This seventh annual report presents a broad measure of human freedom around the world. It builds on a multiyear program of research and discussions held in Europe and North
America involving scholars from many disciplines and countries. It uses, adapts, and evolves the methodologies that emerged from the decades-long work of the Fraser Institute to define and measure economic freedom with the Economic Freedom of the World index.1 The economic freedom project has demonstrated the power of such measurements to increase understanding about the concept of freedom and its contribution to human well-being.
A central purpose of this report is to paint a broad but reasonably accurate picture of the extent of overall freedom in the world. A larger purpose is to more carefully explore what we mean by freedom and to better understand its relationship to any number of other social and economic phenomena. This research could also help us more objectively observe the ways in which various freedoms—be they economic or civil, for example—interact with one another. We hope that this index will become a resource for scholars, policymakers, and interested laypeople alike and that its value will increase as it is annually updated, thus allowing us to observe numerous relationships through time.
The Human Freedom Index casts a wide net in an attempt to capture as broad a set of freedoms as could be clearly identified and measured. Some freedoms that could be clearly identified, such as the freedom to use drugs, could not be included because internationally comparable data could not be found. In other cases, data and clarity could be achieved for too few countries to satisfy the goal of making a global index.
That said, we and the authors of the other preliminary papers and indexes that have contributed to the creation of this index recognize that the global characterization of the state of human freedom published here is a work in progress.2 it is published with satisfaction but also with humility. We believe that we have constructed an index that provides a solid foundation for the ensuing work of refinement and recalibration in the face of new data sources or improved understanding as time passes. In that spirit, we welcome feedback, which may be appropriate in further consideration of the data found in the index and published in this volume.
DEFINING AND MEASURING FREEDOM
The contest between liberty and power has been ongoing for millennia. For just as long, it has inspired competing conceptions of freedom. Plato and Hobbes, for example, thought that extensive or absolutist rule over society was compatible with their definition of freedom because in their view, it would prevent society from descending into violence or chaos, which they considered more detrimental to freedom than a powerful state.
Others, such as the 6th-century BCE Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu and the 16th-century Spanish scholastics, expressed and developed ideas consistent with the view of the father of modern political philosophy, John Locke, that freedom implies that an individual not “be subject to the arbitrary Will of another, but freely follow his own.”3
This index follows that latter tradition, which in the past several hundred years has shaped the modern liberal world. Freedom in our usage is a social concept that recognizes the dignity of individuals and is defined by the absence of coercive constraint.4 (That contrasts with a mechanistic concept whereby anything that limits a person’s ability to do what they want—be it a natural, physical barrier or another person who happens to be standing in their way—is considered an infringement on their freedom.) Freedom thus implies that individuals have the right to lead their lives as they wish as long as they respect the equal rights of others. Isaiah Berlin best elucidated this notion of freedom, commonly known as negative liberty.5 in the simplest terms, negative liberty means noninterference by others. Berlin contrasts that type of liberty with positive liberty, which requires the removal of constraints that impede one’s personal improvement or the fulfillment of his or her potential as the individual understands it. When positive liberty, however, is imposed by others, it undermines negative liberty because individuals naturally have conflicting views on whether and how to achieve self-improvement. As in the case of the totalitarian systems of the 20th century, this discrepancy allows rulers to ignore the wishes of people and commit torture and other atrocities in the name of some higher form of freedom. Berlin further warned, as did F. A. Hayek, against the common tendency to call other good things—think of income or housing, for example— “freedom,” because this merely causes confusion.6 Negative liberty “comes in only one flavor—the lack of constraint imposed on the individual”7
—whereas positive freedom is far more likely to mean different things to different people and thus cannot be measured independent of the goals that conflicting ideologies or groups might identify with freedom.
This index is thus an attempt to measure the extent to which the negative rights of individuals are respected in the countries and jurisdictions observed. By negative rights, we mean freedom from interference—predominantly by government—in people’s right to choose to do, say, or think anything they want, provided that it does not infringe on the rights of others to do likewise. The rule of law is thus essential to protect freedoms such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, sexual freedom, economic freedom, and so on. Indeed, some of the rights that individuals legitimately claim depend partially or wholly on action by government to be realized. The right to personal security is the most important, but security in one’s property rights and the rule of law also require government action.
