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Belief in freedom of the will has many beneficial consequences. Lab experiments have shown that people reading deterministic, anti-free will statements are more likely subsequently to cheat in their own favor. Researchers have even identified some of the chemical processes in the brain associated with diminished belief in free will:

Since the publication of these findings, a number of studies have documented additional anti-social behaviors resulting from discouraging a belief in free will. For example, Baumeister and colleagues demonstrated that discouraging a belief in free will leads to less helping, more aggression, more mindless conformity, less feeling of guilt, less learning of moral lessons from one’s misdeeds, and less counterfactual thinking about how one might have behaved better.

Other studies have begun to reveal the mechanisms underpinning these behavioral effects. For example, Rigoni and colleagues found that discouraging a belief in free will reduces a specific signal of the brain’s electrical activity (the “readiness potential,” as measured by electroencephalography) known to be associated with the preparation of intentional action. In recent studies conducted in my laboratory, we found that discouraging a belief in free will can reduce people’s belief in their capacity to effectively engage in mental control.

Philosophers have long debated whether moral responsibility requires a belief in freedom of the will. The case in favor holds that “ought implies can.” We only have the obligation to do things that it is under our power to do. Therefore, if it is not under our power to acbrain_regionst otherwise, we cannot have any obligation to do so. Apparently, this view is widespread.

Belief in free will may also have desirable political externalities. Determinist pragmatist John Dewey claimed that bad, old liberalism (what we here at Pileus would consider the good kind) was based on a misguided metaphysics of free will plus outdated social and economic models:

Insistence upon a metaphysical freedom of will is generally at its most strident pitch with those who despise knowledge of matters-of-fact. They pay for their contempt by halting and confined action. Glorification of freedom in general at the expensive of positive abilities in particular has often characterized the official creed of historic liberalism. Its outward sign is the separation of politics and law from economics. Much of what is called the “individualism” of the early nineteenth century has in truth little to do with the nature of individuals. It goes back to a metaphysics which held that harmony between man and nature can be taken for granted, if once certain artificial restrictions upon man are removed. Hence it neglected the necessity of studying and regulating industrial conditions so that a nominal freedom can be made an actuality. Find a man who believes that all men need is freedom from oppressive legal and political measures, and you have found a man who, unless he is merely obstinately maintaining his own private privileges, carries at the back of his head some heritage of the metaphysical doctrine of free-will, plus an optimistic confidence in natural harmony.

Source: John Dewey on Education, ed. Reginald D. Archambault (U of Chicago P), pp. 82-83

What a classic statement of turn-of-the-last-century pragmatist progressivism! What confidence in the ability of “politics and law” to “regulat[e] industrial conditions,” and in the obsolescence of “historic” traditions and beliefs!

Something of this view persists in modern-day progressivism as well. John Rawls’ difference principle, which is typically taken to justify a redistributive state, is based on the notion that no one deserves what she earns in the market, since differential skills, talents, work ethic, and even moral character are all unearned and therefore “arbitrary from a moral point of view.” We can throw all the outcomes of those characteristics into a big social pot and then reason about what to do with that pot.

Law professor John Pfaff makes a similar argument in defense of the PPACA:

Likely part of our opposition to viewing health care as a social good stems from the deep-seated libertarianism that runs through much of our political discourse. (It seems fair to say that even the American left is more libertarian than its European counterparts.) We view our money as our own (“I built it!”), and so if someone wants to take it—to, say, provide insurance for the less well-off—the justification burden is high. But there are two problems with that argument, one general and one perhaps more specific to health care issues.

More generally, our liberatarianism is likely tied to our perceptions that our economy is a meritocracy. Of course, we grossly overstate the degree of intergenerational mobility (the “American Dream” is more alive in Sweden than here), but there is an even deeper problem with the libertarian/meritocratic perspective: to a perhaps-disturbing degree, meritocracies reward generic lotteries.

In our economy, smart people rise to the top, but those smart people didn’t earn their intelligence, they were born with it. And to the extent that it was nurtured and cultured, that is due to their parents (since the returns on education are greatest when we are quite young, and thus before we are making many decisions on our own). And that work ethic? Again, significantly genetic and parental.

It’s true: you really didn’t build it, or at least not all of it. Which isn’t to argue for some sort of completely-leveling socialist state. Incentives are important, and those who take risks need rewards to compensate them. But once we realize that meritocracies are largely genetic and birth-parent lotteries, the moral claim on wealth becomes a bit weaker on the margin, and the moral argument for taking care of the less-lucky-in-birth becomes stronger.

But what happens to people who believe that everything about them, down to their own work ethic and their moral character, is unearned? According to psychology experiments, they slack off. They lie, cheat, and steal. And they vote for big government.

By contrast, conscientiousness, which depends on a strong belief in one’s own efficacy, correlates strongly with academic and economic success. I can’t help but wonder whether this might be an omitted variable driving an observed correlation between income and voting behavior, controlling for education, in Western democracies. Higher-income people are more economically liberal in the “historic” sense. I doubt that is due to selfishness so much as a belief that everyone can do better by trying harder. That belief drives both classical liberalism and success in life.

So the question is: Is freedom of the will a noble lie? I argue that it’s not. (more…)

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On Saturday I moved with my family to Lebanon, New Hampshire. I am teaching for a year in the Government Department at Dartmouth College. Although my reasons for leaving my tenure-track job at Buffalo were several, I decided last year to apply almost exclusively to jobs in New England so that I could fulfill (early) my Free State Project commitment.

