New freedom ranking places Pelican State 35th in nation

NEW ORLEANS, La. – A sophisticated analysis of freedom across state lines, released today, finds Louisiana the least free of the former confederate states and in the bottom third of the nation. The one bright spot of the ranking is that Louisiana has risen four places, from 39th to 35th since 2007.

Update: Jeff Crouere, a television host with WLAE and radio host with WGSO, interviewed Fergus Hodgson, author of this article and former Pelican Institute reporter, on the results. Watch the full clip below (eight minutes).

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has published “Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom” – an updated and revised version of their first ranking of 2007 data – which measures three primary state freedom variables: fiscal, regulatory, and personal. The authors, William Ruger and Jason Sorens, political science professors from Texas State University and the University at Buffalo, assess these variables from the perspective that “individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.” (Click below to hear the authors discuss the findings – 34 minutes.)
[audio:] New Hampshire comes in first, just edging out South Dakota – and Indiana, Idaho, and Missouri round out the top five. On the other end of the scale, no state comes close to New York for overbearing government, but the other cellar dwellers are New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.*

All of the bottom five states are DemocraticPartystrongholds, and that applies to the personal freedom ranking as well, despite perceived Democratic sympathies for civil liberties. However, those ranked highest tend to be swing states, rather than Republican Party strongholds. Both New Hampshire and Indiana, for example, have switched their presidential majorities in recent elections.

In total, there are five rankings, so two in addition to the primary categories. The authors combine fiscal and regulatory variables for an economic freedom ranking. Finally, economic freedom goes with personal freedom to complete the overall freedom ranking.

The authors compared each of the rankings with domestic migration between the states, which will be of particular interest to Louisianians. (While southern states increased their populations by an average of 15 percent over the past decade, Louisiana’s population barelycracked 1 percentgrowth, and on net 7.1 percent of its domestic residents left.) With greater than 99 percent statistical confidence, the data indicated that American residents have been migrating to freer states.

“An increase of 0.5 points on the freedom scale, for instance from Connecticut [38th] to Iowa [13th], increases net migration by a whopping 5.9 percentage points of 2000 population.”

Applied to Louisiana, that suggests if the state were to increase its freedom ranking into the top 20 – comparable to Alabama, which is 19th – that would halve the net domestic out-migration. A shift into the top five states, holding the same logic, would eliminate the out-migration.

“The positive effect of personal freedom is actually more than twice as large as that of economic freedom,” write the authors. They suggest that “Americans in general are indeed attracted to freedom for its own sake, not just for the economic benefits.”

The report has a profile for each state, including three policy prescriptions for how to quickly rise in the rankings. To explain Louisiana’s poor placing, the state’s profile notes high sales taxes, increased government spending (through 2009), high government employment, excessive drug sentencing, a prohibition on Internet gambling, heavy regulation of private schools, and a liability system among the worst in the country.

Not all is bad, though. Homeschoolers enjoy relative freedom, and the authors complement the state’s reformofeminentdomain laws (although recenteventsinNewOrleans place doubt on how prudent local municipalities are with applying these.)

The policy prescriptions include a hiring freeze on government workers, a lower sales tax, and the elimination of all private school regulations. They also cite the partisanship of judicial elections as counterproductive to the liability system.
Tomorrow at 4pm EST, the Cato Institute will host a policy forum on this research, including both authors. You can watch it live online.

*If a state is 1 standard deviation freer than the national average on every single policy, then its score will be 1. If a state is 1 standard deviation less free than the national average on every single policy, then its score will be -1. A score of 0 means average all-around.

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at, and one can follow him on twitter.