We live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, but just how free are we really? A new report by the Cato Institute sets out to answer that question on a state-by-state basis, and it turns out that Arizona is ranked 9th in the nation when it comes to liberty. But good news today doesn’t mean Arizona can rest on its laurels, especially with growing threats to the state’s wellbeing looming on the horizon.
Cato bases its analysis on a range of factors including fiscal, regulatory, personal, and overall freedom. While some might traditionally think of freedom in terms of individual liberties, like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms, economic freedom to work, profit from our labor, and invest without government interference are just as important.
When it comes to economic freedom, here are some of the areas where Cato reports that Arizona is succeeding:
- State and local taxes are 8.7 percent of adjusted personal income, well below average;
- Debt and government consumption are below average;
- Government employment is a lot better than average, at only 11.2 percent of the private sector;
- On regulatory policy, Arizona is laudably one of the best in the country in terms of anti-cronyism;
- Business entry and prices are quite liberalized.
Why do these metrics matter? “Measuring freedom is important because freedom is valuable to people,” Cato reports. “At the very least, it is valuable to those whose choices are restricted by public policy.” That’s why the Goldwater Institute has fought for thirty years to enact policies at the state level to expand freedom, reduce taxes, hold the line on government spending, and eliminate unnecessary regulations.
The Goldwater Institute’s Right to Earn a Living Act is a great example. All too often, regulatory agencies enact restrictions on who can open and operate a business even though they have not been given the authority to do so by the Legislature. The Right to Earn a Living Act changes that by requiring regulatory agencies to show some legitimate public harm before blocking individuals from a profession. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed the Act into law in 2017, and other states can look to it as a model for ensuring greater economic freedom.
We also carry out our fight in courts to protect freedom and ensure constitutionally limited government. Most recently, the Institute’s American Freedom Network took a stand in Phoenix to challenge the city’s unconstitutional use of taxpayer dollars to give advantages to special interests. You can read more about our work enforcing the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause here.
Our work, though, isn’t done. In his report “Permit Freedom,” Goldwater Institute vice president for litigation Timothy Sandefur explains that America is becoming less free as state and local governments impose oppressive restrictions on our daily lives.
Sadly, America is steadily turning back from a free society—where freedom is regarded as a basic right—into a Permission Society, where our freedoms are regarded as privileges that government gives us when it chooses. Whether it be starting a business, building a home, buying a gun, supporting a political candidate, or even to taking medicine, our ability to make our own decisions is increasingly curtailed by permit requirements, licensing restrictions, and other rules that require us to get government permission before we may do what we think best with our lives.
Just as the Goldwater Institute is standing guard to defend freedom in Arizona, citizens need to remain vigilant, too. This election year is a great example. Voters may be asked to decide on the so-called InvestinEd initiative, which would increase taxes on small businesses by 76 to 98 percent, saddling Arizona with the fourth-highest small business tax in the nation, up from 38th. Those higher taxes would be passed on to all individuals and discourage businesses from opening in Arizona.
That’s the practical impact of enacting policies that restrict freedom. Where government grows, increases spending, takes on debt, raises taxes, and adds regulations, our liberties are limited—and our prosperity suffers right along with it.