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Although I'm in total agreement with you about your basic point, for whatever my opinion about that is worth, let me also say that I get upset when I see people calculating means and standard deviations for ordinal data.

Bill, yeah, I know. This is what's produced by the on-line data analysis. I was thinking of combining the data into categories (1,2,3), (4,5,6,7) and (8,9,10), then graphing it, but if you look closely at the data you'll see that this would produce the same pattern as a simple comparison of means.

1. NZ scores 7.9 on that question and also ranks as the world's most free country in the latest survey. Interesting that Trinidad and a few other places tie for 7.9.

2. I'd put money on that most people put very little value on freedom so long as you're beyond some minimum. How many self-professed libertarians live in California and New York? How many self-professed libertarians emigrated when the TSA turned US travel into hell? They self-deceive about loving freedom; what they really love is being part of a tribal group and shouting about how bad the government is getting.

Eric - At the 2013 ranking I'm looking at NZ is #4, but perhaps there's another one out there? I'm looking at the Heritage one? There is some relationship between the two freedom measures - Burkino Faso, for example, does very poorly on both. But when I see the really low levels of self-perceived freedom in Japan, South Korea, and just about every other E. Asian country in the World Values Survey, culture is what leaps out at me.

B.t.w., Both Columbia (8.0) and Mexico (8.4) edge NZ out in the perceived freedom, but I wonder about the representativeness of the survey sample in those countries.

I agree with your second point, but I don't even know how I would define that minimum. Freedom to ride my bicycle with no hands, freedom to access birth control, freedom to own a gun, freedom to shoot myself with that gun if I so chose?

"As for socialism killing freedom - the Swedish report just as much freedom as Americans do"

OK, Frances, but Sweden is no longer very socialist! And as far as self-reporting goes: most Germans self-reported that they never were unfree during the Nazi era. And I'm not a defender of "The US is the most free nation" thesis: I'm just saying these surveys don't mean much.

This is the salient voting fact that killed or limited Classical Liberalism: most people don't care very much about economic freedom or any other version of negative liberty, that is freedom from constraint. Most people will give at least some thought to positive liberty, the power and resources to fulfill one's potential. How much a person leans towards positive or negative liberty is highly dependent on the circumstances and highly changeable. It's one of the principal philosophical faults in western political systems, the one on which much retail politics is mounted.

Stephen Gordon had a Twitter comment a few weeks ago asking when the Left gave up on Free Markets as a form of freedom. That was a bit disingenuous but the answer is theoretically when Das Kapital was published, and practically sometime between the Long Depression (1878-1896) and the Great Depression, when positive liberty was recognized as important. An important following point is that the ownership of property entailed responsibilities as to its use, not just the freedom to use it. Positive Liberty comes to the fore anytime we have all the freedom from negative constraints we want but still aren't going anywhere, which is typical in a depression.

"...I start fuming when people start talking about freedom. It's how people live their lives that matters, not abstract ideology."

You write the plain and simple truth, Frances Woolley. And that it is so plain and simple goes a long to explaining why outfits such as the Heritage Institute and our very own Vancouver-based six-figure freedom-fighters must work so tirelessly and creatively to obscure the matter.

Giovanni - thank you for that comment. We aspire here at WCI to seek the truth - it would be nice to think that sometimes we come close.

Determinant - that's interesting, I need to think about that more.

Gene - it was a toss-up - should I have picked Norway as the free socialist country instead? Not Finland, as Finns don't feel particularly free.

I think these surveys do mean something, but working out what can be challenging!

Hi Frances,

I'm referring to the new index that ranks both personal and economic freedoms. I'd noted it here:

I wonder if we see relatively higher levels in some corrupt regimes because you can effectively live free by just paying the cops to leave you alone. Best is a free state with good rule of law; worst is heavy restrictions on liberties coupled with an incorruptible police force.

Asking people in different countries about freedom would clearly evoke different concepts--the survey question itself is clear but one can imagine how people's read of it is strongly influenced by dominant narratives. You might think you live in a bastion of freedom, or you might believe it's wrong to complain; your life may have a very small scope, etc. The fact that the word itself is so malleable is important.

The German linguist Uwe Poerksen wrote a book called Plastic Words, where he explains how public discourse is dominated by highly evocative but ultimately meaningless words (maybe Genauer knows it). Freedom is not an empty concept, but its rhetorical use is practically void. You could say the same about other values terms--fairness, justice, and so on.

