by John McClaughryJohn McClaughry

Most of us believe that “freedom” is a good thing – that we deserve to pursue our ends without unjust interference from others, so long as we don’t use our freedom to diminish that of others. We believe the state we live in ought to conscientiously protect the freedom of its citizens, limiting their individual freedom only when it is clear that its exercise would result in greater harm to society as a whole.

But governments today regularly, sometimes aggressively, interfere with our freedoms. Two scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute have put together a Freedom Index of the fifty states using some 150 variables. It identifies those states most, and least, protective of three dimensions of freedom: fiscal, regulatory, and personal.

Any such exercise involves weighting a large number of factors. The Cato scholars readily admit that others could select different factors and different data to measure them, and that relative value of each data set necessarily depends on subjective weighting choices. What illustrates “freedom” for libertarians will not resemble the “freedom” conceived by socialists.

The Cato report, published at, thoughtfully provides the spread sheets whereby a reader can select his or her own data and weightings. “Our index of freedom,” the authors write, “should be understood to represent each state’s relative respect for freedom, as reflected in the value enjoyed by the ‘average’ person who would otherwise be deprived of the freedoms we measure…However, each individual will value different policies differently, and for that reason, again, we encourage readers to apply their own weights and personalize the freedom index.”

Having said all that, let’s look at how Vermont ranks, and how it compares with our neighbor New Hampshire. The Cato scholars derive their overall rankings by weighting fiscal freedom at 29.8%, regulatory freedom at 38.7%, and personal freedom at 27.4%. Overall, New Hampshire ranks first; Vermont ranks 40th.

In the fiscal policy category (taxation, debt, government employment), New Hampshire is a rousing first in the nation; Vermont is 47th. Curiously, Vermont ranks 50th – dead last – for its high level of state taxation, and 1st for its low level of local taxation. Why? Because since the passage of Act 60 in 1997, all public pre-K-12 education spending has become state spending. New Hampshire is 2nd lowest in state spending and 39th in local spending.

In regulatory policy (land use, environment, labor market, licensing, etc.), Vermont ranks 32nd, and New Hampshire only slightly more free at 29th.

In personal rights (incarceration, marriage equality, cannabis, alcohol, tobacco, gun rights, etc.) Vermont and New Hampshire are neck and neck at 10th and 9th respectively.  Vermont’s  14th ranking for “educational freedom” is based on its school choice history, although New Hampshire  (8th) comes out slightly better because of its easier regulation of independent and home schooling.

Vermont’s only unique first is in a category called “gun rights”.  New Hampshire comes in at 5th. Vermont, says the report, “is one of the lowest states for alcohol freedom, with a state monopoly over wine and spirits retail and beer wholesaling. It is one of the better non-initiative states for cannabis, with decriminalization and a reasonably broad medical law. However, maximum penalties are rather high, [and] high-level possession is a felony.” (The index deliberately omits abortion and death penalty.)

Readers may, and certainly will, take issue with some of the data selected to illustrate the various components of freedom. Nonetheless, the Cato report is useful for refocusing our attention on the moral value of freedom and the opportunities for expanding it at the state level.

A key conclusion of the report is that “Americans cannot expect personal freedom to endure without high levels of economic freedom… all three types of freedoms discussed in this index support one another.”

The 18th century pioneers who founded this little republic intensely believed in freedom.. We would do well to recapture their passion for it.

-  John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (



By John J. Metzler

PARIS–Imagine for a moment arriving at Sunday morning religious service only to see the doors of the church guarded by camouflage-clad soldiers with automatic weapons. Well, this was the stark reality when we arrived at our neighborhood church, a structure dating from the 15th century, but hardly a tourist nexus.  Indeed this was a necessary security precaution being taken across France, at synagogues and mosques too, for worshippers in the wake of Islamic State’s barbarous murder of a Catholic priest celebrating mass.

Security is tight at the Catholic shrine of Lourdes where special police and military units are protecting the pilgrimages.

