Although countries like Costa Rica have promising pro-liberty political movements and although globalization has sped up the trade liberalization process in many countries, sadly, the world is very far from free.

Big governments with centralized power maintain policies of war, corruption, genocide and authoritarianism. Centralized market control usually results in government monopolies of capital, creating widespread poverty and humanitarian crises by limiting food supplies, infrastructure and healthcare from the citizens who need those things most. Laws protecting human rights are proposed by many of the world?s governments as symbolic gestures to cover up their authoritarian policies. Even ?free trade? is sadly tainted by images of abusive corporations backed by abusive government regimes in economies that are rarely free or open.

The problems do not exist solely in the developing world - even the "developed world" has a long way to go towards maximizing individual and economic freedom and limiting excessive government power. Even the top ten countries need significant improvement before they can be considered truly free countries. No countries received an A, or even a B+.

The world receives a failing score of 56.9% out of 100.

Although this is a gloomy assessment from the outset, there is much cause for hope in the future. Clean and honest governments have always been rare and pro-liberty governments have been even rarer, but there are global signs of a political sea change, from Mongolia to Panama to even Cuba.

Countries listed by ranking/score
Countries listed alphabetically
Continental and regional rankings

Final averages
Individual Freedom
Economic Freedom
Government size and taxation
Freedom vs. GDP per Capita
Freedom vs. Economic Equality

Map A
Map B

And the freest country is...Estonia?

It is justified by history that Estonia would sit atop this list. This small Baltic state fought Soviet socialism, defeating the Soviets in the Estonian Liberation War of 1918-1920 and winning 20 years of independence. During World War II, Estonia was invaded by the USSR following the 1939 signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement between the USSR and Nazi Germany, and the Soviets killed off the political and the intellectual leaders. The country suffered immensely under their rule.
Estonia finally won their freedom following the 1987-1991 Singing Revolution, in which Estonians gathered night after night, singing national songs and hymns banned by the Soviets and listening to rock music. When the Soviets attempted to quell the revolution, the Estonians used their bodies to shield radio and TV stations from being attacked by tanks. The revolution ended without any bloodshed, with 1/5th of the population having participated at some point. It marks one of the greatest triumphs of the power of liberty over authoritarianism in history. Estonia has since established a solid government, liberalized trade and expanded individual freedom. The Estonian Reform Party, a free market liberal political party, is also gaining influence and has made a significant impact on Estonian politics, controlling about 18% of parliament. While Estonia is far from a libertarian paradise (with a score of only 85.3%), it is closer than any other country on this list.

The unsurprising barrel scraper

Unsurprisingly, North Korea is at the bottom of this list, with a score of 6.2%.



Freest countries lead in both wealth and economic equality

Those seven countries scoring in the most free quintile were twice as wealthy as the second highest quintile and 7.5 times wealthier than the bottom quintile. Also, the average Gini coefficient in the top quintile was the lowest (36.8) of the quintiles, and 3.6 points lower than the world average (40.4); a lower Gini coefficient signifies a more even distibution of income. On both wealth and economic equality, the real question is: which came first, the chicken or the golden egg?

Former USSR states on both extremes

The former states of the Soviet Union are stretched widely across the list, with the Baltic states of Estonia (#1), Lithuania (#16) and Latvia (#21) all making the top 25 after embracing free market liberalism, while their southern neighbor Belarus (#153) and the Asian countries Turkmenistan (#154) and Uzbekistan (#152) dangle in the bottom ten. Russia (#124), Kazakhstan (#132), Tajikistan (#141) and Azerbaijan (#137) are also struggling in a post-Soviet world. Authoritarianism still reigns in many of these countries, which are seen as Soviet in everything but name. The good news is that many former Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe have also made significant progress towards free liberalism, with free liberal parties gaining power and influence.

South America to shift away?

South American countries made a relatively strong showing in this list as a result of liberal economic policies and a brief period of political stability. However, the tide has already begun to shift towards the socialistic model of Venezuela (#118) in countries like Argentina (#64), Bolivia (#61), Brazil (#59) and Uruguay (#18). Chile (#12) also elected a socialist government, although President Bachelet promised to continue free market reforms that have made Chile into South America's strongest and freest economy.

The reason for the shift is the increasing economic inequality in these countries, as well as the belief that the US is exploiting these countries. US state corporatism has resulted in very little benefit for the poor in these countries; however, the results of this survey also show that freedom and economic equality are not mutually exclusive. The issue is that most of the countries in South (and Central) America lack a strong middle class, and history has shown that generally middle classes emerge in the freest economies, not state socialist economies, where the masses are generally very poor while the ruling class controls almost all capital and wealth.

South American countries have been oppressed by authoritarian regimes on the left and the right in the past, so don't be surprised if these countries drop in future freedom indices as they swing towards socialism. Strengthening political and economic ties with third-worst Cuba (#157) is not a good sign.

Still Land of the Free?

The United States of America came in at #8 - surprisingly low, considering that the American government model was driven by classical liberalism and limited government, and it has been the model for other countries pursuing free markets and individual liberties to follow. Unfortunately, recent government crackdowns on free press, increased restrictions on individual freedom, high personal and corporate income taxes, refusal to grant military prisoners a criminal trial and the rapid expansion of government all contributed to the US's downward spiral away from being the ideal model of freedom.

Oases in Africa

While most of Africa is plagued with war, corruption, debt and authoritarianism, four African countries, Cape Verde (#32), Botswana (#40), Mauritius (#43) and South Africa (#48) made the top 50. A one-party Marxist country until 1991, Cape Verde, poor but developing, has made significant strides towards economic liberalization and democracy, and has a strong record on human rights and individual liberties. Mauritius has one of the most stable and free governments in Africa, and its economy is growing, stable and diversified. Botswana and South Africa have arguably the most stable economies and governments in mainland Africa.

Middle East: Free market authoritarianism predominant

The countries in the Arabian Peninsula are predominantly Islamist monarchies or one-party states with limited individual liberties but fairly liberal economies, mainly focused on the international trade of oil. The freest Arab countries in the Middle East are Bahrain (#68) and Kuwait (#72). The most representative Arab nation is the United Arab Emirates (#95), with an economic freedom score of 64.9% and a government size and tax score of 75.9% but an individual freedom score of 22.64%, the lowest of the top 100 countries. Oman (#103) has very similar numbers. Even more unfortunately, Islamic state socialist countries like Syria (#149) and Iran (#147) do not even have the luxury of free economies.

Israel was ranked #54, but the data does not represent the regions under the Palestinian Authority. Of the 122 countries with the available government size data, Israel was the very lowest ranked, with a score of 26%.

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