I don't think the survey really distinguishes between being free in the sense of having control over how your life turns out, and being free in the sense of having ultimate control over your property, which is how I think libertarians use the word. I don't feel unfree because there are things I can't do; I feel unfree because I'm forced to transfer part of my earnings to a student union/government which will squander them, sometimes not even in my name.
I'm pretty sick of hearing people claim "freedom-fighters" are just rich people out to get richer, too. I'm a student from a relatively low-income, single-parent family, and I'm still an anarcho-capitalist. If we're to have any sophisticated discourse on politics, we should probably stop thinking about the incentives people have to align with such and such school of thought, and focus on how that school of thought makes incorrect claims.

Of course, the mass media and other communication in a country will have a real impact on how people think about these things. Consider how the media handled the preamble to the Iraq War in the U.S., the treatment the Dixie Chicks received, and what happened to Valerie Plume. Could these events be considered as constraining freedom?

Frances Woolley starts out with a quote from Paul Krugman, who has been writing about Very Serious People for a long time. Since these VSP get a lot of air time, in the U.S. and around the world, many people are extremely misinformed about our economic issues today. This shaping of people's opinions is constraining freedom of thought and those who fill out these surveys do not even know it.

Taking a look at these surveys is certainly instructive in that it dispels the correlation between freedom and government involvement, which some VSP consider the root of all evil. Our current government certainly wants to shrink itself...

Omar; "I feel unfree because I'm forced to transfer part of my earnings to a student union/government which will squander them, sometimes not even in my name"

Governments, for the most part, don't squander tax revenues. They transfer them to other people. "An insurance company with an army" is still a pretty good description of government.

There are, realistically, two alternatives to government. The first is that people who can't provide for themselves i.e. the very old, the very young, the sick, the unfortunate, go without. The second is that families provide for their family members.

If you think that governments restrict personal liberty - let me tell you, governments have nothing on families! And that's actually what the WVS data seems to suggest, that people in countries with stronger group orientations tend to feel less individual control. Although, as was pointed out earlier, to make any definite conclusions, one would have to download the microdata and do some proper analysis.

Shangwen - the WVS website has the original question in a variety of languages. I agree, I suspect the results would be quite sensitive to the precise choice of words used.

I agree with previous comments suggesting that these kinds of surveys are basically meaningless. Someone who supports, say, the long gun registry would certainly not consider herself less free when it went into effect. Someone who opposes the long gun registry feels less free. So which of those people is "correct?"

Shangwen was right to say that there are plastic words involved, but it's actually more than that - more like plastic concepts.

I propose that each of the survey respondents be required to read F.A. Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty and then fill out the survey again. Observing how the results change before and after a thorough discussion of what "essential liberty" is might actually tell us something.

RP Long - or they could read Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom.

Not sure about that, Prof. Woolley. Reading that book wouldn't make much sense without a prior introduction to the ideas of what constitutes liberty. Sen has his ideas, and they are certainly worthy of consideration when an individual makes her own assessment of the situation. But my point is less about adopting Hayek's chosen view and more about getting the respondents to think about a sense of freedom that goes beyond their own national borders or localized experience so that it can be properly evaluated. If you have lived in both Sweden and the United States, then you are perhaps in a position to judge how free you feel in one country compared to the other.

But living one's entire lifetime in one or two countries - especially neighboring states like the US and Canada - does not provide a very informative view of what freedom actually is. For that, we need to either live in dozens of diverse countries throughout the world, or a deep dive into the philosophical literature covering freedom paired with a strong proclivity toward self-criticism.

So, sure, read Sen's book. And Hayek's. And Bentham's. And Plato's. And DeTocqueville's. Read everyone's book and think about it for a decade or two. Then answer the survey. That's my point.


I'm sure everyone has already thought about this so I must be repeating something, but the question seems to be more indicative of determinist vs free-will metaphysics than anything else. Am I missing a huge point somewhere?


the Pörksen book is from 1995, the german original 1988, and seems to be some late comer to the "occupy words" (Begriffe besetzen) movement, kind of starting 1968?
The "Frankfurt School" tried to "critize" and in effect reinterpret many words, and Hayek was still active in public debate "Der Streit um die Gesellschaftsordnung", the first book I read from him. The conservative election slogan was "Freedom or Socialism", but guess what, the social democrats won.