During a Summer when Islamic jihadi fanatics used a truck to ram and kill 85 civilians in Nice, and others carried out shootings and a suicide-bombing in Germany, the violence  reached its sanguinary apotheosis in the sacrilegious crime of killing of an elderly priest, Jacques Hamel, while he was saying Mass near Rouen.

The terror has lingered since jihadi militants carried out the bloody Paris attacks last November.  France remains on edge but stoically sanguine.

Yves de Kerdrel opined in the conservative weekly Valeurs Actuelles, “To the fright of the entire country has been added the repugnance of the French against these barbarians who attacked a man of the Church of peace and of hope. Jacques Hamel has died as a martyr as millions of Christians of the Middle East.”

Speaking of the fanatics who attacked in Paris and Nice, Camille Pascal added in Valeurs, “They attacked God in the name of God…these bloody imbeciles demonstrated their nihilism and in their folly they believed themselves soldiers of God.”

To be sure the terrorist threat facing France is tragically cyclical as it is rooted in the shifting patterns of causes, ideologies and motivations. In the early 1960’s towards the end of the Algerian crisis, France endured a spate of violence.  The 1970’s saw the Palestinian issue spill over into Europe; by the 1990’s Islamic fundamentalists with Algerian connections carried out the infamous RER train bombing in St. Michel station.

Today we see the Middle East in chaos with Syria as the epicenter and the symbol for terrorist recruitment, motivation and violence.   Thousands of European “foreign fighters,” many of them French and Belgian born Muslims, have flocked to fight in the jihad in Syria.  The principal danger comes from those returning to Europe with both the military skills and the elixir of hate with forms the key security threat in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Indeed, the brutal Syrian civil war churns on with its physical and psychological carnage which extends beyond the besieged city of Aleppo and the environs of ancient Damascus. Until Syria’s bleeding can be stopped and healed there is a key motivator for violence which has a way of then returning to the cities of Europe and later the USA.

And what about Libya or Iraq for that matter?  Can we be certain the waves of migrants fleeing war, over a million of whom have gone to Germany alone, will not bring the hatreds and mores of the Middle East to their new places of refuge?

Predictably foreign tourism has suffered though we felt safe.  As France readies to return from the Summer vacation, the government has heightened alerts for schools which could tragically become targets.  The security awareness campaign Vigipirate; Alert to Attacks evokes messages in American cities; “If you see something, say something.”

France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande, much like Barack Obama, while treating the symptoms of violence, still really refuse to admit the dangerous depth and source of the radical Islamist problem inside their countries.

So in this Summer of 2016, strange memories return.  A sense of déjà vu if you wish.  As a young boy on my first visit here in June 1962 on the eve of Algerian independence, I vividly recall the odd thrill of seeing soldiers in the streets of Paris and viewing the massive base legs of the Eiffel Tower surrounded in webs of barbed wire.  That was so long ago I thought, but as if in a nightmare, the images have returned.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China. 


by John McClaughry 

My friend Deb Bucknam is the Republican candidate for Attorney General. Ordinarily voters don’t pay a lot of attention to this contest, but what Deb said last week ought to get some attention.

She said “The State Board of Education last fall took it upon itself to interpret the Vermont constitution to twist the meaning of Act 46 to meet its goals, which are to reduce school choice, enjoyed by thousands of Vermont school children for over 150 years, and to turn Vermont’s schools into an arm of the State Board and Agency of Education.”

“The State Board has since carried out its mission to turn Vermont’s education system into a top down state monopoly by scolding and even punishing any local school district which dares to dissent from the State Board’s extra-judicial interpretation of Act 46.”

“The State Board this summer has also begun the process of proposing regulations that will have the effect of closing independent schools that are serving Vermont school children where the public schools have failed. The Board is requiring independent schools which receive public funds to offer all 12 of the special education requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.”

