The George Mason University Mercatus Center has put its Freedom in the 50 States list on its own website.
As you may be able to discern from the headline, Wisconsin ranks 38th. More specifically, out of the more than 200 factors the survey measures, Wisconsin ranks:
1st in cable and telecom freedom, rent control freedom (that is, lack of rent control), “keg freedom” (regulation or bans on kegs), “happy hour freedom” (in other words, a bar can have happy hour) and helmet freedom (whether motorcycle or bicycle helmets are required).
2nd in “miscellaneous regulatory freedom” (“regulations governing hospitals, auto insurance, and homeowners’ insurance”).
4th in “alcohol freedom.”
6th in “alcohol tax freedom.”
7th in “asset forfeiture freedom.”
8th in “family-friendly freedom.”
15th in regulatory freedom, marriage freedom and fireworks freedom.
16th in homeschooling freedom.
19th in health insurance freedom and “seat belt freedom” (that is, a measurement of the state’s seat belt laws).
21st in drug enforcement freedom.
22nd in “freedom from tort abuse.”
23rd in labor market freedom, “right-to-work freedom” and eminent-domain freedom.
27th in occupational licensing freedom, marijuana and salvia (that is, medical marijuana) freedom and civil liberties freedom.
29th in “freedom from nanny laws” and “food freedom” (bans on trans fats and raw milk).
31st in education freedom.
32nd in “finding a job freedom” and “gun control freedom.”
34th in property rights.
37th in personal freedom and victimless crime freedom.
38th in economic freedom and travel freedom (“seat belt laws, helmet laws, mandatory insurance coverage, and cell phone usage laws”).
43rd in fiscal freedom and (state and local) tax burden.
45th in “tobacco freedom.”
48th in “bachelor party freedom” (“a variety of laws including those on alcohol, marijuana, prostitution, and fireworks”).
49th in campaign financing freedom (freedom here means the lack of taxpayer financing of political campaigns).
50th in “gambling freedom.”
This year’s study includes data going back to 2001. That’s useful because between 2001 and now, this state has had nearly every conceivable combination of party control of the Executive Residence and the Legislature. And since 2001, Wisconsin has ranked no better than 36th, and as low as 42nd. This suggests that the state Democratic and Republican parties have fully embraced the concept of America’s Nannyland, possibly in different areas depending on party.
About Wisconsin, the authors say:
Wisconsin has slipped slightly since the last edition of the index and is now just outside the bottom 10. However, this is one state that may already be improving due to legislative changes since the data cutoff for this study. For example, Governor Scott Walker and the state legislature have agreed to budget cuts in education and other areas, while passing Act 10—which aims to limit the bargaining power of public employee unions (though it is unclear whether this law will survive legal challenges). … Therefore, Wisconsin’s rank is likely to improve in the next edition of Freedom in the 50 States.
You will be shocked — shocked! — to find how Wisconsin ranks generally in economic freedom:
Wisconsin ranks near the bottom in economic freedom, due primarily to its poor fiscal policy. Wisconsin’s overall tax burden is very high, as are individual income and property taxes. State spending and debt are roughly average. However, its benefit payments are quite high, as is its level of transportation spending. Moreover, Wisconsin government employment is quite large relative to the private workforce.
The study could also be described as the extent to which state law treats adults like adults:
Wisconsin fares a lot better in regulatory policy, ranking 15th. It is slightly worse than average in terms of land-use regulation but has passed some eminent domain reforms. Wisconsin’s labor market freedom, occupational freedom, health insurance freedom, and liability system are mediocre. It is not (yet) a right-to-work state, but has avoided mandating a minimum wage above the federal average or requiring employers to buy short-term disability insurance. Wisconsin does not have community rating (though there are small-group rate bands) or rate reviews. Wisconsin has also deregulated cable and telecom. It does quite well in terms of insurance rate filing requirements. However, it is almost a standard deviation worse than the mean on occupational licensing.
Wisconsin performs below average in a number of personal freedom categories. The state has high victimless crimes arrest rates, though its drug enforcement rate is below average. It has the worst gaming laws in the country (social gambling is not allowed) and almost the strictest campaign finance laws. The state also performs below average on gun freedom and travel freedom. Home schools are regulated with some onerous notification requirements. Wisconsin has some of the best alcohol laws in the country, with taxes fairly low across the board. However, its cigarette taxes are very high and smoking bans are extensive.
The authors have some policy recommendations for this state, most of which have zero chance of happening:
- Reduce the income tax burden while continuing to cut back spending through cuts in government employment and public employee benefits.
- Pass a right-to-work law, whenever political conditions so allow.
- Reform tobacco and marijuana regulations, using the state’s alcohol-friendly beer, wine, and spirits regulations as a model.
Why and how is this important?
While previously the authors developed a subjective weighting system in which they sought to determine how significantly policies limited the freedom of how many people, in this edition they have use a victim-cost method, assigning a dollar value to each variable that restricts freedom measuring the cost of restricting freedom for potential victims. The authors’ cost calculations are designed to measure the value of the states’ freedom for the average resident. Since individuals measure the cost of policies differently, readers can put their own price on each freedom variable on the website to find the states that best match their subjective policy preference. …
Freedom is not the only determinant of personal satisfaction and fulfillment, but as our analysis of migration patterns shows, it makes a tangible difference for people’s decisions about where to live.
It is logically inconsistent to oppose government intrusion into your wallet, but not government intrusion in your bedroom. And vice versa. But it’s not surprising that Wisconsin ranks low in freedom across the board, because (a reader jogged my memory about this) the culture of those who settled Wisconsin didn’t consider freedom a priority. Historial Daniel Elazar divided the states into three dominant political cultures:
• Individualistic: This culture “emphasizes the centrality of private concerns,” placing “a premium on limiting community intervention.” The individualistic culture originated in such mid-Atlantic, non Puritan states as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland; it spread west to become dominant in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri; and later it spread to such states as Nevada, Wyoming and Alaska.
• Traditionalistic: This is a political culture that “accepts government as an actor with a positive role in the community,” but seeks to “limit that role to securing the continued maintenance of the existing social order.” Not surprisingly, the traditionalistic strain of American politics is a major factor in all of the border and southern states, extending west to Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
• Moralistic: The “moralistic” culture considers government “a positive instrument with a responsibility to promote the general welfare.” This culture is predominant in 17 states that stretch from New England through the upper Midwest to the Pacific coast — what several observers of American history and politics have called “Greater New England.” Even more significantly, this moralistic approach is virtually the only political culture found in nine states: Maine, Vermont, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and, not surprisingly, Wisconsin.
The states in this last group, Elazar notes, were “settled initially by the Puritans of New England and their Yankee descendants … [who] came to these shores intending to establish the best possible earthly version of the holy commonwealth. Their religious outlook was imbued with a high level of political concern.” Most significantly for states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, “they were joined by Scandinavians and other northern Europeans who, stemming from a related tradition (particularly in its religious orientation), reinforced the basic patterns of Yankee political culture, sealing them into the political systems of those states.”
“Moralistic” is a culture that apparently, and unfortunately, appeals to both Democrats and Republicans in Wisconsin. And “moralistic,” as defined by Elazar, is the opposite of “free.”