In measures of economic and personal freedom, Kansas ranks relatively well among the states, but lags behind some neighboring states. Recent actions by the Kansas legislature might drive its ranking down.
Last year the Mercatus Center at George Mason University published a paper that ranks the states in several areas regarding freedom. According to the authors, “This paper presents the first-ever comprehensive ranking of the American states on their public policies affecting individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.”
What is the philosophical basis for measuring or determining freedom? Here’s an explanation from the introduction:
We explicitly ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.
According to the authors, “No current studies exist that measure both economic and personal freedom in the fifty states.” So this is a ground-breaking work.
How does Kansas do? Surprisingly, not too badly. Not outstanding, but not as bad as I might have thought.
For the four areas measured, here’s how we did: In fiscal policy, Kansas is 28. In regulatory policy, 4. In economic freedom, 18. In personal freedom, 15. (In all cases, a ranking of 1 means the most freedom.)
Our overall ranking is 12.
Some of the remarks the authors made about Kansas include noting our large public employee payroll, even though state employees are not paid as well as private sector workers. Also: “The area of spending that could most stand to be cut is education, while the taxes that should have priority for cutting are individual income and property taxes.”
Some of our neighbors do pretty well in the overall ranking. Colorado is 2, Texas is 5, Missouri is 6, and Oklahoma is 18. Nebraska is not as good at 28.
Colorado undoubtedly benefited from its taxpayer bill of rights (TABOR) law, which places limits on the rate of growth of government spending, although it had been suspended for several years. Those in Kansas who favor government spending over private sector spending use Colorado as an example of a state that TABOR has destroyed, but in terms of economic freedom, it does very well.
In case you’re wondering, for overall ranking, New Hampshire is best. The worst? It’s no surprise that it’s New York by a wide margin, with New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, and Maryland rounding out the bottom five.
If this index were to be recomputed this year, Kansas might fall in rankings due to outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson‘s two landmark achievements — the increase in the statewide sales tax and the statewide smoking ban. Some of the other enacted laws detailed in the article In Kansas Legislature, a bad year for freedom and liberty would push Kansas’ ranking down, too.
But since rankings are relative and consider what happened in other states, Kansas might not have changed much, as many states have passed tax increases and other freedom-killing legislation and regulations.
The full study contains discussion of the politics surrounding these rankings, and a narrative discussion of the factors present in each state.
You may read the entire study by clicking on Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.