Fifty-nine people greeted us when we arrived at our new home, unloaded the truck in 20 minutes, and then held a party. The welcome we got exemplifies the reasons why we decided to take the risk of leaving a tenure-track job for a future in New Hampshire. Even though our decision may very well require a career change for me in a year’s time, we do not consider it to be a “sacrifice for the cause.” Our move is fundamentally self-interested.

The things that really matter in life are family, friends, community, a sense of purpose. Financial security is secondary. In the United States today, we enjoy unparalleled wealth, access to technologies inconceivable until just a few decades ago. There is much that we can give up financially while still enjoying a decent life.

We moved from a 3,000-square-foot house in Buffalo to a 1,100-square-foot apartment in Lebanon. We gave up our TV, our stereo system, and most of our furniture. Adjusting for cost of living and benefits, my real earnings have already declined significantly. The variance in our expected future earnings has increased dramatically. But my daughter also played in a river for the first time, throwing rocks and trying to catch tadpoles. We can walk to the

The view from our living room

The view from our living room

town green. You can see the stars at night and the hills of the Upper Connecticut River Valley during the day. Most importantly of all, we’re participating in a historic effort to create a society of free and responsible individuals, which would be an impossible dream almost anywhere else.

To be sure, we also left a few good friends in Buffalo, and that was hard. I understand why libertarians with strong local family and friend connections do not move to New Hampshire. But we didn’t have such long-term connections anywhere else, apart from those few good friends.

I also understand why libertarians who are promoting the cause in their own careers would see a career change and a move to New Hampshire as a step back. But most of what I have done as an academic does not promote liberty directly, and I have come to question seriously the (more…)

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My marriage is a sacred compact between my wife and me before God. No law, proposition, or court decision can ever change that. The government’s recognition of my marriage did not make it the sacred compact that it is; the government’s recognition of anyone else’s relationship does not affect what mine is; and no legal definition or redefinition of any term touches it in the least.

To paraphrase Psalm 27: Whom, then, shall I fear?

The recent Supreme Court decision did not redefine Christian marriage, because no court could ever do so even if it wanted to. For a Christian, a marriage was and remains a sacrament before God between a man and a woman, and its authorities derive from sources other than, indeed beyond, those of the state. The fact that others have different conceptions of marriage, or that some want to call a relationship a “marriage” that a Christian does not recognize as counting as a “marriage,” is, frankly, irrelevant. I am thankful to live in a country where we do not have to agree on everything in order to live with one another peacefully and respectfully.

It is beyond passing strange, however, that some of the same Christians so vehemently resisting the Affordable Care Act’s decrees that violate their religious freedom—and they are right to do so, in my view—are among those so anxious to have the government validate their religiously based conception of marriage. As Albert Jay Nock reminded us, whatever power you give the government to do something for you, you give it also to do something to you. You lose your right to complain when the government you have empowered and supported when it aligned with your worldview then decides to stray from your worldview and begins employing the power you gave it in the service of other ends. As the saying goes, government is, like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master: You should have known what deal you were making. 

The solution, it seems to me, is to return to the beginning: We must recognize freedom of religion, and the freedom of conscience it implies, as our first freedom, and abolish all government connection to it. No special favors, no legal protections, and no legal restrictions. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” as a wise man said a long time ago.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this affair, however, is the incredible speed with which public opinion changed on the subject of same-sex marriage. Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act passed overwhelmingly (342–67 in the House; 85–14 in the Senate), enjoyed broad bipartisan support (even among many who subsequently called for its repeal and who now applaud the Supreme Court’s decision), and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who also later decided to oppose it). And all that happened only in 1996. Contemplate for a moment that in the compass of just seventeen years, our culture went from broad and deep opposition to same-sex marriage to not only support for legalizing same-sex marriage but finding it obvious, even self-evident, that it should be legal and assuming that any opposition to it could come only from gross stupidity or blind bigotry—or both. I cannot think of another complete cultural about-face of this speed and magnitude.

In light of these recent events, I say to those who are disheartened by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA: take heart! You now have the opportunity to witness to the world what your conception of marriage is not by relying on statutory props but by living your conception. Have the marriage you espouse; be the parents you extol; live the life you preach. Do not underestimate the power of personal example.

Moreover, if our culture can change this quickly about one matter, it can change this quickly about other matters as well. Perhaps this decision, along with other recent government mischief, can awaken from its dogmatic slumbers the American spirit of liberty—a spirit, that is, that once chafed not only at one or another particular invasion of conscience and privacy, but at invasions of conscience and privacy generally. Lord knows there remain many threats to our liberties to which a revivified love of personal choice and freedom could fruitfully turn its jealous scrutiny.

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This post will illustrate how users can customize the freedom index according to their own judgments about how various policies affect freedom. In particular, it will show how the weighting for tax burden can be significantly reduced and explores the consequences of this choice. It will also discuss briefly how abortion policies might be included in a customized index. Readers interested in customizing the freedom index should download the weighting spreadsheet at freedominthe50states.org.

Weighting Taxation

The freedom index “weights” each policy variable by the dollar-terms amount of benefit received by victims of government intervention from a one-standard-deviation, nationwide shift in the variable in a freer direction. So the weight for taxation is simply the number of dollars represented by a one-standard-deviation shift in state and local tax burden as a percentage of personal income. The mean of tax burden is 0.095 (9.5% of personal income). The standard deviation is 0.0124. Therefore, the weight of the variable in the index is 0.0124 times national personal income, which was $12.357 trillion in 2010: $153.1 billion. That ends up being worth 28.6% of the total weights for all variables in the index.

