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Archive for August 16th, 2021

When writing Friday’s column about Somalia, I noticed that I have not written about the Human Freedom Index (HFI) since 2016 and 2018.

Let’s rectify that oversight by highlighting the results from the most-recent edition of that publication.

But first, some background. The Human Freedom Index is 50-percent-based on the data from Economic Freedom of the World and 50-percent-based on a set of variables that measure personal liberty.

Back in 2016, the world’s freest nation wasn’t actually a nation. It was Hong Kong, the autonomous (at the time) region of China. Switzerland was in second place, followed by New Zealand, Ireland, and Denmark (the United States was 23rd).

And in 2018, the top five were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada (the United States was 17th).

The newest edition of the HFI shows that things have not changed much. New Zealand is still at the top, narrowly edging out Switzerland.

Hong Kong is next, followed by Denmark and Australia. Here are the top-10 jurisdictions.

For what it’s worth, the United States is tied for #17, which is an improvement compared to 2016 but identical to the 2018 score.

Here are some excerpts from the new HFI.

The Human Freedom Index (HFI) presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. This sixth annual index uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom… The HFI covers 162 countries for 2018, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. …the regions with the highest levels of freedom are North America (Canada and the United States), Western Europe, and East Asia. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($50,340) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least free quartile is $7,720.

As a general rule, there’s a reasonably strong correlation between economic freedom and personal freedom.

Nations that have one tend to have the other.

But there are some interesting exceptions.

Some countries ranked consistently high in the human freedom subindexes, including Switzerland, New Zealand, and Australia, each of which ranked in the top 10 in both personal and economic freedom. By contrast, some countries that ranked high on personal freedom ranked significantly lower in economic freedom. For example, Sweden ranked 1st in personal freedom but 46th in economic freedom; Norway ranked 3rd in personal freedom but 43rd in economic freedom; and Argentina ranked 37th in personal freedom but 144th in economic freedom. Similarly, some countries that ranked high in economic freedom found themselves significantly lower in personal freedom. For example, Singapore ranked 2nd in economic freedom while ranking 53rd in personal freedom; Jordan ranked 39th in economic freedom but 113th in personal freedom; and Malaysia ranked 46th in economic freedom but tied Jordan in personal freedom by ranking 113th.

By the way, Hong Kong’s score seems improbably high, but that’s because the report is based on data through 2018.

It’s quite likely that the jurisdiction’s score will take a tumble in the near future.

Although Hong Kong’s ratings and rankings have decreased since 2008, the impact of the Chinese Communist Party’s unprecedented interventions in the territory in 2019 and 2020 are not reflected in this year’s report (which, as noted, is based on 2018 data). Those recent events will likely decrease Hong Kong’s score noticeably in the future.

Here’s one final bit of information. This visual shows the nations enjoying the biggest improvements and biggest declines between 2008-2018. Congratulations to Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma to those of us with lots of gray hair), but I think Taiwan deserves special praise because it started with relatively good scores, which makes a big increase harder to achieve.

By contrast, is anybody surprised that Venezuela has suffered the biggest decline? The only good news (grading on a curve) is that Venezuela isn’t in last place in the HFI because Sudan and Syria are slightly more oppressive.

P.S. Tucker Carlson of Fox News recently asserted that Hungary has more freedom than the United States. That’s a silly claim. The United States (#17) ranks much higher than Hungary (#49), with better scores for both economic freedom and personal freedom.

That being said, Hungary is among the top-third of nations, so accusations of authoritarianism seem overwrought (and I have knee-jerk fondness for Hungary because it’s often butting heads with the dirigiste bureaucrats with the European Union in Brussels).

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