Since 2008, personal freedom worldwide has seen a notable decrease, dropping from 7.42 to 7.21 on a ten-point scale, according to the sixth annual Human Freedom Index (HFI).
The index, co-published by the Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute in Canada, ranks 162 countries based on 76 distinct indicators of personal, civil, and economic freedom, using data from 2008 to 2018, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available.
The report shows the importance of freedom in all its dimensions. “When people are free, they have more opportunity to prosper and lead happier, healthier lives,” said Ian Vásquez, vice president for international studies at the Cato Institute and co-author of the Human Freedom Index. The average per-capita income for the top-quartile countries on the index was US$50,340 compared to US$7,720 for the least-free quartile.
The report’s authors are concerned about ongoing assaults on freedom around the globe and their implications for the future of freedom. “Troubling developments include the Chinese Communist Party intensifying its attack on freedom, regimes in Hungary and Poland continuing to undermine the rule of law and suppress media freedom, and dictatorships in Egypt and other Arab countries ramping up repression,” said Fred McMahon, Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and co-author of this year’s index.
The HFI captures the degree to which people are free to enjoy important rights such as freedom of speech, religion, association, and assembly, and measures freedom of movement, women’s freedoms, crime and violence, and legal discrimination against same-sex relationships. While economic freedom around the world has increased slightly since 2008, the report finds that of the 12 major categories that make up the index, all but five have seen some deterioration, with Religion, Identity and Relationships, and Rule of Law seeing the largest decreases since 2008.
New Zealand tops this year’s freedom index followed by Switzerland and Hong Kong. Given the Chinese Communist Party’s unprecedented intervention in Hong Kong in 2019 and 2020, the authors expect the territory’s freedom score to decline notably in future editions of the index. The three least-free countries in descending order are Venezuela, Sudan, and Syria.
Rankings for other significant countries include: Canada (6th), Germany (9th), the United Kingdom and the United States (tied for 17th), France (33rd), South Africa and Indonesia (tied for 68th), Malaysia (83rd) Mexico and Colombia (tied for 86th), India (111th), Russia (115th), Turkey (119th), China (129th) and Saudi Arabia (151st).
From 2008 to 2018, the Middle East and North Africa saw the largest declines in overall freedom. The authors also note that the weakening of the global rule of law is led by its worsening performance in South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean. They also highlight how freedom of association, assembly, and civil society have particularly suffered in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
The 2020 Human Freedom Index is co-authored by Ian Vásquez, vice president for international studies at the Cato Institute and director of the Cato’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, and Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker research chair in economic freedom at the Fraser Institute.