The most free state in the United States: does it matter?

Written by Andrew Henderson

Dateline: Chicago, United States

I’ve always loved lists.

Even as a teenager, I would read the annual Index of Economic Freedom and marvel at the freedom a place like Hong Kong offered as the world’s freest economy.

And while the United States was ranked the best place to be born during my youth, economic freedom in the United States and most of the west has been on a steady decline ever since I was born.

This site is all about finding opportunities beyond borders; it’s my goal to encourage you to find freedom wherever it may be and actually take action to obtain that freedom.

Yesterday, I shared a story about several entrepreneurs who unwittingly proved that California is indeed the worst place in the world to start a business.

If you’re living in California, I can only recommend to get out. Even if you can’t move overseas yet, get out of California and escape its communist ways.

Taking a small step toward freedom by moving anywhere that doesn’t want to wring you dry in the most egregious way – even by government standards – is a step worth taking.

But while lowering your tax bill and getting out from under endless regulation and bureaucracy is a good thing, I still believe that escaping California and moving to Nevada, for instance, still leaves you in a very vulnerable position.

The other day, I came across a list compiled by George Mason University, which attempted to rank each state in the United States according to freedom.

The study claims:

“We score all 50 states on over 200 policies encompassing fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom. We weight public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims.”

Scoring at the top of the list were North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and New Hampshire. Considering that New Hampshire is the home of the libertarian, yet patriotic, Free State Project, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised.

Nor am I surprised that New York, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island are four of the least free states in the country.

If you live in one of these places, you ought to get out while you plan your next move, because those governments will continue to bleed you dry.

However, when I examine the stated mission of the study, I have to find fault with the entire concept of determining the freest states in the United States.

After all, the US federal government imposes plenty of restrictions on US citizens no matter where they live. Heck, there are seven million (probably more) expats paying taxes without even living in the country; do you think people stateside get treated any better?

So no matter which state you live in, you’re subjected to the federal government’s whims.

Even if you live in a state that charges no state income tax, you still must contend with US federal income tax rates as high as forty percent…

Social Security and Medicare taxes as high as 15.3% if you’re self-employed…

Obamacare taxes as retribution for your daring to investment in companies and generate wealth. The list goes on…

As an example, while I’ve always had respect for folks in the Free State Project, I don’t share their premise that a few thousand people moving to New Hampshire will let them change that state, let alone the federal government.

Too many folks are complaining the Constitution isn’t being followed as it is. Why change a broken system? Better yet, HOW can you change a broken system?

You can build as much freedom in one state as you can, but the federal government can come in and wipe it out with the stroke of pen. Even without the stroke of a pen.

Just look at how the DEA has responded to states that legalize marijuana or other drugs. You can cry “states’ rights” all you want; the feds will do whatever they wish and claim the moral authority to do so.

It’s not California or New Jersey that’s conjuring $75 billion a month out of thin air. They can’t print currency (although they’d love to, I’m sure). That’s the federal government.

It’s not New York or Hawaii that’s droning people. That’s the federal government.

It’s not Illinois – another top contender for lack of freedom – that’s mandating Gestapo agents to stick their hands down your pants at the airport. That’s the federal government.

You can go live in North Dakota – purportedly the most free state in the union – but none of that will change.

I understand that some of those things don’t effect you on a pragmatic level. We all have to observe our own self-interest. But to ignore the violation of someone else’s freedom and then expect something different when it comes to yours is akin to asking the scorpion why he stung the toad.

To the contrary, bad policy directed by the unaccountable federal government could completely screw up the freedom and opportunity available in a state like North Dakota, which is largely dependent on energy.

Obama and his pals can easily impose new restrictions on energy production the next time they want to kowtow to their environmentalist buddies. Imagine how much progress in North Dakota could be wiped out in an instant.

As much as the folks in North Dakota are reveling in 13% GDP growth, they’re not in control of their own destiny. Not even close.

I’d much rather live and invest in a place that legitimately values that which makes their economy and freedoms grow. There are countries around the world that could only dream of having the natural resources the United States has, and aren’t about to chase out the money behind whatever business is driving their economy.

Countries like Georgia will be the next Singapore, not some big behemoth of a nation.

On top of that, North Dakota isn’t exactly a clear winner. While it is ranked number one for overall freedom, it only ranks twentieth for personal freedom. There are plenty of countries in Europe, Asia, and South America where governments don’t even have the time of resources to infringe of your personal freedoms.

Living in the best house in a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood isn’t my idea of safety. Nor is living anywhere in a totalitarian country on the verge of economic irrelevance my idea of freedom.

Andrew Henderson
Last updated: Dec 2, 2015 at 7:21PM

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  1. Pete Sisco

    In North Dakota the Polar Vortex is a way of life. Haha.

    But that aside, everything you own and build is still subject to Federal control and seizure so calling it ‘Free’ is pretty hollow. Hey, what’s the freest city in North Korea?

    • Nomad Capitalist

      Good point. Even if you don’t consider that governments “excuse” themselves from laws they find inconvenient, North Dakota and any other “free” state is still subject to all of the madness from Washington. Any federal policy can reduce your free, your local investment returns, etc. One stroke of Obama’s pen to shut down some pipeline or make energy more expensive and you suffer.