Today some folks say, you can in Germany only choose between 4 different social democratic parties, in the colors black, yellow, red, or green : - )

This kind of verbal radicalism of the Cheneys and Krugman is somewhat irritating for us here.

We give here certain programs clear names, Agenda 2010, Hartz IV, so that everybody understands what is meant.

Communist Sahra Wagenknecht sometimes claims to be the true heir to "Soziale Marktwirtschaft" of the 1950ties, but that also shows how broad the consensus is here around.

The old books also have to be read in their historical context.

Universal health care was introduced here 128 years ago by the conservative iron chancellor Bismarck. Obamacare is still not "universal", whatever Cheney and Krugman are haggling about.

And I recently smiled about:


Conservative "German" public banking in Bismarck, North Dakota under assault by "liberal" Goldman Sachs in NYC

By describing the government as an insurance company with an army, you're omitting the essence of the matter: it's a monopoly, and it uses this position to fund its activities. All of this is often claimed to be done in my name, since this government/student union represents me, apparently, which is why I said the revenue was squandered--I am worse off when the SFUO takes my money and uses it to fund whatever self-serving cause they choose than when they don't, so to me it's a waste. Not that I actually have a choice or that I could choose another "insurance with an army". And I don't know about you, but my family hasn't ever jailed me.

I think RPLong makes a really good point. As Paul Valéry said, freedom is a word that sings louder than it speaks. Without a clear definition, you might have some people referring to Hayek's definition, and others to Sen's, which in the end tells us little about the point you're trying to make (then, indeed, if you were to score against libertarians, you should probably be using Hayek's definition).

"This is why I start fuming when people start talking about freedom. It's how people live their lives that matters, not abstract ideology."
Were it true that consequences are all that matter, you'd expect this view to be defensible at the abstract ideological level and to come out on top, no?

"the Pörksen book is from 1995, the german original 1988, and seems to be some late comer to the "occupy words" (Begriffe besetzen) movement, kind of starting 1968?"

Try Orwell, George (1946) "Politics and the English Language".

"The words DEMOCRACY, SOCIALISM, FREEDOM, PATRIOTIC, REALISTIC, JUSTICE, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like DEMOCRACY, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way." (http://georgeorwellnovels.com/essays/politics-and-the-english-language/)

People respond to what they see around themselves; they compare themselves to their neighbors to see if they are rich
I don't know how you would construct an objective scale of "freedom", but how do you know that a response of "3" means the same thing in Hong Kong, Canada and the US ?
(anyway, Americans idea of freedom is really bizarre: we have the freedom to starve to death while dying from lack of medical care - this is considered a positive !!)

I mean, don't you economists even bother to read what pscychologists are doing ?


in general you are completely right.

This pörksen book is just a recycling of what was a special german version after 1968.
But explaining that, would require many words, and it is not really relevant here.

But it gave me an idea what to watch tonight:
the HBO 1997 "The Second Civil War" with Beau Bridges, James Coburn, and not what turns up with those words at youtube !!


For what it's worth, your point seems perfectly clear - and well taken - to me. The survey question you cite in your post uses the phrase "free choice and control over their lives". I'd expect most respondents to interpret this in thoroughly practical terms, mostly reflecting everyday features of their economic and social lives. (How much autonomy and security does my job afford me? Was my economic status pretty much determined by who my parents were? Can I live the sex/family life of my own choosing?) Only a minority of unusually politically conscious people would go beyond this to consider any broad notion of personal freedom a political theorist would recognize.

In this respect, your comment that "It's how people live their lives that matters, not abstract ideology" is doubly correct. It is correct as an assessment of the responses this survey question is likely to elicit. It is also correct, I believe, as an observation on how most people evaluate the state of their own lives. For most people, life is lived on the ground - high-flown political concepts don't matter, having to ask permission to take a bathroom break does.

Giovanni - thanks for this. I couldn't think of the right response to a number of the previous comments; yours is spot on.

I must say I agree with Ritwik here. I am certain some people (especially Indians, perhaps?) would interpret this question as a free-will versus determinism question.

I know quite a few people who think that free choice is merely an illusion and some divine law ultimately controls their lives.

On second thought, I missed the phrase, "what they do has no real effect on what happens them". This complicates things, at least from the Indian context, where the law of Karma leads to a nuanced/ambiguous position on free will versus determinism.

A better way to pose this question would perhaps be to ask about what primarily determines or limits the options available to people - society and the government or their own actions.

