How free are we?
The Economic Freedom Network's Economic Freedom of the World: 2002 Annual Report attempts to answer that question by tallying a global index of economic liberty. Good news: The United States sits near the top of the list, trailing behind only Hong Kong and Singapore.
"As bad as it sometimes looks in the U.S., it's not as bad as the rest of the world," says Capital University economist Robert Lawson, who coauthored the report with Florida State's James Gwartney. Their team of researchers uses three dozen measures in five key areas–government size, property rights protection, monetary policy, international trade, and regulation–to rank countries on a 10-point scale. The Democratic Republic of Congo falls dead last, though Myanmar is hardly better. (The entire study is available online at www.cato.org/economicfreedom.)
The data show economic freedom increasing globally during the last two decades, with Peru, Israel, and Ghana topping the list of countries that have made the largest absolute leaps toward freedom since 1980. "If a country starts low on the economic freedom index and has had a lot of improvement, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a great place to be," cautions Lawson. "Many of the countries still aren't very free."
Ten countries with the largest absolute increase in economic freedom
Trinidad & Tobago 2.47
Ten countries with the largest increase in economic rating (as a percentage of possible gain), 1980?2000:
United Kingdom 0.56
Source: Cato Institute