#6 Idaho

Read More

The overall freedom ranking is a combination of personal and economic freedoms.

From 2009

Idaho State Overview

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 8.6 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 2.29 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


As an extremely conservative state, Idaho scores very well on economic freedom but poorly on personal freedom. Idaho wins the title for “most improved state” between the years 2009 and 2011. All that improvement came from enhanced economic freedom, especially regarding fiscal policy.

After Wyoming, Idaho has the lowest government debt ratio in the United States. Its tax burden of 8.2 percent is also among the lowest, and it has fallen from 9.6 percent since 2001. However, state government is overly dependent on federal grants, and as a result government consumption plus subsidies and government employment are both above average (11.7 percent of personal income and 14.1 percent of private employment, respectively).

Real property rights are protected in Idaho, except that eminent domain reform has left giant loopholes. Idaho is a right-to-work state with no minimum wage—though workers’ compensation rules are strict—and health insurance mandates add only 15.3 percent to the cost of premiums (but there are rating bands and guaranteed issue in both small group and nongroup markets). Idaho is also ranked among the best states for occupational freedom, although it has declined slightly in recent years. Telecom has been deregulated. Idaho’s tort system is above average, and it is tied with Illinois, Utah, and Wisconsin for second-least-regulated personal auto and homeowners’ insurance markets, after Wyoming.

Idaho does very well on gun and educational freedoms, but scores poorly on victimless crimes (crime-adjusted incarceration rates are more than one and a half standard deviations worse than the national average), marijuana, alcohol (it has state beer, wine, and spirits wholesale and retail monopolies with a high markup on spirits especially), gambling, and same-sex partnerships. The state has few restrictions on motorists other than secondary seat belt enforcement and an open container law. It deserves credit for being one of the few states to refuse to authorize privacy-invading sobriety checkpoints. Its score is mediocre on tobacco freedom due to smoking bans in restaurants and private workplaces.

Policy Recommendations

  • Cut government spending and employment, especially on general administration, public buildings, and sanitation and sewerage, where the state is above the national average. Use savings to cut the general sales tax.
  • Give eminent domain reform some real teeth by prohibiting all private-to-private transfers, making blight standards building-specific, and placing limits in the constitution.
  • Privatize the state alcohol monopolies and adopt a license system. This reform alone would have raised Idaho eight places on personal freedom.
Map button

Pick a New State

Idaho Print Version

More from the Mercatus Center