Saturday, July 04, 2015
You're Not As Free As You Think You Are, America
More than any other day, Americans take pride in celebrating our freedoms on Independence Day. It is a day of national honor.
However, observed objectively, Americans aren't nearly as free as they'd like to believe. While Americans are renowned for believing "we're number one!" in any and all manner of worthy rankings, when it comes to freedom — undoubtedly the most important ranking of them all — we're far from number one.
The United States ranks 21st worldwide in personal freedom.
The Legatum Institute in London finds that 20 other nations rank ahead of America in regard to personal freedom, which is calculated based on protections of civil rights and civil liberties. The U.S. ranking has dropped significantly in recent years; in 2010 it was in ninth place.
The researchers at the Legatum Institute measure a nation's prosperity on a number of factors including health, safety, education, economy, opportunity, social capital, governance and personal freedoms.
The research shows that citizens of countries including France, Uruguay, and Costa Rica now feel that they enjoy more personal freedom than Americans.
Yes, France, the country that so many Americans love to hate because it is "socialist," ranks ahead of the U.S.
This is not some liberal screed either.
Even the Heritage Foundation, the famed conservative research think tank, ranks the U.S. 12th in the world in its 2015 Index of Economic Freedom.
Freedom of the press was so critical to our nation's founders that they enshrined it as the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
They would be horrified by our lack of press freedom today.
Reporters Without Borders issues an annual worldwide ranking of press freedom. This year, the United States is ranked 49th.
That is the lowest ranking ever during the Obama presidency, and the second-lowest ranking for the U.S. since the rankings began in 2002 (in 2006, under George W. Bush, the U.S. was ranked 53rd).
Frankly, no nation should rank ahead of the U.S. Period. If there is one area we should be able to proudly brag about being No. 1, it is press freedom.
Sadly, that is far from the truth.
There is a long, unfortunate history of American jingoism and chauvinism. There is an enormously misplaced sense of national pride that America is the greatest in every way. Most of that is rooted in the notion that we are the most free people in the history of the world, and that all other nations seek (or at least should seek) to be just like us.
The reality is quite different.
Of the 167 countries in the world (165 of which are members of the United Nations), 76 are democratic. While the democratic nations account for less than half of the nations in the world, the U.S. is far from unique.
Most critically, we are not a model of freedom or democracy.
So while the U.S. has a litany of things to be proud of (the list of things invented by Americans is stunning), including aviation, the telephone, the internet, rock & roll, jazz, blues, blue jeans, baseball, putting men on the moon, and on and on, we did not invent freedom. That honor goes to the ancient Greeks, the world's first democratic society.
Ultimately, we don't hold some exclusive claim to freedom. In fact, we have lots of room for improvement.
We have a nation of stunning beauty, filled with kind, giving people who are always willing to lend a hand in a natural disaster or any other national tragedy.
But we shouldn't fool ourselves about how free we are, especially on a day such as today.
What we should do, instead, is look at all the countries ranked ahead of us in various measures of freedom, and aspire to be more like them.
We should demand better, because we deserve better.