That’s a lot. The numbers don’t lie, but we do note in the text one reason why this number may actually overestimate the true “loss of freedom” caused by taxation:

This index’s weight for tax burden assumes that all taxes take away freedom. But in fact some taxpayers consent to at least some of the taxes that they pay, as long as the taxes are legal and generally paid by others. Therefore, taxation is not wholly a violation of their freedom, as “freedom” is defined above. However, most criminal justice policies do not operate along these lines. For instance, an imprisoned drug possessor is no more likely to consent to being confined if others are as well, and a driver fined for not wearing a seat belt does not usually consent to being fined if others are, and so on.

Rather than trying to figure out how much of the observed taxation truly represents a diminution of freedom, this study uses aggressive estimates of the value of freedom from taxation and other fiscal policy measures, and then boosts the weighting of certain personal freedoms and economic regulations, as explained in the relevant sections below. The point is to make sure that the index is using an equally aggressive method for estimating the values of all the different freedoms it covers.

Now, one might believe that we have not gone far enough to adjust for this problem, and indeed that is the whole point of putting the spreadsheet online and encouraging reader customization. The freedom index as it currently stands is in some ways a libertarian’s index. If you think that all taxation diminishes freedom, you will like the weight it enjoys in the published study.

But what if you are a philosophically sophisticated progressive or “liberaltarian,” who does not have any personal issue with taxation, but who nevertheless thinks that negative liberty is part of justice, and that the costs that others associate with taxation are worth taking into account. What weight should you put on tax burden?

Let’s assume that the current tax burden in each state represents the ideal point of the median voter. Positive theories of democracy would suggest that this is as good a guess about where public opinion lies as any. Then 50% of voters would prefer a higher tax burden (and the services it would finance), and 50% would prefer a lower tax burden. Right away, we can slash the tax burden weight in half, because 50% of voters nationally would not see the taxes they currently pay as any diminution of their freedom at all. Now, this move assumes that the median-dollar taxpayer is the same as the median voter. That is unlikely to be the case. In fact, the median-dollar taxpayer is likely to be somewhat wealthier than the median voter and thus more ideologically conservative and more hostile to taxation. Thus, if anything, slashing tax burden in half on these grounds is somewhat too aggressive.

But we’re not done yet. Of the 50% of voters/taxpayers who would prefer a lower tax burden, most of them would not see all of the taxes they pay as a diminution of their freedom. That is, they would be fully willing to pay a lower tax burden that is greater than zero. To illustrate the logic, assume a normal probability density function over possible tax burdens, as follows:
normal
On the X axis is tax burden, and on the Y axis is the proportion of the population corresponding to a particular view on tax burden. Fifty percent of the curve lies to the left or right of the mean of the tax burden distribution, which is 9.5, the actual national mean of state and local tax burden. (I have drawn the curve under the assumption of a standard deviation of 2.375, a fourth of the mean, but nothing that follows hinges on this assumption. Note that the standard deviation of voters’ views on taxation should be significantly greater than the standard deviation of actual state tax burdens, because each state tax burden roughly represents a median of a distribution.)

Now, what are the losses experienced by those who prefer a lower tax burden than what currently exists in their state? The loss curve will look like a mirror image of the left side of the normal density function. Those who want zero taxation will see all 9.5% of income taxed away as a loss of freedom. Those who want taxation of 2.5% of income will see 7% of income taxed away as a loss of freedom. And so on. Because the loss function is a mirror image of the probability density function, the area under the loss curve is also 0.5. So only 4.75% of personal income, in total, is a loss to those who prefer lower taxation. We can divide tax burden’s weight by two again, or by four in total.

The way to do this in the weighting spreadsheet is as follows. On the 2001-2011 worksheet, you can find all the standard deviations and weights of the variables in column GW. The weight for tax burden (“ainctot3″) is in cell GW10. You can divide the value there by four to create a new weight. All the other weighting cells automatically recalculate, and you now see in cell GV10 that tax burden is now worth just 9.19% of the index. (Why not one-fourth of 28%? Because reducing taxation’s weight also reduces the sum of all weights.) Fiscal policy as a whole is now worth just 17% of overall freedom, while personal freedom is 42%, and regulatory policy is 41%.

Note that all of the measures we took to boost personal freedom in the study remain in place, so this approach really does aggressively reduce the importance of taxation. I’ll call this new, nerfed-taxation index “Sandals,” as contrasted with the published index, which I’ll call “Suits.” How do the rankings of states differ between “Suits” and “Sandals”? See the table below.

“Suits” “Sandals”
1. North Dakota 1. North Dakota
2. South Dakota 2. Indiana
3. Tennessee 3. New Hampshire
4. New Hampshire 4. Tennessee
5. Oklahoma 5. Nevada
6. Idaho 6. South Dakota
7. Missouri 7. Utah
8. Virginia 8. Iowa
9. Georgia 9. Delaware
10. Utah 10. Georgia
11. Arizona 11. Idaho
12. Montana 12. Nebraska
13. Alaska 13. Virginia
14. Texas 14. Missouri
15. South Carolina 15. Kansas
16. Indiana 16. Arizona
17. Delaware 17. Colorado
18. Alabama 18. Oklahoma
19. Colorado 19. North Carolina
20. Nevada 20. Alaska
21. New Mexico 21. Maine
22. Nebraska 22. Texas
23. Florida 23. South Carolina
24. North Carolina 24. Minnesota
25. Iowa 25. Wyoming
26. Kansas 26. Massachusetts
27. Kentucky 27. Oregon
28. Oregon 28. Montana
29. Washington 29. Florida
30. Massachusetts 30. Ohio
31. Pennsylvania 31. Pennsylvania
32. Arkansas 32. Wisconsin
33. Ohio 33. New Mexico
34. Minnesota 34. Kentucky
35. Michigan 35. Vermont
36. Wyoming 36. Washington
37. Louisiana 37. Michigan
38. Wisconsin 38. Connecticut
39. Maine 39. Arkansas
40. Connecticut 40. Alabama
41. Mississippi 41. Rhode Island
42. West Virginia 42. Louisiana
43. Vermont 43. Maryland
44. Maryland 44. West Virginia
45. Illinois 45. Hawaii
46. Rhode Island 46. Illinois
47. Hawaii 47. Mississippi
48. New Jersey 48. New Jersey
49. California 49. California
50. New York 50. New York

