Personal freedom withering on the vine in SC

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Given the almost pathological need for South Carolinians to do things their own way, one might expect the Palmetto State to be counted among the most “free” in the nation.

Not so, according to a George Mason University study that ranks personal and economic freedom in the 50 states.

South Carolina, home of the Nullification Crisis, the 1860 Ordinance of Secession and Fort Sumter, along with a passel of lesser examples of a state eager to stand alone, sometimes to a fault, ranked 30th overall in overall  freedom, behind nearly every other Southeastern state.     

Political scientists William Ruger and Jason Sorens looked at state and local government intervention across a wide range of public policies, from income taxation to gun control, from homeschooling regulation to drug policy, accordingto libertarian writer Karen Kwiatkowski.

Rankings were determined in four categories: fiscal policy, regulatory policy, personal freedom and a unique area Ruger and Sorens called “state paternalism.”

In terms of overall freedom, South Carolina is trailed by only Louisisana among Southeastern states.

Here’s how the others in the region fared:

  • Tennessee came in at No. 7 overall in terms of overall freedom;
  • Virginia, No. 9;
  • Georgia, No. 17;
  • Alabama, No. 21;
  • Florida, No. 22;
  • North Carolina, 23;
  • Mississippi, 25; and
  • Arkansas, 29.

In individual categories, the best South Carolina could muster was 12th in regulatory policy. For fiscal policy, the Palmetto State came in at No. 34. In terms of economic freedom, the state was 22nd, while in the personal freedom index, South Carolina was an astounding 41st.

Overall, the freest states in the country are New Hampshire, Colorado and South Dakota, which together achieve a virtual tie for first place, according to the study. All three states feature low taxes and government spending, and middling levels of regulation and paternalism.

New York is the least free by a considerable margin, followed by New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and Maryland.

That South Carolina would be ranked closer to the New York in terms of overall freedom than Tennessee in stunning. It goes to show just how much work there is to be done if this state ever hopes to be truly competitive, instead of just a place for our elected leaders to ennoble themselves at the expense of the citizenry.

Tracking US immigration by county since 1880

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Now this is cool. The New York Times has an interactive graphic that allows users to mouse over any county in the US since 1880 to determine the population of foreign-born residents by decade. You can also select a foreign-born group to see how they settled in the US.

It’s remarkable how the South has changed over the past 120 years. In 1900, many counties were home to just a handful of foreigners.

Schley County, Ga., had, for example, just one foreign-born resident in 1900, out of 5,499 total residents. Madison County, Ga, had two and Baker County, Fla., and Hamilton County, Fla. just four.

In South Carolina, Pickens County had but six foreign-born residents out of 19,375 in 1900. Saluda County also had just six foreign natives, among 18,966 residents.

By contrast, Pickens County today has more than 3,100 foreign-born residents out of a little more than 110,000 total residents, while Saluda County has 1,140 foreign natives out of a little more than 19,100 total residents.

In fact, at the turn of the 20th Century, few SC counties had more than 100 foreign-born citizens and only Charleston County, with 2,782, had more than 500. As of 2000, Greenville County led the way, with more than 18,000 foreign-born residents.

Today, it’s rural counties in the Plains states that tend to be heavily weighted in terms of native-born Americans. A number of counties in South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska have fewer than 100 foreign-born residents, with some well under 50.

Cotton growers unhappy with Washington

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Cotton farmers appear unhappy with the direction of ag policy in Washington, DC.

“When are we going to have a Secretary of Agriculture who is for agriculture?” asked Arkansas cotton producer/ginner Larry McClendon.

McLendon, the 2008 chairman of The National Cotton Council, was responding to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s recent comments on farm programs at the National Cotton Council’s annual meeting in Washington, according to a story in Southeast Farm Press.

“It’s almost unbelievable what’s coming out of Washington these days regarding agriculture — I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything so negative,” he added.

Cotton producers have had a rough go of it lately, due to falling commodity prices, rising fuel prices and decreasing acreage. The USDA is projecting that 8.5 million acres of cotton will be planted in the US in 2009.

While cotton has been losing support in Washington, McClendon said, “The ethanol industry in the Midwest has been gaining support,” according to the Farm Press report. “This year, $5 billion in subsidies will go straight to the big oil companies for blending ethanol with their gasoline.

“We could import ethanol from Brazil far cheaper than we can ever produce it here — but we can’t do that because the government’s 50-cent per gallon import tariff makes it uneconomical,” he added.