Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rating the states on freedom.

One of the major problems with the two annual publications which rate economic freedom around the world is that they only rate economic freedom. They ignore freedom in other areas of human life — mainly in order to secure conservative funding and conservatives hate social freedom.

It is encouraging to see the Mercatus Center, at George Mason University, has issued a more comprehensive freedom index (pdf) for the 50 US states which includes social freedom. I would hope that other such ratings follow suit. An index of economic freedom is very misleading when it comes to freedom in general. For instance, Hong Kong and Singapore both rate very highly in economic freedom but would fall dramatically on any list that included social freedom.

One can argue with the authors about how they rank various factors in both economic and social freedom. But the index is still useful in comparing the states. It also appears that they have not considered state legislation in regards to censorship. That is a major failing in my view and leads to certain states, such as Texas, rating higher than they deserve. From what I can see, regulation of sex plays very little in this personal freedom index. Arrests for prostitution are factored in with some consideration to rights for same-sex couples, but not other important factors. The idea that Texas, which continued to defend sodomy laws, which arrests people for selling vibrators, for "pelvic thrusts" and porn, is the fifth best state for social freedom is absurd.

Considering the important role that sexuality plays in the lives of humans, the dearth of material on the topic, in this study, is a real disappointment. I certainly believe they need to look at the censorship issues and the regulation of sexuality far more carefully. While they attempted to avoid the conservative bias of most such reports their, personal freedom index considers gun rights and smoking bans but not censorship. Even there, the personal freedom rating is biased in a conservative direction because it largely ignores the area where conservatives are worst: the regulation of the bedroom.

With those provisos, here are the 10 states that ranked highest in the nation for freedom.

1. New Hampshire
2. Colorado
3. South Dakota
4. Idaho
5. Texas
6. Missouri
7. Tennessee
8. Arizona
9. Virginia
10. North Dakota

I suspect if the regulation of human sexuality were actually factored in Texas, Missouri, and Tennessee would see their scores decline. Perhaps most of these states would. And some states, which fall closer to the bottom of the pile would see their scores improve. Whether they would improve enough is another question.

The ten least free states (from least free to most free) are:

1. New York
2. New Jersey
3. Rhode Island
4. California
5. Maryland
6. Hawaii
7. Washington
8. Massachusetts
9. Illinois
10. Connecticut

Below is the map showing how the states rate on economic freedom. Click to enlarge.

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