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Which state is the freest state?

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  April 9, 2013 10:23 AM

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You've probably seen those shaded maps that evaluate all the countries in the world on measures like corruption or "ease of doing business." William Ruger and Jason Sorens do something similar with the fifty American states- placing them on a freedom index from most to least free. The pair, who are political scientists with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, released the third edition of "Freedom in the 50 States" at the end of March, and a new state took over the top ranking (hint: it's not Massachusetts).

The freedom rankings are calculated based on three broad categories: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. Rugers and Sorens take a libertarian perspective in which any law or regulation is seen as an affront to freedom. North and South Dakota take the #1 and #2 spots respectively, owing to relaxed liability laws, low taxes, and laws limiting the scope of labor unions. New York is tagged as "by far the least free state in the Union" thanks, among other factors, to its top-in-the-nation tax rates. Massachusetts comes in at #30, which the authors note may be surprising given our reputation as a "liberal state par excellence." The Bay State receives high marks for the relatively small number of people on the public payroll, while it gets dinged for the health insurance mandate, fireworks ban, and "extremely strict home school requirements."

These types of rankings are innately controversial, of course. Laws may restrict what we're able to do, but they also promote freedom in a positive sense: We're all more free because we don't have to worry about uninspected meat or unregulated prescription drugs. Recognizing that free people don't all look at freedom the same way, Ruger and Sorens provide the option to create your own personalized freedom map.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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