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A couple of surprises in the Human Freedom Index for 2018

The Cato Institute has published its Human Freedom Index for 2018.

The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). Selected countries rank as follows: Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (17), Republic of Korea (27), Japan (31), France and Chile (32), Italy (34), South Africa (63), Mexico (75), Kenya (82), Indonesia (85), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), United Arab Emirates (117), Russia (119), Nigeria (132), China (135), Pakistan (140), Zimbabwe (143), Saudi Arabia (146), Iran (153), Egypt (156), Iraq (159), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).

The positions of Venezuela and Syria were about as surprising as a [insert your preferred metaphor of complete unsurprisingness here], but I did not expect to see Canada listed as more free than the United Kingdom and the United States as less free.

57 comments to A couple of surprises in the Human Freedom Index for 2018

  • My impression had been that, under Trudeau, free speech in Canada was inferior to its (far from satisfactory) state in the UK. For example, I thought a recent ruling had made cake baking a bit more free here than there. I may have missed much, of course: it was ten years ago that Natalie posted that Canada is no longer a free country. Or it may be that cakes are low-rated in the measure that produced this list.

    When the resumed work of the new year permits, I shall take a look at how the index reached these conclusions (commenters, please feel free to enlighten me before that).

  • Behind Enemy Lines

    Anyone who thinks Australia is a ‘free’ country, or free enough to deserve fourth place on a list of free countries, clearly has a very perverse understanding of freedom. Says someone who lives there now, and has lived in three other states on the list above. This is a place that will make a criminal of you for political speech, and send you to prison for having the means to defend yourself against criminals. Anarcho-tyranny proceeds apace, letting black and left-wing crime gangs run free while punishing people who complain about it with fines and arrests. All the while, seizing more than half of the income of the increasingly tiny productive class.

  • CharlieL

    Well, we can own a knife. At least we’ve got that.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . but I did not expect to see Canada listed as more free than the United Kingdom and the United States as less free.”

    Government theft rings . . . er, I mean civil asset forfeiture . . . has played havoc with the USA’s “freedom rankings”.

    It’s still relatively rare, but then, so is burglary, and civil asset forfeiture was responsible for more losses (in dollars) in the USA last year than was burglary. Statistically speaking, here in the USA, your money is better invested in limiting your exposure to government than it is in limiting your exposure to burglars.

    Thank you, Republican Party.

  • Rev. Spooner

    How can China be at 135 yet Hong Kong at 3?

  • Eric

    Clearly the authors of this list don’t prize free speech very highly.

  • Fraser Orr

    I honestly think these things are rarely worth the paper they are written on. Coming from the Cato institute I guess we might give it a bit more credence. But how “free” a country is depends on what you think freedom is, and to give a ranking like this is to assume that everyone agrees with your thoughts on the matter. And plainly there are widely divergent ideas of freedom.

    For example, the study measures more democracy as more freedom, but that is almost the opposite of true — democracy is the right of the majority to override the freedom of the minority (and everyone is part of some sort of minority.) Which isn’t to say democracy is undesirable — it is a useful backstop, but more is not necessarily better. Where are the measures of “how many limits are placed on what the government can do” or “how much is power divided up into smaller entities”? Under the category of security and safety how many extra points does a country get for having liberal gun control laws, or do liberal gun control laws move you down the index? And do you get extra points in safety and security if you build a wall on your border, or does that also move you down the index? How does one rank “freedom from offense” against “freedom to offend”?

    Public statistics surveys and fraud are two brothers rather more closely related than we think. Most people simply don’t have the tools to judge these things, so what they are is a lot of gubbins workings that nobody looks at designed produce a headline that has little justification.

    For those interested, this is the most important piece of research work done on the subject of the reliability of public statistical surveys:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

  • Chester Draws

    You may not value this exercise Fraser, but then you are free (depending on where you live) to devise a better one.

    I think they are just starting points. But without this sort of thing the really poor performers can pretend that they’re no worse than anywhere else. Relative position is also important — if a government action makes a country slip down the list, then opponents actually have something to wave at them.

    You can be pretty sure that plenty of us in New Zealand are very pleased to be at #1. And, more importantly, want to keep it that way.

    So yeah, they aren’t perfect. But what is? (Except Socialism, obviously.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser, yes, excellent comment.

    And of course Sir Humphrey understands how it’s done.

    Sir Humphrey understands a good deal. 😈

  • Chip

    Canada not only has higher taxes and more regulatory coercion than the US, it also has human rights tribunals that punish speech and politically incorrect behavior.

    Plus obligatory census forms, an oligopolistic and govt-funded media industry, and a govt healthcare system that FORBIDS you from spending your own money on essential care.

    The ranking is utter nonsense.

  • Penseivat

    To understand how free you are, as a citizen of a country, work out who you can’t criticise or make fun of.

  • Eyrie

    As an Australian living in this socialist/communist shithole, what ‘behind enemy lines’ says. Could not say it better. Today the media are pillorying Senator Fraser Anning for going to a rally in Melbourne protesting the crime wave by Somalian and Sudanese gangs in Melbourne. Home invasions, car jackings etc etc. The Pigs cannot be bothered but turned up in their hundreds to the rally. But we should be grateful for all the wonderful ‘diversity’. Fantastic.
    BTW I met the Senator and talked for an hour about another topic entirely a few weeks ago. No Nazi paraphenalia in his office, just a patriotic Australian worried about the future of his country.

  • pete

    Hong Kong at 3?

    The personal freedom part of the index obviously doesn’t rate the ability to freely elect the government very highly.

  • pete

    No mention of Cuba at all.

  • Nullius in Verba

    If you read the report, it gives a little more detail on their reasons. They don’t mention Cuba, or indeed North Korea. My guess would be no data.

    To aid in argument, here’s the summary breakdown for Canada, the USA, and the UK. That might be things like Gitmo, immigration, international tax, the huge prison population and the Culture Wars letting the side down, but that’s pure speculation on my part. See what you think.

    CAN USA UK Category
    7.7, 6.9, 7.7, Rule of Law
    8.6, 7.6, 8.2, Procedural Justice
    7.2, 6.7, 7.5, Civil Justice
    7.4, 6.5, 7.4, Criminal Justice
    9.8, 9.1, 9.8, Security and Safety
    9.3, 7.9, 9.5, Homicide
    10.0, 9.4, 10.0, Disappearance, Conflict, Terrorism
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Women Security, Safety
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Movement
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Freedom of Domestic Movement
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Freedom of Foreign Movement
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Women’s Freedom of Movement
    9.0, 8.9, 7.6, Religious Freedom
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Freedom to Est. & Operate Rel. Org.
    8.4, 7.9, 7.6, Harassment and Physical Hostilities
    8.6, 8.7, 5.2, Legal and Regulatory Restrictions
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Assoc., Assembly and Civil Society
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Freedom of Association
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Assembly and Demonstration
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Est. & Operate Political Parties
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Est. & Operate Professional Org.
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Est. & Operate Edu., Sports & Cultural
    9.5, 9.2, 9.3, Expression and Information
    10.0, 9.7, 10.0, Press Killed
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Press Jailed
    8.3, 8.0, 7.0, Laws and Reg. That Influence Media
    8.3, 7.0, 7.8, Political Pressure, Control Media
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Access to Cable and Satellite
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Freedom of Access to Frgn. Info.
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, State Control over Internet Access
    9.3, 9.3, 9.3, Identity and Relationships
    7.0, 7.0, 7.0, Legal Gender
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Parental Rights
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Same-Sex Relationships
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Divorce
    6.0, 6.4, 5.7, Size of Government
    3.9, 6.7, 5.2, Government Consumption
    7.2, 6.0, 5.4, Transfers and Subsidies
    8.0, 8.0, 8.0, Government Enterprises
    5.0, 5.0, 4.0, Top Marginal Tax Rate
    7.9, 7.4, 7.8, Legal System and Prop. Rights
    8.6, 7.5, 8.9, Judicial Independence
    6.4, 7.3, 7.1, Impartial Courts
    8.4, 7.9, 8.8, Protection of Property Rights
    10.0, 6.7, 10.0, Military Interference
    9.2, 8.3, 8.3, Integrity of the Legal System
    3.6, 5.4, 4.4, Legal Enforcement of Contracts
    9.0, 8.9, 8.0, Regulatory Restrictions
    8.8, 8.2, 8.4, Reliability of Police
    6.9, 6.3, 6.7, Business Cost of Crime
    9.6, 9.8, 9.8, Sound Money
    9.0, 9.7, 9.8, Money Growth
    9.6, 9.9, 9.7, Standard Deviation of Inflation
    9.7, 9.7, 9.9, Inflation: Most Recent Year
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Freedom to Own Frgn. Currency
    7.9, 7.7, 8.4, Freedom to Trade Int’l
    7.0, 8.4, 8.3, TariffŒs
    7.9, 8.4, 8.2, Regulatory Trade Barriers
    10.0, 10.0, 10.0, Black-Market Exchange Rates
    6.7, 3.9, 7.3, Movement of Capital and People
    8.5, 8.8, 8.2, Regulation
    9.7, 9.3, 8.2, Credit Market Regulations
    8.2, 9.1, 8.4, Labor Market Regulations
    7.7, 8.0, 8.1, Business Regulations

  • Runcie Balspune

    the study measures more democracy as more freedom

    Agreed. Democracy is a place not a journey.

    We don’t have true democracy in the UK because our voting laws allow for mass abuse of the political system, by allowing political parties with restricted membership, who then decide the candidates, it is only one step removed from communist-style democracy where you can vote for any party as long as it’s the communist party.

    Democracy is meaningless without the “well-armed lamb”, that is true freedom.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “We don’t have true democracy in the UK because our voting laws allow for mass abuse of the political system, by allowing political parties with restricted membership, who then decide the candidates…”

    Political parties that stand for a defined position by necessity have to have control of their membership and candidate selection, or they’d be infiltrated and destroyed by their opponents. That’s Freedom of Association.

    Democratic freedom consists in being able to form a new party of your own (or as an independent), and stand for election. You can set up a UKIP or a Libertarian Party, and see how many people vote for it. If only a small minority do, that’s not the fault of the voting laws!

    “For example, the study measures more democracy as more freedom, but that is almost the opposite of true — democracy is the right of the majority to override the freedom of the minority (and everyone is part of some sort of minority.)”

    There are three options:
    1. A minority can overrule the freedom of the majority.
    2. The majority (or plurality) can overrule the freedom of a minority.
    3. Nobody can overule anybody else’s freedom.

    Around the world the choice is mainly between options 1 and 2. We haven’t got any genuinely libertarian countries that pick option 3, although some of them try on some limited subjects. Measuring democracy is therefore only really measuring the preference for option 2 over option 1. Looking at whether nations always picked option 3 over option 2 wouldn’t give informative results, because none do.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Nullius in Verba
    Looking at whether nations always picked option 3 over option 2 wouldn’t give informative results, because none do.

    It is not a binary choice. One can measure the degree to which countries use option 3 over option 2. As in, for example, the United States government is specifically limited in what it is allowed to do (irrespective of what the majority says), whereas the UK government is not. That is why, for example, the United States government (and via the 14th amendment, the States’ governments) cannot pass hate speech legislation or effectively ban the private ownership of firearms, whereas the UK government can, and has done.

  • Nico

    @bobby b: wait, is the Republican party the cause of the civil asset forfeiture mess?

  • Sigivald

    If you look at the full PDF and the distribution graph (p.27), you find most of the “good” countries clustered more or less within rounding error of each other.

    All such ranking systems inevitably founder on what people do or do not include in the various “freedoms” and how they weight things, so it’s not very interesting, honestly.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “It is not a binary choice.”

    True. As I said, “some of them try on some limited subjects”, and the extent of those subjects varies. However, on many subjects, the United States does allow majorities to limit the freedom of minorities, or even vice versa. There are no countries that don’t. And on those many topics where others’ freedom can be curtailed, it makes a difference how small a minority can do it.

    The list of the things the US government is not allowed to legislate on is very small. They can’t ban guns, but they can ban recreational drugs. Or haggis. Or absinthe. Or pretty much anything else. They can make rules on going to the bathroom, or getting married, or employment discrimination, or union rights, or (in the good old days) which end of the bus black people were allowed to ride on. The original constitution even tolerated slavery! The fact that there are a small number of things they are excluded from does not mean that minorities cannot curtail the freedom of majorities, or vice versa, on the vast majority of matters.

    “As in, for example, the United States government is specifically limited in what it is allowed to do (irrespective of what the majority says), whereas the UK government is not.”

    Whether a country’s citizens are free is not simply a matter of what the government does or can do. It also matters whether the other citizens are as tolerant. Can people say whatever they want in America, (doing no unconsented direct harm to others,) without the threat of adverse consequences? I don’t think so.

    The SJWs operating in the USA should also be a relevant consideration in judging how free a society it is, wouldn’t you say?

  • Agammamon

    I do certainly wonder what criteria they’re using that puts countries that jail people for speech (the UK and Canada) above the US in terms of ‘freeness’. Hell, Australia forbids almost all firearm ownership *and* puts limits on how powerful a motorcycle you can ride based on your age *and* makes not-voting a criminal act.

    We certainly have lots of problems and a lot of government intrusion into private life, but as I see it, the UK and Canada have the same set of intrusions *and more*.

    And Hong Kong? In the top ten? Seriously? Germany? The country that has a law making it illegal to make fun of a country’s head of state? And enforces it?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I do certainly wonder what criteria they’re using that puts countries that jail people for speech (the UK and Canada) above the US in terms of ‘freeness’.”

    The criteria are listed above. Free speech is only one aspect of freedom.

  • bobby b

    “I do certainly wonder what criteria they’re using that puts countries that jail people for speech (the UK and Canada) above the US in terms of ‘freeness’.”

    Looking at the numbers, we take our biggest hits in the “justice” areas.

    “Civil justice” gets a low ranking, likely as a result of our civil asset forfeiture laws. (I say this primarily because I can’t think of any other area of civil justice in which we do stupid things. Some might claim that our property-rights philosophies are also suspect, given our apparent disregard of our constitutional protections against eminent domain, but we still end up more “free” in this area than most countries – we simply fail to adequately enforce our unique constitutional protection of property rights against government taking. We’re less free than our aspirations, but still more free than most of the world.)

    “Criminal justice” also gets a low ranking, likely as a result of our incarceration rate. This breaks down into a number of different sub-areas.

    First we have our “war on drugs” efforts. This is essentially an anti-libertarian effort to impose nanny-state regulations which has been discussed here in depth. Huge numbers of people are incarcerated for drug offenses. The strange thing about this downranking, to me, is that our drug prohibitions essentially match the rest of the First World’s drug prohibitions. We get downranked for this mostly because our enforcement arm rabidly enforces these prohibitions – but they are still the same prohibitions shared by most of the civilized world.

    Second, we have a serious discrepancy in the racial make-up of who we incarcerate. This is cited as supposed proof of our racist criminal justice system. But can’t it just as likely indicate that some specific cultures here actively discount a duty to follow laws? If we imprison “too many people”, does this impose a duty on us to allow more conduct that we democratically find to be unacceptable? Or couldn’t it mean that we are SO free that various groups feel free to disregard laws?

    So, in the end, this supposed quantitative-based, objective ranking system mostly reflects very subjective judgments about causes and effects.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby:

    Very well said.

    Speaking of Richard *g*, he keeps on knocking our system for its “weak property rights,” and going by what he says, he sees it as one of our most serious flaws. Of course Richard defends eminent domain where it is used as intended, namely as a taking for public use which is properly compensated. (Personally, I am not a fan of and I do not defend eminent domain, save only in certain, very limited emergency situations.)

    But he’s quite upset over what are effectively the EPA’s takings, and piling insult on injury their horrible fine rates for persons they deem to be not in compliance with their dictates. Me too.

    As for asset forfeiture: *______bleep______*

    .

    A quibble: Almost at the end, you write

    “…[D]oes this impose a duty on us to allow more conduct that we democratically find to be unacceptable?”

    My quibble is that most of our laws against this or that conduct are not “democratically” decided nor written. In theory, our state or federal representatives do that, checked (in principle) by their knowledge of what the voters want.

    But I imagine you were trying to get at the point that fundamentally, most of our laws defining and enforcing illegal behavior do reflect some sort of general feeling among the populace that they are necessary, albeit with such tweaking as each of us would like to do, if he had the power.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Another criticism of the Index:

    It attempts to amalgamate “freedom” in the sense of political liberty — which properly speaking has justice as a central concern of the laws and as a brake on any tendencies of private parties and of governmental entities — and freedom from violent predation by private persons or groups and by foreign entities.

    Even if you agree with me that defense of a country’s people is a proper objective of government, I’m not sure that these issues speak to freedom in the sense of political liberty; even though practically speaking defense of innocent citizens is necessary to their keeping their political freedom, conceptually freedom and security are two different things.

    This is one example showing why bobby’s closing point that it “reflects very subjective judgments about causes and effects.” is well made.

    Then there is the category “military interference,” which title already causes huge flags saying Yeah? to flap in the wind passing between my ears. I would have to read the report closely and carefully to see what counts as “military interference.” I would just about guarantee that if it means “unjust” or “inappropriate” “military interference,” the bartender at this lovefest will invite Cato and me to take it outside. (I’m not sure that U.S. military interference in either WW I or WW II in itself indicated slippage in our countries’ freedoms. Nor in Vietnam and Iraq either. “There! I said it!”)

    Libya and Syria are not so obvious to me, but then I’m just a girl. *g*

    .

    I’m not sure that political freedom includes access to the Internet. If a people is prevented by from using the Internet, or from using it free of governmental blocking or censorship — except in cases of national security or investigating known criminal activity, both of which have to be spelled out clearly and in detail, and shown to be necessary for assuring our protection and our freedoms — then that clearly is indeed a breach of political freedom. But if people have no access because of their physical or financial situation, that’s not a failing of proper government. I assume Cato means that it’s a black mark if government blocks or infringes on Internet communication, except as noted above.

    .

    Also, in the light of Baby Charlie Gard alone, I don’t see how the UK can get a Perfect 10 on “Parental Rights”!

    . . .

    Sigivald: Good point.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Nullius in Verba
    The list of the things the US government is not allowed to legislate on is very small.

    De jure that isn’t true, in fact the opposite is true, the constitution doesn’t list things the government can do, but provides a limited list of what it can do. The state constitutions are broader, but are similar. Now de facto that has been grossly abused with such ridiculous court rulings regarding, for example, interstate commerce (the source of some of the things you mention) and it has been so ignored that the secondary guard of the bill of rights has been about all we have left of limited government. But they are hardly missing the key areas of freedom, speech, the press, religion, self defense, criminal protections and so forth.

    But again it comes down to what you mean by freedom, and that is why this list is mostly just approximate. I mean big picture the countries at the top are better than the countries at the bottom. But is New Zealand (with its hate speech laws, extreme gun control laws, and heavy taxation) really better than the USA? It depends on how you value freedom, which freedoms you value more, because the plain fact is that the final number — the placement in the list — is someone’s opinion of which of these freedoms are more important than others, and surely most of the numbers on there are heavily subjective. The US scores 6.7 on criminal justice and Canada 7.2? What are the units of these numbers? Unjustified precision like this is the mark of charlatans.

    Which is more important? The freedom to be offensive, or the right to freedom from offense? If the former than Canada is worse (by this measure) than the US, but if the latter the opposite is true. Are the SJW ragers on campus considered limitations on freedom — after all they can’t actually put you in jail, or is it only government action? Depends what you mean.

    To rank countries by “freedom” is to suggest that there is some absolute, unqualified way to measure freedom that we all agree upon. And there isn’t so this list is simply bogus, or at best “a rough guide”.

    I should also say that you can in fact buy haggis in the US. In fact I had some at a lovely Scottish restaurant in St Charles, a suburb of Chicago, just a couple of weeks ago. They can’t make it with lungs, but even without it was quite delicious — I might even (under my breath so that nobody can hear) say it was the best haggis I ever had, even after many years living in Scotland. Having said that, nothing quite beats a haggis supper on the way home from the pub with your mates. So, maybe not.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Here in Australia, I thought we had things bad, though at least we are talking about religion and freedom and stuff. Perhaps the rating simply shows that the rest of the world is even worse off!!!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser,

    I absolutely agree with your comment, except for one thing you said at the very beginning, which I may not understand correctly. Otherwise, well said indeed.

    .

    You wrote:

    “…the constitution doesn’t list things the government can do, but provides a limited list of what it can do.”

    I wonder if you said exactly what you meant to say, as follows:

    The Constitution does list (limit) the categories of acts which the government can legitimately do: Those, we call the “enumerated powers.” The serious theories of Constitutionality (the ones that dispense with the “Living Constitution” malarkey) hold that the government may not act outside the domains of these enumerated powers. You are right, of course, in that the government is empowered to enact laws which are necessary and proper in order to legislation it is entitled to make in exercising one of the enumerated powers, and since such acts aren’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution, you are technically correct when you say it “doesn’t list the things government can do.” But mostly we take the existence of these other statutes as falling within the umbrella of the listed powers, because they are (at least claimed to be) proper; that is, that they are in accordance with everything else in the Constitution.

    But for the most part, what we unreconstructed Constitutionalists would say along the lines of your quote is,

    …the Constitution specifies the list of the things the government can do, but it provides only a limited (partial) list of what it cannot do.

    So this isn’t intended as a correction, because what you said is technically accurate; but reading it surprised me, because in my mind I expected to read something more to the point of “enumerated powers” vs. “rights retained by the people” which the government can’t (isn’t supposed to!) breach, which is only a partial list.

    .

    Beyond that, bravo! :>)))

    . . .

    You have a Scottish restaurant in St. Charles? And it has haggis?? Yowzah! Boy, I wish I could still drive. (Well, technically speaking I can drive, but practically, I’ve had to give it up.) When my honey and I were living in Chicago, in the early ’70s, there were just two ethnic-UK restaurants in the whole area. One somewhat specialized in Irish food, and a limited menu at that. They had very good Shepherd’s Pie. The other was a little more English, I guess, with blood pudding and steak-and-kidney pie and other yummy eats; but not haggis.

    I’ve never had haggis, but if I didn’t like it that would be only because of the filler — I think oatmeal? — and possibly the seasoning. But I’ve always wanted to try it. I won’t eat eyeball stew and I won’t knowingly eat chocolate-covered ants (though I suspect I’d like them if I didn’t know what they were), and I won’t eat dog or cat or rat; but other than, I’m mostly game.

    Cheers!

  • Sean

    As a Kiwi, if New Zealand is #1 then God help us.

  • Fraser Orr

    Juile, yes you said it far better than me, but that is what I intended.

    If you ever get the chance (and save your pennies because it is not cheap — when I went someone else was paying….) the restaurant is here:

    http://www.balmoralrestaurant.com

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh my land! That looks like a wonderful menu, and the Young Miss would be delighted as I see the word “jalapéños” flashed about!

    They (she and her other half) just might have been there once, though I suppose not. But it does sound awfully familiar.

    Me, I like the word “duck” just for starters.

    Then there’s the cock-a-leekie soup, and the smoked salmon, the Shepherd’s Pie, of course the haggis, the bangers & mashed (definitely grew up with good ol’ midwestern version of same), the suet pudding…. Perhaps we could stay overnight. For several nights.

    (I don’t suppose they have falafel….)

    I really wanted Them to take me to Greektown (Parthenon, Diana’s, Athena, so forth) for my, um, 44th birthday, but gad, you just couldn’t possibly ask Them to drive all the way into the city. But with luck it will come round again this year, and Rockford is a lot closer to St. Charles than it is to Greektown.

    You come meet us there, and I’ll see about getting the Great Frog to pick up the tab. ;>)

    .

    Glad you straightened me out on your meaning — that’s what I thought you were probably getting at. So, altogether an excellent comment.

    I think you should go have a nip of nice Scotch (or whatever). Relax after a job well done. :>))

  • bobby b

    ” . . . I won’t eat dog or cat or rat; but other than, I’m mostly game.”

    Heh. Good pun.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Thx, bobby. 😀

    By the way, if they have falafel and kibbeh and saganaki and spanakopitta in Eden Prairie, please feel free to pick some up and come on down here on my next 44th birthday.

    :>))

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But again it comes down to what you mean by freedom, and that is why this list is mostly just approximate. I mean big picture the countries at the top are better than the countries at the bottom. But is New Zealand (with its hate speech laws, extreme gun control laws, and heavy taxation) really better than the USA?”

    Agreed. I’m sure the purpose of the list is to show the big picture, not to precisely delineate which of the countries at the top end manages to edge slightly ahead of all the others. They’ve obviously gone round all the various horrible nations down at the bottom, listed a grab-bag of all the most horrible abridgements of freedom that stand out to them, and simply counted them up. There’s no attempt to weight them by importance, and I don’t think they’re attempting to be comprehensive, either. The outraged national pride at not coming top is entirely wasted! (It’s amusing, though.)

    But there is a serious point here, too, which is that because Americans come top on guns and freedom of speech, they have a tendency to think those are the most important/significant/relevant/only rights. All the outrage above is directed at those alone. “But, but, but how can they come top?! They don’t even have free speech!!!” This is to a large extent what they call “First World Problems”. When you’re comparing it with a country that has blasphemy laws punishable by death, and where half the population can’t vote, can’t drive, can’t have an education, can’t decide who to marry, and can’t even go out of the house on their own without wearing a bag and walking three paces behind their male guardian like a pet dog, it kinda pales into insignificance, doesn’t it? There are many other aspects to freedom, and compared to some of what goes on guns and speech are relatively minor freedoms.

    Most people in those other places don’t care, because we don’t need guns anyway, and mostly we don’t actually hate the groups we’re not allowed to hate on. We don’t particularly want to be offensive. They’re things that affect only a small number of people. And yes, of course I understand the reasons why we should still care about them, and I do. But they’re not barriers we bump into very often, whereas some of the other freedoms listed are. We’ve got to care about them, too.

    “Which is more important? The freedom to be offensive, or the right to freedom from offense?”

    Which is more important? The right to import haggis (with lungs), or the right to live in a country safe from imported haggis? The former, of course! But how many Americans care?

    “Are the SJW ragers on campus considered limitations on freedom — after all they can’t actually put you in jail, or is it only government action?”

    They can get you thrown out of class, thrown out of college, your reputation shredded, and your life made a misery. You can be doxxed and bombarded with death threats, rape threats, threats against your family, threats against your employer, and have dung and white powder mailed to you. You can be mobbed and chased out of restaurants by screaming protestors, pelted with garbage, and attacked by antifa thugs armed with bike locks. What’s important?

