Wisconsin Ranks in Middle of Pack on Freedom Index of the States

MNS | June 7, 2011

Wisconsin ranks 25th on a scale of the most free states according to a new survey on economic and personal freedom issued by The Mercatus Center at George Mason University .

The Mercatus study ranks the states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres.

“In terms of economic freedom, the state’s spending and debt are roughly average,” according to the study. “However, government spending on transportation and public safety are above national norms.”

Taxes and wage laws are among the biggest barriers to freedom in the state, the report concludes.

“The overall tax burden is quite a bit higher than average, as are individual income and property taxes,” according to the study. “The state has a prevailing-wage law, but minimum wage is not above the federal level.”

The report indicates Wisconsin has moved up two spots on the scale since 2002.

“Eminent-domain-law reform has stalled and could go a lot further,” the report states. “Wisconsin has deregulated cable service but still needs further deregulation in other areas.”

The authors suggest three policy prescriptions to improve the personal and economic freedoms in Wisconsin.

  1. Reduce the income-tax burden while cutting back spending in areas above the national average, like education.
  2. Reform eminent-domain laws.
  3. Broaden the school-choice/school-voucher reforms.

The report was authored by William P. Ruger, an affiliated scholar with the Mercatus Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Texas State University – San Marcos, and  Jason Sorens,an affiliated scholar with the Mercatus Center and an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Buffalo (SUNY).


Fiscal Policy

The researchers divided fiscal policy equally into spending and taxation subcategories. These subcategories are highly interdependent; they included them both as redundant measures of the size of government.

Regulatory Policy

In this study, regulatory policy includes labor regulation, health-insurance coverage mandates, occupational licensing, eminent domain, the tort system, land-use regulation, and utilities. Regulations that seem to have a mainly paternalistic justification, such as home- and private-school regulations, werere placed in the paternalism category.


In deciding how to weight personal freedoms, Mercatus started from the bottom up, beginning with the freedom we saw as least important in terms of saliency, constitutional implications, and the number of people affected, and working up to the most important.

Ranking & Discussion

By summing the economic freedom and personal freedom scores, they obtain the overall freedom index

For this years’ iteration of the study, Mercatus added more policy variables, improved existing measures and developed specific policy prescriptions for each of the 50 states based on their data and a survey of state policy experts.

Wisconsin’s Freedom Rankings

  • #25 Overall
  • #31 Economic
  • #18 Personal