What’s the freest state in America?

According to a study by political scientists William Ruger, president of the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), and Jason Sorens, a senior research faculty member at AIER, it’s New Hampshire. In the 7th edition of their study of freedom in the 50 states, they report on a number of variables that go into their measure. Unlike other measures of freedom, theirs’ includes not just economic freedom but also what they call personal freedom.

I’ve never liked that term because so much of economic freedom is personal freedom too, but I get what they’re driving at. Even though I’ve thought about it a lot, I still haven’t come up with a satisfactory term. Their measures of personal freedom include incarceration and arrests, gambling freedom, gun rights, tobacco freedom, marriage freedom, educational freedom, asset forfeiture, travel freedom, and a host of others. As I look through the list, I see that a lot of these also involve economic freedom. Asset forfeiture, for example, often violates property rights. And what is tobacco freedom, if not the freedom to buy, sell, and smoke tobacco? (Missouri, by the way, leads on tobacco freedom.)

One striking thing about their measure of overall freedom is that even though it’s composed of those two components (economic and personal freedom), New Hampshire wins on both: it’s the freest economically and the freest overall. (Although Nevada is #1 on personal freedom.)

One thing that becomes quite clear is that the freest states, whether measured by overall freedom or economic freedom tend to be the “red states.”

A big aside on red and blue. When I finally got a color TV in 1979 and started to watch U.S. election results, the states won by a Republican were colored blue and those won by a Democrat were colored red. That made sense because red was associated with socialism and communism and blue was associated with conservatism. I still remember, when I became a fan of Marty Feldstein in the 1970s, a big Fortune magazine article with the title “Martin Feldstein’s Electric Blue Economic Prescriptions.” I think the colors switched in the 1996 election when the networks started using red for Republicans and blue for Democrats.

It’s worth taking some time to pull up the study and click on various states.