Earlier this month, Stuart Lau of the South China Moaning Mouthpiece reported that Hong Kong beat the UK and US in a global ranking of ‘human freedom’. Hurrah! Who’d have thunk it?
The headline (probably due to its unexpected counter-intuitiveness) swept breathlessly through social media, yet the report failed to dissect the questionable maths involved or mention how the research body behind the figures is funded.
The article did, however, acknowledge that our city’s ranking was bolstered by its high ‘economic freedom’…
“The city was the star performer for economic freedom – scoring 9.02 out of 10. But in terms of personal freedom, or civil liberties, it measured 7.8, worse than at least 49 countries.”
What is not emphasised is how the report puts an artificially high value on economic freedom indicators. It is this which allowed HK to beat the competition. In fact, economic freedom data is awarded half of the ranking’s weight, whilst dozens of other categories (e.g. freedom of speech/movement, gay rights, religious freedom, risk of sexual violence/theft etc…) are given the other half of the weight combined.
Yet most readers would surely associate these latter categories with ‘human freedom’ as opposed to economic liberties like low taxes and the ease of flogging mangoes on the street which dominate the scoring system.
The nature of the controversial conservative Canadian think tank behind the report itself was also glossed over. Shortly after the right-wing Fraser Institute was set up with backing from a forestry giant, it recommended the abolition of the minimum wage. After receiving lucrative funding from big tobacco companies, it published pseudo-scientific research which supposedly debunked the dangers of second-hand smoke. It has campaigned against Canadian gun control laws and published surveys bemoaning barriers to investment in oil/gas producing regions.
Today, almost all of its funding comes from big business or suspect right-wing ‘charitable arms’ of business, such as the Donner Foundation or John Dobson Foundation. Additionally, a report found that the Institute received $120,000 in funding from oil giant ExxonMobil and $500,000 from US world-beaters and Tea Party architects, the Koch Brothers.
There are a number of highly respected, thoroughly researched and sensibly weighted measures of human freedom – none of which especially have the hots for the libertarian wet-dream that is HK…
Freedom House is the most respected and rightly rates HK as ‘partly free’. Reporters Without Borders scores HK’s press freedom as satisfactory whilst The Economist Intelligence Unit rates the city’s democratic status as ‘hybrid regime’. Only the Heritage Foundation‘s specific measure of economic freedom awards HK top marks…
The Heritage Foundation and Fraser Institute’s indices of economic freedom reward such things as a lack of minimum wage, lack of maximum working hours, an absence of competition/anti-monopoly laws and under-regulation. So, however the statistics are spun, it is perhaps not cause for celebration in a city which still claims the developed world’s widest poverty gap.