We're #20! U.S. Sinks Again in Cato's Human Freedom Index

Cato Institute has published its annual Human Freedom Index, ranking 152 countries in the world according to the level of liberty enjoyed by its citizens, and once again, the U.S. fell in the rankings from the previous year.


Standing 17th in 2014, the U.S. now occupies the 20th spot, reflecting deteriorating economic freedom and a drop in adherence to the rule of law.

Other criteria used in the rankings:

The index published here presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas:

Rule of Law
Security and Safety
Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
Size of Government
Legal System and Property Rights
Access to Sound Money
Freedom to Trade Internationally
Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business

The U.S. rank has been declining since 2000 as the war on terror, the war on drugs, and a weakening of property rights have taken their toll on liberty in America.

My co-author Tanja Porcnik and I look at 76 indicators in 152 countries to capture the degree to which people are free to engage in voluntary exchange and enjoy major liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and association. We also include measures on freedom of movement, women’s freedoms, safety and security, and rule of law. We use data from 2008 to 2012, the most recent year for which sufficient data is available.

Hong Kong and Switzerland top the rankings, followed in order by Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, and Canada. The United States ranks in 20th place, below the United Kingdom (9) and Chile (18). Other countries rank as follows: Singapore (43), India (75), Russia (111), China (132), Venezuela (144), and Zimbabwe (149).

The United States fell from 17th place in 2008 to 20th place in 2012. The decline reflects a long-term drop in every category of economic freedom and in its rule of law indicators. The U.S. performance is worrisome and shows that the United States can no longer claim to be the leading bastion of liberty in the world. In addition to the expansion of the regulatory state and drop in economic freedom, the war on terror, the war on drugs, and the erosion of property rights due to greater use of eminent domain all likely have contributed to the U.S. decline.

We do not measure democracy in the index, though we consider it important. Indeed, we find a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy, a link that merits further study. As such, Hong Kong is an outlier in our index. Its high ranking is due to its traditionally strong rule of law, and high levels of both personal and economic freedom, something that all advocates of freedom, including democracy advocates, should seek to protect. The danger there is that China’s efforts to limit democracy will lead to increasing interference in the territory’s institutions—including on the independence of its legal system and the freedom of its press—which will reduce its overall freedom.


Here are the top 25:

1. Hong Kong

2. Switzerland

3. Finland

4. Denmark

5. New Zealand

6. Canada

7. Australia

8. Ireland

9. United Kingdom

10. Sweden

11. Norway

12. Austria

12. Germany

14. Iceland

14. Netherlands

16. Malta

17. Luxembourg

18. Chile

19. Mauritius

And then finally..

20. United States

Just after the U.S.,

21. Czech Republic

22. Estonia

22. Belgium

24. Taiwan

25. Portugal

The U.S. is tumbling toward banana republic status. And what will our ranking be next year? The EPA is readying thousands upon thousands of pages of new regulations for the oil and gas industry, the waste disposal industry, not to mention new IRS and HHS Obamacare regs coming all the time.

When you have an administration, a Congress, and a Supreme Court that treat the Constitution so shabbily, the rule of law suffers and freedoms fought for over many generations gradually erode and disappear.

This is our fate unless we can turn it around — and do it quickly.


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