One meaning, or set of
meanings, is reflected in Freedom House's annual Freedom in the World
survey, whose preliminary findings for 2009
just been released. Freedom, according to this survey, is "the
opportunity to act spontaneously in a variety of fields outside the control of
the government and other centers of potential domination." If that seems a
little vague, the organization's website gets more specific, breaking freedom
down into two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. Political
rights allow people to "vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate
elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations,
and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are
accountable to the electorate." Civil liberties include "freedoms of expression
and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal
autonomy without interference from the state."
In the latest survey,
fully 47 countries, ranging from Canada to Barbados, from the United States to
Uruguay, get a perfect score of 1 for political rights and a perfect score of 1
for civil liberties. Only nine countries, including North Korea, Somalia, and
Sudan, get the worst possible score of 7 on both counts. To get a sense of the
spread, Argentina gets a pair of 2s, Turkey gets 3s, Kenya gets 4s, Ethiopia 5s,
and Iran and Zimbabwe 6s.
This survey, however well-intentioned, suffers from two glaring deficiencies.
First, it sets the bar way too low. By no stretch of the imagination are there
47 countries in the world that deserve perfect scores for freedom, even if we
accept Freedom House's criteria. Are civil liberties really perfectly safe in
England, with surveillance cameras on every other street corner? Should the
American Civil Liberties Union close up shop in an age of warrantless wiretaps,
enhanced interrogation techniques, and jail time for smoking a joint? And here
at home, how many Canadians really imagine that our proroguing Prime Minister is
fully accountable to the public? I'm not saying I'd rather live in Zimbabwe—or
Argentina, for that matter—but even in these relatively free countries of the
Anglosphere, there remains plenty of room for improvement.
The other glaring defect
in Freedom House's survey is that it completely ignores economic freedom. There
is no mention, for instance, of red tape,
which costs small- to medium-sized Canadian businesses over $30 billion a year.
No mention, either, of the eminent domain abuse that is rampant in the United
States, robbing small property owners of their homes and shops in order to help
some developer with deep pockets.
The Economic Freedom
Network—with members in over 70 nations around the globe, including Canada's own
Fraser Institute—provides a picture of economic freedom in the world
with its annual
report. By its definition, economic freedom exists when property acquired "without
the use of force, fraud, or theft is protected from physical invasions by others"
and when individuals "are free to use, exchange, or give their property as long
as their actions do not violate the identical rights of others." More
according to its latest report, to have high economic freedom, a country has
to protect private property, enforce contracts, and have a stable monetary
environment. "It also must keep taxes low, refrain from creating barriers to
both domestic and international trade, and rely more fully on markets rather
than the political process to allocate goods and resources."