Freedom in the World is in Decline

My thoughts on Independence Day are more muted this year than they have been in the past. In the first half of my life I saw the Berlin Wall fall and I watched as democracy, trade, and greater freedom spread around the world. There was still plenty wrong, of course, especially for a libertarian, but the world was on an upswing and it seemed like the ideas that led to the economic, political and social destruction of the first half of the twentieth century were in decline. Now, following the second Great Depression, illiberalism is on the rise much as it rose following the first Great Depression. All could yet turn out well but there is no denying that the world is no longer on an upswing.

In Freedom in the World: 2016, Freedom House reports:

The world was battered by crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent….

  • The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains.
  • Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.
  • Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.
  • Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.

Freedom in the World has now declined for the 10th year in a row.


"...especially for a libertarian..."

Are you referring to other people? Judging from your policy suggestions, you're clearly not a libertarian.

No true Scotsman

Well, if we're just thowing labels around without substance, I hereby declare myself World Emperor and Supreme Human Being.

Then perhaps you can explain why Alex is just as much NOT a libertarian as you are NOT world emperor.

How about you just shut up?

Nice try, other Anne.

@Cliff, read his posts and the criticisms.

@Anne, I have read his posts and certainly think Alex is a libertarian.

@Anne that was rude.

@dan1111 that is a non sequetiur (look it up).

As has been pointed out by one of the occasional commenters here, the priority for the moderators is to erase national borders. They also like to fuss over occupational licensure, fuss over health and safety regulations (especially for pharmaceuticals), and, in Tabarrok's case, bitch about cops. There are also oblique complaints about drug laws. Abuse of dissidents in Canada, Germany, or Sweden? Crickets. Freedom of contract and association in this country? Crickets. How about a critique of the social work profession, as long as you're bashing cops? Crickets. You could call this libertarian, but what it looks like is a series of improvisations to keep you in the good graces of other faculty.

And, of course, the problem is that libertarianism is commonly sterile, because the policy questions and cultural disputes which can be adjudicated by appealing to an overarching principle of 'liberty' are circumscribed.

'Abuse of dissidents in Canada, Germany, or Sweden?'

If you are calling neo-Nazis 'dissidents' in Germany, well, then there is nothing to be discussed, I guess.

But at least in Germany, there is no slippery slope argument when it comes to knowing the sorts of policies that a Nazi oriented government would follow. And having gone through that once, the Germans quite reasonably have decided that Nazism, regardless of how neo, is out of bounds.

Oddly enough, Germans who disagree with this political consensus are considered to be defending something other than freedom of expression - and as one should know, Nazis, neo or not, have never cared about free expression as a right that the state should protect.

On the other hand, when a leading AfD figure suggests killing women and children at the German border, do notice that no one arrested that 'dissident' for such a brave statement advocating a change in German policy.

I see your counterparty's best argument is "shut up." Congratulations. You bear off the palm.

And wear is my freedom?

It's not free, and sometimes you just gotta get down to business and inappropriately kiss your sister!

Another reminder that it is still socially acceptable to be xenophobic toward the Southern American Male.

Not socially acceptable, just weird enough to be beneath comment

...and you're clearly not Anne. :-D

Nonetheless, if Alex isn't a libertarian, I'm not sure if I've ever actually met one in the 25 years I've considered myself a libertarian. I'd be curious who you DO consider a libertarian if he isn't.

Why is "freedom" being glorified as a virtue in itself over here?

Also these metrics do not factor in economic freedom, though that is far more important than civil freedom or political freedom

Singapore is less free than India in most respects. But would you rather live in Singapore or India?
China is less free than India in ALL respects. But wouldn't you rather live in China?

What matters is not freedom. But per-capita income.

What matter is the good.

"What matters is not freedom. But per-capita income."

I do not want to be governed by people who feel this way.

"What matters is not freedom. But per-capita income."
Well, Saudi Arabia is richer than Germany and Israel, Equatorial Guinea is richer than Estonia and Poland (those damn Polish plumber can't do anything right!). They must be glorious places.

What matters is good governance.

There's an easy way to test this. Where do the immigrants try to get into? It seems like a lack of "freedom" hasn't prevented Saudi Arabia from being an attractive place for some immigrants, compared to Poland.

I personally feel a lot "freer" when I have more money in my pocket.

Net Migration Rate
134 POLAND -0.46 2015 EST.
135 MACEDONIA -0.48 2015 EST.
136 TANZANIA -0.54 2015 EST.
137 SAUDI ARABIA -0.55 2015 EST.
Thanks for playing, anyway.

I didn't know that there were only 4 countries in the world. And that anyone can move anywhere they wanted.

We were comparing Poland and Saudi Arabia. So I quoted data about them and the two countries between them. What is the problem?
Again, Saudi Arabia's net migration rate is lower than Poland's.
"And that anyone can move anywhere they wanted."
I see, we are better not try to look closely claims about how wonderful our Saudi Arab friends are, right? Let's just repeat the party line over and over.

The problem with your reply is that by including too much information--two extra countries--you have confused some of the slower students.

Oh, sorry. I thought that all slow students had left for the holiday and we could finally get things done around here. I will try to bear in mind their plight next time. I mean, they did not choose be like that. Unless they choose to eat all that lead knowing it was lead and was bad for them, in this case I have no sympathy.
So allow me to make it clear for the class: "Children, when A <B<C<D, A<D even if B and C are from countries with names you find funny. OK? OK, then."

There are nine million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. No, none are becoming citizens, but people are traveling there for work. About 86% are low-wage workers, but making more than in their home countries. But the numbers are huge, foreign workers account for more than half of all jobs in Saudi Arabia. Top sources of Saudi immigrant workers include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, and Syria.

