How do you define freedom?

We ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.

What if I don't agree with your assessment of freedom?

The freedom index stands within the tradition in social science of measuring normatively desired phenomena, such as democracycivil liberties, and human rights. Clearly, our index will have intrinsic interest for classical liberals and libertarians. However, non-libertarian social scientists will also benefit from the index because it is an open question how individual liberty relates to phenomena such as economic growth, migration, and partisan politics in the American states. In the same way, while political scientists may value democracy for its own sake, they can also research empirically what causes democracy and how democracy affects other phenomena.

What measures of freedom does the index exclude?

The index does not take up matters that fall squarely within the purview of the federal government, such as immigration and homeland security. While those things do affect the experience of freedom in all 50 states, they do not fall within the purview of state and local governments.

The index also gives users control over whether to include or exclude the high-profile issue of abortion, where there is disagreement on how policy on that issue affects freedom. As we discuss more extensively in the study's introduction, rather than take a stand on one side or the other (or anywhere between), we have coded the data abortion policies and provide in the Appendix indices based on pro-life, moderate pro-choice, and strong pro-choice interpretations of the data.

What years do the data reflect?

The 2016 freedom index uses data from year-end 2014 for most variables and fiscal year 2015 (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 for most states) for state taxes and debt. The fiscal data include projections based on state budget changes. The most recently available state and local fiscal data from the Census Bureau are for fiscal year 2013. The freedom index is also scored for year-end 2000, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012.

Note, however, that the scores and rankings given in the 2016 edition for 2006, 2008, and 2010 are not necessarily the same as the scores and rankings given in the 2009, 2011, and 2013 editions. In every edition we update and improve our methodology and add new policies.

How do you weight the index?

The book scores all 50 states on their overall respect for individual freedom, and also on their respect for three dimensions of freedom considered separately: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. In order to calculate these scores, we weight public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims. However, we happily concede that different people value aspects of freedom differently. Hence, our website provides the raw data and weightings so that interested readers can construct their own freedom rankings.

Can I change the weighting of the variables?

Currently we only support turning on and off categories and variables. However, if you download the data, you can build your own ranking with different weighting.

How does this index compare to the Fraser Institute's index?

The first difference is that this index includes personal, not just economic freedom. Another big difference lies in how the two indexes are weighted. The approach employed in the Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of North America, is to weight each category equally, and then to weight variables within each category equally.1 This approach assumes that the variance observed within each category and each variable is equally important. In the large dataset used for the freedom index, such an assumption would be wildly implausible. We feel confident that, for instance, tax burden should be weighted more heavily than court decisions mandating that private malls or universities allow political speech. In our newest edition, variables are weighted according to the value of the freedom affected by a particular policy to those people whose freedoms are at stake.

What is net migration rate?

The net migration rate from 2000 to 2014 is the number of in-migrants to the state between January 1, 2000, and July 1, 2014, from other states and DC, minus the number of out-migrants from the state over the same period to other states and DC, divided by the January 1, 2000 population and expressed as a percentage. (Data are from the Census Bureau.) Thus, a state with a net migration rate of zero sees all its population growth coming from natural increase and net international immigration. This measure is one of the best indicators of the growth of a state's economy. Per capita income and GDP figures reward states for turning out their low-skill workers. Population growth rewards states that have lots of babies (like Utah) or states that happen to have major international airports (like New York). By contrast, a state that attracts people from other states almost certainly does so because it is offering more employment opportunities or a better quality of life than other states.

How is personal income growth measured?

It is total, annualized personal income growth, adjusted for change in cost of living. The data sources are Bureau of Economic Analysis and Berry, Fording, and Hanson (1998), 2009 data update.

How does the freedom score correlate with migration and income growth?

Our study has found that a positive relationship exists between a state's fiscal and personal freedom and its net migration rate, and between its regulatory freedom and income growth. Learn more here.

What are the factors that go into economic freedom?

First note that we split economic freedom by looking at fiscal and regulatory policy separately.

The fiscal policy dimension consists of categories for state and local tax revenues, government employment, government spending, government debt, and fiscal decentralization. Each of these categories consists of a single variable. The variables are measured for each fiscal year: FY 2010, the latest year for which data are available, encompasses the period between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. Taxation and debt are measured for each fiscal year.

The regulatory policy dimension includes categories for the liability system, real property rights (eminent domain and land-use regulation), health insurance freedom, labor market freedom, occupational freedom, cable and telecom, and miscellaneous regulations that do not fit under another category. Regulations that seem to have a mainly paternalistic justification, such as homeschool and private school regulations, are placed under the personal freedom dimension.

What are the factors that go into personal freedom?

The personal freedom, or paternalism, dimension consists of the following categories: gun policy, alcohol policy, marijuana-related policy, travel policy, gaming policy, mala prohibita and miscellaneous civil liberties, education policy, civil asset forfeiture, law enforcement statistics, marriage policy, campaign finance policy, and tobacco policy. Weighting these categories was a challenge because the observable financial impacts of these policies often do not include the full harms to victims.

Where can I find previous editions?

You can see results from previous years on a state level by clicking on each state page and viewing the ranking map. You can also access the 2013 edition, 2011 edition and the 2009 edition of Freedom in the 50 States.

Where can I find the printable version?

You can access the printable version on the "Print Edition" page.

How do I get updates?

You can sign up for emails, follow our tweets and like our Facebook page.

Can I reuse your content?

Yes! We have made the source data for the index available for download. Additionally, you can easily embed maps, lists and charts into your own site. If you would like to use an image of the ranking map, please provide the following citation clearly visible on the image: "Freedom in the 50 States 2016 | Cato Institute".

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