Nevada: Not so free

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

Nevada: Not so free

One of my favorite things about being the president of NPRI is that I’m often invited to speak to different organizations around the state and share the Institute’s perspective on the current debates over public policy.

My speeches cover various topics, depending on the host organization, but there’s one subject in particular that has become a staple of just about all of my presentations. That subject is the many myths about Nevada governance that have been allowed to persist for far too long — and the way those myths distort the policy discussion.

Three myths in particular have been on my mind a lot lately in light of a new analysis released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Those myths are that Nevada is 1) a low-tax state, 2) a small-government state and 3) a business-friendly state. We at NPRI have worked hard to correct the record on each of these fronts, and the new Mercatus report is further confirmation of what we’ve been proclaiming.
The report, titled Freedom in the 50 States, ranked all the states based on the level of freedom they offer in several areas, including economic freedom, personal freedom, tax burden, property rights and so on.

Overall, Nevada comes in 20th in terms of the amount of freedom it affords its citizens. That doesn’t sound too terrible, but a closer look at the report’s various categories is illuminating.

There were a number of categories where Nevada ranked high on the freedom chart: personal freedom (No. 2), gambling (No. 1) and gun control (No. 8), to name a few. We also scored high in the “bachelor party” category (No. 3) and in “alcohol” (No. 6).

But in a number of crucial categories — crucial particularly in light of the economic woes that continue to plague our state — Nevada scored near-average, or even quite poorly, on the freedom scale.

Those categories include economic freedom, where Nevada ranked 29th. And fiscal policy, where the Silver State came in 33rd. Then there’s the “tax burden” category, where we came in a lackluster 35th, and the “regulatory” category, where we were a slightly better 20th. And in most of these categories, Nevada has trended significantly downward in the last 10 years.

Most depressing of all, however, were two categories that really jumped out at me: educational freedom, where Nevada ranked a dismal 49th, and occupational licensing, where we were dead last at 50th. (The occupational-licensing score in particular reinforces a lot of the findings from NPRI’s recent policy study, The Path to Sustainable Prosperity.)

In other words, the only reason Nevada scores as high as it does overall is because of its libertarian leanings in the categories that are largely outside of the economic realm. In the categories most related to economic and fiscal issues — which, again, are especially crucial these days considering Nevada’s ongoing problems in those areas — the Silver State does much worse on the freedom front.

In addition, it’s worth noting that Nevada’s No. 20 overall ranking represents a seven-spot drop from the Mercatus Center’s report in 2009. And we’ve seen significant drops in the economic freedom (six spots), fiscal freedom (16 spots) and tax burden (10 spots) categories since that time, too.

These drops in Nevada’s scores are worth some serious reflection. Indeed, I make a point in my speeches to stress that in terms of its commitment to freedom-friendly policies, Nevada not only performs weakly but has been trending in the wrong direction. Why is this so important? Because it’s crucial to recognize that Nevada’s economic and fiscal health have deteriorated at the same time the state has drifted away from policies that prioritize liberty and toward those that involve bigger government.

The lesson here is this: As freedom recedes, so, too, does prosperity. The next time you hear a liberal argue that the reason behind all of Nevada’s problems is that our government is too small, our taxes are too low and our business owners are allowed to run amok, you should direct them to this new, powerful evidence to the contrary.

The truth is getting harder and harder to deny: The more liberals — of either party — have had their way, the worse off Nevadans have been.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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