The Libertarian Map of Freedom

The libertarian Mercatus Center, which is located at George Mason University, has issued its third edition of “Freedom in the 50 States.” It’s a color-coded map of how much freedom there is, state by state, in the US.  Its freedom index is based on what Mercatur says is a “combination of personal and economic freedoms.”

So here’s what you learn:

  1. North Dakota is the freest state in the union! (It’s also a state that has effectively banned all abortions.)
  2. Texas is the 14th freest state in the union! (It has also the fourth highest incarceration rate.)
  3. California is the 49th and New York is the 50th freest state in the union! In other words, the least free states. Which is why we’re color-coded black on the map. Like North Korea at night.

Libertarian freedom: no abortion, everyone in jail, and the lights are on all the time. Free at last, free at last.

Update (9:30 pm)

Someone in the comments thread pointed out to me that one of the measures on the freedom index—that is, how free a state is—is “Bachelor Party.” What the hell is that, you ask? According to our friends at Mercatus: “This user-created category combines a variety of laws including those on alcohol, marijuana, prostitution, and fireworks.” Right. So no measure for abortion because, as the print edition of the report makes clear (see pp. 5-6), it is a controversial issue about which reasonable people disagree. But prostitution? Part, apparently, of what Rawls would call our “overlapping consensus.”


  1. noiselull March 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm | #

    1. Abortion wasn’t included as a factor because it’s a difficult issue for many to deal with.

    2. Way to cherry-pick.

    3. I don’t get what your problem is.

    Libertarian freedom: tough to pin down, not available in any strong form in the United States, misunderstood by Corey Robin.

    • Corey Robin March 28, 2013 at 5:03 pm | #

      The lack of union protections, and very low minimum wage, are also difficult issues for many to deal with.

      • jason braswell March 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm | #

        The point is that the abortion divides a large number of libertarians (for obvious reasons), whereas almost every libertarian favors eliminating the minimum wage, legalizing prostitution, gay marriage, etc. You’re playing on the ambiguity of “difficult”.

    • Raimo Kangasniemi March 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm | #

      1. If libertarians can’t deal with difficult issue like abortion, how can they then stand on soapboxes preaching about other difficult issues?

      Libertarian idea of freedom is really a totalitarian one based on the dozens of libertarian science fiction books I’ve read through the years. The libertarians in their visions tend to always end up dreaming about horrible dystopias where most people have no rights at all and even the libertarian heroes fighting in support of the dystopia actually have little to no freedom themselves, no matter how wealthy and privileged they are portrayed. They are stuck to a role to defending the libertarian status quo.

      • Marty B June 22, 2014 at 7:13 pm | #

        Abortion is a moral issue only. Gay marriage is a rights issue, minimum wage is an economics issue, etc. Moral issues often divide those who would be 100% one way or the other. For example, in my state, a mostly libertarian candidate for state senate got a lot of Democrat’s votes because of his pro-abortion stance, but lost votes from the Republican side for the same reason. Tke away that one issue, and he was 100% libertarian.

    • Paul Rosenberg March 28, 2013 at 6:37 pm | #

      So abortion is too difficult for poor widdle libertarians to deal with.

      But tobacco? No problem! It’s a gateway drug for freedoms! “The tobacco category includes taxes on tobacco, smoking bans, Internet bans, and vending machine regulations.”

      Hmmm. What if one defined “tobacco freedom” as being free FROM tobacco? You know, free from lung cancer, heart disease, etc? But, then, I don’t suppose the Mercatus Center is free from tobacco, either.

    • Kiran Hill March 29, 2013 at 7:21 am | #

      Here is the thing about abortion.
      EVERYBODY is against it. The only difference is when you draw the line. Conception? the ability to feel pain? the ability to survive outside the womb? birth? the first job held for more than a week? legal voting age?

      • Pathman March 29, 2013 at 8:48 am | #

        I’m not against it. I think your “Everybody” statement is bullshit.

      • Kiran Hill March 29, 2013 at 9:27 am | #

        I am sure you are Pathman. The question is ‘when’.
        Can a mother kill a newborn in your view?

      • Paul Rosenberg March 29, 2013 at 11:15 am | #

        Classic! Redefining “abortion” so that its meaning is utterly destroyed!

