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 rather terrible. While there is no official ranking as of yet, the US fairs worse than Mexico in a 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.
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 by Reporters 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 of 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 measured national happiness, we find that the US fails to make it into the top ten (see here, here, here, here, 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 generation and every one since, by informing my fellow citizens of the ways in which we are failing ourselves.