Actually, I think splitting up the issue of choice into three components is useful. Sometimes social pressures (no doubt endogenous in the long run, as you suggested in a previous post) can limit freedom and choice even without any governmental restrictions (these too are probably endogenous in the long run!).


Classical Liberalism still very much has a place in many countries as it can play itself against traditional conservatives and more Positive Freedom NDPers. I think a lot of these things depend on what your life circumstances are. If you are an immigrant/emigrant probably strongly feel that you had a right to immigrate/emigrate(no matter what your economic standing in life is) vs someone who remained throughout there life wherever they were born who might see immigration/emigration as hurting the governments ability to provide "Positive Freedom" to those who remained where they were born.

Giovanni (and Frances?),

You may be right in affirming "high-flown political concepts don't matter, having to ask permission to take a bathroom break does", in the sense that this is perhaps what makes people "happiest", as fuzzy a notion as that may be; then, you could say that Frances' conclusion "is correct as an assessment of the responses this survey question is likely to elicit". But to extend this to a critique of a political philosophy which is largely deontological is to attack a straw man, because libertarians don't necessarily conceive of freedom in "practical terms", as is bound to be the case with at least some points of view when so many definitions exist. I don't think of liberty as necessarily correlated with satisfaction, which is why I'm hardly convinced by the "well what's the point of being free if it doesn't even make people feel happy?" line of thinking. Utilitarian libertarians, on the other hand, would probably call in question your methodology rather than your normative claims.
To use a different example, take Gene Callahan's recent point about technical definitions of risk as opposed the common usage of the word. Imagine a survey were conducted on whether people consider "falling off a cliff in a car to a certain death" or "jumping out of a car with a 20% chance to survive" to be riskiest, and that people overwhelmingly chose the former proposition. It would be inappropriate to criticize the financial literature by substituting the technical definition of the word for its meaning to the layman, i.e. the one found in the survey. You might say one definition is more useful than the other in our investigation, but you can't say it's false, because the doodle "risk" and the sound associated to it don't have any intrinsic meaning.
In the end, I think all this survey really does is tell us something about the way some people understand the word "freedom". I would expect a question where freedom is explicitly defined in the way deontological libertarians think of it to yield different results, provided people are correctly informed on their circumstances, that they interpret the definition accurately, and that they answer truthfully. I'm not even sure freedom in that sense is something you can rank accurately, because it's unrelated to utility, i.e. even if you prefer losing the freedom to do something relatively unimportant to losing the freedom to do something you care about, you're free in neither case. Sorry for the long reply, but I hope I've made my ideas clear...

Bill raises a good point about calculating means and standard deviations with ordinal data. I prefer to use non-parametric methods to analyze ordinal data, but there has been a vigorous debate in the statistical community about treating ordinal data as interval data. Here is a sequence of 4 articles debating both sides of this issue for Likert scales, a type of ordinal data. The 1st article can be found freely online. Carifio and Perla published another article a year later to expand their views - this 5th article is freely available online. I have included the URLS for these 2 articles below.

Carifio and Perla write this key statement as a key argument to support the treatment of Likert scales as interval data in the 4th article. Note the important distinction between a Likert item and a Likert scale.

"Monte Carlo studies of the F-test, performed by Glasset al., have convincingly shown that the F-test is extremely robust to violations of its assumptions, except for the homogeneity of variance assumption, and violations of this assumption must truly be extreme before they bias the F-test. Utilising the F-test to analyse ordinal data, therefore, produces unbiased results, which is an empirical fact. Further, a variety of studies on the nature of Likert scales (as opposed to single Likert items) have shown that the Likert response format produces empirically interval data and, in fact, can approximate ratio data, in theory and actuality, if a hundred millimeter response line is used for marking responses which has ‘always’ and ‘never’ as anchors. The weight of the empirical evidence, therefore, clearly supports the view and position that Likert scales (collections of Likert items) produce interval data, particularly if the scale meets the standard psychometric rule-of-thumb criterion of comprising at least eight reasonably related items."

1. S. Jamieson (2004) Likert scales: how to (ab)use them. Medical Education vol. 38, pp. 1217-1218

2. A letter to the editor in response:
G. Pell (2005) Use and misuse of Likert scales. Medical Education vol. 39, p. 970.

3. Jamieson's response:
S. Jamieson (2005) Medical Education vol. 39, p. 971.

4. J. Carifio and R. Perla (2008) Resolving the 50-year debate around using and misusing Likert scales. Medical Education vol. 42, pp. 1150-1152.