        Here is the thing about glibitarians–their complete unfettered willingness, nay ENTHUSIASM for redefining anything and everything in order to make themselves always be right, always be pure, and those who question them to be evil, stupid and ignorant.

        This works fine we’re you’re 12 or 13, and it’s actually a healthy sign of learning to think on your own. But it’s a fatal liability in the next stage of development, which is all about learning to engage with others, and with the world of already existing meanings.

        No wonder they’ve all given up on misreading Locke, and settled on endlessly re-reading Ayn Rand instead.

      • jason braswell March 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm | #

        +1 for this.

        Not trying to spam, but can’t help myself after reading this. (My last comment, I promise!)

    • Eli Rabett April 10, 2013 at 9:47 am | #

      The frame for this nonsense should be the Four Freedoms. Set forth in Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union, this dominated how social policy was discussed in the next couple of decades, only to be swept away by Reagan. They are

      Freedom of speech
      Freedom of worship
      Freedom from want
      Freedom from fear

      The last two are as important as the first two. Eli apologizes for being serious.

    • kuro August 1, 2013 at 8:56 pm | #

      It shouldn’t be difficult for a libertarian to understand that self-ownership necessarily means the autonomy to abort. If you can’t abort, you don’t really have autonomy over your own body.

      Self ownership and autonomy really shouldn’t be a difficult issue for mainstream libertarians. I suppose it’s only controversial because it’s politically volatile within the constituency libertarians are trying to attract, and not because libertarians actually think women don’t have the right to do as they pleaseto their bodies, inside and out.

  2. Joe B March 28, 2013 at 5:15 pm | #

    One of the categories is “Bachelor Party”

  3. Arsene March 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm | #

    you can also add to “Libertarian Freedom”:

    * poorest states in the country

    * states with the most decrepit infrastructure (on the same level as poor Central American countries)

    * most illiterate states

    * states most dominated by religious fundamentalism in legislature & executive

    * states with school curricula dominated by religious fundamentalism

    * most underpopulated states since they have little to nothing to offer economically

  4. Bart March 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm | #

    George Mason University is where many old conservative pundits go to retire while teaching a course or two.

  5. brahmsky March 28, 2013 at 6:26 pm | #

    We agree on one thing. Or maybe two.

  6. JemW March 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm | #

    Ahh, Libertarians. You’ve got to laugh, haven’t you?

    • casino implosion March 29, 2013 at 3:39 pm | #

      /comment thread

  7. hidflect March 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm | #

    What an information-less crock of Glibertarian smugness this “survey” is. Their definitions of “freedoms” are limited to whatever doesn’t impinge on Daddy’s trust fund balance.

  8. Arkerless March 28, 2013 at 8:02 pm | #

    A pretty weak shot. Abortion wasnt one of the factors used so naturally it has nothing to do with North Dakotas ranking. However marriage freedom was and you might find that category interesting – if you had taken the time to actually evaluate the methodology instead of dashing of a lol libertarians post without any serious content or thought involved.

    • Paul Rosenberg March 28, 2013 at 9:03 pm | #

      And “Abortion wasnt one of the factors used” because reproductive freedom isn’t REAL smoke cigarettes & die freedom, right?

      • Arkerless March 30, 2013 at 5:37 am | #

        No, not at all. They dont say why they didnt use that, so we have to guess, but your suggestion is obviously an absurd straw man.

        If I had to guess I would say they left it off because it is the position where the libertarian-leaning americans today are most likely to take an anti-libertarian (anti-choice) position. There’s nothing sinister in wanting to emphasize the most widely accepted positions and avoid the most divisive ones when possible – or if there is, at least it’s no more sinister when a libertarian does it than when people of every other political stripe do the same thing.

      • Paul Rosenberg March 30, 2013 at 9:27 am | #

        Of course it’s not sinister that glibertarians leave out “the most divisive positions”. What’s sinister is that “the most divisive positions” include the most fundamental freedom there is for a class that includes 51% of the population.

        In other worse, it’s not your strategy or tactics that are sinister (in this instance, at least). It’s your *philosophy*, stupid!

    • Cleisthenes March 28, 2013 at 9:16 pm | #

      So what was the rationale behind abortion rights not being measured? I would have thought a fundamental of personal liberty affecting one half of each state’s population would have been central in measuring ‘freedom’.

