FAQ Question: Why do the sort outputs change dramatically when I use the Crucial setting?
a.k.a. How does filtering work?
a.k.a. How is incomplete data handled?
Answer: If we lack national index data on something you have indicated is Crucial to you, we drop the nation to the end of the list. This keeps your listing from being polluted with countries which rank high purely because of incomplete data. Note that this filtering only takes place for Crucial (1.00) weight settings! For other non-zero settings, the missing data is simply left out of the overall score computation, and the overall score will be computed based on what data is present.
Question: Why is there no option to sort by "degree of democracy" or "electoral system"?
Answer: Contrary to the platitudes we have heard from many Western politicians since the 1910's, democracy is not necessarily positively correlated with freedom. Certainly, there are many countries living under totalitarian regimes wherein a democratic system would increase the level of freedom enjoyed by citizens, since the citizens would presumably vote to increase their freedom. However, a pure democracy is mob rule; it allows 51% of the people to vote themselves the income of the remaining 49% (the old adage "democracy is two wolves and sheep voting to see what's for dinner" comes to mind). Without a strong rule of law and limited government to protect citizens' freedoms (both from the government and from fellow citizens), democracy can just as readily be used to vote away freedoms. Democracy as a determinant of freedom is thus highly dependent on other factors.
Perhaps James Taggart said it best: "When important issues affecting the life of an individual are decided by somebody else, it makes no difference to the individual whether that somebody else is a king, a dictator, or society at large." Democracy can be a tool of oppression (if you happen to be in the minority) as surely as a tool to promote individual freedoms. Which purpose it serves depends greatly on the existence of a constitution or analogous document guaranteeing individual rights, and strong rule of law to enforce such a document. Also relevant is how much the voting public happens to value individual liberties in a given voting year. This makes "degree of democracy", at best, neutral as a predictor of freedom, and at worst, a confounding factor which would convolute the index given its close interdependence on numerous other sub-indices.
Question: What does "Freedom from Inflation" have to do with liberty?
Answer: Put most simply, inflation can be used as a tool by government to perform indirect taxation which is every bit as punitive and confiscatory as any direct tax on wealth. Unlike a conventional, direct income tax where the government lays claim to a fixed, predetermined percentage of a citizen's income, with inflation the government can simply print whatever amount of money it desires, and the salaries and savings of the citizens (conveniently, along with the value of all the government's existing dollar-denominated debt) decrease in value as a consequence of the resulting inflation. Whether a government increases taxes to collect another million dollars of revenue, or whether it simply prints another million dollars in a fiat currency, the money must ultimately come from somewhere: private citizens.
To understand this dimension of freedom in isolation, try to envision a government which has nearly zero taxes, but which regularly inflates (devalues) its currency to pay off bills. Unless a citizen our hypothetical nation works somewhere which constantly adjusts salaries to account for inflation (as many businesses did twice a day in the throes of the Weimar Republic's hyperinflation), that citizen will be taking home less and less income each month. His paycheck would have the same amount printed on it, and thus might still nominally appear to be the same amount of value to some citizens, but that paycheck would buy significantly less in the way of groceries, gasoline, housing, and other necessities. Simply existing would become less and less affordable, while more and more families would find themselves barely scraping by.
The risk of taxation-by-inflation is compounded by the fact that authority to inflate a currency by printing additional, non-commodity-backed currency banknotes often lies with a central bank itself. The entities which typically control such central banks are often only quasi-governmental, and not elected by, nor generally held accountable to, the people. Such a central bank can, on a political whim, decrease the value of a citizen's life savings (and unjustly enrich the government) just as surely as if a flat tax on wealth were passed.
For these reasons, freedom from inflation is as valid and fundamental a gauge of liberty as freedom from taxes.
Question: Why did you use (name of my favorite index that wasn't used) instead of (name of index that was used)?
Answer: A variety of factors influence which organization's freedom index we use. In some cases, one index may have better coverage (that is, more nations surveyed) than another. In another case, we might have found one index to be more objective, or employing a better methodology, than another. If you think we could improve our index selection by adding or changing indices, please let us know!
Question: How do the Gun Rights and Drug Rights Indices treat countries with a restrictive law governing issue X, but with very low or non-existent enforcement of that law?
Answer: We rank countries with restrictive, but ignored, laws on the books lower than countries without such laws. However, such disparities do bring up a difficult question, and one which we frequently grapple with. In a world of perfect data availability, we would be able to take day-to-day enforcement trends into account and factor them perfectly into the index score for a given country. However, this presents a variety of real-world challenges.
First, it is arguable that a place that is free only because of lack of enforcement of a certain set of laws does not have stable, enduring freedom. In many such cases, it may be unwise to count on the executive branch continuing to overlook scofflaws. Tomorrow, that same circumstance may be used to selectively prosecute political enemies of the state. (This is why we never score a nation with a death penalty on the books for drug offenses above a 1.5 out of 10.0 in the Drug Index, no matter how lax enforcement is.) Further, such a condition may be a sign of arbitrary and capricious enforcement or excessive discretionary power in the hands of law enforcement officials, which in any case is not an equitably distributed form of freedom. Naturally, the degree of corruption in the country's law enforcement also comes into play when trying to predict how free the citizen is to act.
Secondly, it is extremely difficult to quantify enforcement in a given country at any given time. We operate with limited financial resources, and even if it were possible for us to come up with a reliable and objective inter-country measure of something as subjective (and culturally-dependent) as a perception of frequency of enforcement of a law, it would probably require travel to many far-flung countries to conduct first-hand interviews of statistically significant samples of the population to create this type of perception-based index.
Question: How do the Gun and Drug Rights Indices assess countries operating under federalist systems (e.g., the EU, the USA, etc.)
Answer: Coming up with an accurate quantitative value in any federalist system presents a slight challenge. For example, imagine that a fictitious country is comprised of 50 states operating semi-autonomously under a single federal government. Further, imagine that this country has no restrictions on gun ownership at the federal level, but gun ownership is heavily regulated by each and every one of the state governments.
One possible approach might be to quantify only the laws of the federal government. However, the resulting index score would be misleading; the country's index would indicate that it was one of the most free countries in the world with regard to gun ownership rights, and yet a person who moved there would be unable to realize anything close to this chimeric freedom score.
Another approach might be to simply compute each rating based on the most free state within the country. This is also problematic; one state may allow machine guns and concealed carry without licensing, and yet that same state could have a 50% income tax rate on top of a federal income tax. Once we try to combine scores for the two issues into an average, we again have a chimeric basket of liberties that would be impossible to realize for someone seeking to live there.
The ideal approach would be to individually analyze each state's laws, and then compute indices for the nationally binding laws of the federal government plus the laws of the state government. This is a very labor-intensive approach, and data relating to the laws of the various states, territories, and municipalities around the world would be difficult to come by, let alone analyze and score.
Since the research team at Free Existence has limited financial and human resources at present, we plan to selectively break out exemplary states with particularly high or low degrees of each type of freedom, and then only when we have convenient access to relevant legal texts. Yes, this is a bit of a cop out, and we apologize for that.
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