David R. Henderson  

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Human Freedom Index.jpg

Last year the Cato Institute, along with the Fraser Institute and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, published the Human Freedom Index 2017. In it, the authors, Ian Vasquez and Tanja Porcnki, assign scores to various key components of what they call "economic freedom" and "personal freedom" and then rank the various countries on those two. They take the average of the two indices to get the overall Human Freedom Index.

Ian Vásquez is the director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute and a columnist at El Comercio, a newspaper in Peru. Tanja Porčnik is president and cofounder of the Visio Institute, a think tank based in Slovenia, and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

They do a meticulous job, one that I would never attempt. For what measures they put in which index, go to their Table 1 on page 15. There are 79 measures overall and they rate and rank 159 countries. Their data are for 2015.

The slightly bad news:

On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for 159 countries in 2015 was 6.93. Among countries included in this report, the level of freedom decreased slightly (−0.05) compared with 2014, with 61 countries increasing their ratings and 97 decreasing. Since 2008, the level of global freedom has also decreased slightly (−0.12), with about half of the countries in the index increasing their ratings and half decreasing.

Their overall index is a simple average of the countries' scores, with no weighting by population. It turns out that this isn't much of a problem. The two most populous countries in the world are China (1.371 billion in 2015) and India (1.309 billion in 2015.) While China's score rose from 5.97 to 6.01, India's score fell from 6.58 to 6.55. So the two countries that account for almost 40% of the world's population basically cancel each other out.

Vasquez and Porcnik acknowledge their intellectual debt to the people who track the Economic Freedom Index, writing;

Our index builds on the work of the Fraser Institute's economic freedom project; thus we owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Walker, the Institute's former executive director and initiator of that research program, and to the authors of the annual Economic Freedom of the World report, James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall.

They also credit Liberty Fund for one of the seminars out of which the index arose.

Of course you can always quibble with both their choices of components of the indexes and with the particular number they assigned to each index. My own quibble: State control of internet access, which they place under personal freedom, surely also qualifies as economic freedom. I wouldn't be surprised if they agreed with this quibble. But they have to put it somewhere and it certainly is an important component of human freedom.

One nice thing about the study is that you can drill down and if you want to know, for example, the state of freedom of association, freedom of assembly and demonstration, and freedom to establish and operate organizations, in Egypt, you can. (see p. 144 for those data.)


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CATEGORIES: Liberty




COMMENTS (11 to date)
michael pettengill writes:

Everyone of the top 16 have universal health care by one means or another, with Switzerland mandating buying health insurance meeting minimum coverage mandates, with meets based subsidies for premiums. Obamacare!

Jon Murphy writes:

Thanks for sharing this report. I hadn't known about it. There's a lot of good data in here that I'm going to have to poke around in.

Milton Churchill writes:

If a person is required, for example, to attend an "accredited" law school and pass a test developed by entrenched special interest groups to practice law, the freedom index should indicate a big fat ZERO, not a 9. And, you can extend these absurd types of requirements, and corresponding "freedom scores", across the board to nearly all professions from dog grooming to first grade teachers, who now need a masters degree. What a joke.

Bill writes:

@michael pettengill

Aside from a lack of an agreed upon definition of “universal”, the fact that 16 of the freest nations above also have some degree of nationalized health care is just as likely to be correlative, not causal. To wit: freer societies with greater economic liberty, open markets and trade, flexible labor and capital generate the growth and wealth necessary for national governments to have health resources to distribute (more or less poorly done at that).

wd40 writes:

Aggregating a whole list of attributes to rank countries (people, etc.) will inevitably generate great disagreement about the ranking. Still two "countries" near the top of the freedom list stand out. The people of Hong Kong do not have the freedom to choose their political leaders. And Ireland does not allow women the freedom to have abortions (although Ireland was the first country to vote for legalizing gay marriage). I would like to hear David's thoughts.

David R Henderson writes:

@wd40,
Great to hear from you, wd40. Now to your points.
The people of Hong Kong do not have the freedom to choose their political leaders. And Ireland does not allow women the freedom to have abortions (although Ireland was the first country to vote for legalizing gay marriage). I would like to hear David's thoughts.
Re Hong Kong, my thought is that they should have that freedom. I’m guessing, though, that you’re asking my thought about how negatively this should count. If you look at the Table that I highlighted, you’ll see that it doesn’t get captured by any of the variables. Should it get captured? I don’t think so. After all, if your concern is freedom, then you should be concerned about measures of freedom, not measures of how (or whether) political leaders are chosen. In the last election in Germany before World War II that could reasonably be called an open election, Adolf Hitler got 44% of the vote and the next highest vote getting party got 18%. So that extreme example--and I can find many less extreme ones--shows that there’s no assurance that voting gets good results. My co-blogger Bryan wrote a whole book about this.
On abortion, whether you think leaving it out is a good way to handle the issue will depend on how you view abortion. If you take the view that the entity being killed by abortion is a human being, then you would argue that Ireland should rank somewhat higher on personal freedom. If you take the view that the entity being killed by abortion is not a human being the you would argue that Ireland should rank somewhat lower on personal freedom. I can see, therefore, why the authors left it out.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I’ll have to check the Index, but not sure how Hong Kong ends up with such a high personal freedom score. If you sell the wrong kind of political books (like Causeway Bay Books) you can find yourself taken into custody of the PRC. I also think If you are a follower of Falun Gong in Hong Kong you too probably don’t feel very free.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mr. Econotarian,
That’s why I recommend looking at the Table, and then you can check Hong Kong rating on these issues. See what you think.

Kirk D. writes:

I'm always a little skeptical about such lists. Some time ago I had read that Denmark has a very high tax rate - so I looked it up. My sources say Denmark average income tax rate is up around 60%. I find this to be total incompatible with the argument that Denmark ranks highly for "freedom." Seems to me when you take that much away by government confiscation there is precious little "freedom" of any kind - at least the kind that merits philosophical discussion.

Rational Feminist writes:

Sort of like Kirk above I am skeptical about such lists. I scoffed at Switzerland being the highest on the list. What about cultural freedom not to conform? As an individual and particularly a woman, this is very important to helping me feel free. Having spent much time in Switzerland in the past there is an order of magnitude more pressure to conform than I felt and feel in the U.S. Though the political environment is testing that now.

Have you ever tried to find a meal at 3 pm in parts of Switzerland? What about fashion, window boxes, hours kept/worked?

David R Henderson writes:

@Rational Feminist,
What about cultural freedom not to conform? As an individual and particularly a woman, this is very important to helping me feel free. Having spent much time in Switzerland in the past there is an order of magnitude more pressure to conform than I felt and feel in the U.S. Though the political environment is testing that now.
You have lots of freedom not to conform. It's just that you pay a cost for not conforming. That has nothing to do with freedom as they're measuring it.
Have you ever tried to find a meal at 3 pm in parts of Switzerland?
No.
What about fashion, window boxes, hours kept/worked?
I'm not sure what you're asking.

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