      Or is it that the Mercatus center (funded by the Koch family foundation) is picking the juiciest, plumpest cherries to measure in order to push its donors entirely bogus conceptions of freedom. One which naturally does not include abortion rights.

      • Kiran Hill March 29, 2013 at 9:29 am | #

        The rationale for not including abortions is that
        a) We pretty much all believe that it is a legitimate function of government to protect human life.
        b) No one can say with authority when human life begins.

      • Paul Rosenberg March 29, 2013 at 11:00 am | #

        Kiran forgot:

        (c) Women aren’t people. Unlike tobacco companies, they don’t have rights.

      • jonnybutter March 29, 2013 at 11:37 am | #

        I’m almost afraid to ask, but If no one can say ‘with authority’ when life begins (which is not really what the abortion debate is about, but let’s go with it for the moment), why do you think it’s ok for the State to, in fact, decide?

        I know the answer: Freedom!

  9. Mitchell Freedman March 28, 2013 at 8:18 pm | #

    Libertarian in the US these days too often means having a money fetish and worshipping the rich.

    • Kiran Hill March 29, 2013 at 9:33 am | #

      I am not sure why you would believe that. Maybe you have never met a libertarian?
      I mean I don’t want to shatter your smug bubble or anything Mitchell, but most libertarians want to be left alone.
      I want to drink raw milk. I want to keep my earnings. I don’t want to smoke pot, but I recognize that I have not moral right to use force to stop others from doing so.
      I am uncomfortable about putting human beings in cages in my name. I really don’t want to pay to put people in cages who mean harm to no one.

      • Paul Rosenberg March 29, 2013 at 11:02 am | #

        Or maybe Mitchell has met far too MANY libertarians, as have I, and just about everyone else on the intertubes.

      • lumpkin March 29, 2013 at 12:26 pm | #

        Libertarianism is a celebration of luck. If you are lucky enough to be born white, healthy, upper middle class/rich and don’t run into bad luck, like a debilitating disease or loss of job it works perfectly. Everyone else can FOAD.

      • casino implosion March 29, 2013 at 3:41 pm | #

        If by “left alone” you really mean that you want to enjoy the benefits of our society without paying any of the costs, then please go mine the asteroid belt or something.

      • lumpkin March 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm | #

        Just to expand on my point a little – To take an example from the Mercatus Center report on the subject of “health care freedom” the scoring method penalizes states for mandating community rating for insurance coverage. Community rating is where people who are lucky enough to have a pre-existing condition or long term health problem get subsidized health insurance from those who are unfortunate enough to be healthy.

        “These are effectively a form of price control that redistributes wealth from the healthy to the unhealthy and cost over $9.5 billion a year.”

        In the perfect libertarian world, anyone who had a major accident or was born with a genetic defect or tendency for cancer, heart disease, etc would have to pay a substantially or, actually a prohibitively high price for health care coverage.

        In other words: FOAD.

      • Steve Cearfoss April 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm | #

        Re he topic at hand: “. . . but I recognize that I have not moral right to use force to stop others from doing so.” Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 2, 2013 at 8:40 pm | #

        A homeless vagabond wants to be left alone — as opposed to rousted by the police.

        What does a libertarian want to do with him?

  10. mel March 29, 2013 at 1:09 am | #

    Reviewing the various categories and sub-categories it is clear that economic rather than social “freedoms” are the focus. Taxes are given their own place but are also weighted in other categories such as “Bachelor Party.” This leads to absurdities such as the relative rankings in “Bachelor Party” for Oregon (39) and Kentucky(22)/Tennessee(24). Kentucky and Tennessee may have lower taxes on the sale of (hard) alcohol but many counties in both states are dry. How does the Mercatus Center address this issue? Here is their take on Tennessee:

    “Taxes on wine and spirits are a bit below average, but the beer tax is the highest in the country.”

    And here is the Wikipedia summary of Alcohol laws in the same state:

    Or this factoid:

    “Despite being the location of a major operational distillery, Jack Daniel’s home county of Moore is a dry county, so the product is not available for consumption at stores or restaurants within the county.”

    But thank goodness the taxes are low.

    • Paul Rosenberg March 29, 2013 at 9:08 am | #

      Don’t forget, NO taxes on booze in a dry county!!! FREEEEEEEdumb!