Saying Saudi Arabia is more free is like saying colonial Virginia was more free than Africa because of the incoming labor force.

Demand for labor is high, but pay is low, and Saudi citizens refuse to do such low wage work, so human traffickers bring in labor that has zero freedom from nations with high poverty, but much greater freedom, but no easy pillage and plunder to attract corporations. Individuals sell their freedom in the hopes of paying for opportunity for their kids.

Of course, Saudi labor produces nothing of value outside Saudi Arabia, and little of value inside Saudi Arabia. Nepal workers produce more export value in goods than Saudi workers. And Saudi workers don't even do the pillage and plunder of natural capital - 80% of the labor force is non-citizens with no rights, just slaves, tho some are highly paid, and get to exit and enjoy the fruits of exporting Saudi capital for burning.

Saudi Arabia is not more affluent than Israel or Germany. North of 40% of Saudi Arabia's output is accounted for by natural resource rents and a disproportionate share of the country's human capital is attached to foreign residents whose tenure is circumscribed. The per capita income figures you're reading bounce up and down with the price of crude.

Noted, but I was replying to a claim that GDP per capita (not even HDI) is what really matters in life. Also, I may be wrong, but the recent period of low oil prices is already represented here (it's the most recent edition of CIA Factbook)-- and, clearly, Saudi Arabia's economy is a lot better managed than say, Venezuela's. But OK, what about more affluent than Poland?

Again, the share of resource rents is an indicator of the sustainability of a given level of prosperity. The Arab Gulf states are as low as it gets. It's also an indicator of the degree to which prosperity is subject to state allocation. And, of course, in Poland, they're doing their own skilled work, not importing a service class of various skill levels. Saudi prosperity owes much to illusion. Poland's not. You're more secure in Poland.

So GDP per capita ALONE is not everything.

Luckily liberty and prosperity are highly correlated - but your view is that of a sick man. Liberty is the proper condition of mankind and that prosperity flows from it is wonderful but second.


Sure, shrikanthk, living in Nazi Germany was better than living in Costa Rica, especially if you were Jewish.

Well, Nazi Germany was horrendous, I agree.

But the Jews in Nazi Germany were rich enough to book the voyage tickets to US! Per-capita income matters, you see

Which did not prevent them from being turned down by America's racist regime and sent back to their deaths by America's "cosmopolitan" elite.
"Sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami, some passengers on the St. Louis cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge. Roosevelt never responded. (...) Quotas established in the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1924 strictly limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted to the United States each year. In 1939, the annual combined German-Austrian immigration quota was 27,370 and was quickly filled. (...) Three months before the St. Louis sailed, Congressional leaders in both US houses allowed to die in committee a bill sponsored by Senator Robert Wagner (D-N.Y.) and Representative Edith Rogers (R-Mass.). This bill would have admitted 20,000 Jewish children from Germany above the existing quota. 532 St. Louis passengers were trapped when Germany conquered Western Europe. Just over half, 278 survived the Holocaust. 254 died."--

Anyway, these constant invocations of regimes like "Nazi germany" to trumpet the virtues of freedom miss the point I am making.

Nazi Germany is an outlier freak case. Let's answer the following questions -

Would you rather live in Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore or Democratic and free India?
Would you rather live in unfree China or free India?
Would you rather live in the Roman Empire in the Age of the Antonines or in a constitutional republic like Sierra Leone today?
Would you rather live in Jacksonian America that was low on civil rights or in the politically free Haiti of today?

"Anyway, these constant invocations of regimes like “Nazi germany” to trumpet the virtues of freedom miss the point I am making."
"The point you are making is, "sc**w human rights, money is everything.z"

"Would you rather live in Jacksonian America that was low on civil rights or in the politically free Haiti of today?"

Depends. Will I be a slave? Will I live terrorized by gangs? Will I be a journalist? Mexicans are way richer than the Haitians (or Jacksonian Americans, by the way, with having antibiotics, TV sets and all that), but just can not keep reporters from being murdered by the drug cartels. Money is not everything.

"Would you rather live in the Roman Empire in the Age of the Antonines or in a constitutional republic like Sierra Leone today?"

Will I need antibiotics I have at least a chance of begging foreign missionaries? Also, dozens of thousands of people were killed in the Sierra Leone War (since America had its own Civil War, I doubt it is just about money-- in fact, a good question, would you rater be in India or in Antietam? Iwo Jima or Brazil?). And, no, I never found a Brazilian that would rather be a Greek Slave or an feudal serf.

Actually, Congress allowed the mortgaging of immigration quotas in the 1930s to allow more German citizens to enter quickly. The government could have done more, but they did not do nothing.

I will defere to your knowledge regarding the measures Congress took to help the Jews, however I have to point that as late as 1938, German Jews begging for some accomodations on the mortggea quotas issue:,1744635&hl=pt-BR and that the Saint Louis was turned down in 1939 (I freely admit I don't know how many German Jews more entered the USA in the 1930's thanks to Congressional measures). Also a bill making the admission of German Jewish children easier was allowed to die at Congress.
All things considered, I think we agree. Much more could have be done for the German Jews and the ability to book voyages for the USA was not always enough to save the fleeing Jews.

But, a) not all of them were that rich, and b) the US did not take many of them in even when they were rich and booked the tickets. Or did you not know that?

No no no. YOU've got it all wrong. It's the other kind of freedom that is far more important.

As for China, I think the normal story is that the degree of its political unfreedom is normally exaggerated and economic freedoms are almost never considered. But honestly, and I've spent some time in all three places, I would choose China over India and Singapore because the working opportunities are more numerous and highly paid. Singapore concentrates a handful of cultural experiences in a way you'd never get it in China, and India is ... well, I guess a matter of taste. But a very large and diverse country, I think you should keep in mind. For example, there are 14 official languages printed out onto ever bank note in the country.

