In conservative circles, there is a lot of talk about freedom. Freedom, freedom, freedom. America is the land of freedom. Not like those “socialist” European countries. No sir. We are REALLY free, and the rest of the world envies us our freedom.
In a previous post, I discussed the libertarian Cato Institute’s freedom indices, including their Economic Freedom Index and their Human Freedom Index. America ranks 16th on their Economic Freedom Index. And 23rd on their Human Freedom Index, behind 18 European countries. The reason is that Cato ranks America 28th on personal freedom. Qatar actually ranks higher than America on their Economic Freedom Index. But it ranks 147th on their Human Freedom Index. Ouch. 3 of the 5 Scandinavian countries rank in the top 10, and 4 of the 5 rank ahead of America.
There is another think tank that ranks countries, the Social Progress Imperative. It generates a Social Progress Index, based on many factors – nutrition, medical care, sanitation, access to electricity, crime, education, access to information, environmental quality, personal freedom, tolerance, inclusiveness, the list goes on. What it doesn’t look at is economic prosperity. America ranks 18th on the Social Progress Index, behind 13 European countries.
So what is the relationship between the SPI and economic prosperity? Let’s plot the index versus GDP per capita:
Clearly, there is a strong correlation. Poor countries rank poorly on social progress. Wealthy countries rank highly. But notice that the relationship is not linear. As social progress improves, economic prosperity improves at an even faster rate. The green and yellow dots are European countries. The yellow dots are the Scandinavian countries. Norway’s SPI is double that of Ethiopia. But Norway’s per capita GDP is 35 TIMES that of Ethiopia. The red dot is America.
As I said, America ranks 18th on the SPI, behind 13 European countries. On access to advanced education though, it ranks number 1! So why does it lag behind 17 other countries on social progress?
Well again, you might think America ranks highly on measures of freedom. A subindex of the SPI is opportunity. Opportunity includes such things as personal rights, personal freedom, choice, and inclusion. America ranks 17th on personal rights. All 5 of the Scandinavian countries are ranked in the top 10, 4 of them in the top 5.
How about personal freedom and choice? These include freedom with regard to life choices, freedom of religion, access to contraception, and perceptions of government corruption. America ranks 19th. Again, all 5 of the Scandinavian countries are in the top 10, 4 of them in the top 5.
And then there is tolerance and inclusion. This includes tolerance for immigrants, tolerance for homosexuals, freedom from discrimination, religious tolerance. On this, America ranks 22nd, behind ALL of western Europe. 4 of the 5 Scandinavian countries are in the top 10. Tolerance and inclusion turns out to have a pretty strong positive correlation with prosperity, quite independent of other social factors:
There is yet another organization that ranks countries, the Economist Intelligence Unit. It produces a Democracy Index for each country. The Democracy Index correlates well with Cato’s Human Freedom Index:
And like the Social Progress Index, the Democracy Index is correlated with GDP per capita:
America (the red dot) ranks 21st on the Democracy Index, behind 14 European countries (the green and yellow dots). It is now considered a “flawed democracy” by the Economist Intelligence Unit, as opposed to a “full democracy” – like all 5 of the Scandinavian countries (the yellow dots).
And there is yet another organization that rates countries on freedom, World Concern. It is a Christian world relief and development organization. It maintains the web site worldaudit.org. America’s press freedom rank is 20 and its corruption rank is 13. Its democracy rank is 35. This places it behind 23 European countries. All of the top 4 countries are Scandinavian (Iceland is not ranked).
So let’s summarize, shall we? The “land of the free” ranks 23rd on the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index. 4 of the 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries rank ahead of it. The “land of the free” ranks 18th on the Social Progress Index. The 5 Scandinavian countries are all in the top 10. The Social Progress Imperative ranks the “land of the free” 17th on personal rights. The 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are all in the top 10. The SPI ranks the “land of the free” 19th in personal freedom and choice. The 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are all in the top 10. The SPI ranks the “land of the free” 22nd on tolerance and inclusion. 4 of the 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are in the top 10. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks the “land of the free” 21st on its Democracy Index, and now considers it a “flawed democracy.” The 5 “socialist” Scandinavian countries are in the top 10. World Concern ranks the “land of the free” 35th on democracy. 4 of those “socialist” Scandinavian countries are in the top 5.
What’s more, the “land of the free” is losing ground on some of these freedom indicators. In 2 years, it has dropped from 20th to 23rd position on the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index. In the same 2 years, it has dropped from 16th to 18th position on the Social Progress Index. And since 2006 it has dropped from 17th to 21st position on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, losing its status as a “full democracy.”
And just for good measure, there is Freedom House, which is supported by the U.S. government itself, and which rates countries on a scale from 1 to 7 on political rights and civil liberties. For the past 5 years, it has given all 5 of the Scandinavian countries a rating of 1 on both. It has done the same for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and many other countries. And until 2017, it did the same for America. Now America gets a rating of 2 on political rights. Freedom House specifically cited violations of ethical standards and lack of transparency in Trump’s administration.
Government corruption is a very good predictor of country-by-country prosperity. Countries with transparent governments that operate for the benefit of the people tend to be prosperous and free. Countries with corrupt governments that operate for the benefit of a few tend to be poor and autocratic. America won’t continue down this path. Dramatic change is inevitable.