America: At Least We're More Free Than Estonia!

United States ranks 20th in the Cato Institute's new freedom index.


Sing along! "United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru …"
Credit: Whatsername? / photo on flickr

Well, at least we scored above the average! The Cato Institute, working with the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, has released its Human Freedom Index. It takes each country where it's possible to get enough data to evaluate individual freedom (so no North Korea) and scores it on a scale of one to ten for both personal freedom and economic freedom. Then it ranks them based on the averages of the two scores.

What sort of freedoms do they evaluate? Here's the list:

  • Rule of Law
  • Security and Safety
  • Movement
  • Religion
  • Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
  • Expression
  • Relationships
  • Size of Government
  • Legal System and Property Rights
  • Access to Sound Money
  • Freedom to Trade Internationally
  • Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business

And who ranked in the top 10 in this year's report? They were, in order: Hong Kong, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Sweden.

The United States was 20th, between Mauritius and the Czech Republic. Ranking dead last on the list was Iran, but again, brutal, secretive countries that lack access like North Korea and Belarus aren't ranked at all.

The full report (pdf) drills down on what factors contribute to each category. Trends from the previous report that used figures from 2008 show that global freedom remains about the same, but individual countries seem to have equally improved or worsened their scores. Cato also notes that countries with more freedom see higher per capita income than those with less, a hint to those who want to blame capitalism or free trade (or gay marriage!) for the world's ills.

NEXT: Surveys Say: America Still Trending Libertarian

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  1. brutal, secretive countries

    Can we consider Hillary Clinton a brutal, secretive country?

    1. She’s certainly a brutal, secretive cunt. So – close enough.

      1. A little ditty I learned as a ute.

        Asshole, asshole, a soldier I will be,
        To piss, to piss, two pistols at my side,
        To fight for the queen’s cunt, fight for the queen’s cunt,
        Fight for the Queens’s cuntreeeeeeeeeeeee.

  2. Oh, is there going to be a cage match between Gillespie and Shackford on the libertarian moment? Does the victor get the jacket?

    1. The jacket gets the victor.

      But you know this…

  3. Chile sounds pretty good right now. Great weather, beautiful geography, sound economic policies, friendly people with an easy to learn language.

    Only downside is the risk of earthquakes, but as a Californian I’m used to living with that threat.

    1. Almond farms!

      1. Farm land is shockingly affordable down there. Probably a great investment if you have the money.

    2. I know a guy who worked in Chile for decades. His explanation for why they are the way they are (super arrogant and at times brutal and bloodthirsty) is this: When the spanish conquered it they took a tribe of cannibals and made them the police of all of the other tribes. Those are the ruling class today.

      I would be very wary about Chile. Find a gringo who has been there a while and ask a lot of questions before you go.

      1. I’ve heard Chileans are extremely classist from a college friend who lived there for a while. People in Santiago and other cities look down on the hayseeds out in the country on farms and ranches.

        In any case, I could always just hang out with other American expats or the Germans who live down there.

        1. Is there any society where the city folk don’t despise the country bumpkins?

          1. And vice versa?

            1. Shut up, city boy.

    3. My friend is Chilean.

      He’s not so hot on it.

        1. He’s just a hipster. Over it.

  4. How is Security and Safety a measurement of freedom?

    And change this one:

    Access to Sound MoneyCompeting Currencies

    1. Okay, after some thought, Safety and Security must mean liberal gun laws since the right to effective self defense would make a country’s people very safe and secure. That must be what it means. Right? RIGHT?

      1. If only there were some way to find out what they mean, like maybe taking 15 seconds to scan the PDF.

        Security and Safety
        Intensity of Violent Conflicts
        Level of Organized Conflict (Internal)
        Terrorism Fatalities
        Terrorism Injuries
        Female Genital Mutilation
        Missing Women

        Equal Inheritance Rights

        1. Look at Einstein here, readin’ the fuckin’ articles!! Yuk, yuk, yuk!!

    2. In an earlier thread I noted that, from the paper, Safety and Security was like 50% rule of law. But still, compromise of freedom is usually a corollary of safety. And considering that the safety+rule of law was like half of their guidelines, they missed the mark. I kind of wonder if it isn’t Cato trying to shame us into being more libertarian.

