The Many States of America

Recently I was reading how a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago was arrested for bringing an unloaded handgun to work, and that it made the news media. I reflected briefly on the fact that you can bring a loaded, concealed gun with you in most places in many states in the US and it wouldn’t be news, it would in fact be normal activity, for instance in the adjacent state of Indiana.

Meanwhile, in California, it is common for people to smoke marijuana openly as is discussed here. Needless to say, this behavior would get you immediately arrested in many states particularly in the south and midwest.

Taxation is also highly variable on a state and city basis. New York and California have some of the highest taxes, particularly on income beyond a particular level (progressive taxes). On the other hand, states like Florida and Texas have a much lower level of taxation and a much freer business climate in terms of regulation.

Without getting into the hottest of hot-button issues, clearly there are differences in the types of marriages and reproduction rights / right to life on a state by state basis. These differences are narrowing in some areas and getting wider in others.

Some states have “right to work” laws which massively limit union power, and have flourishing and expanding manufacturing economies as a result. Visit Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas to see where all the former manufacturing might in the midwest and Northeast and West Coast migrated to (if it didn’t go to China or overseas). The enacting of “right to work” laws obviously sends an important signal to business leaders whether or not a state is a friendly place to do business for incremental investment (along with taxation).

The “fracking” revolution has unleashed vast wealth in some states, and in other states it has been banned or severely curtailed. Meanwhile, California is going in on its own with carbon regulations and highly aggressive “green” energy targets, while other states are heavily reliant on traditional (and cost effective) technologies.

The differences on a state-by-state level on these different dimensions seem large and growing. They are much more subtle (though often correlated) with the Red / Blue analysis. An attempt to classify these vectors could be done as follows:
Energy Freedom – the ability to extract and use cost effective technologies (like natural gas, fracking, and coal) and a state’s willingness to invest more for reliability or the requirement to use expensive (green) technologies and curtail energy use even at the expense of industry competitiveness and reliability. California is likely on one end and Texas is on the other side, although many others have large freedom including Pennsylvania.
Safety Freedom – the right to defend yourself at home, in transit, at work and during study or whether that is assumed by the state. Sadly the most restrictive is Illinois and there are many candidates on the other side throughout the south and midwest (Indiana).
Personal Substance Freedom – the right to smoke, the right to drink, and the right to use various drugs or stimulants. Some odd states (like Colorado) are leading the way on this, it isn’t always the traditional Red / Blue divide.
Freedom to Work & Hire – the right to work and not be forced to join a union, and this is also tied with local laws and practices that limit the ability to hire and fire and direct hiring or limit firing in various dimensions.
Freedom to Build / Live / Rent – Houston is famous for having very limited zoning while other states and municipalities have highly restricted zoning practices. The New York co-op concept also severely limits new entrants along with rent control. These laws can also include whether you can work or have a business in your home. While subtle, these practices can have a large impact on prices and how the region functions.
Freedom From Excessive Taxation – Some level of taxation is necessary for government to function but high tax levels have severe intended and unintended consequences of under investment and evasion. Taxation includes state, local, city, sales, estate, property, and “sin” taxes. These vary significantly by area but are highest in California and the East Coast and likely the lowest in the South.
Freedom of Marriage Choice – A larger portion of states are recognizing marriages beyond the traditional marriage, and this varies by state
Freedom of Reproductive Rights – There are a wide variety of approaches and trends on a state level and then there are practical impacts, as well. This is highly variable by state in practice
Freedom on Medical Rights – an emerging model will be how each state approaches new medical practices and funding methodologies, along with the practical availability of doctors that subscribe to the state’s controls and funding methods. This area will grow exponentially in the near future

I believe that these sorts of analyses on a state by state level are much more useful than the traditional Red / Blue view (although they are often correlated) and when you start to dig in to the differences on a state and municipal level they are staggering, particularly when you view the extremes.

It would be interesting and useful to begin to put together the various data sets to analyze states and municipalities along these continuums, and others that I’ve likely missed.

Cross posted at LITGM

9 thoughts on “The Many States of America”

  1. One interesting contrast is between Texas, which funds state government by sales tax, and California, which depends heavily on income tax although it also has high sales tax rates. Illegal immigration is much less of a problem for Texas since everybody pays sales tax. Dependance on sales tax also restricts the size of government, another plus.

  2. We found the Mercatus guide to be a big help in evaluating alternatives after making the incredibly hard choice to leave our lives in California behind.

    The many differences to which you allude made for some fascinating reading.

  3. No Freedom of Association, where by people may choose to include/exclude from their businesses, organizations, and neighborhoods whomever they please for any reason whatsoever?

  4. ” Can you elaborate on how that would operate?”

    Nope. Don’t really care. There are plenty of HOA, private, and gated neighborhoods already. They exclude people surreptitiously now.

  5. It is a strange commentary on our culture that New York and California are considered to be among the most ‘diverse’ states yet according to Mercatus they rank dead last, 49th and 50th in liberty. It seems to me axiomatic that true diversity requires the liberty to behave in diverse ways.

  6. The Mercatus rankings are a good beginning, but as with any “best of” list you have to look at the details for specific issues that matter to you rather than rely on someone else’s ordering. Also, whatever rules are on the books the reality may be different and probably varies with time and place.

  7. Bill, diversity leads to weak communities, low radius of trust, and strong states to step in and provide what the weak communities will not. These states tend to make a lot of arbitrary rules, since there is no unspoken, shared consensus on proper behavior to create social peace. Communities with strong community self-organization tend to be homogenous with strong shared community mores and values.

    The USA for much of its history ran an interesting experiment in which it invited immigration from diverse sources, but then required immigrants to learn English and adopt the social customs of their new country. It worked well, until we abandoned it.

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