We’re number 12

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has published its “Freedom in the 50 States” ranking, which includes both economic and personal freedom scores to rank each state by its overall freedom.

Nevada is ranked 12th nationally, which is a good ranking, but that also drops us two slots from the 2012 rankings.

Nevada ranks third in the nation for personal freedom. We are a medical marijuana state, and soon, perhaps, a recreational marijuana state. We are also liberal compared to most states in alcohol and tobacco policies. There is access to legal gambling, and also legal small counties prostitution. Nevada is a shall-issue-concealed-handgun-carry and an open-carry state as well. By some accounts, you can drive 80 on rural straightaways.

Nevada has options for both civil unions and same-sex marriage.

There are some countervailing tendencies. Until recreational marijuana is legalized, there can be severe consequences for possession and personal cultivation, especially in rural Nevada. The anti-sex trafficking movement is strong enough in Nevada that Reno and Las Vegas recently participated in a National “Johns Suppression Inititiative” lasting the month of July. It produced few arrests.

Nevada has passed increased school choice, but it is still tied up in the courts. The courts themselves are rated a bit above average but stagnating.

It is our economic freedom that is most at risk. In recent years, Nevada has moved from a center-right to a center-left political environment. That has not been good for Nevada workers, whose wages have stagnated. Personal income growth in Nevada 2006-2013 has been a dismal .08 percent annually.

Democrats will call for a living wage increase over Nevada’s modest minimum wage. Unfortunately, that proposal, if enacted, will have serious trade-offs for employment.

State and local taxes have been increasing, and the Cato study does not even include the effects of the recently passed commerce tax. Other economic indicators are decidedly mixed. The unemployment rate has been dropping, but the labor participation rate is shockingly low. Over 800,000 Nevadans are work capable but unwilling to look for work. Energy costs are rising faster than average due to the state’s green energy portfolio standards.

The 2013 legislative victory of Nevada nurse practitioners providing occupational independence with prescription powers is significant for economic liberty. However, Nevada has far too many occupational licensing restrictions. We are one of only a handful of states that requires interior decorators to have a state license. What possible danger to the health, safety and morals of Nevada can helping clients color coordinate their bedrooms bring?

Nevada’s government is small compared to population, but the large rural counties offer little choice in government. The study did not seem to measure the impact of federal control of the lands in Nevada. The presence of the federal bureaucracies brings subsidies to ranching and farming, but at the cost of curtailment of freedom and property rights. Just ask members of the Bundy family how they feel about that.

While Nevada’s government is small, its debt is beginning to spiral out of control. State and local debt now stands at over 26 percent of income. Subsidies are below average, but are increasing lately, and if Sheldon Adelson gets his wish to bring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas in a special session this year, the trend toward market cronyism will continue.

The 2017 Nevada legislature will face challenges to increase workforce participation, deregulate licensed occupations, act to get government debt under control, and hopefully repeal or reform the commerce tax. The people of Nevada can expand access to marijuana, and preserve gun rights in November. Let’s be Number One in Liberty!