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While the concept of freedom may be in the eye of the beholder, there's no question that each state has done their best to codify what actions they do and do not leave up to their residents' choice. But which states give their citizens the most leeway, and which have them on the tightest leash? A study entitled "Freedom In the 50 States: An Index of Personal And Economic Freedom," published by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, sets out to answer this question.
The study, conducted by William P. Ruger and Jason ReSorens and released earlier this year, explores what the authors claim is the "first-ever comprehensive ranking of American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres." To create this ranking, Ruger and ReSorens outline three categories into which freedoms fit: fiscal policy (which covers spending and taxation), regulatory policy (which refers to such issues as labor regulations and health insurance), and Paternalism (which includes such categories as gambling and alcohol regulations).
However, it is important to note that the study's findings do not all fall along these predictable party lines. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana, for example, all fall in the bottom eleven among states with the most Personal Freedom. Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri, meanwhile finish fourth, fifth, and sixth, respectively in that category. According to the authors of the study, while conservative states do perform better than liberal ones, it is moderately conservative states which are in fact the freest.
If you enjoy smoking, the Garden State is not for you. New Jersey's extensive tobacco tariffs and restrictions highlight its affinity for high taxes and regulated personal freedom-guns are highly controlled, and the laws regarding automobiles fill volumes.