Canada: The World’s Freest Country?

A recent article at Foreign Policy makes the provocative case that our neighbor to the north has overtaken us as the world’s leading beacon of liberty and prosperity (a claim that, to be sure, was always suspect in practice, yet has remained a bedrock of American identity, prestige, and soft power).

The claim is based on the results of the newly published 2015 Legatum Prosperity Index, an annual report issued by the Legatum Institute that measures countries’ performance in eight categories of human flourishing, such as personal freedom, safety and security, and governance.

While Canada did not reach the top spot — that honor went to Norway for the seventh consecutive time — it did rank a very respectable sixth place, compared to the United States’ 11th place. Aside from seventh-place Australia, Canada was the only medium sized country to make it to the top ten; the rest were small European (mostly Nordic) and Anglophone nations.

Canada shined mostly on account of its people’s attitude towards immigrants and the trajectory of their country. It is all the more impressive given the many woes and troubles attributed to the much-disliked Conservative administration of Stephen Harper, which over the last decade has been accused of making the country increasingly authoritarian, intolerant, and socially backwards (a development that some Canadians tellingly, only half-jokingly, called “Americanization“) .

…94 percent of Canadians believe they have the freedom to live their lives as they choose, while roughly 92 percent believe the country is a good place for immigrants. Canada, the report found, is the freest country in the entire world. It’s also the most tolerant of immigrants.

The United States, the self-declared “Land of the Free”, ranked 15th for personal freedom. According to the most recent data made available by Legatum, 87 percent of people surveyed expressed satisfaction in their ability to live their lives as they see fit. And the United States didn’t rank too far behind Canada on the question of how welcome immigrants are, with more than 84 percent of respondents saying they believed it was a good place for them to live.

If this is how Canada turns out after a decade of allegedly bad governance, imagine it would have fared under more enlightened administration. It appears the country’s famously progressive sociocultural and political traditions were far too deeply entrenched to be fully eroded by just one one premiership.

Now to be fair, it is not as if the U.S. fared all that badly. Eleventh place out of over 142 countries is pretty good to say the least. And ultimately, the country fell just shy of the top ten for its poor performance in just one category: personal safety and security.

According to Legatum’s research, both the world at large and the United States in particular have indeed become more dangerous, with the United States ranking 33rd for safety and security, compared to 31st last year. But Americans fear more for their safety each day than people living in Egypt, Bangladesh, and Sudan — countries that suffer from regular terrorist attacks, civil unrest, and war.

Just what exactly Americans have to be so scared about isn’t exactly clear. According to the Legatum data, more than 73 percent of Americans said they feel safe walking alone at night, compared to the global average of 61.9 percent. And while 17 percent had property stolen in 2014, that was still below the global average of 17.5 percent.

I think the results say a lot more about America’s persistent culture of fear than it does about any real growth in violence or insecurity. Viable foreign threats remain virtually nonexistent, with rival nations and terrorist groups lacking the capacity to inflict real harm on our soil. Violent crime is at historic lows across the board, although as the data show, overall rates of crime are fairly high by developed world standards.

This is not to say that the U.S. is a totally peaceable country. There are a good many things to worry about, albeit not what most Americans would think.

It may be politics that contributes to such high levels of fear in a country of peace. The United States is the only Western country that Legatum found to have high levels of state-sponsored violence, putting it on par with Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. Legatum’s analysis suggested recent civil unrest, including protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, may have contributed to increased safety concerns.

What are your thoughts on these findings? Do any Canadians (or Americans) out there concur with the results?

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