Estonia Owns Us, Dudes

freest_countries_on_earthWho would’ve thought that a former part of the USSR would kick America’s shiny ass when it came to liberty?

Nick Wilson of the LRC compiled a list of the world’s freest countries. The research was derived from four separate studies measuring economic freedom, personal freedom and freedom of the press. According to the research, Estonia is the world’s freest country, followed by Ireland and then Canada. The United States of America? Eighth.

We’ve got some work to do, folks.

Stuart Richards

Stuart Richards is a 26-year-old land surveyor based out of Portland, OR. He is a left-leaning geolibertarian and (theologically) liberal Christian, and has been blogging on and other libertarian sites since 2004.

  1. I’d be curious to better understand the criteria. Free Press, why focus on that instead of say, religion, speach in general, private property etc.


  2. One has to see these rankings mostly as a general indication because there are so many factors to pick from and then how to weight them against one another. But even then, it’s still useful to see how countries rank and how people there prosper (or don’t).

  3. Since I like numbers, it is interesting to me that the median ranking (80, Nicaragua) is barely 2% above the average and that you have to go to 90 (Lesotho) to drop below the world average. It could be better, obviously, but it is a good sign when most countiries are above average even if that average sucks.

  4. I hope we continue to keep tabs on this-it would be heartening to see it charted over, say, twenty years and see the net amount of liberty in the world increase.

  5. I am still finishing the final report as to criteria. Because obviously these rankings have differing measurements (and while some countries weren’t included in some of the indices) I had a pretty complex weighing system to try to balance the scales as much as I possibly could and fit as many countries as I could without allowing any personal bias. The countries were broken down into three categories: personal freedom, economic freedom and government size/taxation, and each of the 3 was weighted equally. I will publish the detailed breakdowns of each category later this weekend.

    There are definitely several issues: 1.) smaller countries were not included in enough of the indices to meet the final cut. I was only able to get 166 countries, but many island and small countries are probably more libertarian than these ones. Andorra is probably the most libertarian country in Europe, for example, with no income tax, the top scores on personal freedom and a strong free liberal party (cont)

  6. But because Andorra was not included in the economic freedom indices, I could not get scores for major categories, so it was cut.

    2.) I want to make the index into an annual one. However, it would be much stronger if I used specific criteria instead of relying on other indices. Unfortunately, I am one man and compiling such an undertaking would take much longer than the weeks I worked on this compilation. My best chance is to lobby the other index writers to include specific countries of interest to libertarians, like Andorra, in future ratings.

    “Free Press, why focus on that…?”

    The Reporters without Borders survey was only a 10% factor into the personal freedom average – it was a minor factor, but it brought the US score down below the UK by a tiny fraction. The PF average was 90% based upon Freedom House’s scores rating civil liberties and political rights on a variety of issues, including free speech, freedom of religion, privacy, etc. (cont)

  7. “Who would’ve thought that a former part of the USSR would kick America’s shiny ass when it came to liberty?”

    Doesn’t surprise me. I have known many people from former Soviet countries, and most are more “American” than the majority of “Americans” I know. While Americans are in love wth socialism, worship communist dictators,etc.

  8. In future indices I want to include a “vice law” portion of the Personal Freedom average. Right now the information is just not there.

    The government size and tax was the most interesting section. The data was pulled from the two economic freedom indices, and thus that area was emphasized. Who knew Israel had the biggest government of all rated countries? Who knew North Korea has lower income and corporate taxes than the US?

    This is one area I particularly want to strengthen in future indices, because less countries had information about government size, and the tax portion predominantly focused on income and corporate taxation (although a general fiscal burden section somewhat counterbalanced this with other forms.) Originally I did not include it (Estonia still won), but it definitely shifted many nations for better or (usually) worse, including the US.

  9. By the way, the most interesting thing I found, in my opinion, was that the countries in the top quintile of freedom scores also had the highest level of economic equality (i.e. the lowest Gini coefficient average) of all of the quintiles. Need more proof that liberty and equality are not mutually exclusive? Someone needs to tell the socialists that Adam Smith and the classical liberals accomplish their ultimate goals better than they do.

  10. Kind of makes sense, I think. Those who have recently been under a despotic regime wouldn’t be willing to put up with any infringements on the freedoms so recently gained.

  11. I’m not surprised that Canada beat us. I was there on business in 2003 and I didn’t feel the level of paranoia–both from the government and the citizenry–that I find in the States.

