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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.
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