by Diane Rufino, March 22, 2018
How many times have you said to someone “We live in a free country?” How many times have you commented “Thank God we live in a free country.” How many times have you heard others, including our nation’s leaders and representatives, say “The United States is a free country.”
On the news we often hear commentators compare other countries to the United States, the premise being that we have a more free country. And how many times have you read in the news how the United States sets the example and is a beacon to the rest of the world because we are such a free nation.
Yes, we have freedoms. They are outlined in the Declaration of Independence and they are recognized and secured (supposedly) in the US Bill of Rights. But that doesn’t necessarily define us as a “Free People.” The real question is to what extend we are able to exercise those rights. That is the real measure of our freedom and our liberty.
But the reality is that the comment “We live in a free country” has become a soundbite, a cliché. We speak and hear it so often – indeed, for most of our lives we’ve heard it – that we believe it. We take it for granted that it is true.
We believe we have freedom in the marketplace and freedom over our personal and real property. But an honest assessment shows that there are so many regulations and so many taxes and fees and conditions and filings with respect to each that we truly do not have economic freedom or freedom with respect to our property (including our wages and other earned “income”).
So, are we a “Free Country.”
Let’s look at a screen shot of Americana right now, in 2018. Populism has been on the rise here and as we are learning first-hand, it threatens freedom by pitting “us” against “them.” Take, for example, the Phillips v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission which is a case sitting with the Supreme Court right now. As many probably know, the case presents a butting of two important issues: The Right to Exercise One’s Religious Beliefs Even in Conduct in the Marketplace versus The Right Not to Be Discriminated Against in Public Accommodations (including goods and services). The fact that Religious Liberty, probably the most important of our rights as sought by those who settled and founded our country and one seemingly protected without conditions or limitations in the First Amendment to the US Constitution is under scrutiny to have both imposed by our highest court, is in and of itself an indicator of our freedom index. Next, look at the arbitrary nature of our tax system. Those who can be taxed to fund the government and all the many programs (most of which are unconstitutional) are taxed in every possible way, shape, and form. Property is taxed multiple times, over and over and over again with each transfer, and improvements require more taxation. Sums that can be taken out of a person’s paycheck WILL be taken out and although characterized to sound palatable to the American people, are simply various forms of taxation. All of these funds are used by the government to redistribute wealth and services; they are not intended to be a rightful, fair, or equal token to the government in return for the benefits the country provides. We believe we have an almost unlimited right to free speech, but today, that right falls away quickly when the audience includes an individual who is too fragile to hear a viewpoint that he or she does not agree with. Free Speech today is, in reality, limited by feelings and a seriously low tolerance for opposing views, facts, or truth.
If Congress doesn’t do anything about the Affordable Care Act and the notion that the government must provide funding for healthcare for everyone and can regulate the healthcare profession, then we will officially be one of the countries of the world providing socialized medicine and healthcare. Ronald Reagan had warned about this back in 1961 and several Supreme Court justices warned of the same in 2012. As Reagan noted: “The doctor begins to lose freedom. . . . First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it’s only a short step to dictating where he will go. . . . All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.” Interestingly, during President Harry S. Truman’s administration, it was proposed that the government establish a compulsory health insurance program for all people in the United States, which the American people, without reservation or serious debate, rejected. They rejected government healthcare (Hillarycare) during the Clinton administration, and they opposed it during the Obama administration. But popular opinion and public concern didn’t stop President Obama.
The snapshot of Americana now in 2018 isn’t nearly the snapshot many remember 30-40 years ago, and those who remember the 50’s and 60’s may hardly recognize the country we’ve become. We could speak freely, worship freely, and we could travel without having to put lots of money aside for toll roads and bridges. Fanily was still the institution we believed in, strived for, and worked hard to preserve. We may not have had a ton of luxury items or electronic devices, but we were happy and sociable and weren’t consumed with talk of race and diversity, and we didn’t see our communities rapidly change due to an uncontrolled immigration of Hispanics. We enjoyed an era of color-blindedness and for a time, we enjoyed economic prosperity. We were safe in our homes and communities, our parents had job security, we went to school to learn how to think (not to be taught what to think), and we all felt like we had a shot at the American Dream, if we were willing to be educated and work hard. Most parents were reluctant to accept government hand-outs because of the stigma of receiving something not earned. It was an era of respect because, quite frankly, most people earned it.
Again, the question is: Are we a Free country?
The fact is that we are not truly a free country anymore. A look at the various factors that affect the extent to which we can exercise our freedoms shows quite clearly that we are not a “Free Nation” but rather one that is only “mostly free.” I don’t think that would have been good enough for our Founding Fathers. I think they would be deeply disappointed in what we’ve allowed the government to become, for it is the government that is – and has been – responsible for most of the factors burdening and constraining our freedoms.
