Freedom in the Fifty States

One of the simplest and forthright explanations of the divisions of power between the federal and state governments was given by James Madison in Federal Paper No. 45. He said:

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The former [meaning the federal] will be exercised principally on external objects as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and prosperity of the state."

According to Madison, then, the states are to be the bulwark of our liberty and freedom. Of all the powers assigned to government by the people, only a few were to be assigned to the federal level, and that turned out to be the twenty powers listed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The federal government was mostly assigned as an umbrella over the states to keep them safe from foreign intrusion. The states were left free to compete for the best level of government as they carried out their assigned numerous and indefinite powers! This concept of strong, local self-government was essential to the Founders freedom formula.

The States are to Compete for the Highest Level of Freedom

Imagine your state advertising, "Come to our state. You will have more freedom here than any other state. You will have lower taxes, better protection of your property, less regulation on your business, and more personal freedoms than anywhere else. We don't have any give-away programs, but we do offer the creative and hard worker a chance to enjoy real freedom. So come to our state."

What kind of people do you think your state would attract? The kind you really want to have come. That is the Founding Fathers' formula for building a free and happy people.

So how are our states doing in competing for freedom?

A recent study was published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University entitled, "Freedom in the 50 States: An index of personal and economic freedom" by William P. Ruger and Jason Sorens. In their executive summary the authors state:

"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. We develop and justify our ratings and aggregation procedure on explicitly normative criteria, defining individual freedom as the ability to dispose of one's own life, liberty, and justly acquired property however one sees fit, so long as one does not coercively infringe on another individual's ability to do the same. This study. [also] includes measures of social and personal freedoms such as peaceable citizens' rights to educate their own children, own and carry firearms, and be free from unreasonable search and seizure..

"We find that the freest states in the country are New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place. All three states feature low taxes and government spending and middling levels of regulation and paternalism. New York is the least free by a considerable margin, followed by New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, and Maryland. On personal freedom alone, Alaska is the clear winner, while Maryland brings up the rear. As for freedom in the different regions of the country, the Mountain and West North Central regions are the freest overall while the Middle Atlantic lags far behind on both economic and personal freedom."

Who is Protecting Freedom in the States?

In the table below we have given the rankings of the states as computed in the George Mason University report, but we have added a column indicating recent annual pay received by the legislators of each state. These pay figures do not include per diem expense money received by legislators in addition to their annual salary.

State Freedom Ranking also showing Pay for State Legislators

Freedom Ranking

State

Legislator Annual Pay

1

New Hampshire

100

2

Colorado

30,000

3

South Dakota

1,000

4

Idaho

16,116

5

Texas

7,200

6

Missouri

31,351

7

Tennessee

18,123

8

Arizona

24,000

9

Virginia

18,000

10

North Dakota

6,000

11

Utah

130 per day

12

Kansas

86 per day

13

Indiana

11,600

14

Michigan

79,650

15

Wyoming

150 per day

16

Iowa

25,000

17

Georgia

17,342

18

Oklahoma

38,400

19

Montana

83 per day

20

Pennsylvania

76,173

21

Alabama

101 per day

22

Florida

31,932

23

North Carolina

13,951

24

Nevada

137 per day

25

Mississippi

10,000

26

Delaware

42,750

27

Oregon

19,884

28

Nebraska

12,000

29

Arkansas

15,060

30

South Carolina

10,400

31

Alaska

24,012

32

Kentucky

185 per day

33

West Virginia

15,000

34

Louisiana

16,800

33

Minnesota

31,140

36

New Mexico

0

37

Wisconsin

47,413

38

Ohio

60,584

39

Maine

23,713

40

Vermont

614 per week

41

Connecticut

28,000

42

Illinois

65,353

43

Massachusetts

58,237

44

Washington

42,106

45

Hawaii

36,700

46

Maryland

43,500

47

California

116,208

48

Rhode Island

13,089

49

New Jersey

49,000

50

New York

79,500

It is interesting to note that the state legislators in the top ten "freest" states are paid an average of $15,189 per year, while those in the bottom ten "least free" states are paid an average of $53,169 per year.

Perhaps we can draw the conclusion that the Founders were right again: If you want to protect your freedom, do not choose people to do it who plan to make a "career" in politics. In The 5000 Year Leap , Dr. Skousen explains the feeling in early America about salaries for public office holders:

"In the early history of the United States, community offices were looked upon as stations of honor granted to the recipients by an admiring community, state, or nation. These offices were therefore often filled by those who performed their services with little or no compensation. Even when an annual salary of $25,000 was provided in the Constitution for President Washington, he determined to somehow manage without it. Some might think that this was no sacrifice because he had a large plantation. However, the Mount Vernon plantation had been virtually ruined during the Revolutionary War, and he had not yet built it back into efficient production when he was called to be President. Washington declined his salary on principle. He did the same thing while serving as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces during the Revolutionary War. Not all could afford to do this, but it was considered the proper procedure when circumstances permitted it. " (p. 65)

While in Europe in 1777, Benjamin Franklin explained to a friend the widespread support for the American attitude concerning public service:

"In America, salaries, where indispensable, are extremely low; but much of public business is done gratis. The honor of serving the public ably and faithfully is deemed sufficient. Public spirit really exists there, and has great effects. In England it is universally deemed a nonentity, and whoever pretends to it is laughed at as a fool, or suspected as a knave." (p. 65)

During the Constitutional Convention, Franklin gave a speech on the kind of people we should elect to public office and the lure of high salaries. In what has turned out to be prophetic, Franklin said:

"Sir, though we may set out in the beginning with moderate salaries, we shall find that such will not be of long continuance. Reasons will never be wanting for proposed augmentations; and there will always be a party for giving more to the rulers, that the rulers may be able in return to give more to them. Hence, as all history informs us, there has been in every state and kingdom a constant kind of warfare between the governing and the governed, the one striving to obtain more for its support, and the other to pay less. And this has alone occasioned great convulsions, actual civil wars, ending either in dethroning of the princes or enslaving of the people. Generally, indeed, the ruling power carries its point, and we see the revenues of princes constantly increasing, and we see that they are never satisfied, but always in want of more. The more the people are discontented with the oppression of taxes, the greater need the prince has of money to distribute among his partisans, and pay the troops that are to suppress all resistance, and enable him to plunder at pleasure." (p. 67)

How do States return to a "Citizen Legislature?"

Many years before the Constitutional Convention, Franklin's own state of Pennsylvania had inserted the following paragraph into its constitution to ensure that people with the true spirit of public service and their own means of support would be elected to public office. It read:

"As every freeman, to preserve his independence, (if he has not a sufficient estate) ought to have some profession, calling, trade, or farm, whereby he may honestly subsist, there can be no necessity for, nor use in, establishing offices of profit; the usual effects of which are dependence and servility, unbecoming freemen, in the possessors and expectants; faction, contention, corruption, and disorder among the people. Wherefore, whenever an office, through increase of fees or otherwise, becomes so profitable, as to occasion many to apply for it, the profits ought to be lessened by the legislature." (p. 71-72)

Can we not dream of the day when state officials cease trying to make us feel guilty because our state is not taxing and spending as much as the other states for various programs? Perhaps candidates may one day begin campaigning with, "Come to our state, where you will enjoy more freedom here than any where else!"

Sincerely,

Earl Taylor, Jr.