Cato: The US saw a steep decline in human freedom in 2020

The United States is one of the freest countries in the world. But in 2020 that freedom came under threat. In fact, according to Cato’s Human Freedom Index 2022 update, in 2020 the United States saw itself slip down seven positions on the report’s freedom rankings.

Certainly, human freedom deteriorated in a lot of places in the world in the wake of the coronavirus. But the U.S. saw one of the sharpest declines, especially when compared to other freer countries.

According to the Cato Institute, the top 10 freest places in the world in 2020 were: Switzerland, New Zealand, Estonia, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The U.S. ranked 23, down seven positions from 2019. Out of the top 50 freest places in the world, the U.S. was one of the three countries with the highest downward change in positions.

Since 2000, the U.S. has fallen 17 positions on the Human Freedom Index rank. But the single steepest decline came with the pandemic, between 2019 and 2020.

What the Index measures

The Human Freedom Index combines two measures of freedom: personal freedom and economic freedom. These two are then combined into the Human Freedom index.

For personal freedom, the index measures seven indicators:

  1. Rule of law
  2. Security and safety
  3. Freedom of Movement
  4. Freedom of religion
  5. Association, assembly, and civil society
  6. Expression and information
  7. Relationships e.g. same-sex relationships

For Economic freedom, the Index utilizes the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index which measures five things:

  1. Size of government
  2. Legal system and property rights
  3. Sound money
  4. Freedom to trade Internationally
  5. Regulation

Defined simply, freedom exists when individuals are able to exercise their choices free of coercive power, be it economically or socially. Any rules or regulations that prevent individuals from living the way they want to is an impingement on that freedom. During the pandemic, governments around the world — including the United States — in response to the coronavirus pandemic restricted movement, increased spending, and restricted trade, among numerous other things, bringing down freedom.

While the U.S. ranked high on economic freedom — 7th freest in the world — it ranked 33rd on personal freedom, bringing its human freedom rank to 23.