#15 South Carolina

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The overall freedom ranking is a combination of personal and economic freedoms.

From 2012

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 10.4 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.93 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


South Carolina has traditionally done better on economic than personal freedom, but the legalization of same-sex marriage, among other policy trends, has, at least for the moment, turned that pattern upside down.

As one of the states more dependent on the federal government, the Palmetto State gets by with high government employment and a relatively low tax burden. Local taxes are average, but state taxes, at a projected 4.7 percent of personal income in FY 2015, are below the national average for 2000–2014 of 5.6 percent. South Carolina enjoyed big tax cuts in the mid- to late 2000s, according to our measure. Subsidies are below average, and debt—at 23.8 percent of income—is well above.

South Carolina’s regulatory policy has improved noticeably over time. Much of that is due to tort reform and an improving civil liability system. Land-use freedom is extensive, and eminent domain reform has gone far. Labor law is generally good with no state-level minimum wage and a right-to-work law, but the state did enact an E-Verify mandate in 2007–8. Health insurance mandates are lower than average. Cable and telecommunications have been liberalized. The extent of occupational licensing is about average, but nurses enjoy only a little practice freedom. Insurance freedom is a bit subpar, and the state regulates prices for gasoline, for general retailers, and in emergencies.

South Carolina’s criminal justice policies are not much like the Deep South. Incarceration and victimless crime arrest rates are more or less average. Asset forfeiture abuse has not been curbed. Cannabis penalties are somewhat harsh but not as draconian as in some other states. Gun rights are reasonably broad, but probably below the level enjoyed in, say, Pennsylvania. Open carry is illegal in most places, dealers are licensed, and the age for possession is stricter than the federal minimum. Educational freedom is mediocre. Private schools and homeschools are tightly, even harshly, regulated, and only a modest tax benefit exists for school choice program. Tobacco freedom is above average, as smoking bans on private property contain exceptions, and cigarette taxes are low. The state was forced to legalize same-sex marriage in 2014, overturning its super-DOMA banning private contracts for gay couples. Beer taxes are remarkably high.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Prune state employment, and cut spending on health and hospitals, which is far above national norms. Cut the sales tax.
  • Regulatory: Abolish the price-gouging law and all sales-below-cost/minimum-markup/unfair-sales laws. These reforms would have raised the state two places on economic freedom in 2014.
  • Personal: Revise the state’s asset forfeiture laws to make it more difficult for the government to seize assets, and reduce the government’s incentive to do so by lowering the percentage of proceeds that go to law enforcement. Ban equitable sharing with the Department of Justice so that the federal government does not ignore state law.
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