MEASURING HUMAN FREEDOM
Give thanks to the Lord for His mercies which are new every morning!
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam 3:22-23)
Do you think you live in a free country? How do you define “free”? To help answer these questions, the new “Human Freedom Index” (HFI) has just been released….
The five freest countries are: Switzerland, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. The U.S. ranks number 17. In addition to economic freedoms, the authors have also included measures of safety and security, religion, expression and information, association and assembly, the rule of law and others. Countries or locales with high crime rates where the law abiding are afraid to walk the streets after dark clearly reduce freedom. Prohibitions on peaceful assembly and limitations on what may be communicated over the internet or published also rob people of their freedom.
The authors use the classic definition of freedom as expressed by the father of modern political philosophy, John Locke, that freedom implies that an individual not “be subject to the Will of another, but freely follow his own.” In other words, freedom implies that individuals have the right to lead their lives as they wish as long as they respect the equal rights of others….
One of the great advantages of being “rich” is that usually you can move your property and person to a jurisdiction where they are well treated. There have been endless experiments where countries have imposed very high tax rates on the rich — only to see the rich move. There is an interesting experiment taking place at the moment as a result of the Trump tax-rate reductions — which, while benefitting most Americans, does make it more expensive for the very wealthy who live in places like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut….
Economists James Gwartney, Robert Lawson and Walter Block defined economic freedom as when individuals acquired property “without the use of force, fraud, or theft, is protected from physical invasions by others and they are free to use, exchange, or give their property as long as their actions do not violate the identical rights of others.”
Economic freedom, including the protection of private property, cannot exist without the rule of law. As John Locke explained, a society ruled “by law, not men” implies that laws apply to everybody, including the authorities; and that they be publicly known and understood, and that they limit the arbitrary decisions of rulers. The rule of law also embodies the concept of due process and protection of the rights of the accused.
The right to life and safety from physical aggression by others is fundamental to having liberty. The right to travel is a basic human freedom, and governments that try to restrict it deny their citizens the ability to maximize their opportunities and engage in peaceful activities of their choosing….
Few would argue that the top 10 ranked countries are much freer than those in the middle or at the bottom. Hong Kong comes in at number 2, yet it is not a democracy. It is still governed by the basic law — which protects most civil and economic liberties — until China regains full control.
The authors have provided a real service in fostering the debate about what it means to be free, and which jurisdictions provide the greatest and the least freedom. (Excerpts from Richard W. Rahn’s article in The Washington Times – Richard W. Rahn is chairman of Improbable Success Productions and on the board of the American Council for Capital Formation.)
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