In a world of increasingly pervasive surveillance, individuals need to make a concerted effort to establish their own individual freedom. Libertarianism is a set of political and philosophical views centered around ensuring individual freedom. Libertarians want to be free from coercion, and are opposed to the regulatory bodies that make forcible interference into their lives.

Libertarianism is an interesting political position in a heavily polarized country like the United States because it doesn’t fit neatly along the left and right political divide. The libertarian insistence on personal freedom is in alignment with left wing values of freedom of gender and sexuality, drug decriminalization, demilitarization, and open borders.

On the other hand, libertarians tend to share ideas about small government, low taxes, and gun ownership with the right wing. Libertarianism shares its rejection of all coercion with anarchist schools of thought. The thread that unites all libertarian thought is that people have an inherent right to freedom in their personal, social, and financial choices.

Let’s take a look at the most and least libertarian places to live, and at steps everyone can take to make their lives more libertarian.

What is libertarianism?

Libertarianism emerged out of (and resembles to a large extent) the classical liberal philosophical tradition. Classical liberals believe in a free market with limited regulation. They also champion small government, economic freedom, privacy, political freedom, and freedom of speech.

Though it contains the word “liberal,” the classical liberal tradition is considered fiscally conservative in contemporary America. The current American political divide can be seen as a splitting of classical liberalism in two—with its social aspects being taken up by the left and its economic aspects being taken up by the right.

So what’s the difference between libertarianism and classical liberalism? The distinction is largely in their historical contexts. Classical liberalism emerged as a reaction to (and rejection of) the overbearing power of monarchies and oppressive governments. Libertarianism rose as a rejection of the overreach of bloated governments, too, and a rejection of escalating taxation, and restrictive social policies. These values are similar, but they arose out of rejections of different forces.

Libertarianism can be a controversial political philosophy because of its rejection of policies and initiatives that were ostensibly created to benefit the greater good, such as taxes that pay for healthcare, education, and social programs. Some libertarians do agree on the need for social systems that collectively benefit society and provide a safety net to those experiencing difficulties.

On the other side of the spectrum from libertarianism, to some degree, is progressivism. Progressivism is a type of political philosophy that tends to advocate for the improvement of society through reforms and overhauls, doing so with the help of government and institutions. Meanwhile, libertarianism sees increased freedom from these very governments and institutions as being the path to improving society.

Measuring libertarianism

Typically, methodologies for measuring libertarianism rank countries across a variety of factors that include political rights, civil liberties, and economic rights.

Here are some of the common ranking systems that are used to give a sense of where people are freest.

The Human Freedom Index

The Human Freedom Index is a joint initiative between the United States, Canada, and Germany that measures freedom across 79 criteria. The Human Freedom Index’s most recent report was produced in 2021, covering 165 countries. Factors measured by this index include freedom with regards to law, security, safety, movement, religion, expression, relationships, property rights, access to sound money, and many more.

Other notable freedom indexes

The Index of Economic Freedom is an index published each year by the Wall Street Journal that measures countries across the world as being either: repressed, mostly unfree, moderately free, mostly free, or free.

The Democracy Index—a UK-based undertaking—publishes reports that classifies countries as: authoritarian regimes, hybrid regimes, flawed democracies, or full democracies.

Switzerland’s Global Corruption Index ranks countries by metrics measuring how much corruption countries face. France’s Worldwide Press Freedom Index measures how free countries’ journalists and news outlets are.

The most libertarian countries

New Zealand

No countries exist under fully libertarian governments, but New Zealand is often pointed to as the most libertarian country. New Zealand has few bloated government companies compared to similar nations, after largely privatizing these companies in the 1980s. New Zealand also has employment-friendly right-to-work policies, letting workers choose whether they want to join unions.

New Zealand does have socialized medicine, which is generally considered to be in contrast to libertarian values. However, New Zealand’s public healthcare system is seen by some as having the positive effect of decreased regulation and increased ease of operating businesses. New Zealand spends little on defence, and offers residents among the most social liberties available anywhere.

