Friday, March 27, 2009

Arizona: Eighth most liberal state in the USA.

You wouldn't think so, would you? But when such things are quantified, Arizona looks pretty good.

Indexes and rankings of economic freedom have been around for some time; what has been lacking is a comprehensive study of liberty enjoyed by residents which takes into account not only "regulation" of business but also, more generally, paternalist interference in quotidian life, including restrictions on firearm ownership, the various rules and taxes on alcohol, campaign finance restrictions, actual arrest totals for victimless crimes, and the like. The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has put together what, to my knowledge, the first comprehensive freedom index, Freedom in the 50 States.

One quarter of the weight was allocated to fiscal policy, one quarter to regulatory policy, and one half to paternalism. Surprisingly, Michigan came out ahead when considering regulatory policy alone, proof that one very bad regulation, in this case, agency-shop unionization with no "right to work", can do serious damage. Not surprisingly, New Hampshire came out in the lead when considering fiscal policy alone--and nobody will say that New Hampshire has slipped into the third world as left-wingers predict Arizona to whenever a penny is cut from the state budget! And not surprisingly, Alaska came out far ahead, in a category by itself, when considering personal freedom. California came in thirty-seventh place in personal freedom, proof that tolerance talk doesn't imply liberal policy.

On that note, my more leftish readers are probably thinking that Arizona came in the top ten overall on its economic strengths alone. However, Arizona ranked eleventh in economic freedom and twelfth in personal freedom. We're a state full of reactionary types, who consistently re-elect Sheriff Joe and call for blood in the comment sections of newspaper websites, but that doesn't translate into illiberal policy. When it comes to action, we're a fairly live-and-let-live bunch.

As usual, weights given to individual items are questionable. There's no obvious way to add up restrictions on sale of raw milk, blue laws, and mandatory waiting periods for marriage; it's a problem in the same class as interpersonal comparisons of utility. This sort of thing almost cries out for both anthropological and psychological cross-validation. However, that the regression analysis on page 20 turns up a statistically significant correlation between the overall freedom index and net migration into a state indicates at least some utility here--and the effect is stronger for personal freedom than for economic freedom!

Percent vote for Kerry in 2004 correlates negatively with both personal and economic freedom, albeit only slightly negatively for personal freedom. (The authors say it is flat; when I get ahold of the plotted data I will do a ranks test.) It is worth noting that Mercatus is not a "conservative" or right-wing institute and has no Democrat or Republican torch to hold high; the report itself references Nozick and Spencer when discussing the authors' concept of liberty. Economic and personal freedom themselves correlate positively, despite the study authors not finding libertarianism (modern classical-liberalism) as a strong alternative anywhere. They instead account for the trend as being the result of balancing forces.

There are certainly valid gripes to be made, about weightings and even about oversights, but this is a great start, which I hope will spur both intellectual and policy action. Hat tip goes to closet-Arizonan and semi-anonymous "CLS", 'blogging at Classically Liberal.

Given the results, a possible new state motto: We're not bad people, we're just ornery.

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