What is America’s most libertarian city?

This post is merely aimed at garnering ad revenue, feel free to ignore.  It was motivated by this article on the most libertarian countries on Earth (N. Korea makes the list!!)

I’m actually not interested in the most libertarian in the sense of smallest government, I want the freest city in America.  I put ‘libertarian’ in the title to draw readers.  Here are some choices, and evidence.  You vote:

1.  Vancouver, Washington.  No state income tax.  Shop in nearby Portland, Oregon, which has no sales tax.  Legalized pot.  Right to die.

2.  Houston.  No income tax.  No zoning laws (sort of).  Free parking and lots of highways (George Will wouldn’t be herded into mass transit here.)  Yes, somewhat religious, but refreshingly hypocritical on social issues (more strip clubs than “liberal” Boston.)

3.  LA/San Francisco.  Horrible on economic freedom, but lots of room to explore any lifestyle you want.  Medical marijuana is effectively open to anyone.

4.  NYC.  Similar to LA, but NYC is a bit more paternalistic (the Bloomberg effect.)

5.  Nashua, NH.  All of New Hampshire’s economic freedoms (no income or sales taxes), more social freedom that most free market places (gay marriage.)  A short drive to Boston provides some of the freedoms associated with big cities (anonymity, gay bars, etc.)

6.  New Orleans.  Senator Vitter.  Nuff said.

7.  Miami Beach.  No income tax, casual dress code.

8.  Las Vegas.  Do I even have to explain?

So which city is actually the freest?  I suppose it depends on what you want to do, and which places makes that hard to do.  Oddly I left out the Midwest, even though in many ways my home state (Wisconsin) seems freer to me than the East Coast.  The more I think about this, the more subjective it seems.

Prediction:  When I wrote this post a few weeks ago there wasn’t a single country on Earth with fully legalized pot.  Within 20 years there will be at least 15 countries.

HT:  Tyler Cowen



29 Responses to “What is America’s most libertarian city?”

  1. Gravatar of AlanInAZ AlanInAZ
    5. October 2013 at 07:58

    Everyone has a different idea of what free means. In my case no state income tax and lack of zoning would be negatives rather than positives. No income tax means my property and sales taxes will be higher. As a retiree on fixed income I would prefer low property taxes rather than no income tax. No zoning means my home resale value will always be in jeopardy.

  2. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    5. October 2013 at 08:35

    I vote against LA. And not on grounds of economic freedom, on grounds of everyday petty restrictions on your life. When I moved there from France I was shocked how unfree the place felt. Consider this. I lived in one of the ‘beach cities’ (Playa del Rey, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach etc). That beach is huge, maybe 20 miles long or so. Access paths to the beach have these 4×6 ft posters warning you whatever myriad things aren’t allowed there. No camping, no fire, no booze, no glass bottles, no access after hours (I think it was 8 pm or so) and on and on. I even took a pic of that poster because it seemed so absurd. And all of this is pettily enforced too. I personally witnessed on a 4th of July off all days, after the fireworks at beach closing time people were chased off the beach by low flying helicopters at first, and then by police 4×4’s. That includes driving those 4×4’s aggressively right up to people who actually live in the beach houses there, but had dared to sit on lawn chairs in the sand, 6 ft in front of their own house. Well technically also on the beach hence illegal. They were chased right back inside their houses. So, thanks but no thanks. Not to mention again on 4th of July I walked (!!) and took some pics from on the sidewalk. Well some paranoid resident called the cops on me – weird man with camera on sidewalk. Seriously, w.r.t. what you can do legally in public spaces, all of Europe, and excluding now political protests, quite often Singapore too, beats LA handily and probably all of California. And I am certain there are freer cities in the US.

  3. Gravatar of Patrick R. Sullivan Patrick R. Sullivan
    5. October 2013 at 08:36

    It’s almost impossible to get arrested in downtown Seattle;


    Though parking a car there is pretty difficult.

  4. Gravatar of Steve Roth Steve Roth
    5. October 2013 at 08:40

    Freedom’s just another word for…having money. (Apologies to Kris Kristofferson.)

    Ask any person of moderate means what the single biggest constraint is on them doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it. I’ve love to see that in a poll.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. October 2013 at 11:01

    Alan, Some states with no income tax have a lower overall tax burden. New Hampshire for instance.

    mbka. That depresses me (as I’ll probably live in LA someday.)

    Steve, I’m in the top quintile, but felt freer when I was in the bottom quintile. So I don’t see much link to money, although perhaps ceteris paribus it gives one more freedom.

  6. Gravatar of Vivian Darkbloomt Vivian Darkbloomt
    5. October 2013 at 11:06

    “Oddly I left out the Midwest…”

    That is odd. Aside from Pennsylvania, there is an amazing number of towns and townships in the midwest (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa) that are named “Liberty”. Many more than in other parts of the country. Hardly any in the West and apparently none in California. Why’s that?


