Americans’ freedom has been gradually eroded in recent years, a new study finds, finding the COVID-19 pandemic is giving local officials more power over everyday life.
A new study of the Cato Institute, a Washington DC think tank that promotes individual liberty, limited government and free markets assessed each of the 50 states under 23 different categories and compiled an overall ranking.
Most and least free states are unchanged – New York is the least free, followed by Hawaii and California, and New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada are the most free.
The three least free states all have Democratic governors; two of the three freest states have Republican governors, except Nevada, ruled by Democrat Steve Sisolak.
New York ranks 50th in the ‘freedom ratings’ and New Hampshire ranks first according to the Cato Institute
William Ruger and Jason Sorens, the researchers at the Cato Institute who compiled the annual report, said their analysis found that individual freedoms were being curtailed across the board.
“While the rights of some have increased significantly in certain areas, in general freedom for the average American has diminished because of federal policies that violate policies that states controlled 20 years ago,” they say.
They looked at factors that varied by state — such as taxes, marriage restrictions, rules about wearing seat belts in cars and helmets on motorcycles, and marijuana and gambling laws.
Unsurprisingly, New Hampshire, whose motto is “live or die,” was at the top or close to the top in most statistics — though they were bottom of the rankings for land use and marriage equality.
‘We base our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be able to dispose of their lives, freedoms and property as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others,” the authors wrote.
“This concept of freedom stems from the liberal thinking about natural rights of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.”
Economic freedom includes both fiscal and regulatory policies.
Florida was ranked as the freest state, with no individual income tax.
“Florida is doing particularly well on economic freedom, and even more so on fiscal policy,” the authors write.
“Indeed, it’s our top spot on both.
‘Regulatory policy has improved, but moderately compared to the fiscal side.’
Florida is followed by Tennessee and third New Hampshire.
“The Voluntary State has no income tax, and both state and local tax collections are well below the national average,” the report notes.
New Hampshire’s total tax burden is well below the national average at 8.1 percent. The state government taxes less than any other state except Alaska.
The average rate of individual income tax for all taxpayers is 13.3 percent, according to a Tax Foundation report from February 2021.
All three states have Republican governors.
Arizona, Florida and Indiana lead the way when it comes to education, considering requirements and limitations for private and home schooling.
The most restrictive states are North Dakota, ranked at 50, followed by Nebraska and Michigan.
“North Dakota remains the nation’s worst state in terms of educational freedom,” the authors write.
“Private and home schools are both more tightly regulated than anywhere else, and the state has no choice of private or public school.”
The Cato Institute recommends Doug Burgum, Republican Governor of North Dakota, do away with teacher licensing, mandatory state approval, and detailed curriculum requirements for private schools, and reduce the reporting and registration burden on homeschooling families.
Maryland — ranked 46th for educational freedom — “is one of the least free states in the country, and it has held this status since the beginning of our time series in 2000,” the authors write.
Homeschooling and private schools are highly regulated, the latter even more so, thanks to mandatory state approval and teacher licensing.
The state increased compulsory education from 11 to 12 in 2014 and then to 13 in 2017.
Idaho, North Dakota, and Nebraska are considered the freest states for health insurance.
The states are socially and economically conservative and protect the independence of nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have full prescribing powers.
There is no certificate of necessity for hospitals.
The most regulated states are New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Health insurance mandates have expanded in New Jersey, bottom of the list.
In 2013, the nurse practitioner’s freedom of independent practice was abolished, despite more states going the other way.
In 2018, New Jersey enacted a state-level individual health insurance mandate.
The Cato Institute ranked states based on the freedom of couples to enter into private contracts – both civil unions and marriages.
Eleven states made it equally easy for couples to get married.
The states ranged from deeply Democrat California and Hawaii to staunch Republican Tennessee.
Seven states sat at the bottom of the table, with Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington all putting up the most barriers.
While many believe Texas has the most liberal gun laws, it’s actually Kansas that has the least restrictive gun ownership policy.
Permitless open carry was legalized in 2013, and unauthorized concealed carry was introduced in 2015.
US citizens own an estimated 393 million firearms, both legal and illegal; that’s more than all firearms combined from 24 countries reporting the highest rates of civilian gun ownership, according to the Small Arms Survey.
However, only one in three Americans report owning a gun, while 44 percent live in homes where a gun is held. That means most gun owners have more than one gun.
Four states — Texas, Florida, California and Pennsylvania — had estimated sales of at least a million guns in 2020.
Kansas may have the most liberal gun laws, but most guns are held in the state of Wyoming, followed by Montana and Alaska.
Iowa, Massachusetts and Nebraska have the lowest gun ownership, plus Washington DC.
Massachusetts, California and Hawaii have the most restrictive gun ownership rules.