Analysis of the State Comparison Matrix
Why the Free State Project Should Consider Just Six States
An Analysis of the State Comparison Matrix
by Jason Sorens
Note: The research presented in this paper - and accordingly, its conclusions - are now seriously outdated. See this essay instead for the author's up-to-date research.
Recently we produced a state comparisons spreadsheet containing all the major variables of interest to the Free State Project for the purpose of selecting a state. The additional "color" has been filled in by state research reports. Now that we have the data, I think we can safely eliminate several of the states under consideration in order to make our selection decision more manageable. I will make the case in this paper that we should include the following six states in the final vote, three from the West, three from the East: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware. If there is popular demand for it, we could also include Wyoming or North Dakota, though in my judgement they could well be eliminated.
My argument is based mostly on findings from the state comparisons spreadsheet. This spreadsheet allows the user to weight different variables according to his own choosing and then ranks the states accordingly. What I have found is that weighting does not matter very much: the same group of states is always on top. While reading this paper, I recommend that you open up the state comparisons spreadsheet (click here for Mac-suitable version) and follow along.
I will begin by giving my "ideal weighting" and looking at the results. Ideally, each of the four categories of variables - Size, Viability, Culture, and Quality of Life - should be roughly equally weighted. However, I think there is a case for weighting Size and Viability slightly above the other two. Culture doesn't matter so much because the culture in every state in the U.S. is very far from what we want it to be. Some states are clearly "more libertarian" than others, but even these states are not very libertarian at all compared to what we would consider to be ideal. Quality of Life is not quite as important for me as the other categories because I can deal with a temporary reduction in Quality of Life if it is necessary to bring about a free society.
Accordingly, I have weighted the variables in the following way. Size has two variables: number of voters and campaign spending. Both are important, but campaign spending is less important than number of voters. I have weighted campaign spending with a factor of "4" and number of voters "7." In my view, number of voters is probably the most important variable of all, though as we shall see federal dependence is also important. The total Size weighting is thus 11.
Viability has to do with the ability of the state to survive and prosper under autonomy or independence, should it eventually be achieved. My dissertation research has shown that autonomist movements are much stronger when the region in question pays more to the central government in taxes than it receives in expenditures. When it receives more in expenditures, autonomist movements are weak. Given the strength and robustness of this finding, I think federal dependence is a very important variable. I have thus weighted it "7." The other variable having to do with viability is geography. Opinions differ on how important this is: some saying that coastline (and to a lesser extent, foreign border) is essential, others saying that coastline is good but not essential. I would tend to agree with the latter, but I would stress that coastline or border has many advantages relating to the prospective economic benefits from free-market policies. These benefits are all greater the more trade-oriented we are, and trade orientation requires coastline. In addition, if worst comes to worst, coastline and border both allow for easier surreptitious escape from the country. I have given geography a "3" weighting.
Culture indicators include: presidential election results, government spending, taxes, gun control, and homeschooling regulations. Since government spending and taxes are essentially two measures of the same underlying variable, I have weighted them together the same as presidential election results: "4" - or 2 each for taxes and spending. Since gun control and homeschooling measures deal with specific policies rather than comprehensive ideology, I have given them much lower weightings. Gun control differences in absolute terms are fairly small among the states now under consideration, so I have given it and homeschooling both "0" weightings in this first simulation.
Quality of life indicators include: crime rate, per capita income, new jobs forecast, livability rating, "hidensity," and "lodensity." Since I don't care about population density, I haven't weighted the density variables (but I will do so later in the analysis). Per capita income and jobs forecast are two measures of the same item of interest: our economic well-being after the move. It's probably the most important element of quality of life, so I've given each a "2." Crime rate I've given a "3" and livability rating a "0": the subjectiveness and variability of this factor make it nearly worthless, in my view.
All this adds up to the following ranking of the 13 states under consideration: Wyoming, Delaware, New Hampshire, Alaska, Idaho, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico. The first four are well above the rest, and Vermont, Idaho, and the two Dakotas are well ahead of Nevada, Montana, and Maine. Finally, West Virginia and New Mexico are far behind everyone else.
Now what happens if we "shake up" the weightings? What follows is what scientists call "extreme-bounds analysis": you change the values of certain parameters to their most extreme plausible values and see if the results change. First, I'm going to weight low population density very heavily, as many Westerners in the FSP would likely do. If I give it a "7" weighting, make it tied for the most important variable in the analysis, the ranking looks like this: Wyoming, Alaska, New Hampshire, Idaho, North Dakota, Vermont, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Nevada, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico. The ranking doesn't change much, except that Delaware, with the highest population density in the group, falls a long way.
Now I will shake up some other variables. Let's say you're not concerned at all about Quality of Life: you'd be poor and crime-ridden for the chance of building a free society. If I set all Quality variables to zero and return LoDensity to zero, we get the following ranking: Wyoming, Delaware, Alaska, New Hampshire, Vermont, North Dakota, Idaho, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico. This is virtually the same as the first ranking.
Let's add the Quality of Life variables back in and consider what happens if you're not really concerned about coastal access. If put "0" on the geography variable, the ranking changes ever so slightly: Wyoming (far ahead of everyone else), New Hampshire, Delaware, Idaho, Alaska, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Montana, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico.