  12. “Kind of makes sense”

    Right. If you read about the history of Estonia under Soviet rule it will not be surprising that neither it nor Lithuania or Latvia have changed so drastically. Estonia fought the Soviets and won their independence for 20 years in 1920, up until the Soviets invaded during WWII and killed off all the political and intellectual leaders. The country suffered for 50 years, until they won their independence following the non-violent Singing Revolution, where over 1/5th of the population participated in singing national songs and listening to rock music banned by the Soviets, while guarding their media from Soviet tank attacks with their bodies. It is not surprising that all of Eastern Europe is making the fastest progression towards free market liberal democracy, having seen real authoritarianism in their lifetimes and having defeated it.

    “Classical liberal” parties are rising in these countries, and already control the gov’ts in some cases.

  13. “I’m not surprised that Canada beat us.”

    While Canada may have a crappy socialized healthcare system and slightly more regulation, it beat us by less than half of a point due to higher individual freedoms and lower peronal and corporate taxes. No country is really “libertarian” – Estonia is the only country with a score above 85%, and that’s by only a fraction – so it’s a matter of degree between many of us up in the top quintile.

  14. “Surprised me…that the UK was more free than the US”

    Me too, even though the difference is less than 0.01%. The UK got better scores in economic freedom and individual freedom, but a lower score in government size/tax.

  15. Overall incarceration rates per capita alone does not necessarily measure freedom – the US is more free than most, even though it obviously has a higher rate of incarceration than many. However, political incarceration, arrested reporters and general civil liberties are factored into the individual freedom category.

  16. I have been to Estonia many times myself, own property there and I am married to an Estiona woman. Estonians have freedom of religion, a free press, freedon of movement,the right to protest etc. The flow of people from europe has slowed considerable becuse they have the same freedoms and their econmoic situation has improved even in former Sovit Bloc countries. Who were by they way forcible brought into the USSR, They are making up for lost time. Why it should surprize Americans that others have developed freedoms equal and greater than ours suprises me. We are so busy limiting our rights as free people so we can remain a free people, we are told, to notice what others are doing.

  17. “We’ve got some work to do, folks.”

    We’ve likely got less “work” to do than the Bahamas, Ireland, Canada, and Estonia who all have higher rates of unemployment than us.

    These measurements are a frustrating joke and are not conclusive of any substantive freedom differential between America and the countries above it.

  18. Nick, the script you’re using for downloading the xls file is a bomb in the Opera browser. It pops a “open, save, cancel” box every few seconds (I tried to ‘save’). I had to hammer away on the cancel button and then kill your page.

    Look forward to reading it all soon.

  19. In the “Individual Freedom” category (see, the US scored 100% in both the “Freedom House Political Rights Score” and the “Freedom House Civil Liberties Score”. This alone makes me doubt the credibility of this data. Anyone who’s ever had their rights trampeled on by the police and the courts knows the US is very far from 100% in its support of political rights and civil liberties. Our jails are full of people who are in there for political crimes (I believe drug crimes are political crimes because drugs are only illegal due to political and economic reasons).

  20. We’ve likely got less “work” to do than the Bahamas, Ireland, Canada, and Estonia who all have higher rates of unemployment than us.


    4.9% unemployment in Estonia … You have less?

  21. We’ve likely got less “work” to do than the Bahamas, Ireland, Canada, and Estonia who all have higher rates of unemployment than us.


    4.9% unemployment in Estonia … You have less?

  22. “the US scored 100% in both the “Freedom House Political Rights Score” and the “Freedom House Civil Liberties Score”.”

    Ok…this gets into basic methodology. The Freedom House gives seven scores (1-7, no decimals) with 1 being the most free and 7 being the least in both categories. It is not as specific as the economic freedom indices in breaking it down. Thus I made 100% most free and 0% least free with the understanding that the score in that category as slightly inflated at the top and deflated at the bottom (after all, can a country really have absolutely zero freedom, per se?), While the US is obviously not a 100% free country when it comes to individual and political liberties, I would agree that we are in the top 1/7th of the world in both for those categories. So you can take the data for what it is and realize that the entire world has the same exact sort of rounding and weighing. I can only work with the data I have.

  23. (cont’d) Those countries with 100% scores for the Freedom House data in reality could range from 100% to 85.7% (1/7th of 100 is 14.3). Each score would indicate a septile between 100 and 0 with a range of 14.3 points of difference.) The issue is that I can’t personally decide where a country specifically falls in that range without more specific data.

    I hope that better explains.

