Which is the Freest Country on Earth?

An interesting index, which allows you to assign how much a given freedom matters to you. If you don't care about freedoms at all, the rankings are purely alphabetical. If you set all indicators to maximum -- you demand the greatest of all freedoms! -- the United States comes in 10th place.

If I set the indicators as seems right to me we rise to 5th place, which isn't so bad given the company (Switzerland, the Bahamas, Chile). The one I'd object to is Hong Kong, because they clearly don't appreciate how much Hong Kong is under the thumb of a much more oppressive state (China, #158 by my scale). But we still come in well above a number of places I'd be happy to consider living (like Iceland, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the UK...).

So if you accept the tradeoffs I am prepared to accept, we're in good shape judging by the company we keep. Of course, this assumes the accuracy of their ratings: the United States gets a corruption rating of 73% (higher is better), which may be doubtful given other recent conversations. The limited government rating for the USA is 48, which is shameful even if it is true -- and it might be over-generous after the ACA.

Your mileage may vary -- try it out.


Ymar Sakar said...

A country is about limitations and social justice, not about freedom. Individuals can produce equality and freedom, societies cannot.

Grim said...

Individuals can't produce equality, Ymar. Equality is a relationship between things. To say (as we do in math or logic) that "A=A" is to talk about a relationship of identity, not equality.

Grim said...

I make the point because it means that equality can only be experienced in a political system (in the broadest definition of a system of human relationships beyond natural family ties). It's the only thing that could produce the experience of equality, given that human beings are in fact unequal in every measurable respect.

So if equality is important to you, some sort of politics is necessary. An anarchy won't produce it; you'll experience inequality to the greatest degree there.

E Hines said...

Setting Freedom from Taxes as Somewhat Important, Freedom from Corruption and Inflation as Very Important, and Drug Rights as Not very Important, I get us tied for fourth with Australia, behind Switzerland, Chile, and Hong Kong.

Interestingly, setting Drug Rights to Not Important, or Freedom from Taxes to Very Important, or Freedom from Inflation to Somewhat Important doesn't affect our rank.

Bumping Freedom from Taxes up a notch and Freedoms from Inflation and Corruption down a notch also doesn't affect our ranking, but it affects with whom we're tied--now it's the Bahamas.

Not sure what that says about the sensitivity of the index to its inputs. Or to the aberrations being experienced by some of those inputs (e.g., inflation in the US).

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Having played with it a little, I get the sense that setting "Drug Rights" to important is really what's hurting us. I had left it at zero, as I don't really care about that (as long as we don't start talking about a return to Prohibition), and pretty much any setting I have come up with locates the USA between 4 and 7. But setting 'Drug Rights' to the top and it's hard to avoid being bounced.

If Drug Rights is the only thing you set to "Crucial (1.00)," the USA comes in 157th.

Grim said...

If you set 'Property Rights' to 'somewhat important' and "Gun Rights' to 'crucial,' the USA is #1. (Setting just gun rights puts a few countries like Yemen atop us).

Tom said...

They have the idea of rights wrong. What they are really measuring is privileges granted by the government. Rights would be things the government can't or find it very difficult to take away for structural reasons (separation of powers, checks and balances, constitution, etc.). So, the residents of Hong Kong experience great privileges, but these can evaporate overnight, so they aren't rights.

So, this index only measures the experience right now. There should be another choice of structural limits on the government for removing freedom.

I would think that would be "limited government", but that's wrong. If I put limited government as crucial and leave everything else at don't care, Hong Kong is 12th and the US is 137th.

Tom said...

TL;DR version: Rights are not what the government lets you do, they're what the government can't stop you from doing. This index fails by definition. (Pun intended.)

Grim said...


Tom said...

Furthermore, the authors of the index are well aware of this. On their FAQ page, they answer the question "Why is there no option to sort by 'degree of democracy' or 'electoral system'"? by saying:

Perhaps James Taggart said it best: "When important issues affecting the life of an individual are decided by somebody else, it makes no difference to the individual whether that somebody else is a king, a dictator, or society at large." Democracy can be a tool of oppression (if you happen to be in the minority) as surely as a tool to promote individual freedoms. Which purpose it serves depends greatly on the existence of a constitution or analogous document guaranteeing individual rights, and strong rule of law to enforce such a document. Also relevant is how much the voting public happens to value individual liberties in a given voting year. This makes "degree of democracy", at best, neutral as a predictor of freedom, and at worst, a confounding factor which would convolute the index given its close interdependence on numerous other sub-indices.

So they are well aware that guarantees of rights are important, yet they do not account for them anywhere in their system.

Further on, they also answer the question, "How do the Gun Rights and Drug Rights indices treat countries with a restrictive law governing issue X, but with very low or non-existent enforcement of that law?"

In their answer, they state:

... it is arguable that a place that is free only because of lack of enforcement of a certain set of laws does not have stable, enduring freedom. In many such cases, it may be unwise to count on the executive branch continuing to overlook scofflaws. Tomorrow, that same circumstance may be used to selectively prosecute political enemies of the state.

Again, they are well aware of the issue I brought up, but have chosen to ignore it in their index. I have to wonder why.

Ymar Sakar said...

Who decides the limitations?

The top in the society. Or the enforcers and overseers. Who watches and chooses those individuals though?

Before you can have limitations that produce freedom, first you need an individual that can change themselves, and you cannot have that if you don't even know who is choosing the enforcers. A society can become different over night merely because the enforcers changed from those who sought only to change themselves, to being replaced by people who only sought to Change the World.

(like Journalist graduates)

Equality is only between individuals. There is no such thing as an individual equal to a society or group. And there is no way a group believes itself equal to an individual, either in their internal hierarchy or especially an outsider.

Thus because it can only exist between individuals, only individuals can create equality. Society cannot.

political system

A political system is a hierarchy based upon ethical priorities.


There's no political system based upon an ethical system that says every action is equally good or evil as every other action. And if there is, that would be an awesomely dysfunctional system. The whole need for a political system is to select and choose leaders, form the hierarchy, and give individuals an idea of their place: their totem pole status. Are they at the top? Are they at the bottom? How does one reach the top from the bottom? Is that even a possibility? If each citizen has the same duty and responsibilities, they may be equal in the eyes of others, but they are not equal in how they discharge that duty. One is always better or worse than the other, and society will recognize this or punish them. Whichever feels best.

I have yet to see an organization that is based upon true equal, peer to peer, relationships. Two person buddy teams or partnerships, yes. Small spec ops teams, perhaps. Organizations... no.

It's the only thing that could produce the experience of equality, given that human beings are in fact unequal in every measurable respect.

So if equality is important to you, some sort of politics is necessary. An anarchy won't produce it; you'll experience inequality to the greatest degree there.

I'm not talking about anarchy vs civilization. I'm talking about equality only be a relationship that can exist between two people or individuals, meaning Free Will is involved. Not civilization being involved. It's a sub category and relationship that exists under the umbrella of feudal, democratic, republican, oligarchical hierarchies.

Focusing on what political system is needed for equality is the wrong focus. What ideal of beauty and what kind of individuals are needed to achieve an equal 1 to 1 relationship, is what really matters. That's because equality, between individuals because only individuals can create it, can exist in any political system. But it's not because the political system exists or doesn't exist.