Is America the Freest Nation in the World? Hardly: A Few Statistics That Might Surprise You


While freedom is a concept that is, as any debate between conservatives and liberals reveals, subjective, there are several factors that must be present in order for freedom to be considered to exist. These factors include, but are not limited to political involvement of the people, freedom of the press, economic mobility/employment opportunities, human and civil rights (including but not limited to women’s rights and gay rights), access to quality education/food/water/housing/and health care, among a slew of other socio-political factors.

If we take these things into consideration and compare the US to other nations around the world then the answer to the question of whether or not the US is the freest nation in the world is an emphatic, “No. America is not the most free.”

Let us look at a few numbers for where the US ranks on such things as imprisonment, education, health care, freedom of the press, economic mobility/employment, and LGBT rights; all of which are, as far as I am concerned, essential factors in determining the extent to which freedom is present in any nation:

1) The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate per capita (no “The Newsroom” did not make this up). According to the Human Rights Watch 2011 report, the US has an incarceration rate of “752 inmates per 100,000 residents.” This, according to the ICPS, places America at #1 for the most imprisoned population.

2) The US’s track record for LGBT rights is terrible. While there is no official ranking as of yet, the US fairs worse than Mexico in the comparison of North American nations. This is as per the UN’s first ever study on international civil and human rights for LGBTs, which was released last year.

3) According to WHO, the US is currently ranked at 37th place for health care; we are 34th in the world for infant mortality, according the the UN’s 2011 report on Population Prospects.

4) The US received an overall ranking of 31st place for education in math, 17th in reading, and 23rd in science, according to OECD and the 2009 PISA exams. In college graduation levels, we rank 12th out of 36 countries studied. The outlook is pretty grim in many other areas as well.

5) For Freedom of the Press the US ranks at 27th place according to the 2011-2012 international study released byReporters Without Borders.

6) We’re trailing many nations in both employment and economic mobility. For example, our unemployment rate gives us an international ranking for employment is 44th out of 67 countries, as per a 2011 study published by Trading Economics. The CIA World Fact Book places the US at 103 out of 200 nations. The ability to climb the economic ladder is, despite our own perception, more difficult in the US than similar nations; according to the Economic Mobility Project, which compared several studies on mobility trends of the US and its European counterparts, “Americans are more likely than citizens of several other nations to be stuck in the same position economically as their parents.”

Upon looking at where the US ranks on the issues I discussed above, our nation is far from being the freest. Now, this is not to suggest that the US is the least free, as the data provided shows there are nations far worse off then the US. However, the belief held by many amongst us that the US is the freest nation in the world is, I am sorry to say, more mythology than reality. There are many nations that rank above us on every factor I have listed, and even those I have not. For example, on the level of democracy, which I am sure we would all list as being an essential factor in determining a nation’s level of freedom, the *most* free,  according to the Democracy Index, would be Norway.

In addition to examining the afore mentioned factors, I would also argue that looking at the overall happiness of national populations can provide some clue as to which nations are “freer” than the US, since  it is reasonable to assume that there is a correlation between the level of  ”freedom” and the overall happiness of a given nation’s population. If we look at the various studies that have measure national happiness,  we find that the US  fails to make into the top ten (seeherehereherehere, and here).

Do not take any of this to mean that I do not appreciate being an American or that I do not care about this country. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Love is not, nor should it ever be blind to self-destructive behaviors that threaten the object of its affection. When one sees the object of one’s love falling into despair and self-destruction, love commands that action to save it be taken. In writing this I hope to save this nation, to encourage it to live up to the promises made by the founding generations, by informing my fellow citizens that we are failing ourselves.

(This was originally written for by Karen Lyn for Elephant Ocean, on July 29, 2012.  © Karen Lyn, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)


Natural Rights, Societal Rights, and The Social Contract

I was recently asked by someone on Facebook: “”What are your thoughts on natural rights unrelated to the concept of god?” (Sometimes I have some of the most interesting and thought provoking conversations on Facebook…sometimes)

My thoughts, as I responded, are thus:
Whether or not there is a god (after having majored in both History and Religious Studies in college I have come to conclude that the probability of there being such a being, given the utter lack of evidence and its lack of involvement in human affairs, is very low[read here to understand why]) is irrelevant to the concept of natural rights because people differ in their opinions as to its existence and how to best worship it. Therefore, when discussing natural rights it is always best to leave god/s out of the equation. Natural rights exist because life exists. It is really that simple. With that said, I consider there to be two types of rights: natural rights and societal rights.

Natural rights refer to those things that living beings require in order to be living: clean water, clean air, food that is safe and nutritious, land on which to live and grow said food, shelter, clothing to protect them from the elements, protection from exploitation and abuse, and access to medical care. These things are natural rights because without them people will die; be it from hunger or exposure or disease, they will die. Thus these rights are non-negotiable. People *need* them. Period. Beyond these rights we enter the realm of what I refer to as societal rights.

Societal rights are those things that exist within the context of a given society, they are “rights” in the sense that they are agreed upon liberties between members of said society and tend to change, typically in positive progression, as societies grow and change and become more advanced. These rights are things that, while not necessarily needed for one to survive, are needed for one to thrive. A thriving populous is essential for any society if that society wishes to remain strong and successful, and if it wants to progress and improve. These things include, but are not limited to: living wages for labor, the ability to vote for government, education, and access to certain modern conveniences (transportation, electricity). Societal rights, unlike natural rights, are negotiable because they are not static; they have varied across our history and they vary according to needs of the respective societies in which people live. This is why we have had and continue to have so many forms of governments; how groups of people choose to be governed changes as their concept of what they need in order to thrive changes.

How to best negotiate social rights without infringing upon natural ones has been a challenge for humanity from the moment we moved from egalitarian, nomadic tribes to stationary cities built on arbitrary hierarchy. The reconciliation of these two types of rights is the goal of the Social Contract. In an advanced society, such as the US, such a reconciliation is possible; however, we first need to be willing to protect and fulfill the natural rights of everyone in society before we can hope to reach an agreement on societal rights. As long as we are bickering about whether or not access to food and health care are rights then we cannot successfully progress as a society. Until we acknowledge and accept the innateness of natural rights so as to ensure the survival of our people we will be unable to negotiate the rights that will enable them to thrive.

([[Karen]] This post was originally written for ElephantOcean, my personal blog. I thought it was a fitting topic for our TBA blog, so I decided to repost it here. © Karen Lyn, 2011-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)