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Canada, Australia and Ireland tied for fourth in new comprehensive index of human freedom; New Zealand No. 1 and the U.S. and Denmark tied for seventh

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Release Date: January 8, 2013

TORONTO, ON—Canada ranks fourth overall for its level of personal freedoms, tied with Ireland and Australia, while New Zealanders have the most freedom in the world, according to the most complete index of human freedom yet available, released today by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank, and Germany’s Liberales Institut.

The index is contained in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom, which examines the characteristics of “freedom” and how it can best be measured and compared between different nations.

“Our intention is to measure the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly—in each country surveyed. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women’s freedoms,” said Fred McMahon, Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom (Fraser Institute) and editor of Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom.

“The classical ideas of freedom from the time of the Enlightenment included economic freedom as essential to other freedoms, yet all the indexes available up to now either measure civil and political freedoms, often confusing what freedom actually is, or economic freedom alone. This is the first index that brings together these classic ideas of freedom in an intellectually consistent index.”

The book is the first publication of the Human Freedom project sponsored by the Cato Institute (United States), as well as the Fraser Institute and the Liberales Institut.

New Zealand offers the highest level of human freedom worldwide, followed by the Netherlands then Hong Kong. Australia, Canada and Ireland tied for fourth spot, with the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, Japan and Estonia tied for ninth overall. The lowest-ranked countries are Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria.

Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom also highlights the evolution of economic, political, and social freedoms from the ancient world to the present day over the course of 10 chapters by 13 academics and economists from Canada (Fraser Institute, Canadian Constitution Foundation), the United States (Cato Institute, Emory University), Germany (Liberales Institut, Goethe-University Frankfurt am Main), and Russia (Institute of Economic Analysis). Chapters of note include:

“From Pericles to Measurement” by Fred McMahon (Fraser Institute)

This article traces the concept of freedom back to the classical world and examines more recent discussions of freedom from the Enlightenment through to modern analytical scholarship. McMahon concludes that modern indexes are incomplete and often inconsistent. He argues for a complete measure of freedom that is consistent with the most common sense idea of freedom—Isaiah Berlin’s concept of “negative” freedom, meaning the absence of restraints on individual actions.

“An Index of Freedom in the World” by Ian Vásquez (Cato Institute) and Tanja Štumberger (Atlas Economic Research Foundation)

The authors develop the initial draft of an objective measurement of overall human freedom, for the first time combining economic freedom with other forms of freedom. Such a measure will enable researchers to answer important questions on the impact (good and bad) of negative freedom and what supports freedom or undermines it.

“From Fighting the Drug War to Protecting the Right to Use Drugs” by Doug Bandow (Cato Institute)

Bandow argues that to “have meaning, liberty must protect the freedom to act in ways which may offend individuals and even majorities. So it is with ‘drugs’ currently banned by the U.S. and other governments.” This should apply whether or not legalization produces bad results, but the author argues that a well-structured legalization will reduce harms, not increase them. More importantly, the author suggests the War on Drugs has sideswiped and reduced a range of other freedoms. For these and other reasons, the paper argues that drug use should be treated as “a protected liberty.”

“A Compact Statement of a Cost-based Theory of Rights and Freedoms” by Michael A. Walker (Fraser Institute)

The author draws a distinction between two types of freedoms: those that are costless or low cost for a society to provide and those which require the expenditure of resources to provide. The first set simply requires government to refrain from acting. Costly rights include security of property and persons and some aspects of freedom of speech, the latter because government needs to actively protect those who say unpopular things.

“The idea of freedom is one of the most contested in political and philosophical discourse and one of the most vital,” McMahon said.

“Our book lays the foundation for a rigorous analytical framework and measurement to improve the objective measurement of human freedom worldwide.”



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