New Zealand ranks at the top of the recently released Human Freedom Index 2020, followed by Switzerland. Hong Kong, despite its mounting political crisis, has managed to retain the third spot in the global ranking. The Human Freedom Index is published jointly by the Washington-based Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute based in Vancouver, Canada.

The annually updated index measures personal and economic freedom in 162 countries, covering 94 percent of the world population. It defines freedom as simply the “absence of coercive constraint”. The rankings for 2020 are based on the data pertaining to 2018.

Countries with Most Human Freedom

The top ranked countries in the Human Freedom Index 2020 are developed nations, mostly located in Europe and Asia-Pacific. The top 10 countries are ranked as follows.

  1. New Zealand (8.87)
  2. Switzerland (8.82)
  3. Hong Kong (8.74)
  4. Denmark (8.73)
  5. Australia (8.68)
  6. Canada (8.64)
  7. Ireland (8.62)
  8. Estonia (8.54)
  9. Germany (8.52)
  10. Sweden (8.52)

The top three countries have remained unchanged from 2017-18, while Estonia moved four places up to break into the top 10. Japan has also climbed 6 places to jointly occupy the 11th rank. On the other hand, United States has fallen nine places from 2017-18, representing the largest movement among the top 50 countries. It is now jointly tied at 17th spot with United Kingdom which also fell 5 places from the previous rankings.   

Estonia is among the ten countries with the greatest human freedom. Pictured above is Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

Countries with Least Human Freedom

At the bottom end of the human freedom rankings are mostly countries characterized by military conflicts, economic turmoil, or highly authoritarian regimes. The countries with the least human freedom are ranked as follows.

  1. Syria (3.97)
  2. Sudan (4.01)
  3. Venezuela (4.08)
  4. Yemen (4.17)
  5. Iran (4.53)
  6. Egypt (4.67)
  7. Libya (4.83)
  8. Iraq (4.90)
  9. Algeria (5.20)
  10. Central African Republic (5.25)

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Important Findings of Human Freedom Index 2020 Report

Some of the important findings of the 2020 report on Human Freedom Index are as follows.

  • The level of human freedom globally has only slightly improved (0.01) from 2017, with the score increasing in 87 countries and decreasing in 70.
  • The level of human freedom globally has somewhat declined (-0.04) compared to 2008, with the score increasing in 70 countries and also decreasing in 70.
  • The top quartile of countries represents 15 percent of the world population while the bottom quartile represents 34 percent.
  • The average per capita income is $50,340 in the top quartile of countries; it is $7,720 in the bottom quartile.
  • Human freedom is found to be strongly associated with democracy, with certain exceptions. Freedom, in turn, plays a significant role in human well-being.

Methodology for Determining Human Freedom Index

Each country is assigned a score of 0 to 10, where 10 represents the highest degree of human freedom. The data is derived from various existing publications such as the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index and the Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The index is based on 76 indicators, out of which, 34 relate to personal freedom and 42 to economic freedom. The broad categories of indicators are as follows.  

For each country, the index calculates separate scores for personal freedom and economic freedom, and averages them out to compute the final human freedom score. The average score of the 162 countries included in the index is 6.93, with a difference of 4.90 between the top ranked country (New Zealand, 8.87) and the bottom ranked country (Syria, 3.97).  

Limitations of Human Freedom Index

The 2020 rankings are based on the data for 2018, the most recent year for which sufficient information is available. Therefore, the rankings do not incorporate the events and changes that took place in the past couple of years, and may be considered somewhat outdated in a fast changing world. An example is Hong Kong, ranked at 3, where the political disturbances since 2019 are not currently reflected in the index.

In addition, some of the indicators, such as those representing drug prohibition, are not included in the Human Freedom Index due to a lack of reliable data sources. Finally, there is no practical way to account for cultural differences where “freedom” may be construed differently across nations. Certain liberties desirable in one country may be perceived as offensive or exploitative by the majority of people in another country.

The complete Human Freedom Index 2020 report, along with the dataset, can be downloaded here.