Friday, December 23, 2016
Ian Vasquez on the Human Freedom Index
Ian Vasquez is the Director of the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. He has supervised the development of the Human Freedom Index. In response to my previous post, he has sent me the following comments:
You bring up many good points and I’m pleased the HFI can play a role in more carefully thinking about those issues—indeed, that’s one of its very purposes. I would, however, correct one misperception in your review. In point 4, you say that we do not (or that we believe we should not) identify unofficial or social restraints on freedom. Most of the HFI identifies official restraints, so I can understand why a reader could have that impression. But we say in the report that we are measuring freedom of interference “predominantly by government” (p. 7), but not exclusively so. Thus we have measures on homicides or female infanticide, for example, that are mostly non-official violations of freedom. In some cases, like female genital mutilation, they also reflect social practices that are restraints on freedom. A limited number of our indicators, moreover, explicitly recognize customary practices that restrict freedom. Such is the case with the divorce measurement we use. For the most part we are measuring government infringements on liberty, even in the case of divorce, but not always. The question of whether to measure social practices that may seem “tyrannical” or restrictive of freedom is a tricky one. I admit we don’t delve into that issue in the report, though in our seminars we did discuss the issue. To a great extent, the fact that there are really no international indices that measure social restraints, allowed us to focus the HFI as we did. I agree, however, that we might do a better job clarifying this issue.
On parental rights and divorce, our indicators really are a sort of proxy for women’s rights insofar as they compare the extent to which women and men have the same rights in a given country. This is somewhat different than measuring those rights themselves or, for that matter, the rights of children. We are of course implying that parents should have rights over their children, but we don’t discuss or measure to what extent, something that differs from country to country (and as far as I know, no country gives absolute rights to parents to do what they want with their children). The question of how the rights of children fit into a social order based on negative freedom is also worthy of a full discussion and is a challenge some classical liberals have taken up as you point out. But we don’t get into that in the HFI. Here again, I know of no international empirical index that we could use that measures children’s rights according to a classical liberal definition.