5. Carifio, J., & Perla, R. J. (2007). Ten common misunderstandings, misconceptions, persistent myths and urban legends about Likert scales and Likert response formats and their antidotes. Journal of Social Sciences, 3(3), 106-116.

primedprimate - "no doubt endogenous in the long run, as you suggested in a previous post" Touche! Well done!

If you read the WVS, you'll find that a lot of the questions introduce what are arguably false dichotomies. Like in this one, there's a dichotomy between free choice and control on the other hand, and powerlessness, one's actions having no real effect, on the other. Life's not like that. One can take an action because family honour requires one to do so *and* that action might have a real effect.

Do you think this kind of individualistic free choice v. powerlessness dichotomy makes sense in the Indian context?

The result strikes me as being fairly accurate, even if we define freedom purely libertarian terms. Notwithstanding the rhetoric, I can think of a lot of examples in which Americans are conspicuously less free, even on a strictly negative concept of liberty, than Canadians or Swedes.

Example 1: Gay rights. The US only recently allowed homosexuals to serve in the military. Hard to find a libertarian defense of that policy ("you don't have to be straight, you just have to shoot straight" a-la Barry Goldwater is, I think, an accurate description of the libertarian position). Similarly, a fundamental concept of negative freedom is the ability to organize one's private affairs free from government intrusion - hard to square that with a prohibition on gay marriage. By that measure Canada (which has allowed homosexuals to serve openly in the military for decades and legalized gay marriage a decade ago) is materially "freer" than the United States. Indeed, those are probably intrusions in personal freedom that are much more strongly felt than the deprivation imposed by Canada's higher personal income tax rates.

Example 2: Prisoners. It is a truism to say that people who are in prison, or people on parole or bail , or people subject to court orders have their liberty contrained. Given that the US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world (i.e.6+ times the Canadian rate) and has a significant chunk of the "free" population subject to some sort of judicial restriction (court order, bail conditions, probation, etc), I can see why many Americans might not be too inclined to label themselves as "free"). Granted, even libertarians accept the need to imprison dangerous criminals, but when you're convicting two-bit losers for possession, that's a problem. And the restrictions imposed on current or former felons (including, in many states, the loss of the right to vote - in Canada, by contrast, we allow people serving time the right to vote)are violations of freedom (even if justified) that are probably much more strongly felt than violations of economic freedom ("damned minimum wage laws").

There are probably other areas as well, but the point of the exercise is to demonstrate that, in many substantive ways, Americans are, even on a negative conception of liberty, less free than their Canadian or Swedish counterparts. No wonder Americans aren't more inclined to think they have control over the lives - they don't.

To the extent that American conservatives wrap themselves in the American flag in defense of "freedom", it's a decidedly circumscribed conception of freedom (namely their own) rather than a principled position on the issue (although, to be fair, there are some exceptions). They use the concept of "freedom", to use Orwell's words, in a "consciously dishonest way". The only thing that can be said in their defense (and it's a poor defense), is that they're no worse than their political opponents whose misuse words like "equality", "justice" and "fairness".

Somewhat off topic, but required for a reasoned answer: Honor, duty, familial obligations, etc. can all be a big deal in India. I think one possible reason for this state of affairs is the absence of social safety nets and poor financial markets. Families and members of communities need each other for insurance purposes and inter-temporal optimization (my parents have implicitly told me that financing my education was their retirement plan). Doing right by your family/community is a way of signalling your in-group commitment.

So from my perspective, the dichotomy does not make much sense in Indian context. People don't feel powerless in terms of their actions having no consequences. But they still feel powerless in terms of individualistic free choice BECAUSE defying social norms/expectations can have tremendous consequences. Law enforcement is often very lax and so it is not the government that is doing the restricting in people's personal lives as most 'westerners' probably assume when asked the WVS question.

Someone famous once remarked that for every statement made about India, a very good argument can be made for the exact opposite as well, so please be very skeptical about everything I just said!

Bob, although I can't disagree with you except perhaps on the mostly unimportant question of the existence of degrees of freedom, that's a decidedly different issue, and not one which should induce you to start "fuming" when freedom is mentioned because it doesn't matter, only when it's smuggled into positions without defining it explicitly and with acknowledgement of what you don't mean when you use the word.
To be clear, all I'm trying to say is that this gives us interesting positive data, but it's of absolutely no use in arguing about whether libertarians (or conservatives, or any other political group) are right. Sorry if I've been misinterpreting your points, Frances/Giovanni/Bob.

