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Evaluating Arkansas’ progress in economic and personal freedom



Arkansas – Arkansas has shown progress in certain aspects of economic and regulatory policies but still faces challenges in personal freedoms and criminal justice, according to the latest Freedom in the 50 States Index report by the Cato Institute. This annually released index evaluates states on various parameters of personal and economic freedom.

Arkansas’s Ranking and Progress

Arkansas ranked 27th in the 2023 report, a slight decline from its 26th position in the previous year. However, this represents a considerable improvement from a decade ago, when Arkansas was ranked 36th in 2013, marking its lowest point in the index’s over two-decade history. The state’s highest ranking was 14th in 2003, showcasing a fluctuating trajectory in the realm of freedoms over the years.

Challenges in Personal Freedoms

The state’s performance in personal freedoms remains a concern. Arkansas has consistently been rated lower than most states in this category. The report particularly notes the state’s strict abortion ban, which heavily influences perceptions of personal freedom depending on one’s stance on the issue. For pro-life advocates, Arkansas’s stance on abortion significantly boosts its ranking in personal freedoms, while for pro-choice supporters, it has the opposite effect.

Economic Freedoms and Fiscal Health

Fiscally, Arkansas presents a mixed picture. The state’s overall tax burden is average, but there is a disparity between state and local taxes – with state taxes being above the national average and local taxes significantly lower. A positive note is the state’s low debt levels, and despite a spike in the tax burden last year, Arkansas had reached a record low in fiscal year 2020.

Regulatory Freedoms and Labor Market

Arkansas scores well in regulatory freedoms, particularly in its labor market. The state’s labor market freedom is described as “above average,” indicating a favorable environment for businesses and employment.

Shortcomings in Criminal Justice Policies

One area where Arkansas falls short is in its criminal justice policies. The state has a higher-than-average crime-adjusted incarceration rate and is criticized for its drug enforcement rate and the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving related offenses.

Contrasts in Rights and Laws

Arkansas’s stance on certain rights and laws offers a stark contrast. The state has secure gun rights and relatively loose alcohol laws, which positively impact its freedom score. Additionally, the recent enactment of universal school choice under the LEARNS Act is anticipated to boost Arkansas’s personal freedom ranking in future reports.

Recommendations and Comparisons

The report suggests Arkansas could further improve its standing by cutting sales and use taxes and rolling back occupational licensing. In comparison, states like New Hampshire, Florida, South Dakota, Nevada, and Arizona lead the rankings in freedom, while Oregon, New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and New York are at the lower end.

This comprehensive analysis from the Cato Institute underscores the complex and multifaceted nature of freedom as it relates to state policies and regulations. While Arkansas has made strides in some areas, particularly in economic and regulatory aspects, challenges remain in personal freedoms and criminal justice that require attention and reform.

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