Well, if North Dakota is the most free state in America, maybe freedom is overrated? That’s one way we Marylanders can soothe ourselves over our dismal showing in the annual Freedom in the 50 States survey conducted by George Mason University: we’re the 44th freest state in the nation, slipping two spots since 2009. But what does “freedom” mean, exactly?
The survey takes into account all sorts of different metrics, from eminent domain policy to health insurance mandates to to fireworks laws to rules about homeschooling. On plenty of these measures, Maryland does just fine; our new marriage equality laws boosted our freedom score, as did our low alcohol taxes. Where we fail, according to GMU, is in terms of “personal freedom” — that is, strict laws about guns, gambling, and smoking. Maybe those laws are making us less “free,” but they may also contribute to better health and safer streets — that’s the problem with lumping huge numbers of policy decisions under the blandly positive category of “freedom”; the details get overlooked, and the debate gets oversimplified. Other things that reduce freedom, according to GMU: state-level health insurance mandates, right-to-work laws, minimum wage laws, seat belt laws, and laws against selling cigarettes from vending machines. Hmmm.
That said, some of GMU’s recommendations for the state make sense to me. Yes, Maryland’s automobile state inspections are insane, and yes, inflexible laws put an unreasonable burden on homeschooling families. Sure, go ahead and legalize raw milk! Decriminalize marijuana (working on that one)! But if our state policies effectively banning assault weapons, cheap handguns, and large-capacity magazines are making us less “free” — well, I’m okay with that. And consider that the states that are less free than Maryland are Illinois, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New Jersey, California, and New York — most of them pretty nice places to live.
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