Early last week, the Mercatus Center elicited some controversy after releasing their annual ranking of Freedom in the 50 States. New York maintained its dead-last ranking for the seventh year in a row, which is unsurprising given that residents of New York City recently had to battle their mayor to preserve their right to drink large beverages. What came as more of a surprise to some was North Dakota's leap to the top of the list, especially after the state passed the nation's most restrictive abortion laws.
The study received criticism because abortion was not even considered as a factor in the rankings. The Mercatus Center excluded abortion because it is a "controversial" freedom, as many cannot agree on the issue. Excluding abortion was a definite misstep; the list included gun rights as a freedom, despite the battle over gun control that has been taking place in Congress and state legislatures around the nation since the tragedy in Newtown. It could be argued that abortion and gun rights are equally controversial, but both are currently freedoms protected by law and so should have been included in the study.
The ranking system was also criticized by libertarian blogger Cathy Reisenwitz, a Digital Publishing Specialist at one of our favorite news sources, Reason.com, because of the unequal weights assigned to civil liberties and economic freedoms. Most civil liberties were weighted less heavily than economic factors (e.g., Various fiscal policies such as Property Right Protection or Health Insurance Freedom accounted for 35.3% of the ranking, while personal freedoms such as Gun Control Freedom and Marriage Freedom were only 32.7%.).
Reisenwitz makes a good point by saying that economic and civil freedoms go hand in hand, but while all freedoms are important, some are plainly more critical than others. It is highly doubtful that anyone could make a strong case that property rights protection and health insurance freedoms should be weighted equally with seat belt laws or a trans-fat ban (both of which were included under miscellaneous personal freedoms).
Reisenwitz’s main concern is that to many outsiders, the libertarian movement appears to promote only freedoms which affect middle-class white males. More specifically, she stated that Libertarians are in danger of alienating others because they are too concerned with things like "reducing entitlement spending" instead of focusing on privacy violations like police department "stop-and-frisk" policies.
For those outsiders who feel this way, I have a simple question: Since when is the concept of freedom for all racist or sexist? Using last place New York as an example, this argument falls apart: The New York City Police Department employs an extremely controversial stop-and-frisk program that has overwhelmingly targeted minorities, a factor which kept the state in the 50th spot on this list. New York also lost points for their tax rates, as the state has some of the highest taxes in the nation on everything from income to cigarettes, and not only white males pay taxes or smoke. New York state has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, and not all gun owners are white males.
When looking at the Libertarianism as a whole, the perception that party represents only white, middle-class males makes even less sense. In regard to civil liberties, the Libertarian Party has supported marriage equality since its platform was first created in the 1970‘s, and gay people are not only white, middle class males. (In the Mercatus Study, this is one of the few areas where New York ranked highly, because same-sex marriages are legal in the state.) The Libertarian Party platform is also pro-choice, and abortion is obviously not an issue that directly affects only white middle-class males. Those that believe focusing on economic issues will alienate minorities are misguided and narrow-minded, because out of control government spending affects everyone, not just white males. Given the nation’s high unemployment rate and soaring national debt (which is set to approach 17 trillion dollars very soon), weighting financial issues more heavily is incredibly appropriate. Pathways to economic prosperity are a key part of the Libertarian platform, and that is an issue which touches all people, regardless of race or gender.
- Anna Morris