In a recent study, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University examined the laws and regulations that each of the 50 American states impose on their citizens and produced a list of them from freest to most restrictive.
(Mercatus) This study comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres. It updates, expands, and improves upon our inaugural 2009 Freedom in the 50 States study. For this new edition, we have added more policy variables (such as bans on trans fats and the audio recording of police, Massachusetts’s individual health-insurance mandate, and mandated family leave), improved existing measures (such as those for fiscal policies, workers’ compensation regulations, and asset-forfeiture rules), and developed specific policy prescriptions for each of the 50 states based on our data and a survey of state policy experts. With a consistent time series, we are also able to discover for the first time which states have improved and worsened in regard to freedom recently.
Of course, the real determining factor on any state’s freedom these days is less about the rules the state government imposes and more about the federal government. Since the federal government has such a weighty presence in all states (much more than any state or local government could dream of), it goes a long way in nullifying the differences between the different states.
One might envision a time when the states actually could differentiate themselves enough so as to actually make a difference in the decisions people make with regard to their long-term residence. Such a condition would present potential migrants a number of frontiers, as did the Western Frontier before the 1890s. An excerpt from Part IV of Juggernaut goes into greater depth on this concept:
To reestablish a frontier, then, the land need not be a limitless expanse of virgin soil—it need only be sufficient to house a number of influential pioneers whose migration would introduce the possibility of an alternative to the predominant system. Recall that not every European soul migrated to America in the four hundred years after Columbus. And yet revolution was experienced throughout the West and beyond because of the mere opportunity. To replicate that kind of rebirth, all that is needed is a place for a small contingent to go. The rest of the population who stay behind can benefit from the pioneers’ initiative.
Granted the notion that a free market can blossom from even a marginal frontier, it is possible that the land we already have is enough to provide it. All that is necessary is to designate any portion of that land as a place where a free society could be established and government intervention limited to its former role of protecting the free exchanges within that system. Of course, this means that there would need to be an entirely new state formed within the confines of the current nation, one that differs radically from the states that surround it.
Bizarre as it might sound, this notion was actually the crux of the federal system as the Founders envisioned the new country. The idea was that the United States would provide options for its inhabitants represented by the individual states. If an individual or family did not like the laws enacted by the government in Massachusetts, for instance, they could go to New York, Pennsylvania, or Maryland—Roger Williams set the precedent a century before the Declaration was even conjured. In all cases, diversified states would provide options and thus provide the sense of a perpetual frontier.
In the modern United States, with its outsized federal government and Welfare State controlling the nation’s economy, the differences between the states have become rather negligible, although some do remain. For instance, some states have high income taxes while others have none. While this difference can equate to several hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal income tax per year, the fact is that federal income tax is so much greater than any given state’s that there is no substantive difference. For most Americans, the only real difference between New York and Florida is that one has snow and the other doesn’t.
And so the first step to opening a frontier is the diminution of the powers of the central government. If the steps of reform are taken as adumbrated in the previous chapter, we can be certain that the federal government will have minimal influence on the individual states, and so differences between the states will mean much more to individuals, families, and groups.
The more diversity there is between the states, the more options there are for the American people.