"Also these metrics do not factor in economic freedom, though that is far more important than civil freedom or political freedom"

Couldn't disagree more, depending on what you mean by "economic freedom". Would I rather be able to start a business with minimal red tape, or would I prefer to be able to worship freely without fear of being thrown in jail? Would I prefer to pay less in taxes, or be able to criticize the government without getting Putin'd? Etc.

China or India? I'll take India the world's largest democracy, Thank You.

"What matters is not freedom. But per-capita income."

New Jersey has a much higher per capita income than Tennessee.

Income, in and of itself, measures nothing. It's just a number on a piece of paper. It's what that income can buy and without freedom, that's not a lot.

How can Japan be given a freedom rating of 96 when foreigners are not free to cross Japan's borders whenever they please and Japanese citizens are not free to hire or house foreigners? Surely that is anathema to Tabarrok's world view?

Because it's Japan, and Japan is awesome.

Because it is Japanese with Japanese institutions.

Have you ever lived or worked in Japan? Obviously not.

maybe you are confusing racism with freedom. Japan has plenty of both

Please explain, am I completely ignorant of Japanese immigration law and in fact foreigners are free to come and stay indefinitely?

How can people think you are scoring off Japan when you are scoring off Tabarrok? I despair for the educational system.

The problem in the United States is that conservatism is associated with intolerant beliefs.

"Tolerance" as a virtue in itself, regardless of what one is tolerating, is dumb. And no one believes that, anyway. Everyone who uses this language really means we should tolerate certain things, and not others. No one who talks this way thinks we should tolerate murder, rape, racism, or a million other things.

Recently in a speech, David Cameron said "We will not tolerate intolerance." Really. As Dave Barry used to say, "I Am Not Making This Up."

Let's get rid of this meaningless language. I refuse to tolerate it.


Perhaps tolerance, like freedom itself, is not really an absolute good. Instead there is a sweet spot where good things are enjoyed and evil things are precluded.

Today cities will make clear their freedom and safety choices on fireworks, for example.

I'm peaceful except for with who cannot be persuaded to turn away from violence or the threat of it. I will never hurt you unless you start it.

I'm also not tolerant of intolerance.

I find a rolled eye is successful in managing my own dissatisfaction with other people's views about violence or tolerance more than 99.9% of the time.

I'm sure you've really whipped a few asses when people don't get the message from your eye rolls.

Well you can't be raising eyebrows at people who speak approvingly of violence unless you're prepared to up the ante and give a shake of the head.

No Antifa/BLM/La Raza racial violence for you?

We should tolerate (in legal terms) *any* thought, feeling, belief or emotion. We should tolerate (in legal terms) any action that does not impinge on the equal rights of others.

We should *not* tolerate any action by any individual or entity that forcibly or fraudulently hurts people or their property physically or monetarily or puts them unwillingly or unknowingly at significant immediate danger.

What a person is or isn't willing to tolerate personally is up to them, for better or worse. No one has to support or encourage any action or belief they don't believe in. Anyone can speak out against such beliefs or actions (as long as they're not directly encouraging immediate action that infringes on the rights of the people whose action or beliefs they disapprove of). Anyone can refuse to personally associate, in any way, with those they disapprove of.

Tolerance does not mean that anything goes and nothing and no one should be personally judged on any basis. It refers to one thing and one thing only - *LEGAL* tolerance. No interference by the state.

My personal tolerance limits are quite broad by most standards, but I have my own lines. I want nothing to do with people who think they should be able to tell other people how to live and think and feel. I want nothing to do with people whose lives are consumed with hatred and anger. I want nothing to do with people who think they should be able to live at the expense of others.

I will not support them. I will speak out against them. The one thing I will not do is say "There should be a law ..."

"Tolerance" is a basic requirement for a democracy to exist. Without it, you don't have a democracy. In the US, "Conservatism"* , is most definitely intimately associated with intolerance. Because it is typified by intolerant value sets.

*Meaning the political persuasion, which is decidedly NOT conservatism, as in one who wishes to be conservative, and who wishes to maintain the status quo, rather than seeking change. "Conservatives" may have been so at one time, but the last administration when that might have been true would have been Eisenhower's. Even that is arguable, since Ike had to maintain a balance when he had Conservatives like Joe McCarthy supposedly on Ike's side.

All of the conservative positions you find "intolerant" used to be the norm, and democracy existed back then.

I guess you mean tolerating Jim Crow laws as in "democracy existed back then" is your definition of democracy. Not sure, but it sound like you have a narrow view of what democracy means .. one which fits your own definition of it.

More people used to be more intolerant.

I think his statement about tolerance and democracy are rather particular, but I cannot imagine a vision of an OK democracy which doesn't include at least a decent amount of tolerance.

People need to be better at having civil conversations with people they disagree with. Instead we have rules of thumb like, when meeting new people, in laws, etc., the standard advance it to not talk about anything that matters deeply to people. Are we THAT unable to respect a dissenting opinion? Or is it more in the other direction, that another might be offended?

"I cannot imagine a vision of an OK democracy which doesn’t include at least a decent amount of tolerance."

Ok, but modern American conservatives surely have "at least a decent amount of tolerance" in a global/historical perspective. They don't favor executing or even imprisoning the people they disagree with, for example.

