Monday, June 13, 2011

How Free is Texas?

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University recently released what appears to be a periodic study of how each state's policies affect freedom (overall, economic, and personal).  The states are then ranked as to how free each state is.  The top three in these rankings are New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Indiana; the bottom three (no surprises here) are California, New Jersey, and New York.

Since I'm in Texas, I'll focus on Texas's ranking, #14.  This reflects a drop in ranking since what I guess is the last study, conducted in 2007.  As the Center explains:

Texas prides itself on being a freedom-loving state, and our rankings bear out that it is freer than most other states. However, its policies are sometimes not as consistent with individual liberty as the rhetoric of its officials and citizens would suggest. Indeed, Texas has slipped in the rankings and has much room for improvement.

And what issues keep Texas out of the top ten of this list?  Well, the authors cite the lack of open-carry legislation, harsh marijuana laws and a general eagerness to make drug arrests, lack of school choice, "mandated coverages on health insurance that add significantly to the cost of insurance premiums", lack of eminent domain reform, and a "worse than average" asset forfeiture system and liability system, and "higher than average" cigarette taxes.

For each state, the Center offers three policy recommendations.  For Texas, their top three ideas are as follows, with my thoughts:

1. Legalize casino gambling, slot machines, and sports betting. These changes would be especially useful as mechanisms for reducing the state’s budget shortfall.

I have no problem with this legally, but I have concerns that there will be people who tend toward addiction in these areas.  Of course, those people are currently probably already going to casinos in Oklahoma and Louisiana now, so perhaps all the states need to be on an equal footing here.

2. Repeal the prevailing-wage law.

As I understand it (from reading this publication from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission), prevailing wage laws "require that workers on certain public construction projects be paid a specified minimum wage", which may be taken from collective bargaining agreements or calculations to determine what the "prevailing" wage might be.  To a point, I can see the reason for laws like this; in my mind, it's the you-get-what-you-pay-for principle.  But I have also seen a fair amount of wasted resources in public construction projects, so anything that might increase the efficiency in such projects would be a welcome improvement, in my mind.  Whether that would be gained in repealing any prevailing-wage laws, I don't know.

3. Liberalize drug laws. First steps would include legalizing medical marijuana, decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession, and reducing the extremely harsh maximum prison sentences for single marijuana offenses.

By all means, yes.  In my mind, a lot of the drug wars have been a retread of Prohibition.  And I know that there are differences in how people are treated based on what drug they might possess, to the point that there are fairly large discrepancies in how drug offenders are sentenced. 

Now, does this mean that people should be allowed to do whatever they want with regard to drugs?  Well, are people allowed to get away with driving drunk?  Of course they aren't, since their actions at that point can adversely affect others, but where such drug use is victimless (for example, no one is driving a motor vehicle while using it or under the influence), I don't see why it should be prohibited.  (Just because I generally wouldn't use drugs doesn't mean that my opinions have to apply to everyone.)  There is some amount of common sense needed.

Will these three ideas solve everything?  Or are they a solution at all?  I think each of the ideas presented here should at least receive some consideration, but then, so should many others.

(Hat tip:  Hot Air)