Americans Less Free as Federal Government Takes Over State Powers

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American citizens have been “progressively” losing their liberty and freedoms over the last two decades, according to a report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank based in Washington, DC.

The study by Cato emphasizes while the liberty of American citizens has been “gradually eroded” since the turn of the century, the COVID-19 pandemic gave officials great power over people’s everyday lives.


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Freedom in America Dwindling ‘Across the Board’

The study of the Cato Institute shows the overall freedom ranking has remained the same compared with last year’s.

The least free states are once again New York, Hawaii, and California, all three of them run by Democrat governors. The top five of the least free states also include New Jersey and Oregon.

The freest American states are once again New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada. Of those, New Hampshire and Florida have Republican governors; only Nevada is run by a Democrat. Tennessee and South Dakota are also in the top five.

According to the Cato Institute researchers, Jason Sorens and William Ruger, Americans’ individual liberties are decreasing “across the board”.

In their words, the average American’s “freedom has reduced,” due to “federal policy” encroaching on areas that were firmly the states’ prerogatives just 20 years back.

Ruger and Sorens note their concept of freedom is grounded on “an individual rights framework.” This means every person is entitled to do with his or her life, liberty, and property as he or she sees fit, without infringing “on the rights of others.”


They add this way of understanding freedom reconciles the idea of natural rights with rule-utilitarianism. The 23 criteria they use for evaluating liberty in each state range from taxation to road safety rules and marijuana laws.

Which States Fare Best and Worst in Freedom Categories?

In economic terms, based on both regulatory and fiscal policy, the Cato Institute researchers found Florida to be the freest state in the United States.

It is followed by Tennessee and New Hampshire. All three of those have Republican governors. The top five on economic freedom also include South Dakota and Idaho.

The worst performers on economic freedom are New York, Hawaii, California, Oregon, and New Jersey. This is almost the same as the overall ranking on having the least freedom, except New Jersey and Oregon switch places here.

The freest US states in Cato’s ranking on education are Arizona, Florida, and Indiana, plus Georgia and New Hampshire. Those least free, with the most heavily regulated health insurance, are New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and California, plus Montana and Texas.

On marriage, the Cato Institute found there are a total of 11 states where marriage is equally easy. The assessment here is based on couples’ freedom to form private contracts, which include both marriage and civil union.

The states in question are both staunchly Democrat and staunchly Republican – ranging from Tennessee and New Hampshire to California and Oregon.

A total of seven states are judged to have the most barriers to marriage, also mixed in terms of their dominant political party. Those are Texas, Washington, Delaware, Oregon, Kansas, Iowa, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

In terms of gun ownership, the freest American states are found to be Kansas, New Hampshire, Arizona, Idaho, and Vermont. The most restrictive are Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.


The Cato Institute notes the total number of legal and illegal guns held by American civilians is estimated at 393 million; this is more than the next 24 countries to have the highest civilian gun ownership rates.

Yet, only about a third of all US civilians own a gun; 44% live in a household holding a gun.

The highest rates of gun ownership are held in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska, while the lowest are in Iowa, Massachusetts, and Nebraska.