While aspects of liberty associated with democracy and political freedom—freedom of speech, assembly, and public demonstration—are included in this index, democracy or political freedom is not. Political freedom is important, but it does not mean democracy alone or unrestrained democracy. It is ideally some combination of the division of power, limited government, decentralization, and structural characteristics designed to control the powers of the majority. For example, countries such as Canada and the United States have democratic elections and constitutional constraint as well as separation of powers and decentralization. The United Kingdom has checks and balances and other limits on power, but it has no written constitution. The issue of how political freedom can best be determined and which of its forms is most consistent with personal, economic, and civil freedom is a major area of ongoing research. This report does not address that topic directly. However, it is hoped that the data provided here will assist researchers as they seek to determine the political structure most consistent with political freedom and the sustainability of personal, economic, and civil freedom. In that spirit, we look at the relationship between human freedom and democracy in the final section of this report.8
We use the following criteria to select data for the index: the data come from credible external sources and, for the sake of objectivity, are not generated by us; the index is transparent on methodology and sources, and the report covers as large a number of jurisdictions over as long a time period as is possible given the data available. As previously noted, we generally measure official restrictions on freedom, although some measures capture social or nonofficial violations of liberty (e.g., violence or conflict measures). This index fills a gap in the literature by examining overall freedom, including economic and other human freedoms. Existing economic freedom indexes examine only the former, of course. Similarly, other surveys of freedom focus on subsets of freedom that exclude economic freedom. Yet all these freedoms are crucial.
In fact, early systemic writings on freedom in the Enlightenment often focused on economic liberalism, or what we would identify with economic freedom, as an intrinsic part of overall freedom. This index thus for the first time develops a broad measure of human freedom rather than select aspects of it. We combine economic freedom measures from the Economic Freedom of the World index with measures of what we call personal freedoms. Our definition of economic freedom is that of James Gwaltney, Robert Lawson, and Walter Block: “Individuals have economic freedom when property they acquire 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.”9 Economic freedom thus exists when there is voluntary exchange, competition, personal choice, and protection of persons and their property.
One of the biggest challenges in constructing any index is the organization and weighting of the variables.10 Our guiding principle is that the structure should be simple and transparent. All the data that we use in the index are available and their organization clearly presented. This means that other researchers may restructure the index to their own preferences. We believe the structure and weighting we have chosen—slightly revised this year—if not perfect for everyone is consistent with the literature on freedom.11
The 12 broad areas measured in the index each receive equal weight. This strikes a reasonable balance between the two areas comprising the rule of law and security and safety, and the other five areas each in personal freedom and economic freedom that we measure.12 We weigh economic freedoms and the remaining personal freedoms that are not related to legal protection or security equally for two reasons. First, economic activities arguably predominate in the everyday lives of most people as they seek, at a minimum, to survive and to otherwise improve their welfare. Thus, the strong weighting for economic freedom reflects this consideration about how we live our lives.
Second, economic freedom decreases the dependence of individuals on government or other potential forces in society that would restrict liberty or attempt to centralize power. As such, economic freedom is not just inherently valuable; it empowers individuals to exercise other freedoms. Thus, the weighting reflects how economic freedom interacts with other freedoms. This point is illustrated by a remark of F. A. Hayek’s: A complete monopoly of employment . . . would possess unlimited powers of coercion. As Leon Trotsky discovered: “In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle, who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”13
That is an extreme case, but it illustrates the broader point that where economic freedom is limited, the government or powerful cliques possess great control over where you work, how much you are paid, whether you are able to find employment in the formal economy (with many attendant benefits), whether you get a promotion, where you live (and whether you are subsidized), what kind of job you have, whether you are able to adequately feed and clothe your family, and so on. In the absence of economic freedom, the powers that have many tools of coercion to block other freedoms. These tools of coercion fade as people gain the power to make their own economic decisions.
The weighting employed here, like any weighting in any index, will not be perfect, but we believe it is a good approximation of how people live their lives and of the relation between economic and other freedoms.
