The libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University has just released a report arguing that North Dakota is the freest state in the union while New York is the least free, followed by California in 49th place. Even in terms of libertarian ideology this report rebuts itself, proving why libertarianism is incapable of contributing to rational discussion of our problems.
Libertarian orthodoxy speaks as one in claiming market economies are effective in reflecting our actual values when freedom of entry and exit exists and property rights and contracts are protected by law. Most go farther and say voluntary contracts made in the market simply reflect our desires and wishes. If someone is rich it is because people voluntarily prefer what they offer enough to pay them for it. If someone is poor it is because they have yet to offer anything of much value to others either because they have nothing or because they have failed at marketing their assets.
There are important confusions in this argument, but none that influence the point I will make. All these conditions exist with respect to Americans living in North Dakota, New York, or California.
Property values reflect demand for living in an area, the higher the values the more effective demand exists for the property.
Here in highly regulated ultra liberal Sonoma County, in the “unfree” state of California, it is difficult to find anything much more than a dump in all of Sonoma County for under about $300,000 or close to it. We are largely rural and small town outside of Santa Rosa. Real estate in San Francisco and some other areas is far higher.
A quick perusal of real estate prices in North Dakota shows no comparable demand to live there. Decent places seem to be available for well under $100,000. Defenders of the Mercatus study might argue that North Dakota is losing population, so of course property values are not as high. But California right now has net out migration and property values remain high despite the real estate bubble’s burst. Plus, if North Dakota has the highest economic freedom in the country, as Mercatus claims, why is it losing population? Perhaps because they define economic freedom as if corporations were people and biological people were costs to be minimized? But that’s another discussion.
If conditions were reversed, with North Dakota having higher real estate prices than California, we may be sure Mercatus and its apparatchiks would be pointing out how the “miracle of the market” demonstrates that “freedom pays.” But since the opposite is true, we hear crickets. If North Dakota were a magnet for new start-uos, we would hear all about that as well. But California is a magnet for new start-ops, so again we hear crickets. But even more embarrassingly for libertarian orthodoxy one state, New York, is rapidly gaining on California as a center for start ups in hi tech fields.
The market has made it crystal clear to any honest person that by its standards people find California and New York vastly more attractive than they do North Dakota, and millions will pay a premium to live in these places. This is also true for libertarians. I venture to suggest will we not see any out-migration of libertarians to freedom in North Dakota escaping their enslavement in California and New York, where many live, for some reason not deducible from their ideology. By definition consistency has never been possible when your ideology is incoherent and divorced from real human beings.
Apparently, unlike many human beings, Mercatus is not much bothered by North Dakota’s attempt to regulate women’s health and reproductive freedom to the point where they have ceded most of it to the government. They admit this violated ‘freedom’ but apparently this kind of freedom does not rank very high on libertarian judgments about liberty despite its strong impact on the lives of millions. From my own perspective the market itself proves that North Dakota is not particularly attractive to those not already living there and since Mercatus demonstrates only economic ‘freedom’ matters much to them, their entire venture is incoherent. Salon has just published an excellent critique of the libertarian capacity to understand the term “freedom.”
If freedom is attractive, and I believe it is, perhaps most people find California and New York freer than North Dakota. Perhaps libertarians define freedom as uselessly and misleadingly as they define so many of their other key concepts. I believe both statements are true.