The Anchorage Tea Party (ATP) used a November report as evidence that President Barack Obama has made the U.S. less free, but it may want to read the full report before assuming the report endorses Tea Party ideology.
The Legatum Institute released its annual Prosperity Index in November. The report ranks U.S. overall prosperity tenth among the 142 countries for which Legatum could obtain data, but the U.S. ranked 21 in a sub-index of personal freedom.
On November 22, ATP tweeted a reaction to the ranking, which read, “Let freedom ring? American personal freedom now ranks below 20 other countries[.]” The tweet included a link to a Washington Examiner article that quoted Legatum Institute spokeswoman Cristina Odone as saying, “This is not a good report for Obama.”
The article concludes, “[T]here is no denying that Americans felt less free in 2013 after four more years of Obama’s presidency. And so now he faces the embarrassment of being the president that made Americans feel less free than the French.”
France ranked 17 in personal freedom.
It is true that since Obama took office in 2009, while the U.S.’ overall ranking has been fairly static, personal freedom has steadily declined. But the Tea Party would do well to read the full report before celebrating too much. Among the highlights of the report, Legatum wrote,
The land of the free is no longer so free. The United States performs relatively poorly on the Personal Freedom sub-index. While 86% of people felt that they had the freedom to choose the course of their own lives in 2011, only 82% feel this way now, a lot less than the 94% of New Zealanders, whose country tops the sub-index. Similarly the number of people who feel that the country is a good place for ethnic minorities and immigrants has fallen steadily, dropping to 82% this year. Given the revelations about internet and phone tracking by US agencies and growing racial tensions surrounding the events in Ferguson, Missouri, it will be interesting to see if the country can rediscover its passion for freedom and tolerance.
Certainly the blame for NSA surveillance falls on Obama. Racial tensions, however, are another matter.
In its methodology, Legatum notes that each sub-index that contributes to overall prosperity is made up of two main components — income and well-being. Under personal freedom, tolerance of immigrants and minorities appears under both headings.
ATP says on its website that it “is formed to help implement that national Tea Party goals[.]” Listed first of its “15 Non-negotiable Core Beliefs” on teaparty.org is “Illegal aliens are here illegally.” Number 14 is “English as our core language is required.” Number 15 reads, “Traditional family values are encouraged,” code for “We’re not fond of gay people.”
With a drop in tolerance of immigrants and minorities has come a corresponding drop in safety and security. The U.S. now ranks 31 in the category, its lowest ranking of any sub-index.
There are other core Tea Party beliefs that are challenged by the personal freedom rankings. The Tea Party believes that “A strong military is essential” and “Gun ownership is sacred.” However, there are several countries with more personal freedom than the U.S., but also stricter gun laws, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and number three-ranked Australia.
Counter to Tea Party philosophy, number four Iceland and number 15 Costa Rica have no standing militaries. None.
The Legatum Institute notes that economic freedom has much to do with a sense of personal freedom and therefore carries twice the weight that tolerance does toward a country’s prosperity. To that point, fewer than 82 percent of Americans say they have access to adequate food and shelter. Of the countries rated more free than the U.S., only Costa Rica has a lower number.
There is an unsurprisingly strong correlation between the countries highly rated for personal freedom and those at the top of the United Nations’ happiness rankings. Above the U.S. on both lists are Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Austria, Iceland, Australia, Costa Rica, and New Zealand.
In its tongue-in-cheek analysis of the happiness rankings, The Guardian points to the strong social programs in these countries. Forbes wrote about the predominance of northern European countries at the top of the Prosperity Index in 2011:
What do these prosperous European nations have in common that can somehow explain their prosperity?… They are all borderline socialist states, with generous welfare benefits and lots of redistribution of wealth. Yet they don’t let that socialism cross the line into autocracy. Civil liberties are abundant (consider decriminalized drugs and prostitution in the Netherlands). There are few restrictions on the flow of capital or of labor. Legatum’s scholars point out that Denmark, for example, has little job protection, but generous unemployment benefits. So business owners can keep the right number of workers, while workers can have a safety net while they muck around looking for that fulfilling job.
In other words, personal freedom requires big government programs. Yet the Tea Party believes that “Government must be downsized.”
For obvious reasons, the Legatum Institute did not have the necessary data to rank a country with whose limited governance the Tea Party would seem to be in accord — Somalia.
The report that ATP cites does not support its positions against immigration, the expansion of Medicaid, or the Affordable Care Act. It may want to delete some of its tweets or reconsider its definition of freedom.