Why America Is Less Free
Today (November 9, 2022) is World Freedom Day, which began in 2001 to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe.
U.S. government officials like to preach about liberty to people in other countries, especially when they travel overseas. But the United States could do much more to advance freedom at home, and be the role model for liberty worldwide.
Table 1 lists four data-driven world indexes on freedom and government accountability, and it shows the U.S. rankings. By any measure, the United States could improve.
Table 1. The downward spiral of U.S. individual freedoms
Index (most recent edition) Publisher U.S. rank worldwide
Economic Freedom of the World: 2022 Annual Report Fraser Institute 7th Down from 3rd, 2000 2022 Index of Economic Freedom Heritage Foundation 25th Down from 8th, 2000 Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 Transparency International 27th Down from 14th, 2000 Human Freedom Index 2021 Cato Institute and Fraser Institute 15th Down from 7th, 2008 (first year of the index)
Source: Compiled by Lawrence J. McQuillan from the primary sources. To simplify the table, rankings are shown. But absolute levels of freedom (or scores) also declined for the United States across all four indexes during the same time periods.
Without exception, based on both absolute levels of freedom and relative rankings of freedom over time, U.S. residents are less free today, often dramatically so. This is not a track record of which Americans should be proud.
What accounts for the declines? In the Fraser index, U.S. economic freedom has decreased because of growth in government size and the money supply, and higher tax burdens related to international trade. Similarly in the Heritage index, U.S. economic freedom has declined due to “reckless government overspending,” as demonstrated by a sharp decrease in the country’s “fiscal health score.” Every dollar spent by government means less individual control over GDP spending and, thus, a loss of personal liberty.
In the Transparency International index measuring public sector corruption, the U.S. score fell from 73 in 2012 (ranked 19th) to 67 in 2021 (ranked 27th). Those scores are directly comparable; thus, the U.S. corruption score worsened by 8 percent. The index measures such things as bribery, the diversion of public funds, effective prosecution of corruption cases, and legal protections for whistleblowers and investigators. The United States has lost ground, both in absolute terms and compared to other countries.
Finally, in the Cato/Fraser index, which measures economic freedom plus personal and civil liberties, the U.S. dropped due to a decline in security and safety, more religious repression, greater censorship efforts, and less media access generally, among other factors.
Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden said, “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.” If Americans want peaceful and prosperous nations globally that are rooted in individual freedom, then we must role model what we want to see elsewhere by continually expanding our freedoms. Doing good becomes a virtuous cycle; doing bad becomes a death spiral. Unfortunately, the United States has slid backward over the past 20 years. Something to ponder on World Freedom Day.