Give Mercatus More Credit For Their Freedom In The 50 States Analysis

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On Monday, fellow contributor Cathy argued that Mercatus should have given civil liberties more credence when constructing their yearly report Freedom in the 50 States. Cathy’s argument is that, by considering taxes the most heavily in its calculations, Mercatus, and thus libertarians, run the risk of looking like they care only about issues that benefit “middle-class white men.”

Cathy, I must respectfully disagree with your analysis.

First, Mercatus specifically lays out the fact that they left out some uber-controversial issues such as abortion, because, with yours-truly as living proof, you can be a libertarian and be pro-life. Mercatus chose to focus on those values on which most, if not all, classical liberals can agree.

Second, while it may appear that economic issues such as taxation favor rich white guys, as I’ve pointed out before, it is often those struggling to get by who are most quickly and brutally hurt by increases in government-imposed financial burdens. Yes, tax burden garnered 28.6% of the weight in the overall analysis, but aren’t taxes the most visible for everybody? Particularly in places like my home state of Alabama, whose state income tax, high sales tax (which is not at all prorated for groceries), and low property tax are incredibly regressive.

What government controlled institution hurts people more acutely than having an extra 5% ripped from your paycheck, or your grocery bill being 10% higher than it is for folks in neighboring states?

In his most famous work, The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek argues that throughout history economic liberties have preceded civil liberties, and that there is never an increase in the latter without increases in the former. Additionally, the two often times overlap.

What should the War on Drugs be considered, an assault on civil liberties—the right to decide whether or not to ingest certain chemicals—or an affront to economic liberties—freedoms of association and contract? The answer should be both, because the policy has ramifications on both civil and economic liberties. While the most visible outcome of the War on Drugs is a disproportionate number of young, minority males being imprisoned, the policy also has less visible, but arguably more devastating, economic outcomes.

I completely agree with Cathy that libertarians often have a messaging problem. They are often seen as too rational, too cold and uncaring (when, in reality, they are also the same group that has been advocating marriage equality for much longer than any other major political ideology). But taxation doesn’t just affect one group of people; it is ultimately detrimental to everyone. While I agree that the voice of the majority should never drown out a minority, neither should that of a smaller population take precedence over a group made up of virtually every member of society.

It certainly would have been a mistake for Mercatus to weigh taxation and other fundamentally economic issues as their sole criteria, and maybe they should have given more consideration to primarily social concerns, but I also think it would be wrong for those who constructed the report to more heavily weigh issues that affect just a few Americans than those that affect everyone.