The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, compiled by the conservative Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, contains good news about much of the world, but disturbing news about the U.S.
The good news first. The global average for economic freedom inched up slightly during the last year measured. The scores of 117 economies improved, and 58 got worse. Perhaps most encouraging is that sub-Saharan Africa, although still the least economically free region in the world, saw the most improvement, followed by the South and Central American-Caribbean region. The Middle East, North Africa and Asia also recorded gains. Considering recent financial turmoil, the losses in Europe were slight, and 26 of 43 countries still improved.
The bad news is that the U.S., which used to rank in the top five, has slipped to ninth place in the world and saw its economic freedom continue to decline. The U.S. is now classified as only “mostly free.”
The reasons for this include dramatic increases in government spending and deficits, and interventions in the economy that have increased economic uncertainty and sapped investor confidence. Republicans are sure to blame this on President Barack Obama and Democrats. That’s largely true.
But Republican President George W. Bush led the charge on the bank bailout. After the U.S. House voted it down, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-West Chester, had to twist arms to get enough GOP support or Democrats to go along.
Both parties share the blame for the loss of economic freedom in the U.S.
There is reason for hope, and it stems from the Republicans regaining control of the U.S. House — and hopefully some belief in limited government beliefs. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, is helping lead that charge as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, whose former executive director is now president of the Heritage Foundation, which produces the economic freedom index.
Freedom is inter-related. It is difficult to exercise freedom of speech if you don’t have access to the means of expressing yourself. The Soviet Union banned private ownership of mimeograph machines, for example. Countries with a great deal of economic freedom tend to have more economic growth, higher incomes and lower levels of poverty, and their citizens experience higher overall levels of well-being as measured by health, education, security, and perceived happiness.
May the next year see the U.S. rejoin the trend toward greater freedom.