The Ten States That Restrict Personal Freedom (And Those That Protect It)

Douglas A. McIntyre

5. Massachusetts
> Fiscal freedom: -0.023 (23rd lowest)
> Regulatory freedom: -0.222 (2nd lowest)
> Personal freedom: -0.147 (4th lowest)
> Net Migration (2000-2009): -4.3%

Taxes in Massachusetts are about average and the state employs a relatively small number of people. The Bay State has such a low economic ranking due to its high debt, which equal a quarter of all residents’ annual personal income. It is perhaps more surprising that the state, which is usually considered to be very socially liberal, has such a low score regarding personal freedom. The state has extremely strict gun control laws, helmet laws for bicycles and motorcycles, auto-insurance mandates, restrictive home school and private school laws, high cigarette taxes, indoor smoking bans, a complete ban on fireworks, and restrictive gambling laws. Massachusetts’ ranking has also decreased since 2007 due to the implementation of “Romneycare” health care reform. The state receives points for decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing same-sex marriage.

4. Hawaii
> Fiscal freedom: -0.205 (3rd lowest)
> Regulatory freedom: -0.117 (8th lowest)
> Personal freedom: -0.123 (8th lowest)
> Net Migration (2000-2009): -2.7%

Hawaii has the most centralized – and therefore controlled – school system in the country. The state department of education effectively runs every public and charter school on the islands. The state has extremely restrictive gambling laws, second only to Utah. The state also has a great deal of strict policies on labor and wages, with mandatory worker’s insurance. Hawaii also has some of the most severe gun control laws in the U.S.

3. California
> Fiscal freedom: -0.198 (4th lowest)
> Regulatory freedom: -0.184 (4th lowest)
> Personal freedom: -0.105 (10th lowest)
> Net Migration (2000-2009): -4.4%

According to the George Mason University Study, California “simply needs to cut government spending.” The areas in which spending are the most above national averages are administration, social services, environment, and housing. The state features a number of labor laws, notably the state’s requirement of short-term disability insurance. The state also infringes on a number of personal freedoms, despite its liberal positions on marijuana and legalization of same-sex partnerships. California has the most restrictive gun control laws in the country, has lead the battle in smoking bans, and has a number of policies which target motorists, such as widespread sobriety checkpoints.

2. New Jersey
> Fiscal freedom: -0.129 (7th lowest)
> Regulatory freedom: -0.239 (lowest)
> Personal freedom: -0.137 (6th lowest)
> Net Migration (2000-2009): -5.5%

New Jersey scores poorly across all areas of freedom measured in the Mercatus report. It has one of the worst scores in the country in terms of regulatory freedom. According to the report: “Gun control is extensive and worsening. Marijuana laws are subpar, although a medical-marijuana law was enacted in 2010.” New Jersey also enforces seat belt laws, motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws, a cell-phone driving ban, an open-container law, sobriety checkpoints, and “mandatory under-insured-motorist and personal-injury coverage for drivers.” The state also has the highest property tax rate in the country.

1. New York
> Fiscal freedom: -0.471 (lowest)
> Regulatory freedom: -0.90 (11th lowest)
> Personal freedom: -0.191 (3rd lowest)
> Net Migration (2000-2009): -8.9%

New York is the least free state in the country.  According to the report, this is because it has the lowest rated economic freedom and the third lowest rated personal freedom in the country. The state has the highest taxes in the nation, with above average property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate income tax rates. Government spending on “public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, and employee retirement” is all well above the national averages. The state also has the second greatest debt as a percentage of the state’s economy in the country, behind only Alaska. The state is not much better when it comes to personal liberty. New York has among the strictest gun laws in the country, motorists are highly regulated, home schools are highly regulated, and cigarette taxes are the highest in the country — currently $4.35 a pack. Eminent domain “abuse is rampant and unchecked,” such as last year’s case involving the expansion of Columbia University and the Atlantic Yards program in Brooklyn.

Douglas A. McIntyre, Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter