According to the Legatum Institute, Finland is the world’s most prosperous nation, based on material well-being and certain social indicators. Other Nordic nations, as well as Switzerland and the Netherlands also rank above the United States. The variables that determined the ranking leave something to be desired from a libertarian perspective, but a column in the Wall Street Journal Europe, authored by the heads of the Legatum Institute and America Enterprise Institute, makes a valuable point about the the fact that the Nordic nations have very laissez-faire policies with the exception of large welfare states. This commitment to unfettered markets enables them to retain some dynamism, thus offsetting to some degree the negative impact of too much taxes and spending. As the column notes, this has important lessons – especially for the United States, which is moving toward bigger government and more intervention in private markets:
Global Prosperity Index Ranks America 9th, Behind Nations Such As Finland, Australia, and Canada
October 27, 2009 by Dan Mitchell
…free enterprise has come under attack with the global economic crisis, the perceived threat of climate change, and a broader concern—most recently promoted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy—that growth alone does not indicate prosperity. …Many people—especially Americans—think of wealth as the basis of health and happiness, too. In other words, market economies with good economic fundamentals drive us to more fulfilling lives. Europeans often counter that a narrow pecuniary viewpoint gives a distorted picture of the human experience. Worse yet, it can lead to the tyranny of materialism. Who is right? …While free enterprise is not the only important factor explaining national differences in well-being, it probably does explain most of it. This means subverting the mechanisms of free enterprise would not just lead to lower economic growth but also lower social scores. The fact that the Nordic countries do so well in the Prosperity Index has largely to do with the fact that apart from their welfare policies, they also encourage entrepreneurship, free trade, and have stable monetary policies—even as they employ strong rhetoric against capitalism. Finland, Sweden and Denmark all score higher than Switzerland and nearly all of their southern European counterparts on their capacity to commercialize innovation, through factors such as business start-up procedures, business registration rates, and royalties on patents. All of this drives dynamic entrepreneurship, and spurs people to innovate and take risks, as they are more reassured that good ideas will pay off. U.S. policy makers would do well to note this fact as they contemplate more “European” policies. And as the West contemplates ever tighter regulations on how and where money can be spent, lent and invested, their leaders should remember that economic and political liberty—while not the whole story—play a key role in prosperity. They are the engine driving much of what makes life worthwhile.