World freedom, measured and ranked
What’s the freest country in the world? It’s New Zealand, according to “Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom,” published by the Fraser Institute of Canada and the Liberales Institut of Switzerland. The rest of the top ten, in descending order: Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Ireland, United States, Denmark, Japan and Estonia.
Americans like to think of their country as No. 1, and may wonder how it got marked down to No. 7. Part of it is crime: your freedom includes freedom from predators, which includes the government but also thieves, burglars, rapists, etc. We get hit for our crime rate. America is also marked down for extrajudicial killing and torture—a reference, I assume, to the actions of our government overseas. The published articles that come with the study also consider the War on Drugs as a restriction on freedom.
Hong Kong is an interesting case. It is a "special administrative region," not a country, and it is only partly a democracy. Its governor is appointed by a committee appointed by China. But the study doesn’t measure democracy.
“Democracy and freedom are not the same things,” the study’s editor, Fred McMahan of the Fraser Institute in Toronto, told me. “Democracy is a power relationship between the government and a group of people, and freedom is whether individuals are constrained in taking actions they would like to take.”
Hong Kong scores the highest in the world in economic freedom, which is included in this study. The former British territory is marked down, among other things, because it does not recognize rights of same-sex couples.
Estonia is also notable for being in the top 10: The former Soviet republic is ranked as one of the freest places in Europe.
It’s interesting where countries fall on this. You’d expect North Korea to be at the bottom, but it isn’t ranked at all because there is too little data on it. Ditto Cuba. The countries at the bottom, starting from the bottom and going up, are Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Congo (Dem.Rep.), Algeria, Iran, Burundi and Cameroon. All are in Asia or Africa, and several are war-torn. The lowest-rated country in this hemisphere is Venezuela, ranked 109th. The lowest in Europe: Russia, 89th.
Interesting note: Israel is ranked 105th, making it less free than Russia. Also less free than Egypt, 96th, Jordan, 82nd or China, 100th. (Taiwan is 47th.) Israel’s defenders are always saying how democratic it is, but again, the study doesn’t measure democracy. It measures freedom of the individual citizen, including freedom from violence—and, in Israel’s case, apparently that includes the occupied territories. Israel gets knocked down for torture, political imprisonment, sexual violence, assault, social hostility over religion and restrictions on freedom of movement, speech and assembly.
Indexes of this sort all depend on how you define and measure freedom, and, of course, you can argue with this one. The ideology of Fraser and Liberales is classical liberal, or broadly libertarian, which means they define freedom as lack of constraints on the individual: freedom from restraint, not freedom to be provided with schooling, medicine, etc. It’s not a social-welfare scale, though I would guess most of the countries that score high on freedom do pretty well on that measure.
Achenblog by Joel Achenbach
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