Some scholars at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center have compiled an assessment of the personal and economic freedom enjoyed by residents of each state. Similar studies from Cato, Heritage, and other groups have ranked various nations based on their economic freedom, but this is the first ranking of the states.
As indicators of personal freedom, the Mercatus study considers such things as marijuana, alcohol, smoking, and similar laws. As indicators of economic freedom, the study considers such things as land-use regulation, regulation or deregulation of such industries as cable television, natural gas, telecommunications, and health insurance. Each of these indicators is assigned a score (e.g., 1 if the state has a smart-growth law, 0 if it does not), which is then weighted somehow against the other indicators. The economic and personal freedom indices each rely on close to 150 different indicators, many of which are themselves summaries of several other indicators.
When the weighted results are totaled up, the personal freedom index ranges from about 0.40 (for South Dakota) to minus 0.59 (for New York), with positive meaning more free and negative less. The economic freedom index ranges from 0.27 (for Alaska) to minus 0.29 (for Maryland). When added together, New Hampshire has the most overall freedom (with a score of 0.43) and New York the least (with a score of minus 0.77).