Colorado Slips in Freedom Index

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published June 24 by Grand Junction Free Press.

We don’t believe in grading liberty on a curve. We believe that any violation of individual rights creates an injustice, and that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Thus, while we are pleased that Colorado remains in the top ten freest states (we’re seventh), we’re more concerned that we’ve dropped from the number two slot in 2007. Moreover, even if we surpassed New Hampshire for the top spot, that still wouldn’t mean much, competing against the likes of California, New York, and Massachusetts.

Moreover, with the federal government continuing to grow in power relative to state governments, largely turning state legislatures into conduits for federal funding, no place in the country is very free. The Founding ideal of federalism largely has been turned on its head.

Nevertheless, how state governments act very much impacts people’s lives — whether they can open businesses, how much of their earnings they can keep, whether they face persecution for peaceable activities, whether they retain important personal freedoms. So it is well worth a look.

The state rankings come from a new report from the Mercatus Center,“Freedom In the 50 States.” Broadly, the study finds that “Americans are voting with their feet and moving to states with more economic and personal freedom and that economic freedom correlates with income growth.”

For example, Jay Ambrose noted that the “deficit-slaughtering, budget-cutting, seriously limited government in Texas” (ranked fourteenth by Mercatus) “has added 730,000 jobs in the past decade.” Meanwhile, California, ranked 48th, has lost 600,000 jobs. Guess what: economic liberty promotes prosperity, while controls and high taxes threaten it.

Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal noted, “Some 37 percent of all net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas.” So Texas, with about eight percent of the nation’s population, has single handedly created more than a third of all the new jobs.

How is Colorado doing? Mercatus notes our population grew 4.9 percent from 2000 to 2009. Mostly our unemployment rate has remained lower than the national figure, according to Bureau of Labor statistics compiled by Google. (As of April we showed 8.8 percent “seasonally adjusted” unemployment, compared with 9.1 percent nationally.)

But we have some serious problems, reports Mercatus. The severe smoking bans here violate property rights. The state places burdensome requirements on market schools and “particularly onerous recordkeeping requirements” on homeschoolers. Moreover, the “enactment of a minimum wage helped to drag down its regulatory freedom score.” Wage controls result in throwing some people out of work entirely. In addition, some of the state’s gun laws remain overly restrictive.

We would add to Mercatus’s list of abuses. The state continues to finance corporate welfare, despite the explicit constitutional provision against it. The energy mandates already have driven up utility bills and will continue to do so far into the future.

Protectionism, as in the beer and liquor industries, continues to screw consumers. Colorado’s campaign laws violate people’s rights of free speech and association.

Morever, the state’s sales and use taxes create nightmares for businesses as well as consumers. (That these laws remain widely ignored indicts the laws more than the lawbreakers.) Indeed, legislators made this bad situation worse by trying to force Amazon and other online retailers to help enforce Colorado’s tax laws, thereby forcing Amazon to drop all of its Colorado affiliates.

Of course on the positive side we retain the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Yet we found this Mercatus line odd: “Overall, Colorado has strong fiscal policies and is the most fiscally decentralized state in the country, with localities raising fully 45.5 percent of all state and local expenditures.” Tax-and-spend localities further reduce economic liberty rather than augment it.

Mercatus lists some other positives about Colorado. We don’t have especially onerous “sin” taxes on politically incorrect goods. Medical marijuana is legal, and “arrests for drug offenses, relative to state usage, are relatively low.” And “Colorado is one of the very best states on occupational licensing and civil-asset forfeiture.”

We love Colorado largely because of our traditions of liberty. Generally, our Western sensibilities guide us to keep the government out of our bedroom and out of our pocketbook. Our attitude is “live and let live.” Don’t hurt other people, and don’t let them hurt you. We help people out, not because we are forced to, but because we assume responsibility to do so.

Mostly we want to live our own lives, the way we see fit, and achieve our own success and happiness. At least that’s the ideal.

We’re glad that Colorado remains in the top ten freest states. But we can do much better. We can strive to be first. And then we can realize our goal is not merely to be freer than other states, but to consistently and without failing protect the rights of each individual.