“The fix is in. Montpelier is taking over Vermont’s schools, and turning them into a state run monopoly so that it can amass power for itself.   This kind of cynical overreach needs to stop.”

Thanks for that, Deb Bucknam. I hope people are listening.

{ 1 comment }

by Rob Roper

A new study by the Crime Prevention Research Center, Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2016, shows that people who hold a permit to carry a concealed firearm are the most law abiding citizens in the United States – even more law abiding per capita than the police!

What’s more, states that allow for concealed carry permits are significantly safer than those that don’t. States like Vermont, that allow for concealed carry without a permit (Constitutional right to carry) are safer even still. As the study states:

In 2014, the seven states that allowed concealed carry without a permit had much lower rates of murder and violent crime than did the seven jurisdictions with the lowest percentage of permit holders. Indeed, the murder rate was 31 percent lower in the states not requiring permits. The violent crime rate was 28 percent lower.

According to the FBI, Vermont is the currently the safest state in the Union in regard to violent and gun-related crime.

Since 2007, the number of concealed handgun permits issued throughout the country has grown to over 14.5 million – a 215% increase. This increase has corresponded with a significant decrease in violent crime and murder rates.

Between 2007 and 2015, murder rates fell from 5.6 to 4.7 (preliminary estimate) per 100,000. This represents a 16% drop. Overall violent crime fell by 18 percent.

Each one percentage point increase in rates of permit-holding is associated with a roughly 2.5 percent drop in the murder rate.

So, who’s applying for all of these concealed carry permits? Increasingly, women and minorities. As this study notes, in the states where gender data exists, the number of permits received by women is up 161% while just 85% for men.

So, as Vermont debates the possibility of eroding our Second Amendment (federal) and Article 16 (state) rights to bear arms, lets hope our politicians pay attention to the policies that are actually delivering safer communities for citizens, and not the hype driven by sensational media coverage.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


by Rob Roper

National advocates are looking to Vermont to set a precedent for passing Carbon Taxes. The latest edition of the financial paper, The Kiplinger Letter, highlights the status of carbon taxes throughout the nation.

Look for states to take the lead in using carbon taxes to reduce emissions. Mass. and Vt. are likely to move first. Good bets to follow are N.Y. and Hawaii. Odds are that Washington D.C. will join Boulder, Colo., as an early city with the tax. Carbon taxes, backed by environmentalists and economists, are specifically designed to discourage the emission of greenhouse gasses by charging fees for carbon use.

A federal tax isn’t in the cards for now. House Republicans can block it… Even if Democrats win the White House and control of the Senate in fall elections.

But, the political climate will change as more states start moving to the tax. - The Kiplinger Letter, Vol. 93, No. 31 (Emphasis added)

So, basically, this horrifically unpopular, job killing tax is dead in the water nationally. But, advocates are placing their hopes on Vermont committing economic suicide by passing a Carbon Tax in 2017, after the November election, and thus acting as the first domino to fall.

The question is, is Carbon Tax Guinea Pig really a role a majority of Vermonters want to play? Especially when doing so will cost us an extra 88¢ per gallon of gasoline, $1.02 per gallon of diesel and home heating oil, etc.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


A friend, Tom Beardsley, posted this story on Facebook recently with a plea to share it. His experience with Vermont Health Connect is one everyone should read, and we’re grateful for his getting this message out….

“IMPORTANT. Beware of government run health care. May 1, 2015 I retired to be the care giver for my wife who was ill at the time. I applied for coverage through Vermont Health Connect with the help of one of their “navigators.” With my income information the woman at Vermont Health Connect told us what my premium would be. When the bills arrived it was over $100 per month more than I was told.

My wife died on September 19, 2015. I immediately notified Vermont Health Connect to take her off the policy. My premiums remained unchanged for several more months. (Yes, writing a check each month for your dead wifes health insurance coverage is a wonderful way to be regularly reminded of her passing.)