The two rankings still look pretty similar! Three of the same states are in the top five in both indices, and the bottom three are identical as well. Indiana moves up from #16 to #2 between “Suits” and “Sandals,” and Nevada moves up from #20 to #5. Meanwhile, Oklahoma falls from #5 to #18, and Alabama falls from #18 to #40. But those are some of the biggest changes in rank; most states stay in a pretty similar location. It turns out that even a left-leaning index of negative liberty puts red and purple states at the top and deep blue states at the bottom.

Including Abortion

Abortion policies have to be imported from another spreadsheet in order to be included in the freedom index. A little more Excel mastery is helpful here. The abortion policy spreadsheet is available at statepolicyindex.com (p_abor_11.xls).

Now, there are a few things to note about state abortion laws. Most state abortion laws that are actually enforced do not do much to limit first- and second-trimester abortions. Because of Roe v. Wade, states do not have the right to prohibit abortions before fetal viability. However, some abortion policies we code, like requiring that only licensed physicians perform abortions, requiring that abortions be performed in a hospital, restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, and imposing waiting periods for abortions, can raise the effective cost of getting even an early abortion. Some pro-choicers, particularly libertarians, might well see certain state restrictions, such as prohibiting Medicaid funding for abortions, restricting partial-birth and late-term abortions, and requiring parental notification for minors’ abortions, as justifiable.

The variable “pabor” gives a summary indicator of state abortion laws based on principal component analysis. It is available only for 2006-2010 because one of the constituent variables is unavailable for 2000. States scoring higher on “pabor” have more abortion restrictions, including limits on public funding. To insert the variable into the freedom index, simply create two new rows in the freedom index spreadsheet and paste the “pabor” values into the first row (values/transpose). Since abortion laws affect personal freedoms on any interpretation, you may wish to include abortion policies with the personal freedoms, for instance on rows 139 and 140. You may wish to carry 2006/7 values back to 2001.

Next, you need to adjust the raw values of “pabor” to put them on a standardized scale with other variables. Every other row of the spreadsheet consists of these adjusted values. The adjusted values lie right below the raw values of each policy variable. If you think fewer abortion restrictions enhance freedom, then you think that higher values on “pabor” are worse. Find another variable like that — “tpubfin” is an example on rows 125-126. You can copy and paste the formula for adjusted “tpubfin” values to adjust the “pabor” values. If you think fewer abortion restrictions threaten freedom, then you think that higher values on “pabor” are better. Find another variable like that — “tgprp” on rows 133-134 is an example. Copy and paste the “adjusted” row.

Next, make sure that the mean and standard deviation of the variable are calculated in columns GV and GW. Below the mean and standard deviation are the weights. For the purposes of this exercise, I’ll give abortion a weight equal to same-sex partnerships, about $10.4 billion. Make sure that the percentage weight is calculated in column GV by copying and pasting one of the bolded percentage weights from another variable (it doesn’t matter which). Also make sure that the summed weights is updated by changing the formula at the bottom of column GW (row 243 after inserting two rows for abortion). Make sure that the dollar weight for abortion laws is included.

Finally, update the personal freedom scores. For instance, go into GU143 and type at the end of the parenthetical expression: “+GU140*$GV140″ (without quotes). That updates Wyoming’s score. Then just drag the formula all the way to the left. Personal freedom scores are all updated, and overall freedom updates automatically.

Now what does the freedom ranking look like? I’ve taken the steps to create a pro-choice ranking that also nerfs taxation. Here it is:

Pro-Choice Sandals
1. New Hampshire
2. North Dakota
3. Indiana
4. Tennessee
5. Nevada
6. Delaware
7. South Dakota
8. Iowa
9. Utah
10. Nebraska
11. Georgia
12. Idaho
13. Virginia
14. Colorado
15. Kansas
16. Arizona
17. Alaska
18. Missouri
19. North Carolina
20. Oklahoma
21. Maine
22. Texas
23. Oregon
24. South Carolina
25. Wyoming
26. Minnesota
27. Montana
28. Massachusetts
29. New Mexico
30. Florida
31. Vermont
32. Ohio
33. Pennsylvania
34. Wisconsin
35. Washington
36. Kentucky
37. Michigan
38. Connecticut
39. Arkansas
40. Alabama
41. Rhode Island
42. West Virginia
43. Maryland
44. Hawaii
45. Louisiana
46. Illinois
47. Mississippi
48. New Jersey
49. California
50. New York

Not all that different. I’ve taken all the assumptions most favorable to a “liberaltarian” conception of negative liberty, and most states do not jump or fall very many places in the ranking. I don’t say this to tweak liberaltarians, but to point out how robust the freedom ranking is to even drastic changes of assumptions. It’s such a big dataset that seemingly big changes have small effects on the end result. New York, California, and New Jersey really are the most regulated states, no matter how you slice it. The Dakotas, Tennessee, and New Hampshire really are among the least regulated states. “Conservatarians” may be distressed by the low placement of states like Mississippi, West Virginia, and Louisiana in the published index. My guess is that the freedom ranking will be equally robust to changes in more right-wing direction, such as by nerfing many of the bonuses we gave to personal freedom variables, including abortion restrictions as a plus for freedom, and so on.

