America may be the land of the free, but apparently the same can’t be said about Alabama.
In a new study released Tuesday by the Cato Institute — a libertarian think tank dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace — Alabama was ranked the 28th freest state in the nation. By individual category, Alabama scores 19th in fiscal policy, 23rd in regulatory policy, and 49th in personal freedom.
The study, Freedom in the 50 States, ranks each U.S. state by how its public policies promote freedom in the fiscal, regulatory, and personal freedom spheres.
To determine these rankings, authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens examined state and local government intervention across a range of more than 230 policy variables — from taxation to debt, eminent domain laws to occupational licensing, and drug policy to educational choice.
According to the study:
As a socially conservative Deep South state, it is unsurprising that Alabama does much better on economic freedom than on personal freedom. But three of its four neighbors do substantially better on economic freedom (Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia), with only Mississippi doing worse. Alabama’s overall freedom level has remained essentially flat since year-end 2014, while it has improved a bit since 2000 even in terms of non-federalized policies.
Alabama has always been one of the lowest taxed states in the country. Its combined state and local tax collections, excluding motor fuel and severance, were an estimated 8 percent of adjusted personal income in fiscal year 2017. Alabama’s debt burden is also fairly low compared to other states.
On regulatory policy, Alabama does especially well on land-use and labor policy. In fact, it scores first in that area. However, it does well below average on its tort system and certain cronyist policies. Indeed, it ranks 35th in the cronyism index.
The state is one of the worst in the country on personal freedom, despite benefiting from the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. Other factors keeping its personal freedom score low include high beer and spirit taxes, above-average wine taxes and a ban on direct wine shipment, and harsh cannabis laws where it is possible to receive life imprisonment for a single marijuana trafficking offense.
To improve on its freedom rankings, the authors suggest several remedies, including:
- encouraging the privatization of hospitals and utilities to bring government employment down closer to the national average. Private utility monopolies will, however, require careful rate regulation;
- improving the civil liability system by tightening or abolishing punitive damages and abolishing joint and several liability;
- reducing its incarceration rate with thorough sentencing reform, including abolishing mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses and lowering maximum sentences for marijuana offenses and other victimless crimes.
“Measuring freedom is important because freedom is valuable to people,” write Ruger and Sorens. “State and local governments ought to respect basic rights and liberties, such as the right to practice an honest trade or the right to make lifetime partnership contracts, whether or not respecting these rights ‘maximizes utility.’ Even minor infringements on freedom can erode the respect for fundamental principles that underlie our liberties. This index measures the extent to which states respect or disrespect these basic rights and liberties; in doing so, it captures a range of policies that threaten to chip away at the liberties we enjoy.”