Nationalism and Populism Detrimental to Freedom

Human Freedom Index 2018

With the rise of nationalism, populism, and hybrid forms of authoritarianism, freedom has been for years under assault in many parts of the world.

Unsurprisingly, among the countries with the most substantial deteriorations in freedom in recent years are Turkey and Poland, both experiencing evident weakening of the rule of law, contracting religious freedom, and attacks on freedom of expression.

Today we are releasing the fourth annual Human Freedom Index, the most comprehensive measure of freedom ever created for a large number of countries around the globe. The report documents global freedom on a continuing decline since 2008, the earliest year for which a robust enough index could be produced.

On a country level, we have seen the most significant deteriorations during this time in Greece, Brazil, Venezuela, Egypt, and Syria. Also, notably, Russia’s rating fell from 6.53 in 2008 to 6.27 in 2016; Hungary’s rating fell from 8.05 to 7.74; Argentina’s score dropped from 7.04 to 6.47; and Turkey’s rating decreased from 6.92 to 6.47 (between 2011 and 2016, Turkey’s rating decreased even more markedly, falling from 7.22 to 6.47).

On a positive side, countries that saw improvement in their level of human freedom most since 2008 are Côted’Ivoire, Angola, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, and Lesotho.

Freedom has indeed taken root in various societies, and it is also spreading in numerous countries around the globe. Notably, New Zealand tops the Human Freedom Index rankings this year, followed by Switzerland.

Both outperform Hong Kong, whose ranking and ratings continue to drop in light of ever-increasing interference and perceived interference by mainland China in Hong Kong’s policies and institutions, including infringements on freedom of the press and the independence of the legal system.

Other selected countries rank as follows: Australia (4th), Canada (5th), the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place), Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (tied in 17th place), Japan (31), France and Chile (tied in 32nd place), Italy (34th), South Africa (63rd), Mexico (75th), Indonesia (85th), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), Russia (119th), China (135th), Pakistan (140th), Saudi Arabia (146th), Iran (153rd), Egypt (156th), Iraq (159th), Venezuela (161st), and Syria (162nd).

The freest countries in Eastern Europe include Estonia (ranked 14 globally), Lithuania (20), the Czech Republic (21), Latvia (23), and Romania (24). The least free country in the region is Belarus (128) preceded by Russia (119), Ukraine (118), Moldova (75), and Greece (61) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Human Freedom in Eastern Europe

hfi-2Source: Vásquez and Porčnik, The Human Freedom Index 2018.

Eastern Europe as a region has less freedom than North America, Western Europe, Oceania, and East Asia, but more than Latin America &the Caribbean, Caucasus & Central Asia, South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa (see Figure 2).

The most significant improvement in freedom since 2008 occurred in East Asia (0.11) and sub-Saharan Africa (0.11), while the largest deteriorations in freedom occurred in the Caucasus and Central Asia (−0.25) and the Middle East and North Africa (−0.58), the least free region.

Figure 2: Human Freedom Score by Region (2016) and Changes (2008–2016)

hfi-3Source: Vásquez and Porčnik, The Human Freedom Index 2018

Figure 3 shows that within Eastern Europe, the most significant improvement in freedom since 2008 occurred in Macedonia (0.16), Estonia (0.09), and Slovenia (0.08), while Montenegro (-0.21), Hungary (-0.15), and Poland (-0.10) saw the biggest deteriorations.

Figure 3: Human Freedom in Central and Eastern Europe (2008-2016)

hfi-3aaaOf the 12 major categories that make up the index, all except three saw some deterioration since 2008.

Religion, Movement, and Rule of Law saw the most significant decreases in freedom since 2008, while Sound Money saw the largest improvement (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Human Freedom Score by Category (2016) and Changes (2008–2016)

hfi-4Source: Vásquez and Porčnik, The Human Freedom Index 2018.

With the Human Freedom Index, my coauthor Ian Vasquez and I aim to capture the degree to which people are free to enjoy fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, religion, association, and assembly, and also measures freedom of movement, women’s freedoms, crime and violence, and legal discrimination against same-sex relationships. 

In this context, the index ranks 162 countries based on 79 distinct indicators of personal, civil, and economic freedom, using data from 2008 to 2016, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. 

The index is co-published by the Cato Institute in the United States, the Fraser Institute in Canada, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Germany.

Tanja Porcnik
Visio Institut