  7. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    5. October 2013 at 11:31

    Side note: in Thailand anyone can be a pushcart or sidewalk vendor, or drive a jitney or sell goods and services out of their front yard…I know of no American city where any of that is legal…I wonder if the fancy economic freedom surveys take this into account…think about it: local government stomps on the kind of free enterprise that would mean something to millions of average people…

  8. Gravatar of happyjuggler0 happyjuggler0
    5. October 2013 at 12:12


    When did the US annex Vancouver?


    I’m inclined to think that you meant Seattle Washington, not Vancouver Washington.

  9. Gravatar of happyjuggler0 happyjuggler0
    5. October 2013 at 12:17

    Hmmmm, my apologies; there is indeed a Vancouver in Washington, right on the Oregon border.

    Must remember…”google is my friend, google is my friend”

  10. Gravatar of Steve Horwitz Steve Horwitz
    5. October 2013 at 13:02


    Reason did this awhile back: http://reason.com/archives/2008/07/09/whats-the-matter-with-chicago

  11. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    5. October 2013 at 13:14

    Prof. Sumner,

    I have to say, it would be helpful to see what you think are the 7 or 8 most important issues facing the United States (from a utilitarian perspective).

  12. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    5. October 2013 at 13:50

    Scott –

    “Steve, I’m in the top quintile, but felt freer when I was in the bottom quintile. So I don’t see much link to money, although perhaps ceteris paribus it gives one more freedom.”

    I assume you have other constraints that have increased such as family obligations or health. I think Steve is correct, prosperity, meaning owning enough property with few or no liabilities that you can live comfortably without working is a good definition of freedom for most people.

    I know I’m biased because I have no interest in taking drugs or hiring prostitutes, which seem to be the only things most libertarians care about. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to legalizing those things, just that they don’t concern me as much as whether I can afford to eat – or that I have the freedom to eat. I can’t think of anything that I actually want to do that government at any level is stopping me from doing. So to me, prosperity equals freedom. Of course, that’s why I’m a market monetarist.

  13. Gravatar of A.W. Carus A.W. Carus
    5. October 2013 at 14:14

    “The more I think about this, the more subjective it seems.” As opposed to?

  14. Gravatar of Saturos Saturos
    5. October 2013 at 14:17

    Sorry, but why did you pick Vancouver WA over Seattle?

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. October 2013 at 15:48

    Ben, Good point.

    Thanks Steve.

    Travis, Off the top of my head:

    1. War on drugs
    2. Immigration restrictions
    3. Bloated and dangerous military
    4. Costly and wasteful healthcare
    5. Unemployment
    6. War on terror
    7. Public schools
    8. Global warming
    9. Occupational licensing laws
    10 Income taxes
    11. Laws restricting sexual freedom
    12. Low wages
    13. 21 drinking age

    In issues 5, 8 and 12 the government needs to do more, or perhaps different (monetary stimulus, carbon tax, wage subsidy). In the other issues it needs to do less.

    Negation, I tend to forget about those who are rich enough not to work, as everyone I know works. But wealth may create its own entanglements.

    I can’t speak for other libertarians, but I have little interest in taking drugs, but a big interest in 400,000 innocent people who are in prison in America. A new study shows that prison rapes are so common that it appears a majority of America’s rape victims are men. Who would have guessed that?

    AW, As opposed to nothing. There is no such thing as “objective.”

    Saturos, Seattle residents cannot shop in Portland—it’s too far. Vancouver is 10 minutes from Portland.

  16. Gravatar of Craig Craig
    5. October 2013 at 17:09

    My vote is Austin, TX, but it is based on little evidence. Generally a culture of live and let live (“Keep Austin Weird!”). No income tax, I don’t believe.

  17. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    5. October 2013 at 19:25

    Scott –

    I apologize for my unclear wording – I don’t believe that most libertarians take drugs, and I agree that putting huge amounts of non violent drug users in prison is awful. And the horror of prison rape is a national scandal (though opposing that doesn’t make a libertarian, it makes a human).

    The point I was trying to make, perhaps badly, is that I think prosperity is underrated for freedom because people tend to think the economy is good or bad for no reason, like a natural disaster. But if depressions are caused by bad monetary policy, then tight money could be the biggest restriction on freedom for most people.

    Here’s an example. I occasionally drink beer, and so do most people I know. I would be very opposed to a return of prohibition. But if I could choose between 1929-1932 monetary policy with legal alcohol or NGDPLT with Prohibition I would choose the second, because that would be the better one in terms of freedom for most people. (Of course, that wasn’t the choice, as FDR ended Prohibition and relaxed monetary policy.)

