December 22, 2015 Print

The freedom to relocate and “vote with one’s feet” can sometimes spur local governments to compete with favorable policies — but this effect only works well when people can make informed decisions about which cities are actually better or worse in relevant categories. Libertas Institute, an Atlas Network partner in Utah, is helping to solve that problem by releasing a new ranking that scores cities throughout the state on their relative levels of freedom.

“Imagine if a state legislature or the U.S. Congress operated outside of the public's view — no media, no watchdog organizations, and no concerned citizens,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute. “What would they get away with, and how much worse would the legal landscape be? Unfortunately, this exact scenario plays out in cities throughout America, as city councils deliberate and vote with few people present apart from a few Boy Scouts and land developers. Transparency and accountability are needed; the Freest Cities Index pushes back against this trend by easily and efficiently informing individuals about a number of important legal issues in their city, and how their city compares to others. This information empowers each individual to identify and focus on a problematic area of public policy and seek change.”

The index includes 22 metrics in three categories — free enterprise, private property, and individual liberty — following a methodology similar to the one used by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in its “Freedom in the 50 States” index. It includes weighted and normalized data points for a wide array of government restrictions and interference, from taxes and regulations on commerce and land use to vice restrictions and permit fees.

“Many freedom-loving individuals want to make a difference in their community, but simply don't know how — they lack the knowledge, time, and training to impact public policy,” Boyack said. “The Freest Cities Index helps reverse this trend by informing Utahns as to how their city performs on a wide range of issues dealing with individual liberty, private property rights, and the free market. In two minutes, a person can now get up to speed on how things are in their city, and using the website they can access the problematic law or legal document that can be changed. Focusing each person's attention on specific city issues—at a level of government where change is comparatively much easier than state or federal initiatives—enables them to rally their neighbors and seek for a positive change in their community.”

Boyack said that Libertas Institute hopes that this index will become a valuable resource not only for Utah residents but for the broad think tank community, who can use this project as a model for their own efforts in other states.

“Libertas Institute is eager to partner with organizations in other states to produce a Freest Cities Index elsewhere,” Boyack said. “We can provide the formulas, spreadsheets, process, strategy, website, etc. The partner organization would be responsible to collect and furnish the data.”