Switzerland

Switzerland has one of the world’s freest economies, which directly translates to high per-capita income. Switzerland also ranks among the lowest countries in terms of government spending, and has maintained its commitment to political neutrality, avoiding military spending.

Switzerland has one of the world’s highest gun ownership rates, but one of the lowest homicide rates, indicating the kind of appealing combination of freedom and personal responsibility that the United States strives for.

The most libertarian states

The United States is an interesting country to rank for libertarianism because of how much individual freedoms vary from state to state.

The United States has had a federal Libertarian Party since the 1970s, which operates to promote civil liberties, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism. The third largest political party in the country, the United States’ Libertarian Party maintains a strong presence. More than three hundred libertarians hold office in the United States, and there are nearly 700 000 registered Libertarian voters in the country.

Here are the most and least libertarian of the states, based on the report Freedom in the 50 States.

New Hampshire

When it comes to the most libertarian states, New Hampshire and Florida often duke it out for the top spot. New Hampshire beats out the other states because of ideal mix it strikes between both economic freedom (3rd best) and personal liberties (2nd best).

New Hampshire has a lower tax burden than most other states, and has the lowest taxes of any state besides Alaska. Its state government is smaller and more efficient than most. New Hampshire has no state-level minimum wage, and health insurance mandates are low. On the personal side, New Hampshire has low rates of incarceration and few drug arrests.

Florida

Florida has no income tax and features a constant influx of wealthy retirees who are looking for sun and also for freedom in terms of economic policies.

Florida is fiscally decentralized, collecting barely any tax compared to most other states, and government consumption and debt are also low. Telecommunications companies are relatively deregulated in Florida, and civil liability has been improving.

The least Libertarian states

New York

New York has been less free than anywhere in the country for decades, which may seem surprising because how New York is thought of as a state of opportunity. New York’s tax burden is double the national average, and the costs associated with government are bloated by the general expense of the state.

Alongside New Jersey and California, New York is most restrictive when it comes to regulatory policy. Freedom of land use is very low, and extensive rent control puts huge limits on property owners. The minimum wage is high, insurance freedom is low, and personal freedom is more restricted than anywhere in the country.

California

California ranks well in terms of personal freedom but very low on economic freedom. California has among the highest tax rates anywhere in the country, and land use freedom is highly restrictive. Consumer choice is extremely limited for both insurance and schooling.

Libertarianism everywhere

While governments and other institutions of various countries can have a profound impact on the liberties of individuals, it’s possible for anyone to live a more libertarian lifestyle anywhere.

Bitcoin offers users a new frontier of liberatory financial power. Bitcoin users can be fully in control over their own funds, and are able to transfer and store their assets outside of the clutches of governments, banks, and regulators.

Bitcoin emerged out of a deep commitment to libertarian thought shared by the cypherpunk movement that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Cypherpunks correctly anticipated both the potential liberatory power of the internet and the ways that oppressive forces would attempt to centralize the internet to limit freedoms of users. Bitcoin has emerged as a crucial tool for those looking to avoid threats to libertarian values.

Financial empowerment with Wasabi Wallet

Across the world, economic and political powers in restrictive countries want to regulate Bitcoin, largely citing concerns regarding illicit activities funded through blockchain transactions. Bitcoin is decentralized and doesn’t require any regulatory bodies or third-party verification to operate. Bitcoin can facilitate instantaneous and nearly-free cross-border transactions that are transparent and non-custodial. It empowers users everywhere to adhere more closely to libertarian values by giving them the opportunity to have full custody over their own assets, and by allowing them to opt-out of the coercive nature of centralized banks.

However, there are obstacles in the way of Bitcoin’s liberatory power. Privacy is one stumbling block in the way of Bitcoin’s ability to make libertarian values more accessible to all.

Public Bitcoin addresses can be linked to publicly-viewable past transactions, particularly because some merchants and exchanges that facilitate these transactions collect information about users. IP addresses can also be linked to Bitcoin transactions. When users aren’t able to selectively reveal what information they share with others, they aren’t free.