For perspective, we should note that Sorens is the founder and chair of the Free State Project. (Matt will be all about this survey.) Ruger is a Cato Institute fellow who argued on August 2, 2008, that Sarah Palin as VP would help John McCain win the presidency.
As South Dacola notes, the measures of freedom do seem skewed toward freedom for business rather than the general public. A look at Ruger and Sorens's methodology supports Mr. Ehrisman's complaint, and also suggests the ideal society would be something like Russia, 1997:
- Under Fiscal Policy, Ruger and Sorens treat government spending as inherently bad (p. 11), neglecting the fact that government spending on schools, parks, and economic development can increase opportunities and improve the quality of life.
- Ruger and Sorens also incorporate their belief that user fees are superior to taxes. How this relates to freedom is beyond me, as it translates into greater opportunity only for those who can afford services.
- By the survey's methodology, low wages for local government employees relative to private sector employees is another plus for freedom. So if your city commission pays its engineers, secretaries, and garbage haulers less than a fair wage, your town is a freer place? Hmm....
- Worker protections—disability insurance, workers' compensation, minimum wage, occupational safety and health agencies—count against a state's freedom score (p. 12).
- Gambling, while a minor issue, is considered a plus for freedom (p. 14).
- So, apparently, is prostitution (would Governor Palin agree on that one?).
- Open-container laws infringe on freedom.
If freedom is the theoretical potential to do whatever the heck you want, then Ruger and Sorens's ideological measures reasonably give South Dakota high marks. When the Somalian government dissolved in the 1990s, Somalis were theoretically the freest people on the planet. But I doubt the typical Somali felt free.
Freedom needs to be practical, and it needs to apply to everyone. Maybe we do better to look not to Ruger and Sorens but to Rousseau, who said (I paraphrase) that real liberty is obedience to laws that we make ourselves. Liberty can only be practiced in an organized society where we make our own rules and guarantee certain basic rights to everyone. By that measure, South Dakota still has work to do.
Read the study, and think about what really makes us all free.