Johannesburg – New Zealand leads the world in human freedom, followed by the Netherlands then Hong Kong with the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, according to the most complete index of human freedom yet available, released today by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank, and Germany’s Liberales Institut.
South Africa is ranked 69th out of the 123 countries included in the index, third in Sub-Saharan Africa behind Ghana 55th and Namibia 62nd.
The index is contained in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom, which examines the characteristics of “freedom” and how it can best be measured and compared between different nations.
“Our intention is to measure the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly—in each country surveyed. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women’s freedoms,” said Fred McMahon, Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom (Fraser Institute*) and editor of Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom.
“The classical ideas of freedom from the time of the Enlightenment included economic freedom as essential to other freedoms, yet all the indexes available up to now either measure civil and political freedoms, often confusing what freedom actually is, or economic freedom. This is the first index that brings together these classic ideas of freedom in an intellectually consistent index.”
The book is the first publication of the Human Freedom project sponsored by the Cato Institute (United States), as well as the Fraser Institute and the Liberales Institut. The initial freedom index ranks New Zealand as offering the highest level of human freedom worldwide, followed by the Netherlands then Hong Kong. Australia, Canada and Ireland tied for fourth spot, with the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, Japan and Estonia tied for ninth overall. The lowest-ranked countries are Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria.
The distinction between personal and economic freedoms is shown up clearly using African examples. Uganda (7.30) has a better economic freedom score (out of 10) than South Africa (6.75) but a lower personal freedom score (4.90) compared to (7.30), and a lower overall Freedom Index score (6.00) than South Africa’s (6.94). At first sight this would suggest that it is better to do business in Uganda but to live in South Africa. New Zealand’s scores of 8.22 and 9.20, with an overall score of 8.73 on the Freedom Index beats both African countries hands down for both doing business and where to live.
The index was created by Ian Vásquez of the Cato Institute and Tanja Štumberger of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. They developed the initial draft of an objective measurement of overall human freedom, combining for the first time economic freedom with other forms of freedom. Such a measure will enable researchers to answer important questions on the impact (good and bad) of negative freedom and what supports freedom or undermines it.
Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedomalso highlights the evolution of economic, political, and social freedoms from the ancient world to the present day over the course of 10 chapters by 13 academics and economists from Canada (Fraser Institute), the United States (Cato Institute, Emory University), Germany (Liberales Institut, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main), and Russia (Institute of Economic Analysis). Chapters of note include:
From Pericles to Measurement
Fred McMahon traces the concept of freedom back to the classical world and examines modern discussions of freedom from the Enlightenment through to modern analytical scholarship. McMahon concludes that modern indices are incomplete and often inconsistent. He argues for a complete measure of freedom that is consistent with the most common sense idea of freedom—Isaiah Berlin’s concept of “negative” freedom, meaning the absence of restraints on individual actions.
From Fighting the Drug War to Protecting the Right to Use Drugs
Doug Bandow argues that to “have meaning, liberty must protect the freedom to act in ways which may offend individuals and even majorities. So it is with ‘drugs’ currently banned by the U.S. and other governments.” This should apply whether or not legalisation produces bad results, but the author argues that a well-structured legalisation will reduce harms, not increase them. More importantly, the author suggests the “War on Drugs” has side-swiped and reduced a range of other freedoms. For these and other reasons, the paper argues that drug use should be treated as “a protected liberty.”
A Compact Statement of a Cost-based Theory of Rights and Freedoms
Michael Walker draws a distinction between two types of freedoms: those that are costless or low cost for a society to provide and those which require the expenditure of resources to provide. The first set simply requires government to refrain from acting. Costly rights include security of property and persons and some aspects of freedom of speech, the latter because government needs to actively protect those who say unpopular things.
“The idea of freedom is one of the most contested in political and philosophical discourse and one of the most vital,” McMahon said. “Our book lays the foundation for a rigorous analytical framework and measurement to improve the objective measurement of human freedom worldwide.”
Leon Louw, Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation, says of the new study, “I have for some time been concerned that measuring economic freedom, which provides extremely valuable information, nevertheless does not identify other vitally important aspects of liberty and prosperity. For instance, I have been recently engaged in a debate in which I have contended that the right to smoke tobacco is a personal freedom issue, not merely a health issue. The rights and freedoms of both non-smokers and smokers must be respected and protected unambiguously. This study will promote a better understanding of the nature and value of personal liberty.