I just found out I live in the least free state in America, according to a George Mason University study that ranked freedom in the 50 United States.
The researchers rated fiscal policy (spending and taxation), regulatory policy (labor and health insurance, eminent domain, tort, land and environmental regulations), and paternalism (alcohol, tobacco, gambling, gun control, education regulations) in each state. New Hampshire, Colorado, and South Dakota ranked first in freedom, while New York came in dead last.
I usually think of freedom as an abstract ideal. It’s counterintuitive to think of freedom as something tangible and quantifiable, so it made me wonder whether I feel less free, or if my freedom is so elusive and easily lost that I haven’t noticed it’s gone.
Well, I’m not paying federal income taxes this year, but I am paying New York income tax. The cost of public transportation is going up, from $2 a ride to $2.25. We had a $17.7 billion 2009-2010 budget gap, the largest in state history, a gap I will pay for if I stick around. I already pay 8.75 percent in sales tax, and the mayor wants to increase that to 8.875 percent. And everything is more expensive before the sales tax, from iced coffee to fingernail clippers.
I don’t always think of the source of these high costs, but some of it is due to the onerous regulations the GMU researchers measure. When I am not the businessman dealing with business regulations, I think I’m free. But his loss of freedom affects my economic freedom. If I’m spending all of my money covering the cost of his regulations, I have less freedom to spend it on my own “pursuit of happiness.”
People come to New York City because they see it as the state of opportunity—where you go to become the next Marc Jacobs or Meryl Streep. So they come expecting to give up some freedom to gain those opportunities. (If you’re going to be close to auditions that will make you the next Broadway star, you may have to live with four roommates in a tiny apartment in the Bronx.)
But if you trade too much freedom, you lose the opportunity you’re seeking. Yes, some will make it, but others will be too busy to go to auditions because they’re working full-time as waitresses or baristas to pay exorbitant rent. Some of the millions of immigrants who come here will make it, but others will end up doing menial labor for 80 hours a week and living illegally in overcrowded apartments in unsafe boroughs.
The pursuit of happiness includes the economic liberty to invest your money wisely—to spend it pursuing opportunity instead of spending it on $4 (plus 8.875 percent) cups of coffee.
Originally published at WORLDMag.com.