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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Freedom of the World’

Wow. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the United States dropped in the new rankings unveiled today in Economic Freedom of the World.

But I’m somewhat shocked to learn that we fell from 10th last year all the way down to 18th this year, as can be seen on the chart (click to enlarge).

Last year, the U.S. fell from 7th to 10th, and I though dropping three spots was bad. But falling by eight spots this past year is a stunning decline.

Who would have thought that Scandinavian welfare states such as Denmark and Finland would rank higher than the United States? Or that Ireland, with all its problems, would be above America?

But since I’m not a misery-loves-company guy, I’m happy to see some nations doing well. I’ve previously highlighted the good policies in Hong Kong and Singapore. And I’ve trumpeted the good policies in Switzerland and Australia, as well as Canada, Chile, and Estonia.

So kudos to the leaders in those nations.

American politicians, by contrast, deserve scorn. Let’s update the chart I posted when last year’s report was issued.

As you can see, it’s an understatement to say that the United States is heading in the wrong direction. We’re still considerably ahead of interventionist welfare states such as France and Italy, though I’m afraid to think about what the U.S. score will be five years from now.

Here’s what the authors of the report had to say about America’s decline.

The United States, long considered the standard bearer for economic freedom among large industrial nations, has experienced a substantial decline in economic freedom during the past decade. From 1980 to 2000, the United States was generally rated the third freest economy in the world, ranking behind only Hong Kong and Singapore. After increasing steadily during the period from 1980 to 2000, the chainlinked EFW rating of the United States fell from 8.65 in 2000 to 8.21 in 2005 and 7.70 in 2010. The chain-linked ranking of the United States has fallen precipitously from second in 2000 to eighth in 2005 and 19th in 2010 (unadjusted ranking of 18th).

For those interested in why the United States has dropped, the “size of government” score has fallen from 8.65 in 2000 to 7.70 in the latest report. That’s not a surprise since the burden of government spending has exploded during the Bush-Obama years.

But the trade score also dropped significantly over the same period, from 8.78 to 7.65. So the protectionists should be happy, even though the rest of us have less prosperity.

The most dramatic decline, though, was the in the “legal system and property rights” category, where the U.S. plummeted from 9.23 in 2000 down to 7.12 in the new report. We’re not quite Argentina (3.76!), to be sure, but the trend is very troubling.

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What is the best way improve economic performance and boost living standards?

If you listen to politicians, they would like us to think that adopting Policy A or repealing Policy B is a magic elixir. And if that means adopting a flat tax or repealing Obamacare, I’ll certainly be happy.

But this video, based on analysis and data from the Economic Freedom of the World Index, shows that there is no silver bullet. Prosperity depends on several factors.

I mention this because I’m currently in the Dominican Republic for a conference on how best to improve competitiveness and growth (as you can see from the photo, this is hardship duty and I’m very sad that I’m missing the wonderful February weather in Washington).

My speech this morning was about tax reform, and I explained why a flat tax is the best way of collecting revenue in a way that minimizes economic damage and reduces opportunities for corruption.

But even though I’m a big advocate for better tax policy, the lesson from the Economic Freedom of the World Index, and as explained in the video, is that adopting a flat tax won’t solve a nation’s economic problems if politicians are doing the wrong thing in other areas.

There are five major policy areas, each of which counts for 20 percent of a nation’s grade.

  1. Size of government
  2. Regulation
  3. Monetary Policy
  4. Trade
  5. Rule of Law/Property Rights

Now let’s pick Ukraine as an example. As a proponent of tax reform, I like that lawmakers have implemented a 15 percent flat tax.

But that doesn’t mean Ukraine is a role model. When looking at the mix of all policies, the country gets a very poor score from Economic Freedom of the World Index, ranking 125 out of 141 nations.

Conversely, Denmark has a very bad tax system, but it has very free market policies in other areas, so it ranks 15 out of 141 countries.

The moral of the story is simple. A country should have a small public sector and a pro-growth tax system, but that’s only 20 percent of the answer. Prosperity requires good policy in many areas.

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The 2011 edition of Economic Freedom of the World, published by Canada’s Fraser Institute (with help from groups like Cato), has been released.

Covering data through 2009, the new report provides damning evidence of the negative impact of the Bush-Obama policies of bigger government and more intervention.

Here’s a relevant passage from the Executive Summary.

The world’s largest economy, the United States, has suffered one of the largest declines in economic freedom over the last 10 years, pushing it into tenth place. Much of this decline is a result of higher government spending and borrowing and lower scores for the legal structure and property rights components. Over the longer term, the summary chain-linked ratings of Venezuela, Zimbabwe, United States, and Malaysia fell by eight-tenths of a point or more between 1990 and 2009, causing their rankings to slip.

This chart, taken directly from the book, shows how the United States has been of the world’s five-worst performers over the past decade, putting America in a very unfortunate category.

The previous chart shows the decline in America’s absolute ranking. And here’s a chart I created showing how the United States has declined relative to other nations. Simply stated, America is on the verge of falling out of the top 10, after being the 3rd-freest economy in the world at the end of the Clinton Administration.

Thanks George and Barack.

By the way, Hong Kong and Singapore are the top two nations, where they’ve ranked for quite some time. Here is the full top-10 list.

1. Hong Kong

2. Singapore

3. New Zealand

4. Switzerland

5. Australia

6. Canada

7. Chile

8. United Kingdom

9. Mauritius

10. United States

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