Migration Affirms Hunger for Freedom



by Fergus Hodgson


June 14, 2011


The Mercatus Center has just released a tantalizing ranking of freedom for the American states, including individual state profiles and a feast of data analysis. Most compelling, though, is the insight that people know where freedom is, and they’re migrating to it.

Over the 2000 to 2009 period, the difference between a state ranked in the bottom third, such as Connecticut at 38th, and a state in the top third, such as Iowa at 13th, translated to higher positive migration equal to 5.9 percent of population. In other words, over-governed states tend to have lost 3 percent of their population through domestic migration, while freer states tend to have added 3 percent to their population.

Click here for a three-minute video explanation of the rankings and their findings.

So people are voting with their feet, and they’re willing to uproot themselves for less state government.

Other rankings of state freedom, such as that by the Pacific Research Institute and Forbes Magazine uphold this finding. ,

While talk of liberty may be cheap, these actions speak volumes, and they demonstrate “revealed preferences,” as economists call them. The preference is for what the authors describe as an individual rights conception of freedom, which they sought to measure.

“Individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.”

Further, people are migrating more for personal freedoms than for economic freedoms. Freedom of speech, homeschooling, legalized gambling, ease of gun ownership, and relaxed liquor and tobacco laws appear, for example, to have a greater influence than the magnitude of government spending and taxation.

Economic freedom does appear to attract migrants, but the weighting of importance suggests a desire to rule one’s self, an intrinsic appreciation for liberty, even in the absence of superior economic opportunity. This is akin to the young adult who leaves the comfort of home for a dinky apartment, so he can follow his own rules.

It’s also a reality check for the prominent nanny states — New York (50th), California (48th), and Massachusetts (46th). They are no longer the Meccas of immigration they once were. Each has suffered substantial outward migration, with New York the worst. Between 2000 and 2009, its net outward migration was equal to 8.9 percent of its population.

But they only have themselves to blame. California, for example, continues to lose residents, but its neighbors, Nevada (6th) and Oregon (8th), have continued to receive migrants. Both Nevada and Oregon were the biggest improvers in the freedom rankings since the first 2007 data, rising from 16th and 22nd, respectively.

Not only are people voting with their feet, they’re bringing their wallets with them, and companies are doing the same. Even a few politicians have shown their true colors and started crossing state lines. In 2009 the Boston Herald caught a Massachusetts legislator buying liquor in New Hampshire, where it is tax-free, and returning with it illegally. And that was just after he’d voted to increase his own state’s liquor taxes.

State officials struggling to balance their books, as their various Ponzi schemes crumble, would do well to look at their Mercatus report card rather than introduce or raise taxes.

Freeing a state and attracting migrants can actually save money due to lower enforcement costs. What is the cost of fewer health-insurance mandates, fewer gun controls, fewer occupational licences, and unfettered homeschooling. Nothing — only a willingness to give up the reins over people’s lives.

As Nevada and Oregon attest, in just two years states can make substantial improvements relative to their peers and begin attracting residents. This competition for constituents could well be the leading mechanism for keeping government officials in check. Why else would tyrannical regimes outlaw departure?

Let’s be thankful we have open borders between the states and at least some degree of federalism and local governance to enable competition.

Thanks also go to those who prepared the state freedom ranking, which will hasten the accountability. Jason Sorens, one of the ranking’s authors, should know. He happens to be the founder of the Free State Project, the ultimate liberty migration. His idea has already attracted almost 1,000 people to New Hampshire, and the organization hosts the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival (which happens to be next week), perhaps the world’s largest gathering of libertarians.

Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson is Capitol Bureau Reporter for the Pelican Institute, and you can follow him on twitter.


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