    • Jack January 20, 2015 at 5:07 pm | #

      Good point. It seems to me that they are being selective in their interpretation of “libertarian”. Though there are some subjective areas, such as when life begins, it is pretty clear that some States have more individual freedoms than others. For example, in Nevada prostition is legal and there is no State income tax. I know it’s not scientific, but anyone who has been to Las Vegas would be hard pressed to say that it has fewer individual freedoms than North Dakota. Washington legalized Marijuana, and Oregon has legal assisted suicide but both ranked worse than North Dakota. I’m guessing it is easier to buy a gun in North Dakota, which this survey probably weighed strongly in their favor. I find gun control to be a “difficult” libertarian issue because of the threat to other people’s freedom because of what a gun can do…kill you. I don’t care if the guy next door smokes pot or hires a prostitute but I don’t want him to shoot me because he had a bad day.

  11. NewHavenGuy March 29, 2013 at 2:50 am | #

    To paraphrase Handsome Dick Manitoba, “What’s it all about/power and money”. A dumbass myself, I didn’t get how thoroughly and deeply the Right hates and fears women until a few years ago. All of a piece.

    Joking here: what’s red and yellow and looks good on a libertarian? Fire.

  12. Wire March 29, 2013 at 5:20 am | #
  13. Joe March 29, 2013 at 6:15 am | #

    It’s interesting that the Mercatus Center is happy to see Right to Work laws as purely a black and white issue. States are either free, if they have a RTW law, or unfree, if they don’t. There’s no suggestion that state governments banning companies and unions from negotiating Union shop contracts might be problematic from a libertarian perspective.

    • irtnog March 30, 2013 at 4:54 am | #

      Actually, there are a few libertarians who think that unions are idiotic, but that corporations should still have the right to limit their employment contracts to workers who joins unions. Granted, those libertarians are few and far between, and they think that such a self-limitation would be absurd, but they would still oppose right-to-work laws.

      • Joe March 30, 2013 at 5:53 pm | #

        When Michigan passed its right to work law last year a guy over at National Review tried to make the case that unions should only ever aim to represent those workers who voluntarily joined up. Some unions actually do this because it works better for them when they have no chance of winning an election. The problem is that the law doesn’t require employers to recognize and bargain with minority unions, only those that have won an election as the sole representative of the whole bargaining unit. I think libertarians who care about agency fees and union shops know exactly what the law says, but they never demand that it should require employers to bargain with minority unions.

        • Paul Rosenberg March 31, 2013 at 1:14 pm | #

          It’s ALWAYS a mistake to assume that libertarians know anything.

      • Joe March 30, 2013 at 7:16 pm | #

        Also, surely no libertarian sees unions as idiotic. Collective bargaining might offend their ideological sensibilities, but libertarians undoubtedly recognize that unions make perfect sense in terms of transforming the balance of power in a workplace.

  14. BarryB March 29, 2013 at 10:21 am | #

    Has anyone noticed the methodology for the “freedoms” defines “right to work” as a positive, since it brings money in to companies, and considers “tort law” a negative, since companies that are brought to state courts for legal infractions pass on (we’re told) the cost of their legal defenses to their customers? It’s really hardy to take the Mercatus folks seriously. This is simply another name for the Chamber of Commerce.

  15. BarryB March 29, 2013 at 10:25 am | #

    Has anyone noticed that they define right-to-work laws as being a positive in weighting one of their freedoms? And that states that more often take businesses to court for legal infractions are weighted negatively, since (we’re told) businesses must pass on the cost of their legal fees to their customers? It’s really hard to take stuff like this at all seriously. They might as well rename themselves The Chamber of Commerce at George Mason.

  16. Noah March 29, 2013 at 10:45 am | #

    I love how when analyzing my home state of Maryland, they grudgingly admit that Maryland recently legalized gay marriage, but then move on to bashing us for not having “right to work” laws and for regulating insurance markets.

  17. Benedict@Large March 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm | #

    I’ve always wondered about the libertarians and right-to-work laws (one of the metrics used in this study). Libertarians of course are all in favor of these laws, but this doesn’t seem to square with their number one love, the sanctity of contract. Right-to-work laws ban closed shop places of employment, but a closed shop is only established by a contractual agreement that is freely entered into by that workplace’s employer, who apparently believes that such a contract is in his/her best interests when they sign it.

