23 March 2009

New York State: Worst in "Personal Freedom?"

The Albany Times Union has renamed New York "the Nanny State" following a report from the Mercatus Institute, a libertarian think tank, that ranks the erstwhile Empire State as last in the nation on its "personal freedom index." What does this mean? Are freedom of speech and religion at an end here? Are there morals police enforcing modest dress codes? Has political correctness silenced libertarian cranks? Of course not, but New York has just too many regulations for Mercatus's comfort. What put the state over the top, so to speak, were its allegedly onerous education and insurance regulations. The think tank objects to the burdens placed on home schoolers, for instance, and complains that parents can't easily place kids in superior schools outside their districts.

It may be no accident that the "personal freedom index" ranks New Hampshire as the best state in the Union. One of the co-authors of the survey is a man named Jason Sores, whom the Albany paper identifies as the founder of the "Free State" campaign to encourage libertarian immigration to New Hampshire in order to transform it into as much of a libertarian paradise as the Constitution would permit. Sores admits that the "Free State" campaign has been progressing very slowly, and it wouldn't surprise me if progress is slower than ever these days.

Why the Times Union takes this story seriously is a mystery. Libertarians have a fantastically utopian vision of the ideal polity that could never be realized without the weak and the needy voluntarily ceasing to exist. That vision can be summed up as anarchy plus property rights, with all the contradictions you can imagine thrown in. These are people who've never realized, or at least never acknowledged, that civilization itself is an "entitlement" claim that requires a regulatory state as the instrument of the people's will to move beyond the every-man-for-himself state of nature. They are not the ones to pass judgment on how free a civilized society might be, since their idea will always be close to the wilderness. Some editor in Albany may have thought it would amuse readers to see the state scolded this way, but the only thing funny about the story is Mercatus's assumption that it should be taken seriously.

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