Although the freedom index is reasonably robust to changing assumptions about which freedoms matter how much, we still encourage readers to tinker with customizing the index. For one thing, very radical changes may well have radical effects. If you are interested in marijuana laws and business regulations but not at all in taxation, gun laws, or tobacco laws, your freedom index might look quite different after all. Our freedom index is tailored to the “average American” adversely affected by government intervention, but the “average American” is a statistical construct that probably corresponds to no actual person.

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The new, book-length edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom will be released on March 28 by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. In the days leading up to release, I will be “teasing” a few of the novel findings and methods from the study. Here at Pileus, I’ve already posted a couple of teasers over the past few months, linked here:

This post will explain the logic and method behind the weighting scheme in the new edition. Every index of freedom has to use some way of weighting its variables to come up with an aggregate measure of freedom. The Heritage Foundation’s “Index of Economic Freedom” and Fraser Institute’s “Economic Freedom of the World” and “Economic Freedom of North America” essentially weight each variable equally, either within categories that are themselves weighted equally in the overall index (Fraser) or across the index as a whole (Heritage). The most commonly used international indices of democracy, Polity IV and Freedom House, and the first two editions of Freedom in the 50 States use “arbitrary” weights, that is, the researchers weight the categories according to their own judgment using general criteria.

We were unsatisfied with all of these approaches, as well as with inductive statistical alternatives known as “principal component analysis” and “factor analysis.” Here is how we put the case in the book:

Because we want to score states on composite indices of freedom, we need some way of “weighting” and aggregating individual policies. One popular method for aggregating policies is “factor” or “principal component” analysis, which weights variables according to how much they contribute to the common variance—that is, how well they correlate with other variables.

Factor analysis is equivalent to letting politicians weight the variables, because correlations among variables across states will reflect the ways that lawmakers systematically prioritize certain policies. Of course, partisan politics is not always consistent with freedom (e.g., states strong on gun rights tend to be weak on gay rights). The index resulting from factor analysis would be an index of “policy ideology,” not freedom.

Another approach, employed in the Fraser Institute’s “Economic Freedom of North America,” is to weight each category equally, and then to weight variables within each category equally. Of course, this approach assumes that the variance observed within each category and each variable is equally important. In the large dataset used for the freedom index, such an assumption would be wildly implausible. We feel confident that, for instance, tax burden should be weighted more heavily than court decisions mandating that private malls or universities allow political speech.

Previous versions of this index used a subjective weighting system, based on a rough assessment of the importance of each policy in terms of the number of people affected and the value they were likely to place on their infringed freedom. We were dissatisfied with the imprecise and subjective manner in which we constructed those weights, and for this edition we have tried to use a much more objective and independent measure of the “value” of each freedom.

The new, “objective” method of weighting variables is what we call the “freedom value” approach. Here is how we describe it: (more…)

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That’s the title of a new book from America’s Cato Institute, Canada’s Fraser Institute, and Germany’s Liberales Institut, which aims to create an index of personal freedom around the world. This is a welcome addition to the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom, and I dare suspect that William Ruger’s and my personal and economic freedom index of the American states, published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, might have something to do with inspiring it. I haven’t read the new study yet but look forward to doing so.

HT: Pete Jaworski

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Pileus‘s own Jason Sorens is, among many other things, the founder of the Free State Project. The FSP is an initiative that aims to put the convictions of people who talk about individual liberty to the test. Its proposal is based on the straightforward premise that a relatively small number of committed and organized activists can effect disproportionately large political change in their communities. More specifically, the FSP suggests that if 20,000 “liberty-loving people” were all to move to a state of relatively small population, their concentrated efforts could enlarge the scope of liberty in that state, perhaps even making it a genuine home of liberty.

After a somewhat contentious vote several years ago, the FSP decided that New Hampshire—of “Live Free or Die” fame—would be their liberty mecca. (Wyoming came in second.) If you sign on to the FSP’s initiative, here is what you agree to: If and when the total signatories on the FSP’s pledge reaches 20,000,

I hereby state my solemn intent to move to the state of New Hampshire. Once there, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.

Some people are excited enough about the prospects—and, no doubt, depressed and frustrated enough about the decline of liberty elsewhere—that they are not waiting for the full 20,000 signatories: As of today, 1,117 FSP pledges have already moved to New Hampshire.

Why New Hampshire? Lots of reasons. The FSP actually gives you a list of “101 Reasons You Should Move to New Hampshire (If You Love Liberty).” Here is another reason: In the most recent edition of the “Freedom in the 50 States” report, co-authored by Sorens himself along with William Ruger, and published in 2011, New Hampshire comes out on top: The Granite State ranks #2 in “economic freedom,” #11 in “personal freedom,” and yet #1 in the combined “overall” ranking.

