September 5, 2017 Print

Portugal may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of the countries with rich civil societies devoted to individual freedom, but Contraditório, an Atlas Network partner based in Lisbon, is working to change that perception.

Contraditório’s flagship project – the World Libertarian Index (WLI) – is making waves within Portugal. It debuted last year and Contraditório is hard at work adapting a specialized libertarian index for just Portugal: the “Portugal Libertarian Index 2017.” An interview with one of the most prominent Portuguese news outlets, Jornal Público, gave it a medium with which to announce its plans. Contraditório believes that the WLI holds enormous potential for national extensions and subsequent local analysis, with interest for country-specific adaptations already existing for Brazil, France, Italy, and Spain.

“The WLI is the general overview of individual rights violations in the world,” said Luís Faria, co-founder and president of Contraditório. “We [will] scrutinize Portugal's position in all 166 factors which [will] allow us to single out the areas where individual rights are more seriously violated. This is a unique tool that combines the overall picture with the detailed and policy-oriented analyses that could lead to change. These tailored country reports permit the identification of the more serious individual rights violations and the worldwide comparison of factors [from country to country] gives an accurate reference of how challenging policy reform can be.”

The WLI weighs 166 personal and economic factors in several categories: legal protection; peace and security; freedom of movement, religion, expression, and education; size of government; sound money; regulation; freedom to trade internationally; and more. It uniquely uses Euclidean distances to determine its rankings – rather than juxtaposing levels of freedom of any given country to another, it compares each country with an optimum level of freedom, “Libertopia.” The further the points (factors) over a line (country) are from the optimum (Libertopia), the greater is the violation of individual rights in the country in question.

The WLI’s interactive online map allows users to view the breakdown of the world based on personal freedom, economic freedom, and global freedom. It also allows users to customize the map’s visualization by factor and to view any of the 159 countries covered individually.

“… The WLI permits the visualization of 1) the categories and factors where prima facie individual rights are violated in Portugal (and all the 159 countries studied) and 2) those categories and 166 factors where Portugal (and the rest of the World) is closer to ‘Libertopia,’” continued Faria. “… We can then answer the following questions: … What factors reflect the worst violations of individual rights? Is Portugal an exception regarding these violations? Or is the world relatively homogeneous when it comes to violating individual rights? The WLI shows how the world is more homogeneous per factor, or variable, rather than per country. This is evidence of status quo bias across countries, which presents a serious obstacle to [reform]. This international bias determines how difficult it might be to change the status quo in Portugal or in any other country. Acknowledging this fact is the first step to overcome this challenge.”

Contraditório also runs three major engagement programs: its Research Associate Program, its Traineeship Program, and its Debates Program. The first invites researchers to publish their studies for Contraditório and benefit from its peer review platform. The second offers a 3 to 6 month internship, and the third provides a stimulating online debate experience. Lastly, Contraditório also annually awards three Young Libertarian Award to the best papers that participants write that speak to freedom and individual rights on ethical grounds. All winners are published on its website and invited to present their work at Contraditório’s annual conference.

“The first edition of the WLI raised awareness for the unique features of this index and its analytical power, and it paved the way for future actions focused on policy changes,” continued Faria. “The WLI report will be used for a broader and informed national discussion by opening the debate in groups, workshops and seminars, where each report category would be scrutinized by the most relevant stakeholders in Portugal’s society (businesses, academia, government, media, civil society, etc). Our aim is to promote change in Portugal by publishing a final paper that will highlight the necessary policy reforms that would have a real impact on people’s lives.”

View the World Libertarian Index Map