The weighting employed here, like any weighting in any index, will not be perfect, but we believe it is a good approximation of how people live their lives and of the relation between economic and other freedoms.
We use 2019 as the latest year in our index because it is the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. As such, this year’s report does not capture the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on freedom. We use 40 personal freedom variables covering 141 jurisdictions for the year 2008. The index covers an increasing number of countries for subsequent years. For the year 2019, we use the same number of personal freedom variables but cover 165 jurisdictions that represent 98.1 percent of the world’s population. In selecting the jurisdictions, we limit ourselves to those that are presented in the Economic Freedom of the World report. In selecting time periods, we use 2008 as the earliest year for which we are able to produce a robust enough index; many indexes of civil or other liberties are relatively new for a large number of jurisdictions.
The personal freedom variables we use thus include measures of legal protection and security, made up of rule of law and security and safety, with the remaining personal freedom measures made up of specific personal freedoms: movement; religion; association, assembly, and civil society; expression and information; and relationships.
This selection of variables, we believe, also provides an advance over other freedom indexes, which fail to account for the interaction between the rule of law and security on the one hand and specific freedoms on the other. Without the rule of law and security, specific freedoms cannot, in a practical sense, be lived out. The rule of law and security are essential to provide reasonable assurance that life is protected. Security and safety are fundamental for survival and for the exercise of a vast array of freedoms. The rule of law, by providing predictable order and reducing arbitrary conduct by the authorities, further facilitates an environment in which freedoms are safeguarded. Without security or the rule of law, liberty is degraded or even meaningless. The most famous expression of this is perhaps found in Locke, who conceptualized the rule of law and security as a unified bundle, just as we do:
The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom: for in all the states of created beings capable of laws, “where there is no law, there is no freedom;” for liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others; which cannot be where there is not law: but freedom is not, as we are told, “a liberty for every man to do what he lists:” (for who could be free, when every other man’s humor might domineer over him?) but a liberty to dispose, and order as he lists, his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property, within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.14
A security state may increase or appear to increase some aspects of safety, but it would curtail freedoms by empowering the state to violate rights. Thus, legal security and specific personal freedoms are both necessary conditions for high levels of personal freedom.
The index is derived from a total of 82 distinct indicators (40 personal freedom variables and 42 economic freedom variables, along with a Gender Legal Rights Adjustment to measure the extent to which women have the same level of economic freedom as men15) covering 165 jurisdictions. (Table 1 outlines the categories and their components in the two sub-indexes: personal freedom and economic freedom.) Each indicator is rated on a 0–10 scale, with 10 representing the most freedom. We average the main components in each category to produce a rating for each of the categories. To produce a final rating for the Human Freedom Index, we average each of the 12 categories equally, including the 5
categories of economic freedom: size of government, legal system and property rights, sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation.
The HFI measures economic freedoms such as the freedom to trade or to use sound money, and it captures the degree to which people are free to enjoy the major freedoms often referred to as civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, association, and assembly—in the jurisdictions in the survey. In addition, it includes indicators on rule of law, crime and violence, freedom of movement, and legal discrimination against same-sex relationships. We also include five variables pertaining to women-specific freedoms that are found in various categories of the index.
We would have liked to have included other important indicators, such as those quantifying drug and alcohol prohibition, but we found no reliable data sources that conformed to our methodological principles. What follows is a brief description and justification of the data we use in the personal freedom sub-index, as well as a summary of the economic freedom indicators that make up the rest of the Human Freedom Index.
The rule of law is an essential condition of freedom that protects the individual from coercion by others. John Locke’s emphasis on the importance of law in securing and enlarging freedom, cited previously, is an early formulation of that concept. A society ruled “by law, not men” implies that laws apply to everybody, including the authorities; that they are publicly known and understood; and that they limit the arbitrary decisions of rulers. To further increase the scope of individual freedom and reduce potential rule by personal will, Hayek proposed that laws be general and abstract—that is, that they be ignorant of particular cases and “not single out any particular persons or group of persons.”16 The stated attributes also provide a social order that allows people to more easily pursue their individual ends. Individual freedom is therefore dependent on the rule of law, a broad concept that encompasses due process, equal treatment under the law, accountability of government officials, and notions of fairness, predictability, and justice.