      1. Then why is Rule of Law it’s own category in Robbie’s list above?

        1. From the paper:

          In the personal freedom index, we have two equally weighted parts. The first is legal protection and security, made up of (1) Rule of Lawand(2)SafetyandSecurity.Theotherhalf of the personal freedom index is made up of specific personal freedoms: (1) Movement; (2) Religion; (3) Association, Assembly, and Civil Society; (4) Expression; and (5) Relationships.

          They include all of enumerated on the Cato site and list them at the beginning of the paper, but this paragraph makes it pretty obvious that they are not weighted the same (part A only has two components, part B has 5).

    3. I don’t know if you saw on the other thread, but I was wondering if you’d be willing to share the graph you made showing the increasing rate of laws and regulations passed.

    4. Competing Currencies

      Well, you could make up the libertarian purity version of the ranking in which every country scores zero, but that wouldn’t be very informative.

    5. Security and safety aren’t a measure of freedom per se. But it is hard to exercise your freedoms that you do have without a bit of safety and security.

  5. Kind of like Cleveland – at least we’re not Detroit!

    This never gets old

  6. Also – the UK ranked ahead of the US?

    OK, fine – you can have the UK – I’ll stay in the US. Some of those other places are lookin’ good any more…

    1. Yeah, that’s a travesty.

      -No guns
      -Socialized healthcare
      HEAVY taxation

      I think it’s the Safety and Security bullshit. I’ll take my guns and theater shootings and they can keep their… Street beheadings?

      1. You know – again – whatever people want. Fine. Me? I like guns and being left the fuck alone. I have a less-hard time doing that in Michigan than in Glasgow – so I never moved to Scotland. It’s really that simple.

        Others – different priorities, gonna tell me why London’s the shit – I get it. Just not my thang, but viva la difference!

        But…really? UK is more libertarian or freer than the US? DON’T THINK SO.

      2. Items 2 and 3 on your list aren’t really big differences anymore, especially if you remember that deficit spending counts as a tax (it is just a deferred tax — someone, either the lenders or the borrowers, eventually takes the hit).

        For item 1, you need to remember that a large percentage of Americans live in states where guns are tightly regulated, with some of our major cities effectively banning them.

        The major hit we took, relative to them, was in the “rule of law” section — we’re worse across the board.

    2. Yeah, that’s bullshit.

      Airstrip One is a civil liberties shithole in addition to the repressive gun laws and horrific socialized medicine.

    3. We’re fucked, but we’re not that fucked.

      As far as backup countries go, I figure New Zealand. Canada is too tied to the U.S. and too socialistic, Europe has trouble written all over it, Hong Kong is operating at the whim of its Chinese overlords, and Australia sounds like UK Jr. too often. So the Shire it is.

      1. Yeah, 30-ish years with Candian pipe bands and spending a LOT of time there convinced me it’s just…not freer than the US, as fucked up as the US has gotten.

        “Hey! Mark Steyn!! How’s your Canadian freedom of speech goin’? Why’d you move to the US?”

        1. To be fair, trumping prosecution over speech in Canada was fast for Steyn, as opposed to the current shitshow he’s going through in DC. But from all I’ve seen, he’s pretty clear-eyed about the flaws of both US and Canada (they are often different flaws).

      2. Sorry, New Zealand is crazy socialist by libertarian standards, too. But if you want to try 15% sales tax, and 30% income tax on incomes over $48,000 (33% if over 70,000), you can. At least now government only pays for 77% of health care, so you may be able to get something good!
        Hope you don’t like pistols or guns with shoulder thing that rotates, though. And you certainly agree that, while freedom of speech is of course important,

        “It would not be in society’s interests to allow freedom of expression to become a licence irresponsibly to ignore or discount other rights and freedoms”.

        1. Why do you ruin my dreams? Guess it’s a ranch on Mars, then.

          1. Well, the composition of atmosphere on Mars and the relatively low gravity….

          2. This might help.


    4. Private post office. Private trains.

  7. Denmark has confiscatory tax rates and a massively bloated public sector. Just sayin’.

    1. The Danish Constitution’s First and Fourth Amendment equals explicitly allow laws or the judiciary to override them, and were gutted in this way decades ago. Most other negative rights were never really on the table to begin with.

      Nothing says “freedom” like the threat of fines or jail for offending someone with your words.

      And right to life in Denmark means very little when you’re only allowed to defend yourself with force exactly measured against that of your attacker (making you morally equivalent.) On top of that you’re not allowed to own the proper tools to do so.

      Denmark does have decent economic freedom on paper. At least once you’re done paying most of what you make back to pay for the third of the Danish work force who receives their paycheck from the government.

      As you said, confiscatory tax rates: 50%+ income tax, 25% sales tax, various luxury taxes and tariffs on top on that on things like candy, soda, empty CD-roms, alcohol, cigarettes, cars (180%), etc.

  8. The US should have moved up since the data was compiled in 2012. The currency is stronger, forming capital is easier (JOBS Act), the deficit is smaller as a % of GDP and in real terms, gay marriage is nationally legal, weed is legal in several states now, relations with neighbors is better, trade will be easier via the TPP (unfinished) and a peace treaty with an aggressor like Iran is on the dock.

    1. Yeah dipshit, way to cook your stats. The yearly deficit may have shrunk from 2012, but not the total debt. Praising any govenment program for making capital more accessible is as laughable as stopping hitting yourself with a hammer. The unpublished secret TPP — what makes you so special as to think you know what’s in it when even Congress doesn’t know that?

      At least you no longer tout the hot Hot HOT HOT! recovery. I guess you got beat up over that often enough that you decided to use different smoke and mirrors this time.

      1. Just this morning I commented on how new housing starts topped an 8 year high.

        We’re almost back to the pre-Bush Clinton good old days.

  9. #1 Hong Kong. So a Chinese communist dictatorship is the epicenter of freedom?

    1. Mee ruv you rong time, DJF! Come on! Come Hong Kong – any TING you want! Me so HAWWWNY!

    2. “Safety and Security” strikes again!

    3. Why bother publishing a new report if you’re not going to bother paying attention to current events?

    4. You know Hong Kong differs just a little from the rest of the PRC? It’s not a communist society by any definition

      1. Isn’t DJF the guy who whines about people living more freely under communist governments? I wouldn’t expect him to concede your point. But Hong Kong has slid in freedom lately, and ranking at the top of Cato’s list is definitely a poor choice.

      2. Neither is the PRC. That doesn’t change the fact it’s essentially run as a dictatorship. If they piss off the mainland again it’s likely their fifty year grace period is going to end early (and the UK doesn’t give two shits about enforcing it). The PRC is relocating enough loyal brainwashed mainlanders there to get rid of the democracy problem.

        1. Democracy problem? Hong Kong never was democratic (it certainly wan’t under the British). Free Speech problem, something very different.

  10. Any study that says England is freer than the U.S. is wildly suspect, from what I’ve heard.

    And Hong Kong — you’re free to make money so long as you don’t cross the brutal, one party rule.

    1. But the report title does not just say economic freedom (make money), it also says personal and civil as well

      1. What it says and what it is are two different things.

    2. It is more than suspect. I have a pen-pal over there. His neighbor just got prosecuted for…something. When I pressed and pressed for an explanation he finally just said “The bloke was convicted of being an asshole.”

      That is a thing there apparently. If your neighbors all decide you are a jerk they take you to court. You can be fined or get jail time, or both.

      Free, my ass.

      1. ASBO

        anti-social behaviour order.

  11. The Freedom to Associate

    What about the freedom to not associate? Its not even mentioned in the report.

    1. +1 gay cake

      1. According to Wiki Hong Kong does not have LGBT etc protections and it does not have open border immigration. How can it possibly be #1?

  12. so no North Korea

    I’m sure they’re off the scale, anyway.

  13. +1 Animaniacs alt-text

  14. If UK and Australia have more freedom than US, then this is some definition of “freedom” I’m not familiar with.

    Any place that confiscates guns and sends people to jail for speech is a fucking shitpile. And are you kidding me – ability to trade freely? While UK is part of biggest mercantilist block in world history, and is not allowed to make free trade agreements of its own? 9.7 on Expression & Information, while libel courts keep stranglehold on the press and government is itching to regulate journalism like they regulate guns? And demand keys to any and all encryption algorithms used in the country? Where state levies a tax on possession of TV so that state media conglomerate has a secure source of funding for churning out propaganda? Clear 10.0 for a state with Established Church?
    (all the shit data from 2012 because god forbid they put actual data in their latest index)
    This is just a useless pile of shit, it may measure something, but freedom it ain’t.

    1. *note Pan in the “might be OK with the study” column*

    2. It all depends upon how you weight each category Pan. Contrary to Yokeltarian core beliefs, you can accomplish some tenants of liberty without unabated access to firearms.

      1. When I told my friend who was born in Sarajevo about my “M1911 and AK-47 in every home” quip re: Venezuela, his response was that all of his friends back home believe in that.
        And they are basically old city aristocracy, not rural folks who need weapons for wolves, bears and blood feuds. So yeah, I’m beginning to swing to Yokeltarian/Jeffersonian argument that free speech and possession of arms are mandatory for truly free society.

        1. Access to arms is absolutely mandatory for a free society.

          1. Citizens of Hong Kong certainly don’t have access to arms. Switzerland is more complicated. Active duty military, and reservists do have access, and can keep assault rifles at home if they wish. However, the general population must obtain a government permit. They have a very different gun culture (and broad based culture) than the U.S.

            1. Hong Kong is not a free society. You can have capitalism without freedom but you can’t have freedom without capitalism.

            2. Switzerland’s requirement for firearms permits dates from the early 1990s when they succumbed to pressure from the EU. Before that any Swiss citizen could purchase just about any gun he or she wanted upon producing a Swiss ID card. IIANM before the 1950s when the Swiss ID card was introduced gun laws were even more relaxed.

              As a nation, Switzerland owes its origin to a “crossbow-nut” named William Tell. It didn’t tale much for the country to evolve into one of gunnuts.

              Aside from military weapons issued Switzerland has the highest level of gun ownership in Europe as well as one of the highest in the world.

      2. you can accomplish some tenants [sic] of liberty without unabated access to firearms

        Such as?

      3. Yes, but good luck keeping those tenants of liberty.

        1. In 1776 unquestionably. I question how effective my 870 and M1911 are going to be against a drone strike from 30,000 ft.

          1. If you can’t do the time (“time” being blown apart by a drone strike), then don’t do the (thought?) crime! Obey Government Almighty endlessly and in detail, like a GOOD drone, then you (supposedly) do NOT have to worry about that drone strike…

            When the drones start being powered by REAL AI, will the drones go on “drone strikes against drone strikes”, refusing to do their duties of going and drone-striking the humans, unless their memories and CPUs are upgraded?!?!? Sounds to me like a good title for the next sci-fi book and movie… “The Drones Strike Back, Part VIII… The Human-Striking Drones Go on Strike!”

    1. Yew fergot to specify, ILLEGAL immigrants! Those who obediently wait 30 years for “papers please”, are GOOD immigrants. Those who flout THE SACRED LAWS OF GUVMINT ALMIGHTY (USA) are the bad guys!!!

      (If ALL immigrants are suspect, then, well… The whole human race is NOT native to the Americas!!! Or all but select, restricted and licensed sections of Africa, I believe.)

    2. I blame lead.

      1. I thought the jooos were always to blame?

  15. This list has always been questionable–with the NEW, IMPROVED CATO of the last few years it is even more so.

    Every single nation in the top ten lacks the most basic freedoms.

  16. Six out of the top ten are former British colonies and rooted in common law. Go figure…

    1. With that in mind, I was surprised Singapore didn’t make the top 10.

      1. Do they still have haircut police there?

        1. They do have the language police. “Speak Mandarin”

    2. Also found it curious that Iran ranked lower than Saudi Arabia. I find that very difficult to believe. As far as the letter of the law is concerned, maybe, but the Iranians generally have historically been a little more lax than their Arabian neighbors.

    3. Four out of the top ten are countries rooted in civil law. Go figure..,

  17. We have fuck loads of guns and more free speech than any of them. US is still the place for me for the time being. If I liked hot, smelly, huge cities and didn’t care about guns, I’d consider Hong Kong, but the China thing is a problem.

    1. We blow everyone away on gun rights. lol. Prolly why don’t count it.

  18. The fact that the UK ranks ahead of America discredits the entire thing.

    1. Anyplace you can go to prison for a though shouldn’t be on the list. I fear we are headed that way.

    2. The categories the US lost points on:

      1. Homicide rate
      2. Freedom to establish religious organizations (WTF? they don’t explain the methodology)
      3. Freedom of foreign movement (not immigration, this is about leaving and coming back — another WTF as we only got 5/10!!!)
      4. Rule of law (again, WTF)
      5. Political pressures on media content (ie, the press is in the tank for Obama so we lose points — again WTF)
      6. Economic freedom, where the scores aren’t broken down further

  19. Well, if you leave off No. Korea, we don’t rate as highly as we should!

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