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Cato Institute Uncovers America's Dirty Little Secret

Written By Geoffrey Pike

Posted August 24, 2015

tatteredThe Human Freedom Index – released on an annual basis by the Cato Institute and Canada’s Fraser Institute – shows that the United States has dropped to 20th place in the world amongst other nations.

While any index such as this is going to be somewhat subjective, it still gives us a good idea of what is happening. The index ranks countries based on various criteria measuring personal, civil, and economic freedom.

For reference, the top ten freest countries are:

  • Hong Kong
  • Switzerland
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • Sweden

This index should not be mistaken with others that measure purely economic freedom. When it comes to economic freedom, Hong Kong is typically ranked number one, and Singapore is ranked number two.

In terms of human freedom, Singapore falls way down due to the strict – some would say authoritarian – social laws. The same can be said for some Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, both of which rank ahead of the U.S. in economic freedom.

Interestingly, since Obama became president over six years ago, the U.S. has dropped three spots on the list. It may not be the hope and change that many people thought they were getting.

That isn’t to say that this is all Obama’s fault. Unfortunately, it has been a path that the U.S. government has been on for a long while now. And let’s be clear that this whole index is a reflection of government intervention, whether it is taxes, regulations, war, or civil liberty violations.

Where Would You Want to Live?

When you look at the top ten list, these are some attractive places to visit or live in, when comparing them to the rest of the world. If I had to pick my top ten places on earth to live, most of them would be near the top of the Human Freedom Index.

I am discounting the idea of already having a great deal of American wealth and going to a third-world country to live like a king. I am referring to a place with freedom and opportunity and high living standards for the middle class, not places where only a tiny fraction live well.

We should be quick to point these places out to those who advocate policies of big government and socialism. For the socialist advocates out there, which socialist country would you want to live in?

I know that some so-called progressives hold up places such as Finland and Denmark as social democracies with a high degree of welfare. But even these places have a reliable system of property rights if you take out the welfare equation. They also have a strong legal tradition of common law.

If you want to talk about welfare and a lack of property rights, look at places such as India, Venezuela, and the Philippines. This is without even going to the more extreme examples of Cuba, North Korea, and most parts of Africa.

In other words, if big government is so great, then why are the places with the most government intervention the most miserable places to live? All of the most desirable places are the ones with greater human freedom. They have a strong legal system and strong property rights.

I think the drop for the U.S. should be a warning sign. Of course, there are warning signs all around us. But just because people wave the American flag on July 4th, and they quote the Constitution on occasion, it doesn’t make us free.

I think the U.S. is still the best, or close to the best, in many areas of freedom. I would include freedom of speech, freedom of religion, gun rights, and homeschooling as some of these issues.

Many Americans don’t realize that certain forms of speech are crimes in many parts of the world, including Western Europe.

But then the U.S. is terrible when it comes to foreign intervention and war, the drug war, the surveillance state, and other civil liberty issues. The U.S. has the largest prison population by far in the world as compared to any other nation.

The U.S. has also deteriorated in economic freedom. This is not just about taxes. It is about government spending and government regulation. It is a lot easier to start a business in Hong Kong. It is all relative though. It is a lot easier to start a business in the United States than it is in a place such as India.

When taking everything into account, I still think the United States is one of the best places to live in the world. But we should never take the freedom we have for granted.

I know there is a big debate on immigration right now. There are still a lot of people that want to enter the United States. But perhaps we should start focusing more of the debate on the possibility of people wanting to leave the United States for greener pastures.