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. October 2013 at 05:19

    Negation, I agree.

  19. Gravatar of Travis Travis
    6. October 2013 at 05:23

    As a religious, gun carrying, teetotaller libertarian, I’d have little interest on living in most of those cities. This ranking is about lifestyle, not freedom (as Scott admits to start the post) – hence the subjectiveness. I wonder how a public policy based ranking would look like. Nashua, Houston, Vegas and New Orleans would still do pretty well, I guess.

    Negation, what’s exactly the point of conflating prosperity and freedom? Is there any analytical benefit that I’m missing? They’re very different things, even if often correlated.

  20. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    6. October 2013 at 06:31

    Prof. Sumner,

    Thank you for your reply! I think inequality of wealth, campaign finance, zoning and patent regulations should bump some of those items off the list, though…..

  21. Gravatar of Morgan Warstler Morgan Warstler
    6. October 2013 at 10:43

    Austin wins hands down. From Ron Paul hippies to Alex Jones conspiracy nuts, to Carigs point “Keep Austin Weird” as the actual motto.

    Its the most socially liberal city in a fiscally conservative state.

    “Wes Benedict and Arthur DiBianca of Libertarian Booster PAC note that 31 Libertarian candidates were on the Travis County ballot this year, more than any other county in America. Among the other stats they cite:

    Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson won 2.7% there, his highest percentage nationwide for large counties outside his home state of New Mexico.

    Four Libertarians got over 40% of the vote for the portion of their district within Travis County

    The current chairman of the national party, Geoffrey Neale, lives in Travis County, and 2004 Libertarian presidential nominee Michael Badnarik had previously run for office as a Libertarian in Travis County, and his presidential campaign headquarters were located in Travis County.”


  22. Gravatar of TravisV TravisV
    6. October 2013 at 17:01


    I live in Austin and I’m not so sure. Yes, Austin has beautiful hills and Houston does not. It’s a lot more aggressive at restricting housing construction than Houston is, though.
    Maybe that’s why Austin isn’t ethnically diverse. Houston provides its residents the freedom of affordable housing and other costs of living relative to their incomes. Using that metric, Houston scores better than any other city.



    When my buddy who grew up in China wants good Chinese food, he takes weekend trips to Houston.

  23. Gravatar of myb6 myb6
    7. October 2013 at 08:13

    Travis, “real” GDP per capita comparisons that are highly dependent on housing prices, like your examples, have serious methodological problems.

    In a metro with rare amenities in the commons, it makes sense that people would choose to spend what otherwise could be discretionary income on location.

    In the metrics you cited, however, if I choose to buy fewer cars and instead spend that money to be close to my favorite park, somehow my city is reducing my real income. This makes no sense.

    Nominal GMP and population, both level and long-run growth rate, are better statistics for Metro performance. Note that Houston does well on those too. I’ve nothing against Houston, I just find Kotkin, Cox, and co to be weak thinkers.

  24. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    7. October 2013 at 11:45

    Isn’t the Midwest the worst mix of social conservatives and economic liberals in the country?

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. October 2013 at 16:01

    Benny, Neither.

  26. Gravatar of John John
    7. October 2013 at 19:22


    You’re wrong about one thing. There is one country where it is fully legal for any private citizen to produce, distribute, and consume any quantity of marijuana they desire: North Korea.

    The post you linked to on Uruguay shows that in their proposed legalization, the state will be in charge of production and distribution while the amount private citizens can consume is capped at 1.4 ounces per month.

    The debate in Uruguay centers around the harms of (possibly) increased use after legalization. This misses the point of drug legalization entirely. The debate should center around whether or not legalization will reduce violence, criminality, and harm to users. Those are the true societal costs of prohibition that people should be thinking about.

  27. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. October 2013 at 05:51

    John, Yes, I should have mentioned that.

  28. Gravatar of Cthorm Cthorm
    8. October 2013 at 07:43


    I hope you’re using “LA” loosely. There is no compelling reason to live in the city of LA. Just outside of LA there are dozens of freer cities in one aspect or another. Orange County, Santa Barbara, San Diego… Same for San Fran: Monterrey, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa…

  29. Gravatar of Yonatan Yonatan
    27. April 2018 at 22:11

    Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are on a list of most Libertarian cities? Aren’t New York, LA, San Francisco the anti-thesis of Libertarianism? Atheism/Liberalism and Hippies doesn’t equate to being a Libertarian, but rather being a Liberal. I would think California and New YOrk are the prime example of what we Libertarians dread. Astronomical taxes, draconian gun laws/strict gun control, as well as being in major nanny states where the government regulates and controls almost every aspect of your life.

    After seeing those cities listed, I knew this list was about as good as worthless..

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