A number of Far-Right media outlets have been reporting the results of a recent academic study that has found that, to quote the Newsmax headline, “Republican ‘Red States’ Are the Most Free.”
This study has been produced by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The Mercatus Center was originally housed at Rutgers University under a different—and duller–name, the Center for the Study of Market Processes.
In the mid-1980s, the Koch Brothers donated $30 million to support the work of the center and to relocate it to the outskirts of the nation’s capital, at George Mason University. It receives no funding from the university; instead, it receives 98% of its support from Conservative foundations and individual donors.
Most broadly stated, the Mercatus Center’s mission is to “connect academic learning and real-world practice,” which, for most people would not much more enlightening than its Latinate name. More specifically, its purpose is to provide and promote free-market strategies for addressing public-policy issues.
It should surprise no one, therefore, that the research produced by this think-tank is basically Far-Right propaganda because it clearly sets out single-mindedly to find ways to confirm the core principles of that ideology. It does not seek to investigate the pressing questions of the day with anything approaching intellectual honesty and academic rigor, but it, instead, begs the questions by working from the ideological assertions that it purports then to support.
Take, for instance, this latest study. The things that the study measures that, according to the researchers, make a state more or less “free” include:
fiscal policy, including the tax burden, government spending, and government debt;
regulatory policy, including freedom from tort abuse, property rights protection;
labor market freedom;
cable and telecom freedom;
personal freedom, including gun control freedom, alcohol freedom, marriage freedom, gambling freedom, civil liberties, education policy, and campaign finance freedom;
freedom from “nanny laws,” seatbelt enforcement, local rent control, motorcycle helmet laws, fireworks laws, transfat bans, and tobacco restrictions.
Given these premises, it is not at all surprising that the study identifies New York as the “least free” state in the union.
Of course, “freedom” is very clearly being conflated with holding Far Right positions on all issues.
Beyond the fact that such ideological conformity is in all other instances denounced by those on the Far Right as an indicator of authoritarian government and a loss of freedom, this study compels one to make the obvious case that this sort of “freedom” is selective, rather than universal, and that Progressives in Red states face all sorts of restrictions on their freedom that they would not face in Blue states.
This list of attacks on the freedoms that Progressives find fundamental could be very long, but some of the main items would certainly include:
very partisan restrictions on voting rights and access to polling places;
restrictions on collective bargaining rights that leave workers with no job protections, reduced pay and benefits, and more debilitating and hazardous working conditions;
draconian restrictions on a woman’s control over her own body and health choices;
elimination of social safety nets that protect the middle- and working-class families from increasingly volatile and arbitrary economic conditions;
promotion of individual rights, such as gun rights, that leave us at the mercy of the choice made by others, and the elimination of individual rights, such as tobacco bans and compulsory insurance statutes, that protect us from the choices of others;
elimination of environmental regulations that protect whole communities and hold corporations legally accountable for any damage that they do in trying to maximize their profits;
and reductions in tax revenues—in particular, in the taxes being paid by the most affluent individuals and by corporations–that insure stable public services, sound infrastructure, and effective public schools.
The following comparison may be viewed by some as hyperbole, as unnecessarily inflammatory, but the Far Right vision of American rhetorically emphasizes the values of equal opportunity and individual choice while actually supporting increasing rule by oligarchy. And the closest comparison that one can find to such a system is actually the old Communist regimes, which purported to be “socialist democracies” but which were actually authoritarian oligarchies. You can see the continuing effects of that economic inequality in the new Russian state, where despite some superficial movement toward more democratic political institutions, “free market” forces have simply further entrenched the old oligarchy.
For more than half a century, we have wondered how so many of those living under fascist and communist regimes could have believed at all–never mind believed very fervently–in the legitimacy and righteousness of those regimes.
But, in our own nation, we are seeing the widespread acceptance of this sort of conflation of “freedom” with policies that are actually redefining “freedom” in ways that reduce, rather than insure and promote, individual freedoms.
The “Red states” designation may, ironically, be all too apt.