Re: The Right to Vote

The Right to Vote is a classic example of a positive right, that is the right to engage in a group behaviour, or a right to be a part of a collectivity, rather than a negative right or freedom from restraint. The US Courts still do not an absolute "right" to vote, which is why restrictions there are generally so prevalent. The courts, the 24th Amendment and popular opinion have cleared away the race-based restrictions, but criminal ones remain.

In Canada voting was a privilege, not a right, until the Charter in 1982. Since the Charter is so new it's much more friendly to positive rights like the right to vote.

Plus I've been a Poll Clerk and DRO and have walked the halls of an LTC Home going from bed to bed getting people's ballots. I have no problem doing the same thing at a penitentiary (there is a medium-security one in the next town). Those guys are going to get out, and I'd call voting a mildly positive constructive behaviour.


But the charter for example gives the right to move from one province to another or to leave Canada all together. Is that a positive right? Or the prevention of a provincial government lets say Quebec(no offense to Jacques) from trying to prevent people from other provinces moving to Quebec and taking jobs from "native" Quebecers.

The charter includes negative rights too, Tim, and the Right of Movement is one of them. But when the freedom or right is a specific and highly organized activity, it is positive.


You write:

"To be clear, all I'm trying to say is that this gives us interesting positive data, but it's of absolutely no use in arguing about whether libertarians (or conservatives, or any other political group) are right."

I don't follow. I agree with regard to libertarianism - since libertarianism proudly claims its truth stands apart from the practical effects of its doctrines, no fact, empirical regularity or any other aspect of the real world can have any bearing on its correctness. But among major political philosophies libertarianism is pretty much unique in this respect. Most other leading political orientations at least pretend to be concerned about the consequences of policy, and some are outright utilitarian in outlook. How then can you allow that Frances has provided “interesting positive data” and then assert “it's of absolutely no use” in determining whether non-libertarian political positions are correct?

Actually, I don't know what I was thinking, Bob. I was trying to say something about conflating libertarianism and conservatism at some point, but I don't know where that went, so I take that bit in the brackets back.

I just read the Krugman article, and I think he makes the exact mistake I've been talking about all along:
"For all our talk of being the land of liberty, those holding one of the dwindling number of jobs that carry decent health benefits often feel anything but free, knowing that if they leave or lose their job, for whatever reason, they may not be able to regain the coverage they need. Over time, as people come to realize that affordable coverage is now guaranteed, it will have a powerful liberating effect." (emphasis added)

That's irrelevant. One does not simply feel free, or at least not in the sense the people holding the positions he criticizes mean it--and you'd expect the fact that he's effectively debating with them would entail some consensus on what he means when he uses words. The freedom we talk about isn't subjective. When a person is taxed, she is not free (although some less radical libertarians will make concessions regarding this), whether she is blissfully unaware that her earnings are being stolen or not.

The Heritage map says a lot about the topic and this particular discussion. For example, Singapore is #2. Yes, in general they have a very liberal economy, but classically liberal it is not. I have a cousin there who can't buy housing in certain areas because he's gay. This is not just because the government is tacitly anti-gay, but because it does a lot of (unsuccessful) social planning and wants people who desire kids to have prime locations. The government maintains an open policy of managing the racial distribution of the population. Seatbelts are mandatory except for foreign workers--you can drive to your worksite in a pickup truck with six Indian laborers in the back (a very common sight), injure them in an accident and not be liable for the harm. An uncle of mine built a shopping mall there because he was invited by the government to do so--no competitive bidding, etc. If you talk to "ordinary" (non-wealthy, less educated) people, a frequent patriotic theme is how their lives are so great because of all the things the government does for them. The press is muzzled. Anyone--especially native citizens--who strongly criticizes the government is either punished outright or hounded to the brink of bankruptcy with state-financed lawsuits. The old term "oriental despotism" comes to mind.

If you can establish that much economic openness and still treat people like crap, how is it so great to be free?

Death in Singapore:

That's irrelevant. One does not simply feel free, or at least not in the sense the people holding the positions he criticizes mean it--and you'd expect the fact that he's effectively debating with them would entail some consensus on what he means when he uses words. The freedom we talk about isn't subjective. When a person is taxed, she is not free (although some less radical libertarians will make concessions regarding this), whether she is blissfully unaware that her earnings are being stolen or not.

