, but because it has all them tech dollas floating around, total take as a percentage may still be slightly lower seeming on paper… But people are paying FAR more overall if they’re in the same income bracket here versus Spokane.

    It also put Yakima as being bad, which I highly doubt, since it’s a Republican part of the state. So I think some income/GDP slanting is making the end result almost useless. That should be addressed and redo this guy, as it is a good concept.

  19. I live just south of Houston. In my suburb, things are good, lots of growth, new businesses starting.

    Yeah, since I’ve been here quite a few storms have significantly affected me: Allison, Rita, Ike, and Harvey. But I love exciting weather.

  20. One should remember this is a relative scale. I live in one of the blue labelled SMSAs in Texas, and our local politicians and bureaucrats are remarkably dumb, dishonest, avaricious, mendacious, and annoying. We are freer than people in Portland and NYC but far from really free. I also second the comments by others on this thread that lefties in the red labelled cities on the coasts should stay just where they are and not even consider moving to the places in the interior of the country. They are so transcendentally right in their attitude of superiority for themselves and their home towns, and we inferiors should do nothing even to hint they would gain anything by moving. What worked for Oliver and Lisa would not work for them. As a serious aside, we all should worry about California. After WWII Detroit was a center of and engine for American prosperity, just as parts of California have been for the last twenty or thirty years. The case of Detroit illustrates that it is possible to knock off the golden goose. The Dems in California seem to be making an effort in that direction.

    1. The case of Detroit illustrates that it is possible to knock off the golden goose. The Dems in California seem to be making an effort in that direction.

      Possibly. California, as a whole, has a lot of inherent advantages that Detroit, as a city, doesn’t. In particular, it’s not reliant on a single industry like Detroit was to prop up its economy, so it’s better able to weather recessions and the migration of businesses. On the other hand, Detroit’s decline also roughly coincided with the ascension of black supremacist Coleman Young, who ramped up the city’s urban corruption to 11 and let white people in particular know that they weren’t wanted in his newly envisioned chocolate city. Now you have pieces of shit like Rashida Tlaib representing it in Congress. With California rapidly becoming a joint colony of Central America, China, and India, it will probably resemble Venezuela in about 20-30 years.

      1. And the weather/natural setting.

        I’m quite confident that if California were where Kansas is, it would have about 11 people left in it already. As a native Californian, and somebody who appreciates freedom, even I am sometimes tempted to want to move back and suffer through all the horror of it just to get that wonderful weather back. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Not until after the 2nd civil war anyway…

  21. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.
    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+.. >>>>>>>>>> http://www.GeoSalary.com

  22. There could be a downside to the laissez-faire in Houston, such as Houston’s Hostgator taking your money for webhosting… and then providing zero, zilch, in return. If you live in another state far away, you’ve just been robbed.

  23. Whether economic dynamism is worth the heat and hurricanes that plague Texas and Florida is something individual readers of the report will have to decide for themselves.

    Texas is indeed hot. My snow shovel from my time up north is still hanging on the garage wall, and I go out and look at it when I think of moving back. You never have to shovel hot.

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