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North Dakota is the freest state in the U.S., followed closely by South Dakota, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma, according to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University’s third annual “Freedom in the 50 States.”

The 223-page report “scores all 50 states on their overall respect for individual freedom, and also on their respect for three dimensions of freedom considered separately: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, and personal freedom,” the study explains. Surprisingly, Texas did not make the top 10 and was ranked the 14th most free state.

“In order to calculate these scores, we weight public policies according to the estimated costs that government restrictions on freedom impose on their victims,” the report adds.

But how does the report define “freedom”? Again, the study explains its meaning:

We ground our conception of freedom on an individual rights framework. In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick, but it is also consistent with the rights-generating rule-utilitarianism of Herbert Spencer and others.

[…]

The freedom index stands within the tradition in social science of measuring normatively desired phenomena, such as democracy, civil liberties, and human rights.

Clearly, our index will have intrinsic interest for classical liberals and libertarians.

However, non-libertarian social scientists will also benefit from the index because it is an open question how individual liberty relates to phenomena such as economic growth, migration, and partisan politics in the American states. In the same way, while political scientists may value democracy for its own sake, they can also research empirically what causes democracy and how democracy affects other phenomena.

So with a better understanding of the criteria used to measure personal and economic freedom (and with a better idea of what they mean when they use the word “freedom”), here are the top 10 “freest” states in the U.S., according to “Freedom in the 50 States”:

10. Utah

9. Georgia

8. Virginia

7. Missouri

6. Idaho

5. Oklahoma

4. New Hampshire

3. Tennessee

2. South Dakota

1. North Dakota

Bonus: The Lowest-Ranked State Is…

“New York is by far the least free state in the Union,” the report reads. “It is therefore no surprise that New York residents have been heading for the exits: 9.0 percent of the state’s 2000 population, on net, left the state for another state between 2000 and 2011, the highest such figure in the nation.”

Here’s an interactive map of “Freedom in the 50 States”:

Click here to read the full report.

On TheBlog: Is personal freedom on the decline in Texas?

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Featured image Getty Images.

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