I find the prospects of making New Hampshire the Hong Kong of America intriguing, even inspiring. When the United States is spending itself into debt oblivion—something like the Nicolas Cage character in Leaving Las Vegas, we seem to be thinking that it’s all over anyway so we might as well drink ourselves all the way to death—and when government regulation is pouring out of Washington like the Mississippi over the levees in New Orleans after Katrina, the idea of an island of freedom amid a sea of bleak oppression has its attractions.

Even supposing 20,000 liberty-loving people would move to New Hampshire, however, I have reasons to worry about the likelihood of success of the FSP. Let me list a few here. I preface them by saying that I hope I am wrong about how worrisome they are. I too want a world for my children and grandchildren in which they are not slaves to government debt and regulation.

1. I have heard whispers that in the next edition of Sorens’s and Ruger’s “Freedom in the 50 States,” which I understand is due out in the Spring of 2013, New Hampshire no longer retains its #1 overall ranking—and that it might indeed slip several spots. (Perhaps neither Sorens nor Ruger cares to confirm or disconfirm this now, but I would be happy to have them do so if they wish.)

2. In the recently released Economic Freedom of North America 2012, which includes most of the provinces of Canada along with the States of America, New Hampshire lands in a disappointing sixteenth place, behind Alaska and above North Carolina. The EFNA report scores New Hampshire particularly low (a) on Social Security payments as a percentage of GDP (NH gets a 5.1 out of a possible 10 on this, 10 being highest), (b) on total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (5.6 out of 10), and (c) on indirect tax revenue as a percentage of GDP (a dismal 3.0 out of 10).

3. CNBC recently published its list of “America’s Top States for Business 2012,” and New Hampshire’s spot is again disappointing: nineteenth—embarrassingly, behind Oregon and ahead of Arkansas.

4. Only today I saw this report from Wired that public buses in many metropolitan systems in America are starting to install listening devices with their surveillance systems, so that they can secretly record private conversations. Which metropolitan systems? You will not be surprised that it includes San Francisco and Baltimore; more surprising, perhaps, are smaller cities like Traverse City, Michigan and Athens, Georgia; but this I found both shocking and disappointing: “Concord, New Hampshire also used part of a $1.2 million economic stimulus grant to install its new video/audio surveillance system on buses.” That is wrong for so many reasons.

I also have more general reasons to doubt the possibility of the FSP’s success that are less directly dependent on having chosen New Hampshire as opposed to any state. Perhaps I will outline them in the future.

In addition to my caution that I hope I am wrong about the chances of FSP’s success in New Hampshire, I would also hasten to add that none of these worries entails that one should not still make the attempt. Even if one is certain of failure, some causes are worth fighting for regardless. If one is not willing to fight for liberty and prosperity, even against depressingly long odds, then what on earth would one fight for? One does what one can. One fights for liberty and against oppression, whatever the odds, leaving the rest in God’s hands.

Can New Hampshire be the place?

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Here is what my coauthor William Ruger and I wrote about New Hampshire in the 2011 edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom:

New Hampshire is by our count the freest state in the country. Depending on weights, however, it really shares the slot with South Dakota. New Hampshire does much better on economic than personal freedom and on fiscal than regulatory policy. Under unified Democratic control in 2007-8, the state saw a respectable increase in freedom. A smoking ban was enacted, but so were same-sex civil unions. Taxes, spending, and fiscal decentralization remain over a standard deviation better than average, and government debt actually went down slightly.

We are going to write something very different in the 2013 edition, coming out early next year. The 2009-10 legislature, also under unified Democratic control, went on a spending and tax-hiking binge. They did this even as states like North and South Dakota were already strengthening market-friendly policies in many areas. As a result, New Hampshire will no longer be the freest state in the country — not by a long shot.

In fiscal year (FY) 2000, New Hampshire’s state and local tax burden (excluding motor fuel, severance, alcohol, and tobacco taxes) stood at 7.5% of personal income, not only the best in the country but only seriously approached by Tennessee. Government consumption and subsidies made up only 7.3% of personal income. By the end of FY 2006, with Republicans having controlled the legislature in the interim, those figures had edged up, to 7.9% and 8.1%, respectively. But by the end of FY 2010, government consumption and subsidies made up 9.1% of income, a nearly two-percentage-point increase over a decade, while the tax burden stood at 8.0% of income. State and local debt was at 18.8% of income, compared to 16.7% a decade earlier.

In the mean time, Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all passed New Hampshire for lower taxes. We don’t yet have the local data to measure whether FY 2012 saw a return to public thrift under the new Republican legislature elected in November 2010, but when New Hampshire voters go to the polls Tuesday, they should remember where their state was two years ago.

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From “A Thought Experiment on Freedom,” I thought these comments were worth highlighting.

FreeDem:

Freedom is more than marginal tax rates and the monetary value of different policies. Is there a way to calculate it though? I don’t know. I think of something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need a hierarchy of liberty/freedom that focuses on the fundamentals. I’ve never read an argument suggesting this, but why not prioritize in the order of life, liberty, and then property. So it’s not just a list, it’s a list of goals in order of importance.

Penelope:

Would you feel differently if the country with the lower tax rate destroyed not human beings, but something truly commodifiable? Say, $70 million a year in randomly selected houses or automobiles. Otherwise your reluctance to embrace the “greater freedom” in the lower-tax country is nothing more than your recognition that a human life is not truly commodifiable, regardless of how it is statistically valued.

(more…)

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Imagine two countries, each the size of the U.S. In one of them, the average tax rate is 1% (of income) lower than the other, but unlike the other it randomly selects ten innocent individuals for execution each year (perhaps ritual human sacrifice!). Assuming personal income of $12 trillion like the United States, the lower tax rate in this country allows for more freedom worth $120 billion a year, by our method. If the statistical value of a life is $7 million, however, the execution policy only costs $70 million a year in freedom. Thus, not only is the human-sacrifice state with a slightly lower tax rate “freer” by this crude metric, but it is not even close.

