News and Analysis

‘Index Of Personal And Economic Freedom’ Shows Red States At Top, Blue States At Bottom
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives to speak during a press conference at the Shul of Bal Harbour on June 14, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A recent analysis shows that Republican-led states are outpacing Democrat-led states in overall freedom.

The Cato Institute’s newest “Freedom in the 50 States” report shows that across a variety of metrics — including fiscal policy, government regulations, and civil liberties — red states generally promote a higher quality of life.

The analysis’ methodology is as follows:

Our index encompasses both economic and personal freedoms because the two sets of freedoms are complementary. A state scoring high in economic freedom but not in personal freedom — a hypothetical American Singapore — would not be a really free state in the way the liberal tradition understands it. Nor would a state high in personal freedom but low in economic freedom — an American Argentina — provide the liberal conditions necessary for human flourishing in the broadest sense.

Even to economist Milton Friedman, a mere “economic freedom index” would not be a real freedom index. In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman explores the connection between economic and political freedoms, finding that political freedom in the absence of economic freedom is unlikely to last. He writes, “It is a mark of the political freedom of a capitalist society that men can openly advocate and work for socialism,” while a socialist society does not permit the reverse.

In overall freedom, the top five states are:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Florida
  3. Nevada
  4. Tennessee
  5. South Dakota

Meanwhile, the bottom states are:

  1. Oregon
  2. New Jersey
  3. California
  4. Hawaii
  5. New York

Because of the Cato Institute’s libertarian leanings, a small portion of the index considers policies surrounding gambling, LGBTQ ideology, marijuana, and tobacco. After filtering out these categories and focusing specifically on economic freedom, however, the top five states are Florida, Tennessee, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Idaho; the bottom states are once again New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon, and New Jersey.

Evaluating the states in terms of regulatory freedom shows similar results. The top five states are Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Idaho, and Wyoming; the bottom five are California, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Oregon.

Earlier in 2021, the Back-to-Normal Index — a project of Moody’s Analytics and CNN Business — began to reveal that the states that avoided or quickly removed aggressive COVID-19 responses outperformed states that lingered in reopening. The economies of South Dakota and Florida were the first to return to pre-recession strength; other top states were West Virginia, Nevada, Montana, Iowa, and Arizona.

Governor Kristi Noem (R-SD) did not issue a lockdown order in the spring of 2020. One survey indicated that South Dakota — in a tie with Idaho — ranked fourth in the country for state-to-state migration. Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was among the first governors to rescind his state’s COVID-19 restrictions — a move that even garnered accolades from Florida Democrats.

“We will never do any of these lockdowns again, and I hear people say they’ll shut down the country, and honestly, I cringe,” DeSantis announced in August 2020. “And at best, what the lockdown will do is delay. It does not reduce the ultimate mortality … it creates a lot of other problems with mortality that a lot of people don’t necessarily focus on.”

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