"If evil men refuse to empower the State to enforce capital punishment on criminals that the Bible says should be executed, the pietists usually applaud. ('We're under grace, not Old Testament civil law!')"-- Ron Paul's curriculum leading guy criticizing the "not killing people for not keeping the Sabbath holy and other such things" instance of some of his peers.
To be honest, I am not sure if it still is American Conservatism ( well, he is a hard-line Calvinist, what is more American Conservative than that?) or if it is some kind of Bring--Back--the--Gold--Standard Libertarian Sharia. You tell me.

"People need to be better at having civil conversations with people they disagree with."


The lefties here are coming off as more delusional about themselves than I had thought they were. Weird.

Tolerance is another word for compliance. Be quiet and do what you are told. If the Ontario government brings in a sex Ed curriculum where someone whose proclivities are towards children was involved in crafting it, it is intolerant to bring up that inconvenient fact.

If I was tolerant I would think that a meeting between Clinton and Loretta Lynch was a friendly discussion about important issues of the day. If I am a staunch supporter of democracy, (not a Democrat to their eternal shame) I start warning up some tar and plucking some chickens.

You are, I am not compliant.

Let's all comply! Remember, children, deficits only mattered from 1976 to 1980 and 2008-2016. Reagan's deficits and the Bushs' were wonderful. We need to prevent Niger's yellow cake from falling in Saddam's hands. We will be welcome as liberators! Four legs good, two legs bad! Trump awesome, Clinton monster! Our Savior's hands are huuuuge! We will make Mexico pay for the wall and maybe for another Trump Tower. I have faith!

Well that's one of the many twisted ways to justify certain positions.

There are lots of sensible reasons to comply with lots of things, but compliance as a matter of principle is dumb. Maybe ... you could consider whether perhaps compliance simply is not required, but some views are increasingly looked upon as unfavourable?

E.g., not sure if it applies, but for some reason it seems that racists always get angry when people mention that someone is racist. To which I usually reply "if you don't want to be called racist, don't say racist things."

Whatever, I know some people go overboard in trying to force people to accept things they don't like. But if you're going to be racist or sexist, people should expect that spades will at least occasionally be called spades.

Speaking in the more general sense, not personally to the comment being responded to.

Without specifics, you are just emoting. There are many kinds of conservativism. No doubt there are intolerant conservatives, but that's true if every demographic. I suspect you are implying that conservativism and intolerance must go hand in hand, but that's not true.

Thor, No, conservatism does not have to go hand in hand with intolerance. But, ask whether it has in America, what you have is what you have, and its not tolerance. Where does the term social conservatives come from.

No one remotely familiar with the arts and sciences faculties, the law faculties, or the teacher training faculties could read this mess without laughing out loud.

The problem in the United States is that conservatism is associated with intolerant beliefs.

No, liberals associate 'conservatism' with 'intolerant beliefs' because the amour-propre of liberals requires it. Liberal fancy themselves 'tolerant' because they co-exist with things which do not bother them (and expect everyone else to co-exist with things which do not bother liberals). Liberal enclaves are monocultures (or bizarro cultures populated by liberals and by freaks and geeks like Melissa Click).


Trump de Dump Dump


Say a prayer to Jerry Falwell.

This post actually makes Art Deco's point for him.

Two caveats. (1) That is a problem, not the problem. (2) The association is a false one, however widespread.

Of course, rising inequality and declining freedom are related. Freedom House: "The United States did not face refugee flows or terrorist attacks on the same scale as Europe, but it too is experiencing a crisis of confidence in its democratic institutions and international role. While the American system remains dynamic and open to the participation of minorities and immigrants, its elections and legislative process have suffered from an increasingly intricate system of gerrymandering and undue interference by wealthy individuals and special interests. Racial and ethnic divisions have seemingly widened, and the past year brought greater attention to police violence and impunity, de facto residential and school segregation, and economic inequality, adding to fears that class mobility, a linchpin of America’s self-image and global reputation, is in jeopardy." As our founders understood and as reflected in the Declaration of Independence, freedom depends on equality.

Hmm, so people choosing who to live near and where to live is anti-free? I guess freedom in the U.S. would be improved by forced integration where we make people live in "diverse" communities against their will?

"Of course, rising inequality and declining freedom are related. . . .freedom depends on equality." Well, democracy certainly requires a strong middle class, and, as one should infer, lower levels of inequality. And I will agree that rising inequality and declining freedom are related. However, I don't think that the two are related in a causative relationship, which is what is implied. It seems to me that economic and regulatory tools are being used to further both the inequality and the decline in freedoms. One needn't look to the complex subject of gerrymandering when simpler causations are apparent.

Quite vacuous. OF COURSE some kind(s) of equality are important, not only in our Republic but elsewhere too. Equality before the law for example. But do believe in strict equality -- everyone gets the same x (house, car) -- or a modified equality, as when we try to prescribe equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome. No one short of the radical SJW demands perfect equality, so we have the problem of where to set the boundaries.

"Talking about freedom
I'm talking about freedom
I will fight for your right
To live in freedom

Yeah Oh

Talking about freedom
I'm talking about freedom
I will fight for your right
To live in freedom

Everybody talking about freedom
I'm talking about freedom
We will fight for the right
To live in freedom


Talking about freedom
I'm talking about freedom
I will fight for your right
To live in freedom

Talking about freedom
I'm talking about freedom
We will fight for the right
To live in freedom

Este é o meu direito
Um direito dado por Deus
Para viver uma vida livre
Para viver em liberdade

Falando de sobre liberdade
Eu estou falando sobre liberdade
Eu iriei lutar pelo direito
De viver em liberdade

Se você quiser
Tentar tirá-lo
Você terá a resposta
Pois esse é meu direito

Falando sobre liberdade
Estou falando sobre liberdade
Eu iriei lutar pelo seu direito
De viver em liberdade

Yeah Oh

Falando sobre liberdade
Estou falando sobre liberdade
Eu iriei lutar pelo seu direito
De viver em liberdade

Todos falando sobre liberdade
Estou falando sobre liberdade
Nós vamos lutar pelo direito
De viver em liberdade


Falando sobre liberdade
Estou falando sobre liberdade
Eu iriei lutar pelo seu direito
De viver em liberdade

Falando sobre liberdade
Estou falando sobre liberdade
Eu iriei lutar pelo seu direito
De viver em liberdade"
Sorry, but it's just how I feel.

