A week after New Hampshire placed first in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom in North America report, the state scored a first place finish in another prestigious freedom ranking, the Cato Institute’s 2021 Freedom in the 50 States report.
In Cato’s report (written by Will Ruger and Jason Sorens), New Hampshire ranked third in economic freedom, second in personal freedom, and first in overall freedom.
In economic freedom, New Hampshire ranked in the top five in state tax burden, government consumption and lawsuit freedom, but was far behind in numerous other metrics, including local tax burden (43), land use freedom (40), labor market freedom (27), health insurance freedom (19), cable and telecommunications freedom (20), and state and local assets (43).
In overall regulatory freedom, New Hampshire placed near the middle of the states at 23rd, showing that the “Live free or die” state has areas where government imposes significant economic constraints on citizens.
In personal freedom, New Hampshire performed better than in economic freedom, ranking second in gun rights, fifth in education freedom, and fourth in asset forfeiture. The state finished in the top ten in travel freedom, mala prohibita (acts that are crimes in statute but not common law, such as firework and raw milk bans), and incarcerations and arrests for victimless crimes.
Low rankings in personal freedom included gambling freedom (41), tobacco freedom (21), alcohol freedom (38), and campaign finance (45).
As in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom in North America, New Hampshire holds its top ranking by a narrow margin.
The top five states for overall freedom:
- New Hampshire
- South Dakota
The difference between New Hampshire’s and Florida’s scores was just four hundredths of a percentage point (0.592 vs 0.552).
In the Fraser Institute report, New Hampshire held its top place by one one-hundredth of a point (7.83 vs. 7.82).
The top fives states for economic freedom in Fraser’s rankings:
- New Hampshire
The Cato report shows how rapidly other states have been gaining on New Hampshire. Since Cato’s last ranking for 2018-19, New Hampshire ranked No. 8 for growth in overall freedom, but many of the states with which it now competes for population growth and business location posted similar or larger gains.
Tennessee and North Carolina ranked 11th and 13th in overall freedom growth since the last report, while Kentucky ranked sixth, Connecticut fifth, Michigan fourth, Florida second and South Dakota first.
The data are more concerning for New Hampshire when looking back at the last 20 years. Since 2000, the top fives states for freedom growth were:
New Hampshire ranked 29th, well behind states that have been aggressively cutting taxes and deregulating, such as North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, Texas and Arizona.
As a state that already ranked high on overall freedom, New Hampshire has set an example with policies that have been copied by other states. But as both reports show, there are areas where New Hampshire can make significant improvements to increase personal and economic freedom.
Making those improvements would accomplish the primary goal of maximizing individual autonomy for Granite Staters, thus living up to New Hampshire’s promise of being the “Live free or die” state. It also would improve the conditions for economic growth, which would gradually raise New Hampshire’s standard of living.
While these back-to-back reports give Granite Staters cause to boast about our relatively high level of economic and personal freedom, they also offer a warning that this position is threatened and will not be maintained without a continued effort to remove barriers to freedom that exist at the state and local levels.