Which is truly the freer country, assuming they are exactly alike in all other respects? And by how much?

The first paragraph above comes from the forthcoming third edition of Freedom in the 50 States: Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.

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At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Jason Brennan takes up the question of which country is most libertarian and lodges a complaint against global “economic freedom” indices:

This index may understate how anti-libertarian the United States is. After all, the index penalizes countries if their governments spend large amounts on social insurance. Yet classical liberals and neoclassical liberals are not in principle opposed to government social insurance. [That is, they will accept it under certain conditions.]

Thus, suppose we separate the idea of the administrative state—which tries to control, regulate, manipulate, and manage the economy—from the social insurance state—which provides tax-financed education, healthcare, or unemployment insurance. On the Index of Economic Freedom, many countries that rank lower than the US have far less extensive administrative states than the US. For instance, Denmark ranks much higher than the United States on property rights, freedom from corruption, business freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom. Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and many other countries beat the US on these measures as well. Thus, many other European countries might reasonably be considered more economically libertarian than the US.

Jason makes a legitimate point here: a dollar transferred to a social security recipient is less violative of freedom than a dollar spent hiring a drug enforcement agent or antitrust litigator. This is so even for those declassé Rothbardian absolutists, for whom the immorality of taxation is compounded when it is used to fund further violations of people’s rights.

However, even a bleeding-heart libertarian should see really existing welfare states as problematic for two basic reasons. First, (more…)

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Which public policies make an economy better for business? One way to answer this question is to ask businesspeople. Two recent surveys ask businesspeople to rank the American states on their friendliness toward business.

Now, libertarians often remind us that friendliness toward business is not the same as friendliness toward markets. Indeed, libertarians believe that many of their favored policies, such as abolishing trade protection, corporate welfare, and regulations that privilege big business, will redound to the benefit of workers and small business owners. What’s so interesting about these two surveys is that they are of different types of business owners: CEOs of large companies and small businesspeople. The first survey was conducted by Chief Executive magazine and the second by thumbtack.com in partnership with the Kauffman Foundation. By relating respondents’ views about the friendliness of their states to those states’ actual policies, we can see where big and small businesses agree and disagree about which policies are most important for their success.

My first step was to draw out of these survey data those numbers that relate specifically to different states’ policy environments, as opposed to other aspects of the economic climate. From the CEO survey, therefore, I took the taxation/regulation score given for each state (higher is better). From the small business survey, I took the “Regulations” component grades. Unfortunately, the small business survey does not include raw scores for each state, so I simply quantified the grades as follows: A+ = 0, A = 1, A- = 2, and so on, up to F = 11. The small business survey only covers 45 states, but for these states, the correlation between CEO and small business scores was -0.76. Since higher is better in the CEO survey and lower is better in the small business survey, that high correlation indicates a surprising degree of agreement between large and small businesses about states’ friendliness toward their businesses.

Nevertheless, there may remain some important differences in which policies large and small businesses prioritize. To get a handle on this question, (more…)

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The press is quite pleased with President Obama’s proclamations on gay marriage. The evolutionary process appears to have finally come to a conclusion. Yet, it might be useful to place the President’s epiphany in historical context. To assist in the process, I have placed several quotes from past and present elected officials on the issue of gay rights, civil unions and marriage. Lets see how many readers can correctly identify the speaker (answers below…no cheating)

Quote Number 1

The big thing is to make this country, along with every other country in the world with a few exceptions, quit discriminating against people just because they’re gay. You don’t have to agree with it, but they have a constitutional right to be gay. And that’s what brings me into it.

Quote Number 2

Well, I think that freedom means freedom for everyone. … I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish. Any kind of arrangement they wish. The question of whether or not there ought to be a federal statute that governs this, I don’t support. I do believe that historically the way marriage has been regulated is at the state level. It has always been a state issue, and I think that’s the way it ought to be handled today, that is on a state-by-state basis. Different states will make different decisions. But I don’t have any problem with that. I think people ought to get a shot at that.

Quote Number 3

 I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix…. . I am not somebody who promotes same-sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions. I do believe that we should not — that for gay partners to want to visit each other in the hospital for the state to say, you know what, that’s all right, I don’t think in any way inhibits my core beliefs about what marriage are. I think my faith is strong enough and my marriage is strong enough that I can afford those civil rights to others, even if I have a different perspective or different view.

Quote Number 4

I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s when a state chooses to do so. … I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between, a union between a man and a woman.

Quote Number 5.

I’ve just concluded that– for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that– I think same-sex couples should be able to get married. Now– I have to tell you that part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn’t want to nationalize the issue. … I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what’s recognized as a marriage.

Answers:

1. Barry Goldwater, July 1994 (source)

2. Dick Cheney, July 2009 (source)

3. Barack Obama, August 2008 (source)

4. George W. Bush, October 2004 (source)

5. Barack Obama, May 2012 (source)

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Political libertarians are a motley lot in terms of their moral philosophies. There are three dominant strands – utilitarians like Milton Friedman, deontologists like Robert Nozick, and teleologists like Ayn Rand – but I’ve also met egoists, postmodernists, and Rawls-style egalitarian consequentialists. In debates over moral foundations, Randians often ally themselves with the deontologists in support of “natural rights” (a bit of a misnomer, as deontologists prefer not to locate the source of rights in “nature” but in reason).