I liked you better when you made trite, usually off-topic, but occasionally hilariously relevant comments. Sorry, but it's just how I feel.

"The trite saying that honesty is the best policy has met with the just criticism that honesty is not policy. The real honest man is honest from conviction of what is right, not from policy."-- Robert E. Lee.
Sorry, but it's just how I feel.

We do not have equality before the law. Not when it is so expensive.

" Equality before the law for example."

Exactly, every law should apply equally to every citizen. That would eliminate agricultural subsidies, affirmative action programs, welfare schemes, selective service registration for males only, alimony payments and most other laws and regulations.

Equality in politics is equal under the law. It has nothing to do with economic or social or any other private standard.

When economic inequality is due to private and wholly voluntary exchanges, there's nothing wrong with it. When that inequality is due to political favoritism in any fashion, that *is* a problem.

Free Market Capitalism is not a problem. Politically driven Crony Crapitalism *is* a problem.

People choosing who they personally do and don't want to associate with is their right, whether you think their standards are right or wrong. People being *forced* to associate with people they want nothing to do with *is* a problem.

A truly free and voluntary society is the best long term method for reducing personal bigotry and irrelevant differentiation between people based on group identity or background. For people to "not be judged by the color of their skin [or any other irrelevant standard], but by the content of their character."

The problems you describe are due to the increasing power and control by the state, not to a lack of it.

Would it not also be important to include population rather than just country count, if some small countries slide backwards a couple steps that might be outweighed by two large ones jumping forward 20 steps. Looking at the visualisations seemed to only show change in country amounts not population amounts

I'm not saying the world is getting more free, just that this measurement might not include everything we need to make an accurate judgement.

Actually, there are just incremental changes within countries, not major countries 'sliding back' to an appreciable degree. Again, it's a set of artificial indexes of their own creation, it's not interval-level data, and there's no ready way to tell how they're jiggering the scale. It's likely the best source you can find for general assessments of the quality of civic and political life, but it's reasonable to be skeptical of its utility as a tool for assessing fine gradations.

In truth, the only changes over the last 20 years or so (since peak liberty in Freedom House reports) you'd much notice if you just scanned the newspapers would be the failure of democracy in Russia in favor of a political machine-boss regime, the advent of a less carefully managed machine-boss regime in Venezuela, the advent of electoral government in Indonesia, the failure of parliamentary government in Thailand, the tentative end of political violence in the Andes, and the advent of a number of failed states like Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, and the Congo.

It does seem as if the changes to the index for most of the Developed world are really trivial. With small items being given a big weight on the scale.

Some items seem to me to be somewhat outstanding: Sweden, for example, gets a perfect score. This is one of the comments from the report:

"Freedom of speech is guaranteed by law, and the government does not restrict access to the internet. Hate-speech laws prohibit threats or expressions of contempt based on race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation. "

Hate speech laws are not examples of free speech.

I think of government as a sort of pyramid in function. Kind of like Maslow's.

At the very bottom, the base of it all, is security. If the government cannot monopolize violence and provide for the basic physical security of its citizens and borders, nothing else can follow.

What we see in the Middle East is that morons tried to shovel in fourth- or fifth-level government functions and attributes without paying any attention to the foundation. Freedom and democracy and the press and all that are great and wonderful, but if the government can't stop random groups of thugs from literally taking over cities, then we need to get back to basics. It's like education. Everyone wants to teach "critical thinking" which is all well and good, but the kids CAN'T READ. Liberals, conservatives, everyone falls into this trap. We take for granted the many centuries of stable government which allowed us to develop these higher order ideals. Much of the world does not have any basis for this. They need to develop naturally, and that means a long process which is very violent and extremely unjust. You don't get modern Britain without William the Conqueror. What we are doing is walking into Britain in 1068 and whining about the human rights abuses, overthrowing William, tossing machine guns to the Celts, Irish and Scots, and leaving them to sort it out.

That's true too. We have people here ready to throw political order under the bus, the Militias, the III%ers, the Constitutional Sheriffs, but thankfully they are few. And becoming fewer as casual supporters realize how nutty the whole thing was.

I think you're proving the opposite. The militias and constitutional sheriffs are previous, earlier iterations of the stability of our society. If somehow our current system failed, we have so many earlier versions, its not as if we fall to the end of the civilizational mountain.

Perhaps they hearken to something that built stability, but today they are nutters who think a personal interpretation of the Constitution trumps the courts and due process.

Bundy's stand-off was that kind of insurrection, and for one preposterous moment had mainstream Republicans supporting it.

I think most of them have come around to "what was I thinking?"

You mean constitutional as in second amendment.

Rule of law would mean Loretta Lynch would have resigned by now, and Clinton would have been charged. Submitting to corruption and injustice is neither respecting the rule of law, tolerant or the way of democracy.

The second amendment does not actually say you can block Federal officers from carrying out court orders.

On the Lynch thing, more Bill being Bill, and more dumb ass Republicans grasping at non-crimes because they can find no crime.

It is beyond factual dispute that crimes were committed. All that's left to be litigated now is whether the violations merit prosecution.

Two things. First it has become a transparent political handshake that certain people say "Hillary is going to jail" without naming the crime. This is a tell. Basically they want her in jail for being a liberal.