Omar, you are clearly speaking only of negative freedom. If taxes fund a health insurance guarantee that allows you increased job mobility, that is a clear increase in positive liberty, the ability to achieve one's potential.

I'm indebted to you, Eric.

primedprimate: "funding your education is our retirement plan". My parents told me that funding my education was my inheritance.
There may be different conceptions of the direction in which wealth flowa. ANd of course my parents could afford both my education and their retirement. Though we bought them a condo....

unfortunately,almost all provinces have restrictions on professionnal orders and the QC construction unions have lots of power, like those in NYC, let's say. Not much to do with QC as such.

Even when we are free the "invisble hand" seem to push us along.

A while back I read the book "Chungking Mansions" which was about a building in Hong Kong which was a center for the international low end cell phone business. (A lot of Africans and south Asians would fly in with cash in hand, buy a bunch of phones, fly home and sell them at a profit. This building housed their main marketplace.) A Pakistani expat working in the building complained that Hong Kong lacked freedom, unlike his home land of Pakistan. He was referring to his freedom to slap women around without criminal charges. Whatever you may say about how the Hong Kong police force treat street protestors or the like, they take charges of battery, directed at a man or woman, seriously. It was just a sentence or two, but most revealing. There are all sorts of freedoms some of which I find rather repugnant.

Economic freedom is overrated in many cases. The red state-blue state paradox in the US suggests that anti-business policies (in blue states, which are wealthier) are actually better for businesses than the pro-business policies of the poorer red states. In the 1960s, Pakistan, of all places, was considered the next nation to take off economically. This was common wisdom. India was a basket case and China run by Communists. Pakistan still hasn't taken off, despite its economic freedom. The economic powerhouse of the region is Communist China, which may only be loosely Marxist, but still places a lot of visible and invisible constraints on economic freedom while it pushes its industrial policy.

I'm glad to see more people questioning the conventional wisdom. FDR's four freedoms were the freedom to speak out, the freedom to worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. Maybe you couldn't dump mercury in the stream, lie to your customers or refuse to pay your workers, but you could still be free.

Determinant - yup.

Modern corporations started with the railway boom in the UK and USA. In the USA and Canada, most of the Great Plains and all of the Prairies were settled in a very planned fashion by railways. You either built the line, sold off the lots and made a windfall or in the smarter cases generated your own traffic through agriculture and trade (the Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific spring to mind). Good capitalism, a business that actually delivers on its promises, requires extensive planning.


Negative Freedom is such a limited viewpoint. It is a particular rather than the general case.

Doug M - constrained by invisible hands - I like it.

Kaleberg- I agree with your larger point, especially the gender issue you raise.

One has to be a little careful with the red state/blue state paradox - perhaps the red states are business friendly in part because they lack the cities/workforces/other amenities that lead to economic growth.

You're welcome, Bill. I hope that those articles were helpful and insightful about analyzing ordinal data. It's a tricky issue that many statisticians haven't sufficiently thought about, let alone those outside the field who use statistics.

Frances: To answer your question from your email - yes, I do think that it is worthwhile to calculate the means and standard deviations of ordinal data, especially the those that are averaged from Likert items, like the 10-point Likert scales shown in the table above. While I still prefer to use the safer non-parametric methods to avoid any problems (and because sample sizes nowadays in "Big Data" are often large enough to compensate for their lower power), Carifio and Perla have provided very convincing arguments in favour of calculating such means and standard deviations. The robust and unbiased inferences that can be made with Likert scales are especially appealing.

Karen Grace-Martin at The Analysis Factor wrote some very good recommendations and cautions about treating Likert scales as interval data in an article called "Can Likert Scale Data ever be Continuous?". I encourage you to find it via Google. (I'm omitting the URL to avoid making my comment look like spam to the filter.)

I agree with other commenters who think you have Sweden wrong. Going through the platform of the Republican party you will find most planks have already been implemented in Sweden in the last twenty years.

- Vouchers for education are the norm
- denationalization of rail, mortgage, and health-care (hospitals, pharmacies).
- Top marginal income taxes rate being steadily reduced--48.4-60.5% (depending on state) vs 57% in sweden
- Corporate taxes low and being reduced--35-47% (depending on state) vs 22% in sweden
- No estate or gift tax
- Flat consumption tax


You neglect to mention the threshold at which those tax rates kick in. And the sheer magnitude of the consumption tax. The US taxes about 27% of GDP. Sweden, 48%. If that's your idea of a free market libertarian utopia, then I've got some simple solutions for your deficit problem.

