- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Freedom means different things to each of us, but in New Jersey, California and New York, shrinking personal and economic freedom means shrinking population. In the decade since 2001, New York has lost 9 percent of its population, California 4.5 percent, and New Jersey 5.6 percent.

Not every departure from the Empire, Golden and Garden States can be ascribed to a lack of personal or economic freedom, but items tracked by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University suggest a high correlation between the states that unreasonably tax and regulate their residents and the departure of residents to other places. According to the center’s new report on “Freedom in the 50 States,” North Dakota is the “freest” state in the nation. Not coincidentally, the North Dakota posted a population gain of 3 percent during the study period.Authors William P. Ruger and Jason Sorens give states bad marks for restrictions on things such as smoking and seat-belt requirements, along with the usual economic measures. New York gets its bottom-of-the-chart spot, 50th of the 50 states, with a dual bind of high taxes and high state debt: “New York has, by a wide margin, the highest taxes in the country: 14.0 percent of income ” the authors write. “New York is also the most indebted state, setting its own record high in FY 2010 at 33.2 percent of income.” It may be too late for the Empire to strike back.

California calls itself the Golden State, but a lot of that gold is property of the state. The state takes 10.8 percent of income, and debt stands at 25.8 percent; that’s why Nevada and Texas are rolling out the welcome mat for businesses looking to flee California. Texas, in fact, has been buying radio commercials to lure entrepreneurs and particularly those who appreciate the Second Amendment. Texas ranks No. 14 in the Sorens-Ruger study.

The research duo has few kind words for New Jersey, which “is a highly regulated state all-around, scoring near the bottom of the pack in both personal and economic freedom.” The years 2009 and 2010 saw a “bounce back” for freedom there, presumably a result of the work of Gov. Chris Christie. Nevertheless, Tony Soprano might consider relocating his waste management business: New Jersey’s taxes consume 11.2 percent of income.

So how did North Dakota, hot in summer and bleak in winter, a state not usually regarded as glamorous and fun like California or New York, make it to the top? It “scores exceptionally well on regulatory and fiscal policy. Moreover, it scores slightly above average on personal freedom. It is also the state that improved the most over the last decade.” Taxes and debt are low, although the state’s “bloated” payroll, Ruger and Sorens say, could use some trimming.

There’s a lesson here: States with lower taxes and less regulation do well, those that try to fence in its people and businesses suffer. Maryland ranks 44th on the list, by the way, versus eighth place for Virginia. The oppressed can only hope that leaders in some of these benighted states are listening. They ought to be.

The Washington Times