The HFI regards freedom as “the absence of coercive restraint”—the starting point for many advocates of liberty and one of the guiding principles of Cato’s mission. But beneath this simple maxim are a wide range of factors to consider. The 2020 HFI, released online in mid‐December and available in print in January, uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom. These include the rule of law, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, size of government, sound money, free trade, regulation of commerce, and legal equality for women and minorities.
All these factors are evaluated individually using the best available data to produce a score from 0 to 10 for each of the 162 countries in the report. In this edition, which uses data through 2018 (and thus does not reflect Covid‐related restrictions or recent legal changes in Hong Kong), the average score was 6.93, just barely improved (by 0.01) over the previous year. Derived using the same data and metrics back to 2008, the average score has decreased slightly, by 0.04. Of countries whose measurements are available since 2008, 70 countries have improved their ranking and 70 countries have seen their score decline.