A recent article in “MailOnline” the internet version of the Daily Mail from the United Kingdom provided an individual freedom analysis for the 50 states of the United States. There’s some irony in the fact that a British paper sought to examine liberty in the former colonies. Clearly when describing liberty within states there are subjective parameters at work. The 50 “laboratories for democracy” have considerable leeway in determining how their states will be organized and function. The three largest areas of limitation for them within the federal Constitution are the mandated federal obligations as given in the enumerated powers, the prohibitions for curtailing inalienable rights, and the states must be democratic republics. If the fifty states take their freedoms seriously, there are multiple opportunities to experiment with laws and rulemaking to generate environments for prosperity and liberty.
Alas, too many of our formerly-sovereign states have followed the lead of Big Brother by implementing restrictive regulatory structures and punitive tax policies. Where they might have flourished as laboratories of freedom and opportunity, they, instead, overregulated, overtaxed and overwhelmed their citizens with obstacles and constraints. The “MailOnline” piece by Mark Duell lists New York and California as the worst offenders in the limitation of individual freedom. These are two of the largest states in the union…rich in resources, talent and population. It defies logic for states so richly endowed to squander their natural wealth for the false dream of centralized government. Another state that Duell has categorized as “less free” is my own native Ohio. As a candidate for statewide office in 2010, I drove across the entire state. It was clear to me how statism impacts the economic environment of the state. Certainly there were pockets of prosperity, but most of my beloved Buckeye state was staggered by the loss of industry…and the tangential businesses, suppliers and service companies that thrive when the industries are doing well.
The federal government and the state regulatory apparatus combined to construct high hurdles and elongated approval processes for plants to upgrade. In addition the labor union situation in Ohio has strangled attempts to innovate and create a competitive cost profile. Big government, lousy business opportunities and excessive union power are a troika for job killing. A corollary indicator of the relative freedom of the respective states is the apportionment of congressional seats following the census. One of the freer states, Texas, picks up 4 additional congress critters while New York and Ohio each lose two seats…and the corresponding national influence. Florida with its friendly atmosphere for freedom will gain 2 seats while Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will have one fewer congressperson in 2012. Missouri also loses one seat as does Louisiana…probably an after effect of Katrina. Indeed, there is a very high correlation between a state’s level of freedom and its growth and prosperity. You might ask why California is not on the “loser list” if it is rated as “less free.” The census counts people not citizens, and the continuing migration of non-citizens to California has kept the population large enough to offset the out migration of business, jobs and citizens.
Freedom and prosperity are linked. Where the people have the freedom to function without an oppressive regulatory environment or restrictive workplace rules, they will capitalize and maximize their opportunity. Lower taxes will encourage businesses to reinvest in growth and technology. Lower taxes and spending by state governments will encourage commerce and industry. Sadly, states, cities or any other government entity cannot resist the urge to grow and control. Only one of the original thirteen states was considered to be relatively free by Duell’s analysis: New Hampshire, the state with the stirring “Live Free or Die” motto. The other two top-ranked states were South Dakota and Indiana.
As a former researcher, I am aware that correlation does NOT confirm causality. Common sense suggests, however, that states that are growing may be doing so because of lower taxes, fewer union complications and sensible regulatory environments. Those liberty-lagging laboratories of democracy who have selected more government, more regulation and higher taxes as their modus operandi are faltering … staggering. As their businesses close or move, their tax bases dwindle and their social network costs increase. It’s a downward spiral that can be corrected by choosing liberty. Some experiments fail and others succeed. The intelligent observer can discern the difference and respond accordingly. Liberty, freedom always wins. Tyranny is a loser.