Tennessee Earns Disappointing 6th Place in “Freedom Olympics”


August 17, 2016 4:26PM

As we near the end of an exciting Olympic season for many of our American athletes, it’s interesting to contrast our national pride and appetite for gold with our apparent acceptance of mediocre results at the federal and state policy level. When previously dominant Olympians fail to medal (cough… Ryan Lochte…), our patriotic natures let out a collective sigh of immense disapproval, as though their former accomplishments no longer matter. Imagine what our political landscape would reflect if we applied even an ounce of the same competitive spirit to a contest over the expansion of freedom in the fifty states.

Each year, the Cato Institute releases a ranking of the states on the index of individual freedom, with Tennessee traditionally in the top tier nationally and dominant over our Southern neighbors. However, the newly released 2016 rankings not only have Tennessee out of medal contention, but falling behind others below the Mason-Dixon Line. While 6th out of 50 isn’t small potatoes, our trajectory is disturbing to those of us committed to seeing the Volunteer State become a beacon of freedom and opportunity. Here are some reforms we urge our lawmakers to adopt that can catapult Tennessee back on the podium stand in 2017:


  • School Choice: As Cato’s analysis outlined, families in Tennessee are largely trapped in an antiquated, one-size-fits-all education model that gives them no alternative options. While other states to our South and around the country are embracing opportunity scholarships and education savings accounts (ESA’s), Tennessee students are being left behind. By adopting ESAs, we can create a customized academic experience that best suits each child’s unique needs.
  • Occupational Licensing Reform: While we’re falling behind states in educational freedom, Cato noted that Tennessee has some of the most extensive occupational licensing laws in the country—meaning that skilled individuals are often prohibited from earning a living unless they jump through costly and onerous hoops for permission. Instead of requiring a license for skills like shampooing hair, we should allow individuals to obtain certificates and repeal senseless licensing requirements that do nothing to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the consumer.
  • Criminal Justice Reform: In addition to our licensure requirements, Cato’s report also recognized Tennessee’s high arrests rate and lack of any real criminal justice reform since 2000. Rather than perpetually incarcerate for low-level, non-violent crimes, we should be pursuing alternatives that transition individuals from a life of crime to becoming productive, contributing members of society. As Cato added, even an average drug enforcement rate would have raised Tennessee four places in our ranking.


By passing these reforms and others, such as raising asset forfeiture from civil to criminal standards, repealing harmful minimum markup laws, and continue to take bites out of our regulatory policies, Tennessee can restore our place of prestige among the nation’s best freedom competitors. Let’s make 2017 a year we go for the gold.