#15 South Carolina

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

From 2009

South Carolina State Overview

State Facts

Net Migration Rate (?) 7.8 % 
Personal Income Growth (?) 1.83 %
How does the freedom ranking relate to these?


South Carolina comes in at 15th in overall freedom, one of the best rankings for its region.

In terms of fiscal policy, the tax burden is low but government spending and therefore debt are high. Government employment is pretty high and could use cutting. Education spending is also high and social service spending (especially direct expenditures on health and hospitals) could be more efficient.

In the regulatory realm, South Carolina scores only slightly better than average. Residential land-use regulations are relatively light and eminent domain reform has been quite respectable. South Carolina is a right-to-work state and other labor regulations are decent. For example, it does not require short-term disability insurance. Health insurance regulations are generally good, including a low number of coverage mandates. Telecom and cable have been deregulated. Unfortunately, the state ranks below average on occupational freedom despite being roughly average on the number of occupations licensed. Most significantly, it performs quite poorly on tort abuse, coming in 39th.

South Carolina fares relatively well in terms of personal freedom, coming in 18th. Cigarette taxes were raised significantly in 2010 but still remain among the lowest in the country (they had previously been lowest). Some restrictions on smoking on private property have been enacted, but the state still performs near the top in this category. Gun control laws are a bit better than average, but are the most restrictive in the South. For instance, open carry is completely banned, the state licenses gun dealers, and design safety standards for handguns have been imposed. However, South Carolina is only mediocre on victimless crimes freedom, alcohol freedom, travel freedom, and education. It is roughly average on incarceration rates but fares poorly when it comes to drug enforcement. Moreover, South Carolina’s marijuana laws are unreformed. Beer taxes are quite high but wine and spirits taxes are better than average. The state authorizes sobriety checkpoints but does not require motorcyclists and bicyclists to wear helmets. Kindergarten attendance is mandatory in South Carolina. For homeschoolers, the state has teacher qualifications and burdensome standardized testing, recordkeeping, and notification requirements. On the other hand, it has light requirements for private schools. The state’s asset forfeiture laws are nearly a full standard deviation worse than average.

Policy Recommendations

  • Prune state employment and cut spending on health and hospitals, which is far above national norms.
  • Reform the liability system. South Carolina would have moved to 12th in overall freedom if it had simply been average on tort abuse.
  • Revise the state’s asset forfeiture laws to make it more difficult for the government to seize assets, and reduce the government’s incentive to do so by lowering the percentage of proceeds that go to law enforcement. Ban equitable sharing with the Department of Justice so that the federal government does not ignore state law.
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