With regards to Sweden - note also that the survey was taken in 2006, before some of the more recent changes to the Swedish welfare state.

K, government share of GDP tends to be confused as the national share but with regional governments included, the number goes way up:

Federal share is 24.6%.
California share is 8% of CA gdp
Los Angeles county local government is 6.6% if local GDP

So... Yes US government share is smaller than Sweden but the comparison is more similar to 40% vs 48%.

Francis, interesting point. Healthcare deregulation in Sweden is viewed as a big deal--hospitals are seen as unaccountable and the risk of complications is high. I have a friend who because of a blotched operation there now under goes surgery every two months and has a urine bag. The doctors suffered no consequences and she was compensated with some taxi cab passes to help her get back to the hospital--these ran out within the first year and this will be the rest of her life ( late 30s now).


"government share of GDP tends to be confused"

I'm not confused.

First of all I said "taxes." I assume you are getting "confused" with expenditures. If you want to compare expenditures, the relevant figure for Sweden is 52% and the US is a cyclically high 38% (Sweden is not in a deep recession). Sweden has been above 50% for a long time and the US average is in the low 30s. The difference is close to 20% of GDP.

Second of all, my figures already were "US all levels" 2012 according to the Heritage Foundation. US Federal receipts were 15.8% in 2012 and haven't been above 20% since WW2.

Third, LA county??? Who cares? I'm sure there are high government expenditure regions of Sweden too.

Postscript: A epistemological question applies here, which is implied by my and other previous comments but has so far not been asked outright.

Is the perception of freedom the same thing as freedom?

"You neglect to mention the threshold at which those tax rates kick in. And the sheer magnitude of the consumption tax. The US taxes about 27% of GDP. Sweden, 48%. If that's your idea of a free market libertarian utopia, then I've got some simple solutions for your deficit problem."

Of course, US taxes on corporate and investment income are significantly higher than Sweden (the high marginal Swedish tax rate is on employment income). US taxes generally are relatively low because the US uses relatively inefficient taxes to collect revenue - they can't collect any more without wrecking their economy.

Moreover, looking only at revenue is misleading since the long-run tax hit can't be separated from spending - and on that front the gap between the US and Sweden narrows sharply (indeed, on that measure, the US is not materially different than Canada) - the OECD has the relative numbers for 2009 at 55 and 42% (Canada was 44%). And let's not pretend that US number is a cyclical high - unless you believe that the US federal government is inclined to carve back medicaid or social security for the elderly that number is only going to go up (become of its older population, Sweden is already dealing with those costs). Sweden has (or, at least as of 2011, had) a structural budget surplus, the US has a structural budget deficit. Its relatively low taxes aren't a function of a preference for freedom from taxes, they're a preference for having other people pay taxes in the future to fund current spending. While that preference is understandable and very human, narrow self-interest, rather than a preference for freedom, explains it.


"the OECD has the relative numbers for 2009 at 55 and 42%"

Like I said, the US is already down to 38%. With unemployment still at 7.7% it will keep dropping if the recovery continues, much faster than any secular trend. Mid-crisis 2009 spending isn't a relevant reference point for anything.

"And let's not pretend that US number is a cyclical high"

Except that it *was* a cyclical high.

Anyways, the relevant point is: how taxed were the Swedish people who in 2006 said they were so free? According to the OECD Swedes paid 55% of GDP in taxes, and Americans 33%. Sweden spent 52% of GDP and the US 36% in that year. So either a 22% or 16% difference depending how you look at it.

"Its relatively low taxes aren't a function of a preference for freedom from taxes, they're they're a preference for having other people pay taxes in the future to fund current spending"

First of all, this is False. Even from a spending perspective the difference is at least 16% of GDP, not Jon's claimed 8% difference. So the relatively low taxes are mostly a result of preference for low spending.

Secondly, if Americans don't care about taxes on future Americans (and I think you are right about this), then if we want to know how taxed they *feel* we should be looking at current tax levels. But, either way, taxes are *way* higher in Sweden than the US. Like their fellow Scandinavians, Swedes are subject to a highly redistributive tax and welfare system, and apparently it doesn't make them feel unfree.

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