Second, of course there is a range of opinion on the email thing:

If this was as easy as the silly "going to jail" people think, she would be in jail.

First it has become a transparent political handshake that certain people say “Hillary is going to jail” without naming the crime.

Her crimes, for starters, would begin with that for which Gen. Petraeus had to strike a plea bargain. And, no, she isn't going to jail, because the law does not apply to well-connected Democratic pols unless you're crude enough to have a freezer full of cash in your basement or to send dick pix to post-adolescents.

The link discusses the Petraeus comparison.

'would begin with that for which Gen. Petraeus had to strike a plea bargain'

You mean Hillary has a paramour that was writing a biography of her? Please, do tell us more.

'The Petraeus scandal is a series of events that garnered strong media attention when an extramarital affair between retired four-star general David Petraeus, then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Paula Broadwell became public information. Petraeus had chosen Broadwell to be his official biographer. She co-authored All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, his biography, when Petraeus was the International Security Assistance Force commander. On November 9, 2012, she was reported to have been involved in the extramarital affair with Petraeus that triggered his resignation as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency when it was discovered by the FBI.'

And it was Broadwell, the biographer, that had classified material she was not entitled to possess on her computer, and it remains unproven that it is was provided inappropriately by the former CIA Director.

Put differently, look at what too many Militias did to Lebanese democracy.

Yeah, Lebanon had such a rich national history as an independent nation before those militias showed up.

Yeah, Lebanon had such a rich national history as an independent nation before those militias showed up.

There was a brief internecine war in 1860-61 after which there was 114 years of economic improvement. Bar Cyprus and Israel, Lebanon was in 1963 the most affluent Near Eastern / Arab country not graced with a natural resources bonanza. It was also the most benevolently governed. Great place, once upon a time.

Uh, Tarrou, Anglo-Saxons were running the show in England when William the Conqueror showed up, not Celts, Irish, and Scots, with both of the latter two being varieties of Celts. Parliament predated William. Not obvious that he was the fount of either later English power or freedom.or democracy.

I chose those groups specifically because of our inability to distinguish the various groups in the middle east, hence we constantly support ridiculous choices. That was half the point of that statement. Your pedantry has been noted, well done. Unfortunately, your historical education was never equaled by your reading comprehension.

hence we constantly support ridiculous choices.

We don't.

Parliament predated William.

No. The first model parliament was at the end of the reign of Henry III.

No, A.D., the original English parliament was convened in 924, but it was called the "witan." William continued it and it expanded. However, it is true that it was not called "parliament" until the reign of Henry III. But it effectively had been in existence for about three hundred years by then.

Trump is anti liberty because he is a NATO skeptic?

This holiday commemorates American exit from the British Empire. It does not celebrate America joining the freakin' UN, NATO, OAS, WTO, IMF, or Star Trek Federation. Most importantly, this holiday celebrates soverignty of the people, which in the US context means DC and your state capital. Not Brussels and certainly not Davos.

Trump has his own worries this morning. Freedom related, as it happens.

Trump doesn't appear to care much about free markets, limited government, the rule of law, or even free speech.

The same could be said for Hillary Clinton. But I'm for Trump because he's not goring my ox, which is what pluralistic democracy eventually boils down to.

I am actually surprised by the apparent bitterness up-page. This is the 4th of July, a great day, in what even critics would have to admit is in the top 5 nations on earth.

My only responsibility today is to grill a tri-tip on my kamado. I think I'll try this:

But since you mention it, no selfish self-interest has never been the highest American ideal.

Liberty only works when everybody carries around the same rulebook.

You will be comforted to know that Trump is seen to be anti-liberty for other reasons. Being a "NATO skeptic" only shows him to be a foreign-affairs naïf, albeit a willful one.

Trump is more pro-liberty than 90%+ of Americans who have ever existed. The Founding Fathers ran State Churches and passed the Alien and Sedition Act. That's to say nothing of the sins of generations less than a century back.
The idea that Trump represents any serious rollback in liberty is just asinine. The same goes for Bernie or any other Presidential candidate. Practically every single one has the same modern liberal values baked in since birth.

The "Founding Fathers" were not some homogeneous group, all believing the same things and the same limits on government power. Hamilton was a Tory who switched nominal allegiance and chose the winning side. Jefferson was an idealist. Madison was a systems guy. Washington was a figurehead. Franklin was a libertine. Adams was a moralist. Many of them were lost to history aside from their signature on a piece of paper. They lost their lives and fortunes to the fight. About the only thing they *all* believed in was independence from England and the end of monarchical rule.

Aside from Libertarians, none of the candidates advocate less government, at best only shifting the areas of control around a bit. I developed my personal two sentence synopsis of my political position 36 years ago and it hasn't really changed since ... I want the government out of my bedroom, out of my billfold and off of my back. If I'm not hurting someone else (and feelings don't count) or their stuff, then leave me the #$(%*# alone.

That is Liberty and that is equality under law, which is all a government is justly instituted to do.

It is interesting that the same ten years have been home to rapid per capita GDP growth- must be close to the highest, if not the highest, in human history.

Does increased urbanization explain both changes?

Freedom does have a hysteresis.

No. The FED pouring newly created "money" into the banking system, most of which has gone into investments and increasing paper wealth, is the cause, such as it is, of the growth of nominal GDP.

starts off like a Tyler post but the phrase "second Great Depression" gave it away as an Alex Tabarrok.

I promise to be more free, to be aware of the diversity of external influences, and to be more sure to think for myself and not take everything at face value except for political or ideological propaganda which should always be taken at face value ("they said that - huh") and nothing more.