Critical Review editor Jeffrey Friedman, a utilitarian, used to say that rights libertarians are more dogmatic than utilitarians on questions of social science. He was extremely skeptical of the line of argument, commonly found in Rothbard, that libertarian policy X is justified on the grounds of both liberty and utility. What are the chances that the world just happens to line up in such a way that perfect justice and liberty also maximize social welfare in every instance? He calls himself a “post-libertarian” in part because he believes that the empirical evidence is unsettled as to the frontiers of the proper (i.e., utility-maximizing) roles of government. And he believes that it is a mark in favor of utilitarianism as a moral philosophy that rights libertarians are extremely reluctant to admit that any of their policy conclusions might not maximize social welfare.

Now, I would make several points in response. First, (more…)

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Is liberty an “amenity” that people find attractive? We know that people do not necessarily tend to vote for liberty, in part because they are politically ignorant or even irrational, but when it comes to where they choose to live, people can be expected to pay close attention to how the laws in different places affect their quality of life. Economists model migration rates across jurisdictions as a function of economic opportunities (real income differentials) and “amenities” (example). Thus, it is standard practice in the literature to use inter-state migration rates in the U.S. (adjusted for the component predicted by economic growth) as a proxy for the desirability of different states as places to live. The question I address here is whether liberty is an amenity; in other words, do states with more freedoms attract more people?*

My study with William Ruger, Freedom in the 50 States, addressed this issue briefly. We find that both economic and personal freedom are associated with net inter-state migration over the 2000-2009 period. In other words, freer states attract people from less free states. The relationship holds when we control for climate, measured as average January temperature in a state’s largest city. We also find that real personal income growth (total, not per capita) over 2000-2007 is positively associated with economic but not personal freedom. Thus, it remains an open question whether economic freedom attracts people because people find it desirable for its own sake, or whether it attracts people by promoting economic growth. However, it does appear that people are attracted to personal freedom for its own sake.

This blog post offers a first look at a much more sophisticated analysis of the issue, bringing in more control variables and more advanced, appropriate estimation methods. (more…)

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Having taken on left-liberals in my last post, it’s only fair to take a shot at the right too. Here‘s the Deseret News editorializing on why our recommendations for Utah are wrong:

The report’s authors are clear about their definition of freedom. “In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others,” they write. But few personal behaviors can intrude more on the rights of others than drinking alcohol and gambling… [T]he enormous alcohol industry, relentlessly pushing everything from glamorous images to new products such as sweet-flavored alco-pops, would, if left unfettered, eventually rob more people of freedoms.

The line taken here seems to be that if you make bad decisions that decrease your life satisfaction, you have lost freedom (to whom?). And if you encourage someone to make a decision that might be bad, you’ve violated his rights. For the benefit of the Deseret News, I’ve compiled a new list of policy recommendations for Utah based on this new definition of freedom:

1. The enormous credit card industry gets people hooked on cheap credit, and the debt they take on means less freedom. Enact a state monopoly of credit.

2. Television and books encourage people to sit at home rather than get up and exercise, resulting in an epidemic of obesity and, of course, violating their victims’ rights. Tightly regulate their use.

3. Many people get involved in mistaken relationships when they are young, sometimes resulting in children and often resulting in heartbreak. Clearly these young lovers have taken away each other’s freedoms. Ban fornication. Fund a virtue police to monitor young couples. Iran has a system that works, at least compared to decadent, unfree societies in the West.

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Matt Yglesias throws some scorn the way of Freedom in the 50 States 2011:

Reasonable people can disagree as to whether there’s more freedom in Los Angeles or Brooklyn, and there may be good reasons to move from either place to Sioux Falls, but obviously “for the freedom” is not one of those reasons. For the lower taxes? Sure. Because there’s less government regulation? Maybe so. But because there’s more freedom? Clearly not. They say that they “explicitly ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework” but all that goes to show is that their understanding of the individual rights framework offers an unsound conception of freedom. These answers are clearly and uncontroversially mistaken.

Because he doesn’t propose any alternative conception of freedom, it’s unclear precisely in what way he thinks that the libertarian conception of freedom is mistaken. But it’s even more perplexing how he comes to the conclusion that the ranking “refutes” the libertarian conception of freedom. California lost 4.4% of its 2000 population over the next 9 years to other states, on net. New York lost 8.9% of its 2000 population over the next 9 years to other states, on net. New Hampshire, by contrast, enjoyed a net gain of 2.8% of its 2000 population over the same period. South Dakota’s net in-migration was 0.8%. The study finds that freer states experience more net in-migration, controlling for climate.

So let’s get this straight: People are fleeing a state with gorgeous year-round climate, world-class universities, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood and flocking to a wintry, windswept state with… the Badlands. People are fleeing a state with Wall Street, the Met, the Yankees, and Broadway for a wintry, rural state with… the Old Man of the Mountain. Wait, he’s gone now too. The omitted variable? Libertarian freedom. And that makes all the difference.

So how do libgressives define freedom? They often seem to conflate freedom and utility. (See for instance the quotes at the end of this story.) But surely a man locked in a cell hooked to an experience machine isn’t really free, is he?

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I’ve just gotten back from a Cato Institute event discussing the new study, Freedom in the 50 States, with my coauthor William Ruger, John Samples, and Michael Barone. I’ll post the video when it’s available. The Mercatus site for the study allows you to download the study and to use a calculator to see how states would change on the index if they made certain policy reforms. They’ve also put together this nice little video for the project:

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