Freedom is on the decline in the land of the free

America can do better.

It ranked only 23rd in the world on the Human Freedom Index 2022, released by the Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute. Evaluating the year 2020, the report compared 165 countries, comprising 98.1% of the world’s population, on measures of personal and economic freedom.

The U.S. was ranked eighth globally as recently as 2008, suggesting a troubling weakening of human freedom in a nation that once prided itself as the land of the free.

“We have been deteriorating in most categories,” co-author Ian Vasquez, vice president for international studies at the Cato Institute, told us. “Certainly with the COVID lockdowns and restrictions it did. In terms of rank, the big factor has been this long-term deterioration in economic freedom.”

A big hit occurred during the 2007-10 Great Recession and what Forbes called President Obama’s “Record-Shattering Regulatory Rulebook.” Vasquez said, “The biggest long-term deterioration is in the rule of law. First is the rise of crony capitalism, such as bailouts to particular companies — favoritism of certain industries close to power.”

And then there have been attacks on private property rights, including from the U.S. Supreme Court in cases like the 2005 Kelo decision, which authorized eminent domain for economic development reasons.

Other contributing factors to America’s slide in human freedom over the last two decades, Vasquez said, have been “the war on drugs, the war on terror and the regular wars.”

Related: Freedom is our strength. Let’s extend it by offering refuge to oppressed people.

The index runs from 0 (worst) to 10 (best). Overall, America scored 8.52. For comparison, the top countries were Switzerland (8.94), New Zealand (8.75) and Estonia (8.73). Canada ranked 13th (8.47) and Mexico 98th (6.60). However, the index didn’t score on gun rights, Vasquez said, because of no cross-country data. With that, America’s strong Second Amendment protections would have improved it against such gun-control countries as New Zealand.

On the bright side, the U.S. scored high on freedom of religion (9.8), sound money (9.6) — this was before the recent inflation, mind you; “civil society entry and exit” (9.6) and “association, assembly, civil society” (9.3) And although Vasquez said there’s “no data for it” to compare globally, “drug legalization is getting a little better, especially for marijuana. That’s undeniable.”

Our country ranked badly on criminal justice (6.0), “movement of capital and people” (4.6) and top marginal tax rate (5.0), which is 37% nationally. But even worse here with California’s added top 13.3% state income tax rate.

Related: Land-use bill promotes freedom and property rights

Overall, this report is a call to advance freedom in America.

Democracy, freedom and economic growth, symbiotically reinforce one another around the world. America must course-correct. The Declaration of Independence dedicated us to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” You only can be happy if your life is your own and you’re free.

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