What if you think geography is really important? We'll give it a "7" weighting and see what happens. Not much: Delaware, Alaska, New Hampshire, Wyoming, Idaho, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maine, Montana, Nevada, West Virginia, New Mexico.
What if you're just as concerned with Culture as with Size and Viability? If we add one to each of the Culture variables, including homeschooling and gun control, Culture gets a total "13" points, compared to 11 for Size and 10 for Viability. The resultant ranking is this: Wyoming, Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Idaho, North Dakota, Vermont, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico.
Let's try to make the weightings as favorable as possible to Western states and as unfavorable as possible to Eastern states. I've weighted Geography "0," Livability "0," Income "0," Gun Control "0" (New England states actually best here), and LoDensity "7." The ranking that results is as follows: Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Montana, Nevada, Delaware, Maine, West Virginia, New Mexico. Not surprisingly, Delaware falls a great deal here, but the only "unusual" states that surpass it are South Dakota and Nevada. South Dakota is still behind North Dakota, and Nevada is still far behind most Western states. Maine, West Virginia, and New Mexico are the laggards as always.
I've also tried lowering the dependence variable, just in case you didn't buy my argument above. The ranking still doesn't change.
So no matter how you cut it, Wyoming, Alaska, New Hampshire, and Delaware are almost always at the top, with Idaho, the Dakotas, and Vermont following closely behind. West Virginia and New Mexico are always at rock bottom and Maine, Nevada, and Montana also do rather poorly.
Ben Irvin has presented eloquent arguments in favor of Montana. Why does Montana do so poorly here? First, its voting population is larger than many of the states we're considering. On state and local taxes and spending, it is downright bad. Montana has a bloated state government. Its per capita income is the absolute lowest. Its jobs forecast is mediocre, it is highly dependent on the federal government, and even on issues like gun control and homeschooling it is not clearly above the rest. Montana appears to have an "atmosphere of freedom," but that atmosphere doesn't seem to be translated into the policies that can be statistically measured. Still, its many "subjective" benefits mean that it should be considered in the final vote.
Maine also has some defenders because of its coastline. But Delaware has a long coastline as well (New Hampshire is scored below both states and Alaska as well because of its short coastline), and it has advantages that Maine does not have: many, many fewer voters, less expensive elections, much lower state spending and taxes, lower federal dependence, more jobs (despite Delaware's much smaller population!), and a better position on homeschooling. Thus, it seems that Delaware is a better choice than Maine, and that Maine can safely be eliminated from the vote. However, this will not be something for the Research Committee to do; we will need to have a membership vote on the issue. More on this below.
From the above analysis, I think it is clear that we can eliminate Nevada, West Virginia, and New Mexico from the analysis as well, because like Maine they always do poorly. We can also eliminate South Dakota, because it is quite similar to North Dakota, and North Dakota always scores better. There's no reason to include South Dakota in the vote with North Dakota there. If Maine is excluded, that leaves us Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, and North Dakota: eight states. I think it would be a good idea to have an equal number of Eastern and Western states. Why? Because with an unbalanced number of states, Westerners might disperse their votes over the greater number of Western states, while Easterners' votes will be relatively concentrated on the 3 Eastern states. Having more Western states in the vote would be an unfair advantage for Eastern states.
So which Western states should be eliminated from the group of eight? I would argue for Wyoming. Even though Wyoming comes out at the top of the ranking quite often, its dismal jobs outlook makes it totally nonviable. Its jobs situation makes it equivalent to a hypothetical state that looks really good on most measures but has a population of 5 million: despite its advantages, it simply isn't doable. If we tried to move 20,000 people to Wyoming within a space of five years, most of them would not get jobs. Ben has suggested that people could survive in Wyoming by hunting, fishing, and living in teepees. I think that proposal would be a very difficult sell to 20,000 people from all walks of life, at all ages in life, and from all parts of the country. Given that Idaho and Montana are perfectly viable choices right next door, I think Wyoming could be eliminated readily. Again, though, since Wyoming has defenders, we probably don't want the Research Committee to eliminate it on its own. North Dakota is a similar situation. Almost all the Westerners I've talked to don't want to move there, because of its brutally cold winters detailed in the climate report. It's even worse than many parts of Alaska. However, I have heard a few people defend the Dakotas as potentially good choices.
What I think we should do then is to have a membership vote. We would have the whole membership of the FSP vote on which two of these Western states to eliminate: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and on which one of these Eastern states to eliminate: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware. I believe the research presented in this report indicates that the ideal arrangement would be to have Alaska, Idaho, and Montana in the final vote for the West, and Vermont, New Hampshire, and Delaware for the East. Narrowing the number of states to six will allow voters to focus their attentions better, the Research Committee to study the candidates in more depth, our proposed meetings in candidate states to be easier to organise, and prospective members to be more confident about their signup decision. At the Research Committee meeting this Saturday (August 31, 2002), we will decide whether to adopt this plan for a membership vote, so stay tuned!
August 28, 2002
The views expressed in this essay do not necessarily represent those of Free State Project, Inc., its Directors, or its Officers.