There are detailed studies, conducted by reputable organizations such as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Fraser Institute, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom which assess the various factors that define the extent of a country’s personal and economic freedom. Using such analysis, they measure each country’s degree of freedom. These studies are called the Human Freedom Index and the Economic Freedom Index. The results of each of these does not bode particularly well for the United States or we as Americans.
Because freedom is inherently valuable and plays a role in human progress, it is worth measuring carefully and worth taking note of.
The Human Freedom Index looks at a broad range of factors to measure human freedom, which is defined as, and understand to mean, the absence of coercive constraint (that is, government, economic, and legal constraint). In other words, a measure of human freedom is a measure of the extent of coercive constraint or restraint on a person’s essential liberties, civil liberties, economic freedom, and property rights. Some refer to this as “negative freedom.” The Human Freedom Index uses 79 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom – the two most generalized categories – in the following more specific areas:
- Rule of Law (laws)
- 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
[For a complete look at the 79 factors used in the study: https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/2017-human-freedom-index-2.pdf Go to pp 15-19. The ranking follows on pp. 19-23. This is the data compiled by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom]
The Index measures and ranks 159 countries.
According to the Human Freedom Index, the United States ranks only 24th with respect to “Personal Freedom” and 17th with respect to “Human Freedom” (a measure that includes all the areas above – personal, civil, economic, government and the rule of law, etc). The U.S. fell from 16th place in 2008 and 19th place in 2013 to 24th place for Personal Freedom, showing a troubling trend for our country and its people.
Ahead of the United States, in terms of Personal Freedom, are the countries (in order, #1-23): Norway, Finland, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Sweden, New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Canada, Portugal, Great Britain, Slovenia, Estonia, Iceland, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Malta, and Japan. [The Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/2017-human-freedom-index-2.pdf; pp. 6-7]
Technically, the United States is not considered “Free” but rather, is considered “Mostly Free.” 14.5% of the 159 countries analyzed have more personal freedom than the United States and 84.2% have less. These numbers hardly entitle us to brag that we lead the world in freedom and are the model for other nations to follow.
Economic freedom is a measure of success in the marketplace. Beyond this specific indication, economic freedom is, and has historically been, seen as an important indicator of personal freedom. There is a reason for that. A person or family that is self-sufficient is not dependent on others or the government. Dependency stifles freedom and limits options. Our nation’s most prosperous eras have been the ones that have provided Americans jobs, education, opportunities, and wealth. When America prospers, its people prosper. They are lifted out of poverty, sickness, and ignorance.
According to the Human Freedom Index, the United States ranks 11th with respect to “Economic Freedom.” . The countries that rank higher than us include (in order, #1-10): Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, Great Britain, Mauritius, Georgia, Australia, Estonia, and Canada. Actually, Canada is ties with the US. [The Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/2017-human-freedom-index-2.pdf; pp. 6-7]
The Heritage Foundation, which conducted its own study of Economic Freedom, has the United States ranked 18th in the world, in 2018. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom looks at 12 individual freedoms, from property rights to financial freedom, in 186 countries. The top-ranking countries, in order, are: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, and Ireland. These top 6 are considered “FREE,” according to the Heritage Foundation. The countries that follow (#7-17) are: Estonia, Great Britain, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Denmark, Taiwan, Luxembourg, Sweden, Georgia, and the Netherland. The countries that occupy the #7-34 positions (which includes the United States, at #18) are considered “MOSTLY FREE.” [2018 Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation – https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking]
Although President Trump is working very hard to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our economic freedom, right now, our position is certainly nothing to brag about.
As mentioned above, with respect to “Human Freedom,” the United States ranks 17th. Again, the “Human Freedom” Index is a measure that includes all 79 distinct indicators among the areas of economic freedom, personal freedom, and civil liberties – the major ones, which are contained in our First Amendment: speech, religion, association, and assembly. The countries that rank higher than the US include (in order, starting with the most free): Switzerland, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Canada, Austria, Sweden, Estonia, Luxembourg, and Germany. [The Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/2017-human-freedom-index-2.pdf; pp. 6-7]
“The declining performance of the United States, once considered the bastion of liberty, is worrisome,” said Ian Vasquez, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and co-author of the study, commenting on its results. “We should all be concerned with the impact on liberty of the war on terror, the war on drugs, and the decline in the rule of law and economic liberty in the United States.”
I hope this article and the data provided convinces you that we, as Americans are not a free people and that our country, despite the talking points, is not really a free country. We are “mostly free,” which should never be a consolation that we are willing to settle with. So next time you are filled with pride and patriotism and want so badly to sing the praises of the United States, please be sure to speak honestly of her.
Honesty is the first step in admitting there is a problem.
Human Freedom Index 2017, Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (Full Report) — https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/2017-human-freedom-index-2.pdf
“The Human Freedom Index,” Cato Institute – https://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index
2018 Economic Freedom Index, The Heritage Foundation – https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking