CATO – The Human Freedom Index presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom. Human freedom is a social concept that recognizes the dignity of individuals and is defined here as negative liberty or the absence of coercive constraint. Because freedom is inherently valuable and plays a role in human progress, it is worth measuring carefully. The Human Freedom Index is a resource that can help to more objectively observe relationships between freedom and other social and economic phenomena, as well as the ways in which the various dimensions of freedom interact with one another.
The report is co-published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.
The index published here presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. This fifth annual index uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas:
- Rule of Law
- Security and Safety
- Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
- Expression and Information
- Identity and Relationships
- Size of Government
- Legal System and Property Rights
- Access to Sound Money
- Freedom to Trade Internationally
- Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business
The HFI is the most comprehensive freedom index so far created for a globally meaningful set of countries. The HFI covers 162 countries for 2017, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. The index ranks countries beginning in 2008, the earliest year for which a robust enough index could be produced.
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for 162 countries in 2017 was 6.89. Among countries included in this year’s and last year’s report, the level of freedom decreased slightly (−0.01) compared with 2016, with 70 countries increasing their ratings and 88 decreasing. Since 2008, the level of global freedom has also decreased slightly (−0.07), with 61 countries in the index increasing their ratings and 79 decreasing.
The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Luxembourg (tied in 6th place), Finland and Germany (tied in 8th place), and Ireland. Selected countries rank as follows: Sweden (11), United Kingdom (14), United States (15), Taiwan (19), Japan (25), South Korea (27), Chile (28), France (33), South Africa (64), Argentina (77), Mexico (92), India (94), Brazil (109), Russia (114), Turkey (122), China (126), Saudi Arabia (149), Iran (154), Egypt (157), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).
Out of 10 regions, the highest levels of freedom are in 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. Women-specific freedoms, as measured by five indicators in the index, are strongest in North America, Western Europe, and East Asia and are least protected 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 ($40,171) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least-free quartile is $15,721.
The HFI also finds a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy. Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard.
The findings in the HFI suggest that freedom plays an important role in human well-being, and they offer opportunities for further research into the complex ways in which freedom influences, and can be influenced by, political regimes, economic development, and the whole range of indicators of human well-being.
By Ian Vásquez and Tanja Porcnik