The Human Freedom Index presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom. Human freedom is a social concept that recognizes the dignity of individuals and is defined here as negative liberty or the absence of coercive constraint. Because freedom is inherently valuable and plays a role in human progress, it is worth measuring carefully. The Human Freedom Index is a resource that can help to more objectively observe relationships between freedom and other social and economic phenomena, as well as the ways in which the various dimensions of freedom interact with one another.
The report is co-published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.
The index published here presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom in the following areas:
- Rule of Law
- Security and Safety
- Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
- Expression and Information
- Identity and Relationships
- Size of Government
- Legal System and Property Rights
- Access to Sound Money
- Freedom to Trade Internationally
- Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business
On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for 162 countries in 2016 was 6.89. Among countries included in this year’s and last year’s report, the level of freedom decreased slightly (−0.01) compared with 2015, with 63 countries increasing their ratings and 87 decreasing. Since 2008, the level of global freedom has also decreased slightly (−0.06), with 56 countries in the index increasing their ratings and 81 decreasing.
The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). Selected countries rank as follows: Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (17), Republic of Korea (27), Japan (31), France and Chile (32), Italy (34), South Africa (63), Mexico (75), Kenya (82), Indonesia (85), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), United Arab Emirates (117), Russia (119), Nigeria (132), China (135), Pakistan (140), Zimbabwe (143), Saudi Arabia (146), Iran (153), Egypt (156), Iraq (159), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).
Out of 10 regions, the highest levels of freedom are in North America (Canada and the United States), Western Europe, and Oceania. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Women-specific freedoms, as measured by seven indicators in the index, are strongest in North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe and are least protected in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.
Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher average per capita income ($39,249) than those in other quartiles; the average per capita income in the least-free quartile is $12,026.
The HFI also finds a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy. Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard.
The findings in the HFI suggest that freedom plays an important role in human well-being, and they offer opportunities for further research into the complex ways in which freedom influences, and can be influenced by, political regimes, economic development, and the whole range of indicators of human well-being.