    If libertarians really feel that contracts are sacred (and no one’s business except the contracting parties), how do they justify outlawing this one particular type of contract? This smacks of complete hypocrisy.

    • lumpkin March 29, 2013 at 10:07 pm | #

      It’s simple: libertarianism=corporatism. They are not “free market” they are pro-big business. Not surprising, considering who signs their paychecks.

    • Arkerless March 30, 2013 at 6:09 am | #

      This is factually incorrect. What’s objectionable about these ‘agreements’ is precisely that they are NOT freely entered into. Neither the employer nor the employees enter into these so-called contracts freely. Here’s a hint, when you have to pass and enforce legislation to get something to happen – that means it’s not happening voluntarily. Union membership in the US is not, in my experience, voluntary, it’s a requirement which you either capitulate to or you will not work.

      Even in ‘socialist’ Sweden I had a choice to join or not join the existing union, my job was in no jeopardy either way, and as a result that union actually offered useful services to pursuade me to join and pay my dues. The swedish educators union actually does offer useful services and membership is actually voluntary. However my experience with unions in the US is generally the opposite. They show up and take over, you join, give them money, and do what they say or you will be looking for a job. Membership in that case is not voluntary, it’s coërced.

      • Tim March 30, 2013 at 8:10 am | #

        Free riding is not the most impressive of acts a person can make in society, Arkerless. It’s a kind of freedom I suppose.

      • jonnybutter March 30, 2013 at 8:30 am | #

        What’s objectionable about these ‘agreements’ is precisely that they are NOT freely entered into. Neither the employer nor the employees enter into these so-called contracts freely.

        Democratic elections (e.g. to form a union) aren’t voluntary? Also, I’d love to hear some specifics about you in a job and having a union ‘show up and take over’ (‘generally’). Mentiroso.

      • Blinkenlights der Gutenberg April 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm | #

        The fact that you think that laws are required in order for unions to form totally disqualifies your opinion.

        You are totally ignorant of labor law, union history, etc..

  18. Paul Rosenberg March 30, 2013 at 10:33 am | #

    The real bottom line here, as exemplified by our glibertarian commentators, is that “libertarianism” as defined by ultra-conservative extractive industry elites is nowhere near any sort of viable SOCIAL philosophy. It’s epitomized by the fact that it gives men prostitutes, but doesn’t give women control over their own bodies–but that’s only the most salient indicator of how deeply anti-social it is at its core.

    The Kochs are the descendants of the handful of Texas oilmen whom Dwight D. Eisenhower referred to dismissively in his letter to his brother in which he said, in essence, that any party that devoted itself to undoing the New Deal would consign itself to oblivion. They & their fellow rightwing billionaires club have been trying to prove Ike wrong ever since. And their greatest triumph now looks to be that the death of the GOP will take the Dems & the nation as a whole down with them.

  19. macheath March 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm | #

    Libertarian moochers in North Dakota: North Dakota, between 1990 and 2009, got a surplus of $48.7 billion from the federal government over what North Dakota paid in federal taxes. Moochers. The libertarian paradise is being funded by transfer payments from taxpayers in other states.

    • Paul Rosenberg March 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm | #

      I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true overall. Blue states subsidize Red states, so it only stands to reason that a similar pattern would hold here.

  20. george April 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm | #

    Now let’s align this “freedom” map with a quality of life map. Whoops, can’t do that. Because you’d find that the “freest” states are some of the worst places to live based on educational attainment, infant mortality, health, etc.

    If Mercatus is intellectually honest, they’ll overlay one map with the other and see where libertarian “freedom” gets you.

  21. Alan Hertz April 3, 2013 at 2:50 am | #

    Isn’t George Mason a public, that is state-funded, university? How does that affect Virginia’s ranking in this competition, I wonder?

  22. jonnybutter April 8, 2013 at 7:14 am | #

    Smell the freedom.

    ” The envelope factory where Lisa Weber works is hot and noisy. A fan she brought from home helps her keep cool as she maneuvers around whirring equipment to make her quota: 750 envelopes an hour, up from 500 a few years ago.

    There’s no resting: Between the video cameras and the constant threat of layoffs, Weber knows she must always be on her toes.

    ….Video cameras and software keep tabs on worker performance, tracking their computer keystrokes and the time spent on each customer service call.”

    • jonnybutter April 8, 2013 at 7:16 am | #

      sorry, here’s the full story.

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