The Mercatus Center at George Mason University has released its “Freedom in the 50 States” index. New York is dead last overall, and last, too, on economic and fiscal freedom.

The report, by William Ruger of Texas State University and Jason Sorens at the University of Buffalo (SUNY), cites the Empire State’s taxes — “the highest … in the country” — as well as high spending, high debt, strict gun and tobacco laws, tough homeschooling regulations, “highly regulated” motorists, market-killing criteria for individual health insurance, and “rampant and unchecked” eminent-domain abuse.

Mercatus nails it on eminent-domain, taxes, debt, health insurance, and spending. They’ve probably got a good point on home-schooling, too.

Some of the measures, though, are head-scratchers, particularly on transit and transportation, an important topic in a dense region.

Consider what Mercatus says on auto regulations:

Bicycle and motorcycle-helmet laws are … restrictions that impose undue costs (though any harm that comes to people from not wearing helmets should be fully internalized by the individuals in question). Mandatory automotive personal-injury and underinsured driver insurance are paternalistic restrictions on individual choice. Open-container bans are included as a minor nuisance (we support drunk driving laws, however), and cell-phone driving bans are also included.

Yeah, sure, in theory, people should be able to decide whether or not to wear a motorcycle helmet, as long as in deciding not to, they implicitly promise never to ask for a dime in state medical care, or safety-net payments for lost work hours, etc.

Problem is, though, that such a rule is impossible to enforce in a compassionate society. Once someone’s medical insurance and personal savings run out — as they do quickly with a severe brain injury — the rest of us end up paying.

Many freedom-loving voters, too, likely would prefer to err on the side of thinking that someone driving with an open bottle of vodka in her car while yammering on a cellphone poses a risk to other drivers and pedestrians — a risk that outweighs any freedom lost in curtailing such behaviors.

No, the laws that govern such behavior aren’t perfect, but in the case, perfection is the enemy of the good enough.

Mercatus’s New York policy recommendations are as follows:

  • “legalize same-sex partnerships of some kind”
  • “cut spending in all the areas mentioned above” (basically, everywhere)
  • “privatize (and rate-regulate) transit systems”
  • “cut taxes across the board”
  • “reduce the burdensome testing, notification, and recordkeeping requirements on homeschoolers.”

The transit suggestion is impractical. “Transit systems” presumably means the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which provides service in and surrounding New York City. The MTA could surely do some experimentation with competitive contracting of bus services, station maintenance, and the like, and see if it can reduce costs. But “privatizing” subway and rail service would be a nightmare. No reputable private operator would take the risk of backstopping the condition of New York’s legacy subway and rail assets as well as the risk of committing to 24-hour service, something that New York demands. Privatizing rail has not worked well in Britain (at least twice).

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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