On June 7, 2016 I got an $800 check from Vermont Health Connect for the over payments. I never asked for that check by the way. Two weeks ago I got a phone call from Vermont Health Connect demanding that I pay the $800 back because the check was sent in error. I called to complain.

Vermont Health Connect returned my call to apologize and they informed me that I did not have to pay the $800 back. Today I got a call from Vermont Health Connect informing me that I supposedly do in fact owe $500 back and that it is now going to collections.

On top of all that, when I turned 65 in April I went on Medicare and notified Vermont Health Connect to terminate my coverage. On July 26, 2016 I received a bill from Vermont Health Connect for the premiums allegedly “past due” from April through July…over $2,000.

THIS is the compassion and competence of government run health care. THIS is Vermont Health Connect. THIS is Obamacare. Beware before you sign up. Please share.”

Yet another example of what happens when government gets its nose into places it has no business being. Thanks, Tom, for sharing your story. I’m sure others have similar ones to tell.


by John McClaughry

The state government is about to undertake a new study on the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive program, known as VEGI. The program hands out various benefits to businesses the government wants to encourage.

The Ethan Allen Institute supports free markets and not taxpayer subsidies. It has had the distinction of opposing VEGI’s predecessor, the Vermont Economic Progress Act, from the day in 1993 that Gov. Howard Dean proposed it as a way to close his “Big Dog” deal to get Husky Mfg. into Milton. At one point back then, Progressive leader Rep. Terry Bouricius and I held a joint news conference to denounce Dean’s scheme as “state capitalism”: Terry denounced “capitalism”, and I denounced “state”.

As I wrote 18 years ago, “This kind of guided economic development has the enormous benefit not only of showing the Governor at  plant ribbon cuttings, but also putting the Governor into face to face discussions with Powerful Businesspeople Who Can Raise Money,  and allowing him or her to control the location of growth in ways agreeable to the politically powerful environmental lobbies.”

Vermont policy for decades has favored high entry barriers to any significant land-related economic activity – eased by subsidies to politically favored enterprises to boost them over the barrier. Our policy ought to be to lower the tax and regulatory barriers, scrap the subsidies, and let the enterprises compete in the marketplace. Essential regulation should be strict, fair, certain, and prompt.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute


by Rob Roper

Our friend Geoff Norman had an article published in the Wall Street Journal titled, In Declining Vermont, the Mood Is More Resigned Than Angry. As much as I like and respect Geoff, I think he misses the mark here. I don’t think Vermonters, particularly those on the right hand side of the political spectrum, are resigned. Maybe some are angry, but I think the best descriptor is determined.

In the last election cycle Republicans and center/right independents picked up a dozen seats in the house and senate, despite the lack of candidate recruitment. These pick ups included many young, energetic legislators who aim to make a difference, such as Corey Parent (R-St. Albans), Paul Dame (R-Essex), Jansen Willhoit (R-St. Johnsbury), Job Tate (R-Mendon), just to name a few with apologies to those not mentioned due to space.

But this cycle Democrats are facing 22 house retirements, three leaving to run for higher office. Overall, the Governor, Attorney General, Senate President Pro Tem, and Speaker of the House, all Democrats, have stepped down. The Republicans, on the other hand, have only two retirements, one of whom left to run for senate. So, which party here looks despondent?

Geoff is right in that it’s hard to get folks to run for office, particularly those with jobs. Even so, Republicans in this cycle have seen many strong candidates step forward to run in competitive races, many of those for open seats. Republicans are the favorites to win the governorship with Phil Scott, and Randy Brock has a strong chance to hold the LTG spot. R’s also fielded strong candidates for Attorney General in Deb Bucknam and Auditor with Dan Feliciano. Though both are underdogs at this point neither should be counted out, particularly Bucknam who’s vying for an open seat vacated by Sorrell. In a crazy political year, I bet Scott Milne is making Leahy a little nervous after seeing what happened to Shumlin last cycle. Who knows? Maybe he’ll catch lighting in a bottle for a second time.

