Saturday, March 30, 2013

Defining Freedom Down

Earlier today, I mentioned this Bob Mercer post that points out that groups that grade government transparency aren't necessarily transparent. It turns out that groups that grade freedom have skewed version of freedom.

Constant Conservative points to the Mercatus Center study that finds that the Dakotas are the freest states in the United States and rejoices:
So, congratulations fellow citizens (and the government which you all helped to elect). We may not be doing everything right, but we are doing better than many
As with the transparency study, things are not what they seem. Mercatus sees economic freedom, especially a low tax burden, as the most important freedom. The ability to avail one's self of a prostitute while high and shoot a gun to celebrate seem to be the most important personal freedoms:
Fiscal Policy (35.3%)
The fiscal policy dimension consists of the following categories: Tax Burden (28.6%), Government Employment (2.8%), Government Spending (1.9%), Government Debt (1.2%), and Fiscal Decentralization (0.9%).
Regulatory Policy (32.0%)
The regulatory policy dimension consists of the following categories: Freedom from Tort Abuse (11.5%), Property Right Protection (7.6%), Health Insurance Freedom (5.4%), Labor Market Freedom (3.8%), Occupational Licensing Freedom (1.7%), Miscellaneous Regulatory Freedom (1.3%), and Cable and Telecom Freedom (0.8%).
Personal Freedom (32.7%)
Personal freedom dimension consists of the following categories: Victimless Crime Freedom (9.8%), Gun Control Freedom (6.6%), Tobacco Freedom (4.1%), Alcohol Freedom (2.8%), Marriage Freedom (2.1%), Marijuana and Salvia Freedom (2.1%), Gambling Freedom (2.0%), Education Policy (1.9%), Civil Liberties (0.6%), Travel Freedom (0.5%), Asset Forfeiture Freedom (0.1%), and Campaign Finance Freedom (0.02%).
The economic freedoms certainly dominate the results. Paul Waldman writes that "the factors that matter are things like low taxes, lack of gun control, and "freedom from tort abuse," i.e. laws that make it hard to sue when your surgeon cuts off the wrong leg."

As for civil liberties, Timothy Lee points out they aren't really considered:
The right to own a gun is given five times as much weight as the “civil liberties” category, described as a “grab bag of mostly unrelated policies, including raw milk laws, fireworks laws, prostitution laws, physician-assisted suicide laws, religious freedom restoration acts, rules on taking DNA samples from criminal suspects, trans-fat bans, and laws that can be used to prosecute people who audiorecord public officials in the performance of their duties.”
Alex Pareene adds:
“Economic freedom” is of course their most important freedom, and so it is weighted the heaviest, with fiscal and regulatory matters making up a bit more than two-thirds of each state’s score. Which is how their No. 1 freest state is ranked 39th on the “Civil Liberties” list. Though that list is fairly useless, as their definition of “civil liberties” is “unrelated policies, such as fireworks laws, prostitution laws, and trans-fat bans.” On the list taking into account “incarceration rates, non-drug crime arrests, and drug enforcement,” Freest State North Dakota is at 24. (Second-freest state South Dakota is 48.) And Arizona has climbed to No. 11 on the overall list, because at no point are the rights of immigrants or people whom the police may suspect are immigrants taken into account
Pareene concludes, "Almost any Liberty issue that wouldn’t concern a straight, white, male capitalist is wholly ignored."

Lee, Waldman, and Pareene all exhibit a bit of urban arrogance toward the rural lifestyle and they show little appreciation for winter. That being said, short lines at a Hy-Vee checkout along with relief from heat and humidity does not necessarily make one free. Neither does emphasizing wealth  over civil liberties. In fact the latter situation makes Janis Joplin's lyrics more relevant. (I know it's a trite thing to do, but hearing Janis on a Saturday afternoon makes me feel good.)


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