  24. “the Bahamas, Ireland, Canada, and Estonia who all have higher rates of unemployment than us”

    I don’t really think employment levels are necessarily in direct correlation to how free a country is – an inevitable economic downturn would put people in even the ideal of a free country out of work, and many developing countries who have initiated freer economic policies are still building capital and economic stability.

    Cape Verde (#32) is one of the poorest countries in Africa following decades of one-party Marxist rule. A market liberal democratic party finally won control and initiated policies that they hope will turn the country around in the long run. It is repeatedly shown that initiating policies of economic freedom today will lead to longterm employment, wealth, economic equality and quality of life indicators benefitting in the future.

  25. We paid the man over 1000 bucks to put as 1st. Just kidding :).

    “the Bahamas, Ireland, Canada, and Estonia who all have higher rates of unemployment than us”

    Unemployment in Estonia is 4,9%, in USA currently it is 4,8. Only punks, drunks and ugly people don’t get work in Estonia

  26. In Estonia the news about the list was published in the media (want Russian or Estonian link?), but I am unfortunate to say that in our small country in the press it had a comment attached saying that the group who published isn’t World-known researches.

  27. “Give us both, please! That’s fantastic!”

    I don’t know if you are kidding or not (what would you need Estonian news for?) but here it is (from main Estonian Daily Postimees):
    It received 100 comments (mainly blasting the governement)

    In Estonian main portal Delfi
    with 247 comments currently (mainly blasting the government)

    In Estonian main Russian-language news portal Delfi (in Russian language, with at the moment 204 comments (you can guess the content)

    And, I almost forgot to mention, some commentors are calling to have the authors of the survey courtmarshalled.

  28. Congrats to Estonia! They have become known as the most liberal/libertarian country in Europe for quite some time now, and has become the thorn of the European left.

    The Nordic welfare states are getting scared of little Estonia who is becoming a major player in European business. They’re producing hard-working, highly education people willing to work for less. Because of the low taxes and low cost-of-living, businesses are moving their headquarters over the Gulf.

    If any of you haven’t visited Estonia, you should! Take a Baltic cruise and see Tallinn, an amazing medieval city full of attractions and night life.

  29. Thank you for all your hard work, Estland, in tracking down all of these different news sources. It helps us because it shows us just what kind of reach we can have, on occasion-it lets us know we’re doing good.

    And congrats to Nick Wilson to making headlines all across Eastern Europe. :D

  30. I agree that I am an amateur when it comes to this – there is no formal organization behind me (yet, at least) and I am not a professional in this field (yet). However, the methodology was rather reasoned and simple, and I give full credit to the institutes that published the original data, Fraser/Cato, Heritage/WSJ, Freedom House and Reporters without Borders for everything except the final compilation of the information. I did not expect such attention, but am glad for it. I also think this is a big credit to Hammer of Truth as far as how important of a blog it has become for the libertarian movement. I’m in the process of setting up a permanent site, will send link soon.

  31. Thanks alot for your help, Estland. I really enjoy reading about my project and am glad it is getting attention in that part of the world!

  32. to Well:

    Our unemployment is called “full employment”. And mostly full full employment (like in Soviet Union) is achieved through steps as building tons of military factories, assigning a militia to every streetcorner etc.

    So our unemployment of 5,9% (wikipedia) or 2,1% (Estonian Employers Confederation)is definately no problem whatsoever at all.

    P.S. in Estonia we have around 16 000 unemployed people. Out of about 800 000 people in working age.

    nothing to nag about as far, as i’m considered

  33. The latest research from Estonian Labour Market Board shows that in Estonia there is only 1,6% unemployment in working age.

  34. Tell that to the tens of thousands of stateless Russian residents who receive sub-standard community services and education and cannot travel abroad. They are subject to a draconion language regulation that many native Estonian speakers would have trouble passing.

  35. These are the same Russians who would have Estonia back in the lap of Mother Ruddia tomarrow. They are the same people who put a gun to the head of Estonia and called it an ivite to become part of the Soviet Union. The same people who dispossesed the Estonians of their homes and property, shiped thousands to Sieberia and forced Estonians to learn the Russian language. The same Russians who have lived in Estonia for 60 years or were born there an cannot speak Estonian but many Russian youth can speak English. The language requirement is far from draconion and language is taught in the schools both Russian and Estonian schools,another problem, speakers in all school children in Estonia. Free classes are provided for Russians to learn Estonian. Estonians and Estonia are threntened culturally. Estonian is a unique ancient language in a very small language group. Stalin tied to breed the Estonians from exsistence when he sent the invaders to Estonia. These people wnated to stay in Estonia.