Ranking Global Freedom

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In 1989 political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history,” arguing that the death of communism signaled the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy and market capitalism. But it may be that history never quite ends. Since the global economic meltdown of 2008, the idea of freedom has been under threat once again as markets get blamed for a crisis that was grounded at its root in government intervention. As such, it has become more important than ever to study and interpret the concept of freedom. Several years ago, a number of think tanks — including the Fraser Institute, the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, and the Cato Institute — began exploring the possibility of creating a broad measure of freedom around the world. This marked the inception of the newly released Human Freedom Index: A Global Measurement of Personal, Civil, and Economic Freedom, by Ian Vásquez, director of Cato’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, and Tanja Porčnik, president of the Visio Institute.

The index presents a broad measure of human freedom — understood as the absence of coercive constraint — using 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom. “Hard facts must counter the perception that freedom is somehow failing to achieve the goal of a better society while serfdom succeeds,” Detmar Doering, director of the Liberales Institut, writes in the introduction. And indeed, the findings, which cover 152 countries for 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available), suggest that freedom plays a central role in human well-being. For instance, countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher per capita income ($30,006) than those in other quartiles; the per capita income in the least-free quartile is $2,615.

The Human Freedom Index is the most comprehensive freedom index ever created for a globally meaningful set of countries. It offers opportunities for further research into the elaborate ways in which freedom influences, and can be influenced by, political regimes, economic development, and the whole range of indicators of human well-being.