I promise to be more free, to be aware of the diversity of external influences, and to be more sure to think for myself and not take everything at face value except for political or ideological propaganda which should always be taken at face value ("they said that - huh") and nothing more.

I promise to be more free, to be aware of the diversity of external influences, and to be more sure to think for myself and not take everything at face value except for political or ideological propaganda which should always be taken at face value ("they said that - huh") and nothing more.

Let's be honest. People look over their shoulders more when you start this kind of conversation than they would have 5-10 years ago. But there are oh so many peaceful ways to resolve the situation. Because the other ways of upholding freedoms can be mean, and that's just not nice. So let's hope we don't have to do anything crazy, mKay?

I'll take these organizations measuring "freedom" seriously when they notice that countries like France, Germany, and Sweden arrest people for their opinions. Hungary and Poland aren't doing that, but somehow they're becoming more illiberal.

Seems like the only thing that counts in these "freedom" measures is attitudes towards gays and immigrants.

Aye. I think some of this may be referred to parenthetically in their discussions, but it has absolutely no effect on their rating system, even as 3d world countries are graded on a more unforgiving curve than was the case 40 years ago.

Alas, most countries arrest people for their opinions. Freedom House measures which countries are *relatively* free, and the U.K., France, Germany, Sweden, and Canada arrest people for their opinions (e.g. "racial incitement") far less often than most nations do.

"Alas, most countries arrest people for their opinions."

I've never heard of Hungary doing it. Yet they're at 79. Sweden gets 100, Canada gets 99. US has a lower rating than France and Germany. If they were locking up pro-immigration activists instead of anti-immigration activists, they'd probably get 25. They mention "xenophobic sentiments in democratic countries" in the first sentence of their summary of findings, not people with such opinions being jailed.

From the report on the United States:

"Federal antidiscrimination legislation does not include LGBT people as a protected class, though many states have enacted such protections. The government bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in federal employment and among federal contractors."

Apparently, "freedom" means the abridgement of freedom of association. They don't mention the bakers and florists run out of business for not wanting to participate in gay weddings.

They should change their name to Homosexuals and Immigrants House.

It's funny how xenophobic sentiment -- e.g., anti-Hessianism in 1776 America -- used to correlate with freedom.

There's a big difference between government discrimination and private discrimination. The government (and the goods and services they pay for) should never treat people differently based on anything but their actions and merits.

Private discrimination, no matter on what basis or how disgusting, should be legal. Socially disapproved of and fought against, but legal. Big difference.

If you want to start a private club, start a private club.

If you want to open a business to the public, a product that is available to one customer must be available for other customers. You might be able to get away with making up some excuses, but if you stand up loud and proud and say "I believe in discriminating based on XYZ", it will cost you money.

No one is telling you who you have to hang out with, who to parry, or any such thing. However, in the marketplace, it is not acceptable to discriminate.

must be available for other customers.

Because Nathan says so.

Great Britain is getting more free.

Mel Gibson called it back in 1305.

He never looked better than with his face half blue.

Except for the 48% who voted Remain (and that portion of the Leave voters who will very likely find their economic freedom has dropped substantially a year from now).

The Remain voters will be more free too even if they didn't want it.

Freedom has been in rapid decline since the (((globalists))) began imposing Political Correctness, feminism, diversity, multikult, mass non-white immigration, and speech codes on Western countries.

Nationalism is the antidote.

No wonder the people at Commentary mag are apprehensive,

You know "Laguna" is not an English word, right?

The area of Laguna Canyon was named on an 1841 Mexican land grant map as, Cañada de las Lagunas (English:Glen of the Lagoons).

You should probably move. But to where exactly? English culture was forever corrupted by those Italians in 43 AD.

I think something happened after 1841.

Sure, a treaty, with property rights respected, and a great deal less bloodshed on the way to Freedom than other places.

James Irvine purchased hundreds of acres of ranch land in 1864 from Mexican cattle baron Don Jose Sepulveda. That was one of the largest blocks of lands in the area, purchased not taken.

Of course we would treat the Mission Days with less nostalgia now, and say that Sepulveda benefitted from priests and troops working in tandem to suggest natives become wards of the church.

Ah, yes, the multiple-parenthesis people. Odd that freedom declined in Germany while your intellectual ancestors were putting paid to them. And in the Committee Union while your Uncle Joe did.

"...the ((( people ))) at Commentary mag are apprehensive."

There, fixed it for you.

When all of the passengers on an airplane choose to move to the port side of the plane, then is their "Freedom of Choice" improved or worsened? If we could quantify choice into a single parameter, C, which is more important C or dC and which are we talking about here? I don't think choice is strictly a GDP issue, but it has gotta be part of the equation. per capita, inflation adjusted, poverty level normalized, etc. etc.

In answer to you first question, it is worsened because they are more crowded. Possibly also because the plane may upset and they all die.

In answer to your second question, so far as I know "we" cannot, so "we" are talking about pure hot air here.

In answer to your final comment, to the effect that material well-being is somehow involved in the definition of freedom, many people share that intuition. However, there is no "equation." It might be nice to do as Leibniz dreamed, to reduce all real-world questions to algebra and calculate, but we are nowhere near that and have excellent reason to think it impossible.

GDP, whether nominal or per capita, is a meaningless measure. Freedom of choice is lack of government interference, nothing more and nothing less. Who gets to decide what a person does with their life - the person themself or others? If you get to make your own decisions and are responsible for the consequences, for better or worse, then you are free. If you don't, you're not. That is your single parameter.

The great advances in freedom have come from rising incomes in the developing world. In 1990 30% of the world's population lived in absolute poverty (less than $1.90 a day). Today that figure is approx. 9.5%. I don't have the exact figures in front of me, but in 1990 I think approx. half of the population of China lived under this floor. Now the figure is a low single digit.

