#18 Missouri

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

From 2012

State Facts

Personal Income Growth (?) 2.07 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


Missouri is one of the country’s freer states, but in recent years it has run the risk of falling back into the middle of the pack.

Missouri’s local taxes are about average (4.0 percent of personal income), but state taxes are well below average (4.2 percent of income), making for reasonably high fiscal decentralization. In addition, Missourians have some choice in local government, with more than one effective competing jurisdiction per 100 square miles. We show that state taxes have fallen since FY 2007. Subsidies, debt, and government employment are all below average.

We see a little evidence of backsliding on regulatory policy. Missouri has adopted renewable portfolio standards, which remain pretty lax, but may add a small amount to electric bills. The state adopted a minimum wage in 2011–12 and lacks a right-to-work law. Occupational licensing increased a touch in 2011–12. The civil liability system remains below average. Still, the state does well in most regulatory categories and even improved on some policies, such as direct auto sales and repealing mover licensing. Insurance rate-setting freedom is fairly high. Cable and telecommunications are somewhat liberalized. Local zoning is quite loose, and eminent domain requirements were tightened slightly in 2013–14, though they remain substandard.

Missouri has a fairly strict approach to criminal justice, involving long sentences and high arrest rates for drugs, but it is far less aggressive than a state like Mississippi. It does share with that state the dubious distinction of being willing to lock a person up for a lifetime for selling marijuana to a consenting adult. The state’s asset forfeiture law is better than most, but it is frequently circumvented through equitable sharing. Same-sex marriage was banned in 2014, but the state will improve in future editions because of the Obergefell decision. Missouri is a good state for gambling, alcohol, and tobacco freedoms. Gun rights are slightly better than average. Open carry is locally regulated, and concealed carry is hedged with restrictions, and the license is costly to obtain. The state also has a stricter-than-federal minimum age for possession and a duty to retreat from attackers in public. Most Class III weapons are effectively banned.

Policy Recommendations

  • Fiscal: Adopt a gubernatorial item reduction veto, which is associated with lower spending over the long run.
  • Regulatory: Enact a right-to-work law, preferably in a form similar to that suggested in the “Labor-Market Freedom” section of this book, which would not infringe on freedom of association. In 2014, this move would have raised Missouri eight places on the regulatory policy ranking.
  • Personal: Expand gun rights in a manner more consistent with the state’s conservative ideology. Allow nonresident licenses, permit guns on all private property with permission, allow possession and carry at age 18, expand the right of self-defense in public, and legalize Class III weapons.
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