Human freedom is an inherently valuable social concept that recognizes the dignity of individuals. Human freedom enables and empowers people to do as they please, free from constraints or punishments, so long as it does not impinge upon the freedom of another. Human freedom plays a huge role in human progress.
The Human Freedom Index and its purpose
The Human Freedom Index is an annual report that evaluates the state of human freedom in 165 countries and territories around the world, representing 98.1 percent of the human population as of 2021. The HFI is a broadly comprehensive measure that encompasses both personal and economic freedom, then merges the two into a single value titled simply "human freedom." The Human Freedom Index is co-published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. The countries with the highest Human Freedom Index scores are widely considered to be among (the freest countries in the world).
The 2021 Human Freedom Index report is the most comprehensive empirical measure of freedom yet created. It compares and combines 82 different indicators to quantify the degree of freedom in 165 countries and territories during 2019, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. Each of the 82 indicators examined fits into one of 12 meta-categories.
The 12 Categories of the Human Freedom Index:
- 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
The Human Freedom Index gives each country a score from 0 to 10, wherein a score of 10 represents the most freedom and 0 represents no freedom at all, in each of the 82 indicators. These scores are carefully weighted and combined to determine the values for personal freedom and economic freedom, then those two values are averaged to determine each country’s ultimate human freedom index score.
Personal freedom and economic freedom compared
Personal freedom and economic freedom are made up of two sets of distinct, but closely intertwined indicators. Personal freedom involves indicators such as the fairness of the laws, personal safety, freedom of movement and assembly, freedom of religion, freedom to run for political office, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom to pursue same-sex relationships or obtain a divorce.
In comparison, economic freedom observes indicators such as the size of the government and degree of overbearance it imposes, tax and interest rates, the impartiality of the courts and integrity of the legal system, freedom to participate in financial markets and/or trade internationally, minimum wage, the cost of starting a business, the presence or absence of conscription (obligatory government work), and general freedom to prosper financially without intervention from the government or economic authority.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Human Freedom Indexes (2021):
- Switzerland — 9.11
- New Zealand — 9.01
- Denmark — 8.98
- Estonia — 8.91
- Ireland — 8.90
- Canada — 8.85
- Finland — 8.85
- Australia — 8.84
- Sweden — 8.83
- Luxembourg — 8.80
In the 2021 edition of the Human Freedom Index, the average human freedom score was 7.12. Compared to the levels in 2008, the overall freedom of the countries included has decreased by 0.01. The report finds a strong relationship between human freedom and democracy. The regions with the highest levels of freedom are North America, Western Europe, and East Asia. The lowest levels of freedom are in the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Women are particularly unprotected in these regions, where female-specific freedoms are more likely to be repressed.
Top 10 Countries with the Lowest Human Freedom Indexes (2021):
- Syria — 3.66
- Venezuela — 4.03
- Yemen — 4.08
- Sudan — 4.48
- Egypt — 4.49
- Iran — 4.53
- Somalia — 4.93
- Burundi — 5.02 (tie)
- Iraq — 5.02 (tie)
- Libya — 5.05
The quartiles of human freedom
The Human Freedom Index further groups each country into one of four quartiles, with the first quartile being the freest and the fourth quartile being the least free. According to the data analyzed for the 2021 report, only 14.6 percent of people live in the first quartile, which offers the greatest amount of personal, economic, and human freedom. Conversely, a full 40.3 percent live in the fourth quartile, which enjoys the lowest degree of personal, economic, and human freedom. What's more, those who live in the first quartile enjoyed a per-capita income of $48,748. This compared quite favorably to the much lower $11,259 average income in the fourth quartile.