“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” — Anatole France
This new Mercatus study, showing that New York is the least free state in the Union, seems to demonstrate that libertarian models of governance do not always yield better outcomes. What we mean by “freedom” is often totally disconnected from reality. Libertarian crusaders protect us from evils like insurance, fire departments and public schools. Almost as ridiculous as New York being the least free state is the list of 4 other freedom-free states: Massachusetts, Hawaii, California and New Jersey. Hmm, all these state tend to have higher per capita incomes than the rest of the country. Other than California (notable for the collapse of its funding for public schools despite high living costs), all these states have better than average student test scores. Massachusetts even has — horror of horror — state-mandated health care! It turns out, unsurprisingly, that the more freedom you have, the worse your state is on a variety of measures — everything from education attainment to infant mortality to suicide.
Highly-educated people (and non-highly-educated people) continue to flock to the less free states. Why? The bottom 5 don’t have great employment rates, nor do they have particularly low standard of living. Instead, they provide state services and clusters of specialized industries and people, in exchange for higher taxes and more regulations.
If freedom is just a negative thing — the absence of taxes and government — then the Mercatus study is correct in its assessment of state freedom. But if freedom is about being able to choose the life you want to lead the way you want to lead it, there’s more to freedom than the data in the study.