It's a curious situation. The American people have played an instrumental role in this story by purchasing a lot of crap from places like Walmart and Target, but they don't feel connected to this story.

It does not seem to occur to you that 'human rights' ngos have their pretenses and institutional interests. Most of them are untrustworthy red haze propaganda outfits. Freedom House is less untrustworthy than shAmnesty or Human Rights Watch, but they're still prone to certain bourgeois attitudes which have little to do with liberty and they also need to justify their existence (and raise money).

I thought you all wanted to live in a 'nicer' world?

Trying to convince other people of libertarian arguments is what led me to conclude that libertarianism has serious flaws. People really do want to trade off between freedom and other values. Go argue with some of them and find out. Your freedom is determined by what the people in your society want to do as trade-offs between freedom and other values. This has consequences for immigration policy and for attempts to bring liberal democracy to various countries around the globe.

I'm not surprised the tide is flowing in the other direction. Take the former USSR for example. The Russians got pretty screwed by advice from Harvard economists. The result was kleptocracy. The Russians do not have enough social capital. Nothing to mediate between the state and the people.

Alex, what are the root causes? I think those root causes will be much clearer to you in 10 years. Declining costs of certain types of data assures it.

and for attempts to bring liberal democracy to various countries around the globe.

There have been no attempts in the last 20 years bar two or three, and the stance of American policy was a consequence of actions taken for reasons-of-state.

Electoral institutions have lumbered along all over the world the last 25 years, bar in China, Russia, Equatorial Africa, the Arab World, and some points adjacent to these.

Bar two or three? See the Wikipedia page American democracy promotion in the Middle East and North Africa. US funded programs that probably helped lead to Arab Spring. Certainly US bombings aimed at overthrowing Khadafy had democracy as a goal. So did our interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. Though the chances of liberal secular democracies in these places are close to zero.

Reasons of state: You mean GWOT? But tactics used in GWOT derive their legitimacy from the faith in Global Liberal Manifest Destiny. Not that they call it that. But it is key tenet of our national secular religion. The US State Department supports it like Saudi Arabia supports the spread of Wahhabism.

It's really not all that clear the extent to which any of those efforts in fact performed activities with a high likelihood to promote democracy, no matter that a decent amount of people who worked in them, and who allocated resources to them, may have wished it to be so.

Seems to me that most places got worse, not better. But things in Tunisia are OK I here.

Democracy does not equal freedom. The tyranny of the masses can be just as bad as any other system. We are not, and were never designed to be, a democracy. We are a Constitutional Republic. A federal government with few and defined powers where some of the representatives are elected democratically. A thing does not become right just because 50.0001% of the voting population at any given time think it would benefit them. Pure majority rule is nothing but mob rule writ large.

MENA drops worst in world, but refusal to import MENA population and concomitant illiberal culture is a negative for western liberalism metrics. If this is true, it must be true that liberalism commits suicide when it meets illiberals.

It's harder to help neighbours when you're dealing with all your own crap. Do we criticize people in slums and war zones for not doing enough for their neighbours, or do we just help them, at least sometimes?

I have a great idea. Let's have a flood of immigration into the relatively libertarian democracies of people who are--and if culture means anything, whose progeny for some generations will be--vastly more anti-libertarian, even, than the natives.

What libertarian isn't for that?

That way we can even out--if you follow me, and I bet you do--the degree to which countries are libertarian.

Isn't this the plan? The U.S. is the only country gumming up global governance. America must either be made anti-libertarian, or it needs to have a Trump-like leader who will abandon global institutions and allow Europe, Asia and Africa to unite in harmony.

The only problem I see with this line of thought is that there has never been a libertarian parent society.

You worry about a counterfactual fantasy being ruined by reality.

Clearly no one working at VOX understands actuarial math as this is offered up as an example of how we are "more free"...

"As a result of Obamacare, health insurers can no longer discriminate against people with preexisting conditions. This means that someone with cancer or asthma can apply for health coverage without fear of rejection or higher prices."

When will the innumerates at VOX start an insurance underwriting business for automobile insurance? Specifically, they will offer a product that makes us all "more free". Rental car insurance - with a twist. You don't have to take it out at the very beginning. You can call after 5 hours of driving and request insurance coverage without fear of rejection or higher prices, even if there is a preexisting condition!

E[X|A] is too complicated of a concept for idiots like German Lopez.

You just described the reason for the mandated purchase of insurance. Things are always a trade off. Always. You lost the freedom to have no health care, and got the freedom to not get jerked around when you really need it. Trade off.

It's always the fault of the democratic countries.

If they are the ones getting less democratic, then I would agree.

Now that we got the Bolshevicks out of the Brazilian executive its expected that Brazil will have an general trend for greater freedom over the next decade or so.

Looked at the link... As a citizen of Ukraine, I can say that classifying Ukraine "partly free" and Russia "non-free", immediately brigs credibility of this resource to below zero. Either the guys publishing this are clueless as to what is going on in Ukraine, or "freedom" here is taken as a shorthand to being "EU / US kept girl". Just a couple of days ago the Attorney General let a guy, under investigation for "grave and extremely grave" crimes out because (in his own words) (a) he personally knows him and (b) it's OK for paramilitary to pillage and kidnap for ransom, since "they need money to do their duties". And anyone voicing any dissent is immediately labeled "Russian/separatist agent", which may very well lead to arrest and/or disappearing. Free world indeed.

" immediately brigs credibility of this resource to below zero"

in your cynicism, did you stop to think about the methodology used? Rather than assuming that they pulled their rankings out of their asses.

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