    You may remember JS Mill on the subject:

    Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant–society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it–its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

    It is society our freedoms need to be protected from, and we do that partly by giving government the monopoly on legitimate force, and then applying limits to the powers of government as a more controllable entity than the mob. But this does not mean it is only the government and politicians we need to fear.

    To paraphrase Maggie’s famous comment about society: there is no such thing as government – they’re only a group of other people like ourselves who we collectively agree to give these powers to. But they’re still just people, like us.

  • bobby b

    “This is to a large extent what they call “First World Problems”.”

    But isn’t a discussion of those First World Problems simply a way to mark out exactly where our particular society’s margin of liberty lies?

    We in the US have reached a level of personal freedom from government that is arguably at least 17th best in the world. We did this by securing for ourselves a large pile of freedoms – such a large pile that we’re currently arguing the point of whether or not all adults are free to walk around with weapons under our shirts. We’ve already secured for ourselves most all of the liberties that are normally considered to be lower than that on the hierarchy of liberties. The margin between where our liberties reach, and where they don’t reach, is quite high.

    Someone in North Korea is going to have their own margin, and it’s going to lie much lower in the hierarchy of liberties than our margin. They’re going to brag about how they weren’t arbitrarily executed by artillery shell today, or how no one from the government raped and killed their kids. That’s where their margin lies.

    So when someone in the US speaks glowingly about how we’ve attained the right to bear arms or speak freely, they’re not celebrating those specific freedoms so much as they’re defining where in the hierarchy of freedoms our margin of liberty lies.

    And that has at least some use in this particular discussion, doesn’t it?

  • bobby b

    “By the way, if they have falafel and kibbeh and saganaki and spanakopitta in Eden Prairie, please feel free to pick some up and come on down here on my next 44th birthday.”

    I had to Bing all of those foods just to see what they are! (Our Greek population here consists of one old man who goes home to Chicago every weekend, and his cat.)

    So if we did that, it would have to be hare and venison and duck and beef and walleye . . .

  • When you’re comparing it with a country that has blasphemy laws punishable by death, and where half the population can’t vote, can’t drive, can’t have an education, can’t decide who to marry, and can’t even go out of the house on their own without wearing a bag and walking three paces behind their male guardian like a pet dog, it kinda pales into insignificance, doesn’t it? There are many other aspects to freedom, and compared to some of what goes on guns and speech are relatively minor freedoms. (Nullius in Verba, January 8, 2019 at 9:23 am)

    The point is very true as regards immediate experience; thinking about a day lived under Stalin or Hitler puts today’s hate speech law absurdities into perspective. However guns and free speech are also process rights – rights than can help preserve other rights. Islamophobia laws are not just a step towards blasphemy laws; they are also the way to facilitate further steps. The US view, derived from its history, is that freedom is measured by the people’s means to maintain freedom as well as by the current culture and customs of the rulers. Observing how easily the UK’s free speech laws and culture have been compromised in the last two decades, I’d say the US approach has a point – and so do not agree that “guns and speech are relatively minor freedoms”.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “And that has at least some use in this particular discussion, doesn’t it?”

    Sure. I’m not complaining! It’s just not such a surprise if you’re not number 1 on a scale designed to measure third world problems. 🙂

    The food discussion is making me feel hungry! But if you want to eat round our way, it’s going to have to be small portions soon…

    https://metro.co.uk/2018/12/26/restaurant-supermarket-food-get-calorie-limits-put-8283901/
    https://www.cnpp.usda.gov/dietary-guidelines

    (I can see a new amendment coming on. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a maximum size for burgers, hotdogs, pizza, …”)

  • Surellin

    I have a high opinion of the Cato Institute, but I would want to know exactly what factors in what proportions decide one’s score on this list. For instance, I was astonished at some of the positions on the “list of best American cities” some years ago. Turned out that some of the criteria were “access to fantastic medical facilities” and “lots of high culture”. Being at the time young, immortal and not a fan of opera, my own mileage varied. And when “free medical care for all!” counts as a freedom, we have problems.

  • Paul Marks

    The idea that the people in the United Kingdom are more free than people in the United States is not true. In fact it is absurd.

    Complicated efforts by third parties to justify this absurd claim by the Cato Institute are also absurd.

    This is not to say that liberty is doing well in the United States (it is not – although it is doing better than it was a few years ago when, for example, the EPA was treating all land with water on it as de facto government land – a sly slow-motion de facto nationalisation of farming and ranching by the Obama regime), but Britain is much worse.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The idea that the people in the United Kingdom are more free than people in the United States is not true. In fact it is absurd.”

    Sounds interesting. How does *your* scoring system work? And how do the scores in the various categories compare to Cato’s? Can we narrow it down to any particular categories?

  • Julie near Chicago

    NiV and anyone else who thinks that the “right of free speech” is relatively unimportant,

    Have a look at a book by one Orwell, G., entitled 1984.

    .

    NOTE that what we usually mean by “the right of free speech” is that the government is not allowed to make laws about what we may not say or otherwise express in words, images, or drama, whether in public or in private.

    (Be it noted that we do recognize some limitations to the “right of free speech” even on such expression. For instance, incitement to crime is not protected, nor is lying in furtherance of fraud. Figuring out just where such limits must be drawn in order to protect humans’ persons and their fundamental rights is fraught, and does require arguing in good faith, and some compromise.)

    Where this right of free speech is not recognized and honored “in the observance” [H/T the Bard and Mr. Woolley], the government is able to exercise extreme censorship, as in present-day China and 1984 … and in the former Soviet Union … on pain of severest punishment. They know they must not let people even think about speaking against this or that action by the state, nor against this or that Public Person (so to speak).

    Where “hate speech” is in itself a legal crime, the people are indeed censored by their government.

    Where someone who insults or denigrates some person or group is taken to have committed the legal crime of “hate speech,” there is no means by which he can legally express his opinion.

    It is not the same where something that is “socially unacceptable” (at least in certain circles) is nevertheless not legally actionable: while others may disapprove of one’s opinions or one’s actions, and may react by denigrating or arguing against his speech or other behavior, or even by shunning him or boycotting his business — all this being unaccompanied by any form of violence or serious threat of it — at least he does not face punishment at the hands of the government. Your mother, aged 102, may make your ears burn as she gives you jolly-what-for, and she may even disinherit you (but at least you won’t have to empty out her closet), but the government cannot fine you gazillions nor imprison you for uttering the f-word or for telling the world what you think of the former occupant of the Oval Office nor for “Piss Christ” or drawing disrespectful cartoons of Mahomet or even of a Jew.

    Or a Capitalist, or an Englishman.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, I don’t mind hare — is there a hare specialty up by you, or is it basically just stewed rabbit? — and I’m already near beef, and the S-I-L & his bud occasionally go hunt deer in Michigan; but if you want to bring duck and walleye I’ll be glad to help you eat them.

