Switzerland, Hong Kong and New Zealand top 'freedom' ranking: US rises

  1. Western and northern Europe rate as most free
  2. Middle East and North Africa are least free
  3. Brazil, Burundi are among big fallers in freedom tables
  4. United States and China far apart in freedom but each edges higher

Switzerland, Hong Kong and New Zealand enjoy the greatest combination of economic and personal freedoms in the world, while the United States is 17th overall — up seven places — in the latest global analysis by the libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute. Libya, Yemen and Venezuela are rated the least free while communist China is in 130th place – up six places.

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Cato and associated institutes, which tend towards the right or libertarian view of self-help economics, produce the nearly 400-page analysis every two years by looking at a range of indicators that contribute to a standardised view of personal and economic freedoms in most of the nations of the world. Given Cato’s history of promoting libertarian economics and its funding by U.S. billionaire Charles Koch, some may see a rightward slant in the work but the study is clear on its metrics and methodology.


“Freedom seems to be under attack in major nations around the world,” one of the authors, Fred McMahon of Canada’s libertarian think-tank the Fraser Institute, says in the introduction. The rise of populism has had an impact, as has the reversal of freedoms in countries such as Myanmar and the fizzling out of the Arab Spring. “Only three areas have shown an increase in freedom since 2008 —namely, sound money, freedom to trade, and regulation, the latter two with relatively small gains. The big losers are rule of law; movement; association, assembly, and civil society; and expression and information,” he writes.

“The Human Freedom Index – 2017” (link is to a PDF of the full 397-page report) is compiled from official and publicly available data.


The index is effectively an aggregation of a wide spread of other indexes. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Prison Census and Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press report were used to source the press freedom metric.

The data only goes up to 2015, giving the authors the benefit of hindsight when making assertions such as “Populism has been on the rise in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia and Latin America.”

Arguably, the metrics demonstrate the three organisations’ libertarian ideology. “Size of government” makes up a fifth of the economic freedom half of the index.

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