Phoenix: Not so free, not so unfree

July 24, 2008 Disloyal Opposition Blog,

Phoenix isn’t a terrible place when it comes to personal freedom. It’s not so great either, despite Arizona’s overstated Wild-West reputation.

Reason magazine’s Radley Balko raised a fuss in Chicago with his column in the Chicago Tribune taking that city to task for “treating its citizens like children” with a variety of nanny-state interventions into everything from sex laws to booze restrictions to firearms regulations that are designed to turn local politicians’ obsessions and bugaboos into punishable offenses.

The full article from which Balko drew, rating 35 cities according to semi-scientific rankings of the various city governments’ treatment of personal freedom, is available on Reason’s Website. The cities are assessed on the environment they provide for personal autonomy in the areas of: Sex, Tobacco, Alcohol, Guns, Movement, Drugs, Gambling and Food/Other.

Chicago came in dead last, setting itself up for its public excoriation. Las Vegas, with a generally laissez-faire attitude toward matters that draw political and legal attention elsewhere, ranked first.

I note that Phoenix, the metropolitan behemoth of Arizona, ranks a mediocre 14. With its middle-of-the-road status, the city doesn’t even rate a full text analysis of its advantages and disadvantages. The magazine merely notes: “If harassment of suspected illegal immigrants were measured in this list, the stomping grounds of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio would rank dead last.”

I’ve written plenty about Sheriff Joe’s shenanigans, so I can’t disagree.

Reason’s rankings are a welcome tool for assessing the livability of America’s many and various jurisdictions by a variety of criteria. Measures of economic freedom are relatively easy to come by, but attempts to assess local openness to gays and lesbians, personal choice on smoking, drug laws, the ability to defend yourself within the law and other measures of the breathing room to live in a given area according to your own preferences are rare.

In fact, it’s interesting to cross-reference, say, the Pacific Research Institute’s U.S. Economic Freedom Index (full document here in PDF format) with Reason’s rankings. Chicago’s miserable last-place personal freedom ranking correlates depressingly with Illinois’s overall 46 (out of 50) rank among the states for economic liberty.

Las Vegas, the top dog for personal-freedom, is located in pretty-good twelfth-ranked Nevada for economic liberty.

But the best bargain may be Denver, ranked third for personal freedom, and nestled comfortably in second-place Colorado, for economic liberty.

(Phoenix, ranked a mediocre 14 out of 35 for personal freedom, does a bit better on economics, given Arizona’s slot at 11.)

Of course, rankings are only snapshots; you need to see what direction a jurisdiction is going, or you’re at risk of moving to a garden of freedom just in time to watch it transform into a gulag. As David Harsanyi notes in Reason’s write-up of Denver:

Often the relevant question isn’t where you are but where you’re headed. And Denver, alas, is moving in the same godforsaken direction as the rest of the country. Safety, economic and social “justice,” the children, the environment, the pets (unless we’re talking about pit bulls, a breed banned from city limits)—all of them trump individual freedom. …

Denver is one of the freest cities in the country? That’s dreadful news for the rest of you suckers.

Oh well. Reason is going to have to repeat these rankings on a regular basis, so we have a better idea of how our homes, current and prospective, fare. It just might be better to stay in a town ranked at 14 that stays at 14 than it would be to move to a burg that starts off good and then slides, heartbreakingly, down the scale.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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