The new Freedom Ranking is out. Every year, researchers at the Fraser and Cato Institutes compare economic freedoms like the freedom to trade, amount of regulations, tax levels, plus personal freedoms like women’s rights and religious freedom. They publish the results in the Human Freedom Index. It compares countries according to how free they are. So, is America the freest country? No. We came in 17th this year, well behind many other countries. The report says the freest countries are now: Switzerland Hong Kong New Zealand Ireland and then Australia. Years ago, America was near the top of the economic freedom list. The United States used to have one of the freest economies in the world. Ian Vasquez helped write the rankings. It used to be 2, 3, or 4 and then government started to grow. It started to spend more. To step in with dramatic government action and regulate more. The strongest consumer financial protections in history and tax more. Those who are more fortunate are going to have to pay a little bit more. Those are reasons we fell on the freedom list. So let’s look at the top of the list. Why does Switzerland rank first in the world? Welcome to the world. Because it has comparatively little regulation, low taxes, a free press, and other freedoms like same-sex marriage that many other countries lack. A good ranking matters, not just because it’s good to be free, but because freedom allows people to prosper. Look what happened in Hong Kong, number 2 on the list. Hong Kong, a thousand worlds in this one small spot. Not long ago, people in Hong Kong were among the poorest in the world, but now they’re among the richest. What do I like about Hong Kong? Every moment there’s something exciting going on. Prosperity happened because Hong Kong’s government put few obstacles in the way of trying new things, like starting a business. Here I am in Hong Kong, years ago, applying for legal permission to open a business. Handing in one form was all I had to do. Thank you, sir. The next morning I opened Stossel Enterprises. Ten dollars. It was a stupid business selling things like American frisbees, but that chance to try new things is what allowed Hong Kong to prosper. By comparison, India ranks much lower because there, to start a business, entrepreneurs may have to wait years while bureaucrats like these debate the merit of your idea. Good ideas die, waiting on these shelves. That’s a reason India stays poor. It could be worse. The most oppressed people in the world are those who live in the countries at the bottom of the freedom ranking: Egypt Yemen Libya Venezuela and least free, Syria. Mostly because of the war. You aren’t free if you worry about being killed. “No alimento” 2nd least free country Venezuela was once the richest country in Latin America. Then Socialists promised they’d spread the wealth. Now Venezuelans fight over bags of flour. Freedom is under attack all around the word. Tanja Porcnik is the rankings other author. I interviewed her by Skype, because she now lives in Austria, although she was born in Slovakia. You moved to Austria to get more freedom? Ah, yes. Freedom just inspired me. Freedom relates to other things that matter. What’s important in life? Those of us who revere freedom often say it’s the dignity of the individual, and a chance to live free from coercion. You can lead your life any way you want as long as you respect the equal rights of others. What job you want to take, what kinds of things you want to do, who you want to marry, what you want to do on your free time, where you want to live. Countries don’t regulate your free time. Oh yes they do, they regulate everything. They regulate vacation time, where you can travel, if you’re a woman in some part of the world, you have to ask permission from men to go out in public. Freedom brings good things to countries that try it. People now want to live in 3rd-ranked New Zealand. The country is politically and economically stable with people all over the world attracted by the benefits and opportunities. Ireland used to be poor, but now it ranks 4th on the Freedom Index. You don’t just arrive in Ireland, you jump in. Ireland, I think about the potato famine. I don’t think about prosperity. They reduced taxes. They reduced spending. They reduced some regulations. They opened up to trade. Crack down on China’s trade abuses. America now may close itself to some trade. If that makes you want to move to another country, the rankings offer places to consider. And places to avoid… Greece is beautiful, but it ranks 60th in freedom. China has gotten richer, but it ranks 130th. You can read the full rankings on the Cato Institute’s and Fraser Institute’s websites. It’s too bad that the US is now only 17th in the rankings, but the good news is that we are 17th partly because in recent years, other countries became more free. Despite what we hear on the news, over several decades, the world has slowly been getting better.