Come and Take It

"You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas."

Voting for Freedom with Your Feet

A map of overall state freedom

Overall State Freedom (Courtesy – Click map to open interactive page

Recently Dan Mitchell blogged about the Mercatus Center’s latest state freedom map. He closed with the comment, “I grew up in New York, which is #50 in the rankings of freedom in the states, and then in Connecticut, which ranks only #40. But I went to college in Georgia, which is #9 in the rankings, and I now live in the Virginia, which is #8. But I somehow doubt that I’ll ever wind up in North Dakota.”

Dan’s comment intrigued me. Do Americans value freedom enough to actually pursue it, by moving from less free to more free states? Well, it’s easy enough to find out, especially if you just happen to be a Geographic Information System (GIS) geek like me. Without too much effort, I mined the most recent U.S. Census bureau data to create my own intriguing map.

Map of state to state migration

State to State Migration – Click map to open interactive page

The census data is from 2011, so it’s not quite as up to date as the Mercatus data, but the overall trends are remarkably congruent. New York is not only the least free, it’s also ranked #47 in terms of state to state migration, losing a full 0.5% of its population to other states in 2011. Dan Mitchell is not the only person to hatch a plan for escape from New York. Similarly, North Dakota is ranked #1 in both overall freedom and incoming migration from other states, picking up almost a full percent in its population in 2011 from other states.

There are, of course, other factors affecting state to state migration, the most important of which are economic. One of the few bright spots in the Obama economy is the shale gas and tight oil boom. North Dakota is booming to a large extent because of the Bakken Shale play. Traditional players in the oil patch like Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Colorado are also doing well.

However, the shale plays also serve to highlight the effect of differences in state freedom. Both New York and Pennsylvania are underlain by the Marcellus Shale, a prolific shale gas producer. Pennsylvania allows horizontal drilling and fracking; New York does not. People are leaving New York in droves; Pennsylvania is ranked #24 in state to state migration, and actually increased its population by 0.15% in 2011 due to incoming migration from other states.

Interestingly, measures of economic freedom appear to correlate most strongly with state to state migration. Personal freedom appears to have the weakest correlation with state to state migration. This is perhaps unsurprising; it’s hard to get exercised about gay rights or legalizing pot if you don’t have a job, a roof over your head, and food in your belly.

Additionally, economic freedom is exercised primarily in the public sphere, and must be strongly supported by the state to have any meaning. Conversely, personal freedom, when exercised in private, is invisible. To a great extent, we do and say whatever we please in the privacy of our own homes, regardless of what the state has to say about it. It would appear that economic freedom is actually a prerequisite of personal freedom. You can have the former without the latter, and the latter is nearly meaningless without the former. Certainly China and Singapore have figured this out.

All of this ought to serve as a warning to statists in both parties, and particularly to President Obama, who is certainly the most egregiously statist president of my lifetime, and arguably the most statist president since FDR. It should also give pause to the Democrats; Obama may be a likable figure, but his notions of governance are not. If people can’t vote with their feet to escape these policies, they are very likely to show up at the ballot box sooner or later to register their displeasure.


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