News: CJ Exclusives

Report: Tar Heel State Lags in Personal Freedom

Mercatus survey says 'paternalism' in N.C. on upswing

North Carolinians enjoy less personal freedom in 2011 than they did five years ago, but the Tar Heel State has improved its standing in economic liberty, according to a nationwide analysis by the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

The new report, similar to one released in 2009, tracks state-level freedom across three metrics: fiscal, regulatory, and personal. North Carolina’s overall freedom ranking in 2011 is 18th, compared to 14th in 2006, out of 50 states.

The difference is due to a drop in personal freedom, said Jason Sorens, assistant professor of political science at the University of Buffalo and a co-author of the report. The study defines restrictions on personal freedom, or “paternalism,” as including regulations against gambling and alcohol, asset-forfeiture rules, gun control, and limits on school choice.

It also touches on more divisive issues such as drug legalization and marriage redefinition, but it avoids taking a stand on abortion and the death penalty.

At the same time, economic freedom in North Carolina has taken a turn for the better, likely due to recessionary spending reductions.

The Mercatus Center’s prescription for the state: curtail spending on hospitals, reduce individual income taxes, increase school choice, and eliminate handgun licensing.

Nationwide, New Hampshire and South Dakota had the highest overall freedom rankings. New York and New Jersey took up the rear of the pack.

“Two of the most intriguing findings of our statistical analysis are that Americans are voting with their feet and moving to states with more economic and personal freedom and that economic freedom correlates with income growth,” wrote Sorens and co-author William Ruger, a political science professor at Texas State University.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.