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Last year the Cato Institute, along with the Fraser Institute and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, published the Human Freedom Index 2017. In it, the authors, Ian Vasquez and Tanja Porcnki, assign scores to various key components of what they call “economic freedom” and “personal freedom” and then rank the various countries on those two. They take the average of the two indices to get the overall Human Freedom Index.

Ian Vásquez is the director of the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute and a columnist at El Comercio, a newspaper in Peru. Tanja Porčnik is president and cofounder of the Visio Institute, a think tank based in Slovenia, and an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute.

They do a meticulous job, one that I would never attempt. For what measures they put in which index, go to their Table 1 on page 15. There are 79 measures overall and they rate and rank 159 countries. Their data are for 2015.

The slightly bad news:

On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for 159 countries in 2015 was 6.93. Among countries included in this report, the level of freedom decreased slightly (−0.05) compared with 2014, with 61 countries increasing their ratings and 97 decreasing. Since 2008, the level of global freedom has also decreased slightly (−0.12), with about half of the countries in the index increasing their ratings and half decreasing.

Their overall index is a simple average of the countries’ scores, with no weighting by population. It turns out that this isn’t much of a problem. The two most populous countries in the world are China (1.371 billion in 2015) and India (1.309 billion in 2015.) While China’s score rose from 5.97 to 6.01, India’s score fell from 6.58 to 6.55. So the two countries that account for almost 40% of the world’s population basically cancel each other out.

Vasquez and Porcnik acknowledge their intellectual debt to the people who track the Economic Freedom Index, writing;

Our index builds on the work of the Fraser Institute’s economic freedom project; thus we owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Walker, the Institute’s former executive director and initiator of that research program, and to the authors of the annual Economic Freedom of the World report, James Gwartney, Robert Lawson, and Joshua Hall.

They also credit Liberty Fund for one of the seminars out of which the index arose.

Of course you can always quibble with both their choices of components of the indexes and with the particular number they assigned to each index. My own quibble: State control of internet access, which they place under personal freedom, surely also qualifies as economic freedom. I wouldn’t be surprised if they agreed with this quibble. But they have to put it somewhere and it certainly is an important component of human freedom.

One nice thing about the study is that you can drill down and if you want to know, for example, the state of freedom of association, freedom of assembly and demonstration, and freedom to establish and operate organizations, in Egypt, you can. (see p. 144 for those data.)