Inspired by the impending legalization of marijuana in Uruguay, The Telegraph's Alasdair Baverstock offers "a guide to the world's most libertarian countries." It is really more of a ranking in five specific areas: drug policy, gay rights, prostitution, taxes, and corruption.
Under drug policy, Baverstock gives the highest marks to Portugal and the Czech Republic, both of which have decriminalized possession of drugs for personal use. For some reason, possibly because it rates well in two other categories, Baverstock omits the Netherlands, where retail sales of marijuana have long been tolerated although they remain technically illegal (as does growing marijuana). The Dutch cannabis café scene is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere anytime soon. Even in Colorado and Washington, which have legalized commercial production and distribution of marijuana, the rules will favor buying cannabis in sealed packages and taking it home to consume in private, as opposed to enjoying it in a tavern-like social setting. Still, by officially allowing private businesses to grow and sell marijuana, those states are going further than the Netherlands or Uruguay, which will allow home cultivation (up to six plants, as in Colorado) and nonprofit cooperatives but put the government in charge of buying marijuana from growers and selling it to consumers at pharmacies. Uruguay also plans to license marijuana consumers, a not-so-libertarian idea, and ban pot purchases by people visiting from other countries.
In addition to Portugal and the Czech Republic, Baverstock nominates North Korea:
Drug abusers in North Korea "will face a firing squad" according to of a recently-launched government campaign in Pyongyang. However, substances such as marijuana and opium are completely legal in the country, a feat achieved by the government's not recognising such substances as "drugs" in the first place.
That joke, of course, hinges on the assumption that anything not explicitly prohibited is permitted, which is not a good rule of thumb in the totalitarian Hermit Kingdom.
Under gay rights, Baverstock picks Argentina, the Netherlands, and South Africa for pioneering legal recognition of same-sex marriages. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands get nods for legal prostitution, while Andorra and Monaco get credit for not taxing income. Denmark and New Zealand, rated as the world's least corrupt countries by Transparency International, win in that category.
Not only does the U.S. not get credit for marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington, but Baverstock omits a category where it would have done well: freedom of speech. If you want to buy sex, Canada or Germany may be the place for you, but if you want to speak your mind, not so much. Both countries enforce speech taboos that would never pass muster under the First Amendment. You can be fined for condemning homosexuality in Canada, for instance, while glorifying Nazism or denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany.
Another interesting area is gambling law, where the U.K. would have come out looking good, since it allows various kinds of wagering that are illegal in some or all of the U.S., including sports betting and online poker. If you are more interested in drinking than betting, the comparison favors the U.S., which has much lower alcohol taxes. That difference presumably explains why Scotch is more expensive in London than in New York, Washington, or Dallas.
There are many other policies Baverstock could have considered, and a country that scores well in one area may not be so good in another. (The Netherlands, for instance, looks good in four of the areas Baverstock mentions, but its taxes are steep.) A real guide to the most libertarian countries would have to use various factors and assign weights to them based on the assessor's value judgments. What would your formula be?