We use indicators from the World Justice Project’s (WJP) Rule of Law Index that is consistent with our definition of freedom.17 For the countries not included in the WJP index, we derive the rule of law ratings by regressing the WJP measures we constructed with the rule of law measures from the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.18
It should be noted that the Economic Freedom of the World index includes eight components in the legal system and property rights category that seek to measure “how effectively the protective functions of government are performed.” Thus, the rule of law measures included in the economic freedom sub-index add to those in the personal freedom sub-index.
The first component rates what we have termed procedural justice. It is composed of the average of three indicators measuring “the right to life and security” of a person; “due process of law and rights of the accused”; and “freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy.” The first of those indicators refer to violations by the police or government when conducting an arrest or a search, for example.
The second indicator refers to such issues as the extent to which police or the authorities respect the presumption of innocence, arrest people on genuine and formally declared charges, treat suspects humanely in custody, provide the accused full access to evidence, and the like. The third indicator refers to such violations as governments wiretapping private communications without judicial authorization. The second component rates civil justice on such issues as whether it is free of discrimination, corruption, and improper government influence. It also measures the extent to which alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are accessible, impartial, and effective. The third component measures the criminal justice system on such issues as its impartiality, its level of corruption, and the degree to which improper government influence is present.
By including the rule of law category, the index more fully captures the extent to which people are exposed to abuse by the authorities, and therefore it provides a measure of whether and by how much one is “subject to another man’s will,”19 to use Hayek’s expression. The indicators we use not only rate the degree to which the rule of law may be undermined; they also measure negative rights. Like security and safety, explained next, the rule of law concept included here significantly expands the scope of freedom by limiting coercion from a diversity of potential sources, including the most powerful entities or individuals in society, thus encouraging other freedoms to flourish.
The rights to life and to safety from physical aggression have long been recognized as fundamental to liberty. The violence of any kind, except in self-defense or in the administration of justice, reduces personal freedom or, in the case of violence that results in death, eliminates it altogether. In societies with low levels of personal safety and physical security from harm, it is difficult to exercise other freedoms, or even to survive. Like the rule of law, security and safety are thus important in safeguarding overall freedom. (Indeed, the provision of domestic and national security is a service that most classical liberals consider a proper function of government.) Unlike the rule of law category, which concerns rules that seek to reduce coercion, the security and safety category measures actual crimes committed. It attempts to measure the degree to which people who have not violated the equal rights of others are physically assaulted, kidnapped, or killed, or their physical integrity or safety is otherwise violated.
Whether perpetrated by ordinary criminals, governments, organized gangs, political groups, or individuals following tradition, crime and physical transgressions reduce personal freedom in any society. The first component measures the homicide rate. Here we ignore optimal-level-of-crime considerations or, as with the rule of law category, any account of the use of public resources to provide a public good intended to enhance freedom but that by its nature (taxation) represents a reduction in freedom.20
The second component measures disappearances, conflicts, and terrorism. It is made up of a number of variables. The first measures politically motivated disappearances. The following two indicators—violent conflicts and organized conflicts—measure the extent to which war or armed conflict with internal or external aggressors impinges on personal freedom in observed jurisdictions. The violent conflicts variable reflects battle-related deaths per capita. For the level of organized conflict, we use a “qualitative assessment of the intensity of conflicts within” each country used by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index but created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The next two indicators rate the level of fatalities and injuries that result from terrorism. Those figures, from the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, include deaths and injuries of both perpetrators and victims. Freedom from torture is the next variable. It measures the degree to which torture is practiced, incited, or approved by government. The last indicator measures the extent to which political killings are practiced and the degree to which they are incited and approved by government.