    The best roast duck I ever had was at a rathskeller in Milwaukee; the best walleye at the restaurant attached to one of those mini-resorts a little north of Minocqua, Wisc.

    Perhaps we should meet up somewhere around Prairie du Chien. ;>)

    .

    NiV, you guys must be channelling former Mayor Bloomberg. I’m so sorry…. :>(

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Julie, I will use my freedom of speech to NOT read 1984! So there!
    Besides, the book has no trigger warnings. Someone should edit the book so it is acceptable reading.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nicholas,

    It’s true. There are no trigger warnings. That’s why I haven’t insisted that SlipperKitty read it.

    Other than that, so don’t read it. You will sleep better. :>)

    Anyway, nowhere does anyone guarantee you the right not to speak. This is why we have ObamaCare. (“No one guarantees you the right not to act to buy non-ObamaCare insurance. Pah!)

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Here in Australia, we’ve had Medicare since the 70s. What is this Obamacare of which you speak?

  • Julie near Chicago

    It distresses me to the core of my soul and without surcease (think of Prometheus) to inform you that that no-good low-down Lyndon Johnson foisted Medicare off on us (in the dead of night, natch) in 1965.

    Like Obamacare, the idea of Medicare was not popular.

    I think it was Stalin who said that to ruin a country all you had to do was to get hold of its medical system. Only he didn’t say “ruin.” *sour expression* Or maybe it was Lenin. *grumble*

    .

    Obamacare is when “if you like your health plan you can keep it,” only you can’t. “If you like your doctor, you can keep him,” only you can’t. “Your health insurance premiums will go down,” only (mostly) they don’t.

    Never mind, Nick. Go get a nice, what, iced hemlock tea and settle back to not read 1984.

  • Julie near Chicago

    If the Gov gives you dietary advice, the best thing is to make haste to not-follow it.

    –Me, just now.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “NiV and anyone else who thinks that the “right of free speech” is relatively unimportant, Have a look at a book by one Orwell, G., entitled 1984.”

    Seen it! 🙂 And it doesn’t answer the point – it’s not a comparison Orwell made. Yes, free speech is an important freedom, but it’s not the only one, or necessarily the most important one. Given a choice between being an absolute slave bound to obedience and hard labour, everything you own being stolen, frequently beaten or assaulted, but who is allowed to say whatever they like; and being free to do as you choose and live a life of leisure and security but not be allowed to speak, which would you choose?

    It’s like arguing about which is the greater need: food, or oxygen? To say that there are things more important than food is not to say that food is unimportant!

    (BTW – just being picky, but the book’s title is ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’, not ‘1984’. But pedantry is no substitute for debate. 🙂 )

    “OTE that what we usually mean by “the right of free speech” is that the government is not allowed to make laws about what we may not say or otherwise express in words, images, or drama, whether in public or in private.”

    And didn’t JS Mill make the point that it isn’t just the government we need to worry about? When the government is the only part of society that can use force, then constraining the powers of the government is sufficient. But if the rest of society can and does use force to enforce it’s opinions, what practical difference does it make that the agents preventing you speaking as you wish are unofficial? The government doesn’t have to regulate your speech directly – it only needs to encourage and selectively tolerate those who will do so voluntarily.

    “It is not the same where something that is “socially unacceptable” (at least in certain circles) is nevertheless not legally actionable: while others may disapprove of one’s opinions or one’s actions, and may react by denigrating or arguing against his speech or other behavior, or even by shunning him or boycotting his business — all this being unaccompanied by any form of violence or serious threat of it — at least he does not face punishment at the hands of the government.”

    And why do you exclude violence or serious threat of it? Insult someone in a rough bar, and you’ll likely get punished for it. Should it make a difference to you that it’s not the government punishing you?

    But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant–society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it–its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries.

  • Nullius in Verba (January 9, 2019 at 1:24 pm), my comment (Niall Kilmartin, January 8, 2019 at 11:11 am) gives my reason for thinking free speech important. Just as courage is not just a virtue but is the form of every virtue when under test (Pontius Pilate was merciful – till it became risky) so free speech is one of the freedoms that preserve others.

    Given a choice between being an absolute slave bound to obedience and hard labour, everything you own being stolen, frequently beaten or assaulted, but who is allowed to say whatever they like

    This reads like you think Thersites had free speech.

    He beats me and I rail at him. Oh, worthy recollection.
    Would it were otherwise. Would that I might beat him and he rail at me.

    (Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, from memory). Obviously, Thersites is worse off than us, who, if we rail against political correctness may face a hate speech prosecution but not a casual, legally-allowed thrashing. I don’t see your example as being coherent in itself, so do not see it as a counter-example.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “This reads like you think Thersites had free speech.”

    Does it? I don’t see why.

    “(Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, from memory)”

    Close enough. 🙂

    He beats me, and I rail at him: O, worthy satisfaction!
    would it were otherwise; that I could beat him,
    whilst he railed at me.

    “Obviously, Thersites is worse off than us, who, if we rail against political correctness may face a hate speech prosecution but not a casual, legally-allowed thrashing.”

    I’m not sure I follow that. I assume your reason for bringing Thersites up is that though a servant, he is permitted by his master to speak and insult as he wishes, without penalty.

    THERSITES: I’ll decline the whole question. Agamemnon commands Achilles; Achilles is my lord; I am Patroclus’ knower, and Patroclus is a fool.
    PATROCLUS: You rascal!
    THERSITES: Peace, fool! I have not done.
    ACHILLES: He is a privileged man. Proceed, Thersites.

    So surely the point is that Thersites *can* “rail against political correctness” but not face “a casual, legally-allowed thrashing”? Or is your point that the *maximum penalty* Thersites may face is worse, so he is worse off than us?

    However, I haven’t said anything about differential penalties. If the penalties meted out for disobedience are exactly the same (casual beating to death, say), but the offences of disobedience different (speech on the one hand, everything else on the other), is it worse to be forbidden only speech, or to be forbidden any choice in when and for how long to work, what to work at, where to go, when to sleep, when to rest, when to eat and drink, what to eat and drink, what to wear, whether to bow and kneel, or crawl, what drugs to take, what sexual activities to partake in, etc. but to be able to *say* whatever you like about it?

    It’s not that the maximum penalty for one is any different to the other. The only difference is the freedoms denied.

    “I don’t see your example as being coherent in itself, so do not see it as a counter-example.”

    I don’t see your version of my example as being coherent, either. So we’re agreed on that. But I don’t really see how that undermines my point.

    Freedom of speech is only one of many freedoms. We in the ‘First World’ have most of the others, so we devote all our attention and efforts to those few areas where we are still lacking. But a scale designed to measure freedom globally will take a broader and inevitably coarser perspective.

    I’m not arguing that the Cato scale is right and that the UK and Canada *are* more free than the USA. (Personally I don’t think there’s any clear or obvious answer – it depends on how you weight things. But I’m not going to argue.) What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter because that’s not the sort of comparison the Cato league table is designed to do.

    They wrote a 400 page report in an attempt to quantify their observations objectively! Nobody seems to have read the report, or has anything coherent to say about the scores they gave. But we’re nevertheless trashing the whole report and the league table because it doesn’t accord with our fiercely treasured intuitions (and a pinch of national pride, I suspect! 🙂 ), based it seems on that tiny fraction of the freedoms we aspire to that we’re still fighting over here at the top table. It all seems to me a bit ‘Let them eat cake’ in its attitude.

    Of course it’s far from perfect. But for what it’s trying to do (i.e. light a fire under the feet of those nations near the bottom of the table), I still think it should be applauded.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Nullius in Verba
    (Personally I don’t think there’s any clear or obvious answer – it depends on how you weight things.

    Precisely.

    But I’m not going to argue.) What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter because that’s not the sort of comparison the Cato league table is designed to do.

    But that is EXACTLY what it is designed to do as far as I an see… see below.

    They wrote a 400 page report in an attempt to quantify their observations objectively! Nobody seems to have read the report, or has anything coherent to say about the scores they gave.

    I think you are perhaps missing my original point. I am not saying that Cato is mendacious or wrong. I am saying that the task it has taken on is impossible. It is a common rhetorical tactic to say to one’s interlocutor — “Ha! you haven’t read this 400 page report, therefore your opinion is baseless”, but the truth is that I haven’t read all the arguments of the “Moon landing was a hoax” people, but I have a clear opinion on this. I haven’t read all the arguments if favor of a 70% income tax (though I did have the misfortune to read a disturbing article on it in the NYT), but I still have a view on it that I am pretty sure is correct.

    There is no point in reading the 400 page report simply because what they are trying to achieve is a misleading headline. There is no shared definition of what is the partial ordering between countries in terms of freedom, so a league table is impossible to produce. It is possible to define a set of rules and say “this is our partial ordering”, but that definition of “freest country”. But this procedure is so weak, imprecise and unstable as to not be worth looking at. And to cap it with “New Zealand is the freest country in the world” is utterly misleading and dishonest.

    It is like making a list of the best ice cream flavors. Sure, we can be sure that feces flavored ice cream, and arsenic flavored are at the bottom, that boiled cabbage and broccoli are somewhere in the middle, and that vanilla and chocolate are somewhere near the top. But to make a list and say Rocky Road is number 1, Lemon Sorbet number 2, and Neapolitan is just number 14, is to confuse subjectivity for objectivity.

    Does Cato measure the numbers objectively? Let’s say for argument’s sake the answer is yes (which it isn’t, but lets say that it is.) What is subjective is how these numbers then fit together to constitute a measure of freedom.

    And you yourself have made this case quite effectively, even if you perhaps didn’t intend to do so. To compare some dude punching your in the face for mouthing off at the bar to government restrictions on free speech to me is to completely miss what “freedom” means. Now, of course to some extent you are right, but that is the point, isn’t it? To say a country is free depends precisely on what you mean by that. I don’t consider the preponderance of illegal acts a measure of freedom at all, whereas you obviously do. So we will never come up with the same rating, no mater how fastidious and “objective” we both are in examining the data.

    It is like the old joke — what would happen if the United States immediately changed their weight system from using pounds to kilograms? Mass confusion.

    If you don’t use the same measuring stick you won’t get the same answer.

    Of course it’s far from perfect. But for what it’s trying to do (i.e. light a fire under the feet of those nations near the bottom of the table), I still think it should be applauded.

    But that isn’t what it is for. I am pretty sure that Venezuela isn’t too bothered by where they appear on this table. What do you think Maduro got a copy and said “OMG, we are way down the league table, I’d better get the secret police under control. Hey, somebody shut down the torture camps, Cato dropped us another few places on the list this year, we gotta do something to fix that.”

    No the purpose of these things in general it to beat up on countries like the United States and the UK.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “There is no point in reading the 400 page report simply because what they are trying to achieve is a misleading headline.”

    Ah. Then I think the issue is that we disagree about what Cato are trying to achieve. If you think their purpose is “to beat up on countries like the United States and the UK”, then it’s not a good measure. It doesn’t work as an honest comparator between top-of-the-table countries because it’s too interested in things that are only an issue for countries at the bottom, and it’s not even very good as a dishonest comparator – someone interested in beating up on the UK and US would surely have picked issues targeted more precisely at their flaws.

    They also missed a golden opportunity to beat up on the UK/US by devoting their entire foreword to beating up Venezuela, Russia and some of their Eastern European ex-satellites, and most extensively on China. Interestingly subtle, if that’s not their intended target…

    Still, I can’t prove that’s not what they’re secretly trying to do, so I’ll bow out of the discussion there.

    “And you yourself have made this case quite effectively, even if you perhaps didn’t intend to do so. To compare some dude punching your in the face for mouthing off at the bar to government restrictions on free speech to me is to completely miss what “freedom” means. Now, of course to some extent you are right, but that is the point, isn’t it? To say a country is free depends precisely on what you mean by that. I don’t consider the preponderance of illegal acts a measure of freedom at all, whereas you obviously do.”

    I was just following JS Mill’s definition of liberty, as I thought I’d made clear. You’re quite right that many people disagree with Mill’s essay. People always have their own definitions. They all say: “Of course I believe in freedom! But ‘freedom’ doesn’t include the freedom to… X.” They all substitute their own list of exceptions.

    Everyone’s a libertarian. They just define it differently! 🙂

  • [Thersites] is permitted by his master to speak and insult as he wishes

    That is indeed the point: Thersites is permitted by his master to speak thus. I forget who it was who said (over a decade ago IIRC, when all this hate speech rubbish was really getting going), that we no longer had free speech but permitted speech.

    Regardless of Thersites, I’m saying that the concept of someone who ‘has free speech’ but can legally be beaten to death at pleasure (and therefore also at displeasure of what they chance to say) is an oxymoron, not a counter-example.

    But for what it’s trying to do (i.e. light a fire under the feet of those nations near the bottom of the table), I still think it should be applauded.

    It may well be that for Venezuela to ease price controls this year is not quite so wildly unlikely as for Maduro to reduce the danger of criticising him. However my main point, to which all the above is minor, is the idea that some freedoms protect others – and some freedoms encourage the growth of others (the two lists might not be the same). You, by contrast seem to be treating the list as an unordered list from which the ones a given group chooses are a matter of taste. I’m arguing that free speech is valuable to prevent other freedoms from being eroded. Whether, at the other end of the freedom scale, it similarly is the first one you want, to let you grow others, is perhaps debatable – indeed, my own criticisms of your free-speaking-slave example imply it needs certain minimal supporting freedoms itself. That English common law forbade torture from way back may be more relevant than the degree of free speech allowed at that early time.

