Monday, February 04, 2013

New Zealand: World’s most free

A new study says that New Zealanders have the most freedom in the world. The conclusion is in a new book, Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom.

To be honest, I was prepared to dismiss this index (about which, more later), until I read what the editor of the project, Fred McMahon, said about it:
“Our intention is to measure the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, and association and assembly—in each country surveyed. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women’s freedoms.” [emphasis added]
I can’t remember any other index or ranking that has taken gay rights into account when measuring freedom. In the case of this index, the raw data for that aspect comes from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, which is an independent, non-partisan international NGO, and is arguably the best source for data on these issues.

That’s important because an index like this, which draws on available research and official data, is only as good or credible as its source material. In this case, while I haven’t read every chapter of the book, what I saw looked solid and reliable.

This came as a surprise to me because I was prepared to dismiss the index because it’s from a Canadian “think tank”, the Fraser Institute, which is variously described as conservative, libertarian or both. Given their stance of pursuing "a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets, and personal responsibility" [emphasis added], I expected the index to be promoting neoconservative/libertarian dogma. It’s not that simple.

When talking about personal freedom, they sound more like classic libertarians, and not at all like neoconservatives, who often are usually actually plutocrats and oligarchs, willing to sacrifice the personal freedom of people in order to gain more corporate power and greater personal wealth. This report doesn’t seem to come from such people, obsessed with selfishness, but rather seems to be based on a more traditionally—and genuinely—libertarian approach. If I get the chance, I’ll try to read the whole thing to draw firmer conclusions.

In the meantime, while I can’t properly or fairly evaluate their entire index, most of the criteria they used seem sound enough. And, of course, it’s always pleasing to see New Zealand ranked as best in the world at something—especially freedom.

The rankings for countries I write about the most are: 1. New Zealand, 2. The Netherlands, 3. Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and Ireland tied for fourth, the United States and Denmark tied for seventh, Japan and Estonia tied for ninth. The United Kingdom was in 18th place. The lowest-ranked countries are Syria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe in last place.

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