“He who seeks freedom for anything but freedom’s self is made to be a slave,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville. That quote begins a new report called the Human Freedom Index (HFI), which features a comprehensive measure of freedom comparing how countries around the world match up.
The HFI, co-published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, examines 152 countries and ranks them on 76 different indicators of personal and economic freedom. Though the report uses data from 2012, the authors said the report will be updated annually as new information becomes available.
After calculating all of these variables on a score of 0 to 10 (10 being the most free), each country receives a final overall freedom score that can be used to compare it to other countries. Half of the weight of this score comes from variables measuring economic freedom, while the other half measures indicators of personal freedom. These personal freedom measures are divided into two categories: “legal protection and security” and “specific personal freedoms” (such as civil society, expression, and relationships).
Though the United States ranks above average in composite scores of personal and economic freedom, it still comes in at 20th, behind many European countries. Though the US has higher economic freedom scores than many of these countries, its personal freedom score is comparatively weak – hurting the final average.
The US has also fallen in its freedom ranking over the past few years. “The decline reflects a long-term drop in every category of economic freedom and in its rule of law indicators,” said Ian Vásquez, director of Cato’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and a co-author of the report.
The list is led by Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Finland, while Iran holds last place.
The HFI goes beyond simply documenting the freedom between different countries, however, as it endeavors to demonstrate how freedom actually improves society. According to the authors, the average per capita income for the countries in the top quartile of freedom is more than 11 times higher than the income for those in the least free countries.
Over the last five years, freedoms such as civil society, expression, and relationships have improved on average. But freedoms that fall under the rule of law, security, and movement have fallen.
The report also uncovers some interesting (though perhaps unsurprising) relationships. Personal and economic freedom are positively correlated, for instance. The report also demonstrates that freedom and democracy often go hand in hand, as HFI scores are strongly correlated with the Economist Intelligence Unit’s popular measure of democracy.
Detmar Doering, director of the Liberales Institut, closed his introductory letter to the HFI with another quote from de Tocqueville: “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.” The Human Freedom Index will be a valuable resource in the fight to preserve that freedom.