The freedom to travel is a basic human right and essential to a free society. Governments that restrict people’s movement greatly limit the scope of overall liberty because those limits severely reduce the ability of people to engage in a wide range of peaceful activities of their choosing. We average the first three indicators: freedom of foreign movement (the freedom to travel outside the country and to emigrate), freedom of movement for men, and freedom of movement for women within the jurisdiction. We average this result with another broad component measuring freedom of movement within a jurisdiction and the freedom to leave it.21
Free societies respect the right to practice a religion of one’s choosing. The exercise of religion can be both a supremely private matter involving a person’s strongest beliefs and a social affair practiced in an organized way among larger groups. Restrictions on that fundamental freedom have been the source of some of the bloodiest and most drawn-out conflicts throughout history, and they continue to animate discord in numerous countries today.
Two components make up our measure of religious freedom. The first is based on two indicators that broadly rate the extent of freedom of religion in society, including the right to practice and choose one’s religion, to proselytize peacefully, and to change religions. The second component gauges the repression of religious organizations by the government.
The freedom to associate and assemble with peaceful individuals or organizations of one’s choice and to form or join organizations for political, commercial, or other ends is an essential part of individual freedom and a basis of civil society. This category is made up of the following components: the freedom of civil society organizations to enter and exit public life; freedom of assembly, including the ability to carry out peaceful protests; freedom to form and run political parties, including the extent to which parties are banned or face barriers and the degree of autonomy of opposition parties; and government repression of civil society.
This category measures a broad range of freedoms, including that affecting personal expression, the press, and use of the internet. The press killed component refers to murders of journalists “in retribution for, or to prevent, news coverage or commentary” and journalists killed on dangerous assignments as documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The press jailed component refers to the number of journalists imprisoned, as documented by the same source.
Other components in this category include freedom of academic and cultural expression; harassment of journalists, including threats of libel and beatings; and government attempts to censor print and broadcast media (government censorship effort) and the internet. A media self-censorship component gauges the degree to which journalists censor themselves on politically sensitive issues.
Next is a media freedom indicator. It is an assessment by Freedom House of a range of issues, including the extent of censorship and self-censorship among journalists and the press, the use of security or other laws to punish journalists, and other laws and regulations that influence media content. It also captures the degree to which political pressure comes to bear on media coverage and takes into account state and non-state harassment of, and violence toward, journalists.
Finally, we average two broad measures in the category of freedom of expression.
We measure what we broadly categorize as freedoms to have intimate and familial relationships with others and that those be based on equal rights between males and females. One of the most personal decisions individuals can make regards their sexual choices.22 Thus, the first component rates the freedom of individuals to establish same-sex relationships. It is composed of two variables: a male-to-male relationship indicator that gauges the extent to which sexual relationships between men are legal and a female-to-female indicator that gauges the same for relationships between women. The next component, divorce, measures “whether women and men have the same legal rights to initiate divorce and have the same requirements for divorce or annulment.”
The final two components relate to girls and women. One component, inheritance rights, measures whether either the legal system or religious and traditional laws and practices favor males over widows and daughters in inheritance matters. Favoring males is an infringement on the liberty of widows and of parents and the daughters to whom they might otherwise choose to bequeath their assets; in many countries women are subordinate to the power of men, often putting them in economically precarious or physically vulnerable situations. The last component measures the prevalence of female genital mutilation among the population of women aged 15–49 years in a given country.
The 42 indicators that make up the economic freedom subindex fall into five broad categories. A complete description of the economic freedom structure and index methodology can be found in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World annual reports. The first category is size of the government. It measures government consumption, transfers and subsidies, government investment, the top marginal tax rate, and state ownership of assets. An increase in those components reduces economic freedom because it crowds out individual choices. The second category regards the legal system and property rights; it gauges the level of protection of people and their property rights through components of judicial independence, impartial courts, and the legal enforcement of contracts, among others.
Sound money constitutes the third category. To the extent that a country’s money is not a reliable store of value, it undermines exchange, hinders economic planning, distorts prices, and, through inflation, serves as a tax. The inflation rate and its volatility are among the components measured here. The fourth category is freedom to trade internationally; it measures tariff rates, non-tariff trade barriers, and controls on capital movement, among other indicators. The fifth category regards the regulation of business, labor, and credit. To the extent that government restricts competition in business, voluntary arrangements among employers and employees, and freedom of exchange in credit markets, economic freedom is reduced. Indicators measured include interest rate controls, hiring and firing regulations, and licensing restrictions, among others