  • Julie near Chicago

    NiV.

    Speaking now of censorship under the law, that is, of censorship by government — which does hold the only legitimatized life-and-death power over people:

    At least half the point of 1984 (podden me) was that by censoring speech Big Brother could censor thought itself, by making certain concepts unthinkable. You will recall also that rewriting history, presenting false “history” (i.e. falsifying the historical record) was a minute-by-minute close pursuit, and that to say anything about true historical fact was impossible (within the story, but the Chinese reportedly are having difficulty with this to the extent that people are finding ways around it, on the Internet at least, by using codes) — impossible because the concepts necessary to do so were made unthinkable, and because even if that weren’t so, the words to state the facts were subject to censorship. Censorship itself, of course, was the aim of NewSpeak. And the aim of censorship was to ensure continued absolute totalitarian power.

    .

    In the short term, one who is dying of thirst or is in desperate need of medical care might accept censorship for the moment, if he must do so in order to be allowed water or a doctor.

    In the longer term, legal censorship is a governmental breach of an individual’s right of self-determination — of his right to choose for himself what he wishes to say, without fear of governmental restriction or reprisal. A part of his very self is thus given to the government. In the longer term, and to the extent that the individual is aware of this fundamental loss and of the further losses likely to come, it is insupportable.

    (Save only the caveats about lying for fraud, security breaches, etc.)

    . . .

    “Social pressure” is a subject to which I’ve given a lifetime of thought. Here are my conclusions.

    As a genuine live-and-let-live libertarian, I would dearly love to proscribe social pressures to conform to standards of behavior that “society” expects. But–

    Get real.

    If society shuns or denounces — if most or even many individual people shun or denounce — people who for instance engage in using lies and position to nail everything wearing a skirt (I do not include actual rape here, which deserves shunning and denunciation, but which is also punishable at law if it can be proven) — is that morally unacceptable?

    If social pressure encourages people to behave civilly toward other people, is that a bad thing in which society should refuse to engage? If social pressure works to discourage people from thrashing other people in bars when the thrashee has not started the physical fight, is that a bad thing?

    And from a strictly practical viewpoint, all moral considerations aside, social pressure will always be with us. It is woven into our DNA. Since it’s inescapable, the question is only what we, as individuals, choose to praise or denounce, which adds weight to the similar choices of like-minded individuals … which adds up to social pressure;

    And the way in which each of us allows himself to respond.

    .

    Afterword: Yes. Social pressure is a powerful and terrible weapon. For starters, it is society’s weapon of persecution. For instance a family can be extra-legally persecuted because it has, or apparently has, an alcoholic or a retarded or even a cowardly member.

    Or because a gentleman and the wife of another gentleman are thought to be consorting in an unseemly manner, as in the matter of John Stuart Mill and Mrs. Taylor. I understand that Mr. Mill’s injunction against what I remember as “parading a public display of disapproval” was at least in part a reaction to the public display of disapproval of their relationship.

    Social pressure can also help people to see the wrong of slavery, and to join the abolitionist movement of their time and place.

    So like anything else, it can operate for bad or for good. Personally I detest it, and if I’d been designing the Universe I wouldn’t have included it; but the Great Frog didn’t ask me, and here we all are.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “we no longer had free speech but permitted speech.”

    Yes, all rights apart from “might is right” are permitted. The constitution only gives or withholds permission – it has no power to rule without people’s voluntary choice to abide by it.

    “Regardless of Thersites, I’m saying that the concept of someone who ‘has free speech’ but can legally be beaten to death at pleasure (and therefore also at displeasure of what they chance to say) is an oxymoron, not a counter-example.”

    No. The point is the master would make a promise not to do so on the basis of what they chance to say. The rules can be whatever the master chooses them to be.

    The government can shoot you dead without trial. (For example, they could decide to say the police can shoot you dead if you fail to stop your vehicle when the police chasing you ask you to…) They choose to abide by the constitution, but frankly, if they chose not to there would be bugger all you as an individual citizen could do about it. It’s all based on the government’s voluntary compliance with their own rules. There are limits to how far they can push that, but they’re not even close to trying.

    “I’m arguing that free speech is valuable to prevent other freedoms from being eroded.”

    Yes. Agreed. But so are all the other freedoms. Speech isn’t exceptional in that regard.

    “In the short term, one who is dying of thirst or is in desperate need of medical care might accept censorship for the moment, if he must do so in order to be allowed water or a doctor.”

    It’s not a case of accepting censorship unwillingly for most people. Authoritarians always want their own speech to be free, but their opponents’ speech controlled. Their argument here is that certain bullying forms of speech that make the victims life miserable, even to the point of suicide, or that frighten them and intimidate them so they can’t live a normal life constitute “harm”. ‘Free speech’ doesn’t include the freedom to bully someone verbally. It doesn’t include the right to start a riot, or to tear the country apart by starting a movement to persecute some minority. Of course, only people they consider “one of us” are so protected, while any who are “one of them” are rightly being pressured to conform. So the argument goes.

    Everyone always adds on exceptions that they justify with the phrase: “‘Freedom’ doesn’t include the freedom to…”. Very few authoritarians consciously believe themselves to be such.

    “As a genuine live-and-let-live libertarian, I would dearly love to proscribe social pressures to conform to standards of behavior that “society” expects. But– Get real.”

    Sure. Society isn’t going to become libertarian any time soon. As you say: “Get Real”. But that doesn’t change what’s right, or what we should be aspiring towards. China isn’t going to become a free society overnight because of our criticisms, either. That doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it.

    “If social pressure works to discourage people from thrashing other people in bars when the thrashee has not started the physical fight, is that a bad thing?”

    No. There’s nothing wrong with social pressure, or laws, for that matter, directed to the right ends. That’s what JS Mill was trying to do in his essay – to set out precisely under what circumstances it was legitimate for society to coerce an individual member. He didn’t say there weren’t any such circumstances. He said it was about preventing harm unless there was informed consent.

    It’s like the common misconception that libertarians are pacifists. They’re not. They aim for the minimum constraints on behaviour compatible with everyone else’s freedom, not no constraints.

    I’m not arguing that social pressure and coercion should be eliminated under all circumstances. I’m saying that morally it should be subject to exactly the same considerations as government coercion. In Mill’s conception of the Harm Principle, there is no distinction. He goes out of his way to make it clear that there is no distinction.

    The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

    In the case of society acting out of sight and reach of the law, that relies on as many as possible of society’s members individually understanding and believing in the principle. We’re still a long way from that. But I contest that it is in such matters that the freedom of a society (in Mill’s sense) should be measured too, not just government.

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