Some think-tank I’ve never heard of has ranked New Zealand as the ‘most free’ country in the world. DPF links to the report, and I was interested in the opening paragraph describing their approach:
In constructing this index, we use indicators that are as consistent as
possible with the concept of negative liberty: the absence of coercive
constraint on the individual. We do not attempt to measure positive
freedom, however desirable such may be, nor do we measure so-called
“claim freedoms,” which often become government-imposed attempts at
realizing positive freedoms (e.g., the “right” or freedom to a have job
or housing).2 As Isaiah Berlin, Friedrich Hayek, and others have noted,
calling other good or desirable things such as wealth “freedom” merely
Berlin did preclude wealth from his definition of positive liberties, and then spent much of his career walking back that statement. It was Berlin who coined the phrase ‘Freedom for the wolves means death for the sheep,’ when critiquing the form of laissez faire capitalism this index celebrates, and in which New Zealand is an extreme international outlier.
The basic argument goes like this. There are two kinds of liberty. Negative liberty, in which you are free from coercion by the state or other external powers, and positive liberty in which you have autonomy over your own life. If you only count negative liberty as important, then a child born into poverty with a congenital illness and no access to health-care or education is more ‘free’ than a child born into a state with a taxpayer funded social welfare system, because the coercion involved in state taxation and redistribution compromises that child’s negative liberty.
Berlin made the anti-utopian argument for ‘value-pluralism’, that is a society in which both types of freedom are recognized as important, but since they often conflict with each other we should constantly be compromising, negotiating and debating the extent of both our negative and positive freedoms. The radical extremes on this axis are totalitarian states in which most individuals have no negative liberty, and oligarchic laissez-faire states in which the government only exists to protect property rights, in which few individuals have any degree of positive liberty. According to this report, New Zealand is closest to reaching that utopia, probably why we’re hemorrhaging individuals to ‘less free’ countries.