By the Numbers: Is the US “The Freest Country In the World”?

“The United States is the freest country on earth.”

It is a comforting story Americans tell ourselves when we feel our position in the world challenged, or when chest-thumping nationalists mount the platform to brag about “American exceptionalism”, or when we need to excuse our behavior internationally.

But is it true? How does the United States stack up against other countries in terms of governance and human freedom?

Press Freedom: #23

#23 — Freedom House 2013 Global Press Freedom Rankings (out of 197 countries).

#32 — Reporters Without Borders 2013 Press Freedom Index (out of 179 countries).

Civil Liberties: #45

#45 — Economist Intelligence Unit 2012 Democracy Index (out of 167 countries).

Corruption: #19

#19 — Transparency International 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (out of 177 countries).

Democracy: #12

#12 — Global Democracy Ranking 2013 Report (out of 115 countries).

#21 — Economist Intelligence Unit 2012 Democracy Index (out of 167 countries).

Economic Freedom: #10

#10 — Heritage Foundation 2013 Index of Economic Freedom (out of 177 countries).

#19 — Frasier Institute 2013 Economic Freedom of the World (out of 154 countries).

Total Freedom: #7

The book Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom attempted to rank 123 countries in terms of total human freedom. The index was composed of a weighted average of half “personal freedom” and half “economic freedom.” By this measure, in 2008, the US ranked 18th in the world in personal freedom, 6th in economic freedom, and 7th overall.

We’re #1! We’re #1!

But proponents of “American exceptionalism” should take heart: there are still two metrics in which the USA still ranks first in the world (though they’re not exactly hallmarks of a free society): military spending and prisoners per capita.

military spending by country prisoners per capita

When you’re 45th in civil liberties, 19th in economic freedom, and 1st in prisoners per capita, I think it’s officially time to stop bragging about being the “freest country on earth” — and time to start thinking about how to change that.

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Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier

Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.

View all posts by Daniel Bier

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