This is far and away the strongest Republican slate we’ve seen top to bottom in nearly two decades.

The issues tend to favor Republicans too, as folks are anxious over the economy, jobs, and crushing taxes. The proposed Carbon Tax is a real stinker, local control issues over education (Act 46, mandatory school district consolidation) and renewable energy siting policy tend to divide the left and energize the right, not to mention the fact that Sue Minter, the Democrat nominee for governor has said gun control is her number one issue — long a third rail of VT politics. If not as toxic as it once was, second amendment advocates in Vermont are a passionate lot and I think you’ll see a lot of single issue voters emerge on the side of Republicans over guns, with a number of blue collar Democrat hunters crossing over.

Geoff’s article is a good read. He gives a great overview of the utter failure of the Left’s agenda under Shumlin and single party rule. Check it out, and after let me know if you’re resigned or determined.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


by John McClaughry

A week ago Vermont Digger published my column on the VPIRG poll that purported to show that two thirds of Vermonters polled want a carbon tax. There were dozens of comments published – most of them favorable to my argument – but the very first came from Thomas Hughes, the hired gun of the Energy Independent Vermont coalition that is peddling the carbon tax. He, of course, didn’t point that out.

Hughes accurately quoted me as saying that “atmospheric carbon dioxide has no negative effects on human health.” He then went on to cite sources, all perfectly respectable, that confirm that when concentrated in a confined space, carbon dioxide can cause all sorts of unhappy consequences, including death.

Hughes seems not to understand the difference between “atmospheric carbon dioxide”, which consists of four molecules per 10,000 in the atmosphere, and concentrated carbon dioxide, in a sealed chamber, replacing the oxygen. Yes, if humans replace all the air in a room with carbon dioxide,  occupants of that room will rapidly suffocate.

I am astonished at this feeble minded rejoinder. The lead promoter of the carbon tax can’t tell the difference between atmospheric carbon dioxide and a sealed chamber full of carbon dioxide.

I will refrain from speculating about Thomas Hughes’ intelligence, but if this is the guy VPIRG picked to sell Vermonters on the wisdom of  a carbon tax, maybe they should have cast a wider net.

- John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 1 comment }

The Ethan Allen Institute ran an informal survey of our members and Facebook followers on the gubernatorial primary coming up tomorrow, Tuesday August 9th. Here are the results:

Matt Dunne 3.5% (4)

Chris Ericson 0.76% (1)

Peter Galbraith 0.76% (1)

Bruce Lisman 45.04% (59)

Sue Minter 0% (0)

Brooke Paige 0% (0)

Phil Scott 48.85% (64)

Other 1.53% (2)

No matter who you support, make sure to turn out tomorrow and exercise your right to vote!

- The Ethan Allen Institute


About Us

The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

Latest News

8-19-16 – France–Summer of Terror Lingers

By John J. Metzler PARIS–Imagine for a moment arriving at Sunday morning religious service only to see the doors of the church guarded by camouflage-clad soldiers with automatic...

8-18-16 – Deb Bucknam on state board of education overreach

by John McClaughry  My friend Deb Bucknam is the Republican candidate for Attorney General. Ordinarily voters don’t pay a lot of attention to this contest, but what Deb said...

8-17-16 – Study: Concealed Carry Permit Holders Most Law Abiding Citizens

by Rob Roper A new study by the Crime Prevention Research Center, Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2016, shows that people who hold a permit...

8-16-16 – National Activists Want Vermont to Be Carbon Tax Guinea Pig

by Rob Roper National advocates are looking to Vermont to set a precedent for passing Carbon Taxes. The latest edition of the financial paper, The Kiplinger Letter, highlights...

8-12-16 – A Vermont Health Connect Horror Story

A friend, Tom Beardsley, posted this story on Facebook recently with a plea to share it. His experience with Vermont Health Connect is one everyone should read, and we’re...