5. South Dakota
Formerly ranking number one on the list back in 2012, South Dakota is a quintessential “deep red” state with a vast gulf between its economic and personal freedom. The state has been growing like gangbusters for at least 20 years, but lawmakers might also consider whether man can live by money alone. With an excellent fiscal policy, it has one of the lowest tax burdens in the country, and both state and local tax burdens have fallen over time. It is also relatively fiscally decentralized, and South Dakotans do have some choice among local jurisdictions (1.2 effective ones per 100 square miles). South Dakota’s regulatory policy is also well above average, but it has not improved much, even discounting the PPACA, since 2000.
South Dakota’s criminal justice policies surely qualify as draconian. For its crime rate, it imprisons far more than it should. Drug and other victimless crime arrest rates are all above national norms, however measured. Asset forfeiture is virtually unreformed, though local law enforcement does not participate much in equitable sharing. The cannabis law is harsher than in most states and officials often take DNA samples from nonviolent misdemeanant suspects without any judicial process. Private school and homeschool regulations are not as burdensome as those of the neighbor to the north, but without any school choice programs its educational liberty is below average.