Economic freedom is one of mankind’s best ideas. It is responsible for more progress in living standards, health, knowledge, multicultural harmony and social justice than anything we have done in the past 2,000 years. The Heritage Foundation’s new Index of Economic Freedom proves that the world needs free markets now more than ever.
The 2022 index lists a challenging year for all four broad policy areas and 12 specific categories reflected in each country’s overall score. Globally, the average economic freedom score fell from 61.6 to 60 – the fourth consecutive annual decline. The US score fell 2.7 points to 72.1, putting us 25th in the world’s Economic Freedom Index – five places down from last year and America’s lowest on record.
The main source of this decline in 2021 – globally and nationally – was once again government responses to COVID-19. The pandemic’s toll on the nation’s health was obviously enormous. But around the world, the costs of counterproductive government responses have also been. Regardless of their good intention, policies that restricted economic freedom did little to stop the spread of COVID-19, but greatly exacerbated its economic costs.
Lockdowns, travel bans, trade restrictions and social distancing have all stunted economic activity and growth – and had a devastating effect on local communities. As always, government assistance has not replaced the solidarity, opportunities and mobility generated by voluntary exchanges between buyers and sellers.
Even countries spared from the worst ravages of COVID-19 have nevertheless been affected by the global economic downturn fueled by statism. And of course, some malfunctions of pandemic policies, like the long COVID itself, will rob us for years. We may never know, for example, the full cost of the loss of learning inflicted on American schoolchildren in masks over the past two years to satisfy teachers’ union demands.
This global 1.6 point decline in economic freedom represents trillions of dollars in health care, housing, agriculture, infrastructure, energy, technology, mining and manufacturing lost over the of the lives of children born around the world last year. It means more poverty, less education, and stronger temptations for tyrants and demagogues to exploit rather than serve their people.
The silver lining of the 2022 index is the same silver lining in every annual index: economic freedom always works. Even amid the social upheaval of a pandemic, there remain strong correlations between countries’ economic freedom scores and their quality of life, as measured in terms of per capita income, health, education, environmental quality, technological innovation, democratic governance and respect for the rule of law.
The COVID-19 pandemic has no more redeemed or justified state policies than other crises that past generations of politicians have exploited to advance them, from the Great Depression to the Great Recession to the harrowing upheavals that globalization has inflicted on American working-class communities. Free enterprise is not the cause of these challenges — it is the solution.
Nor is capitalism the sandbox of the privileged elite left pundits (many of whom are millionaires) denigrated. On the contrary, by rewarding hard work, marriage and savings, promoting upward mobility, fueling civil society and creating generational family wealth, free markets have accomplished more for diversity, equity and justice. inclusion than every faculty senate, critical race theorist or New York Times editorial. put together.
Just because economic freedom is out of fashion today doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. The human spirit, expressed in individual initiative, remains as much the source of communal and global prosperity as it was when the Soviet Empire fell. American conservatives in particular, tempted by the clicks and thrill of ideological novelty, should remember: there is nothing more elitist than central economic planning, and nothing more populist than competitive free markets. hungry and empowered consumers.
That the whole world retreated from economic freedom last year is all the more reason for American policymakers to embrace it again — to seize the opportunities everyone else has passed up. The political current always runs towards statism. But as GK Chesterton said, “a dead thing can go with the current, but only a living thing can go against it.”
Since the founding of America – on the principles of market capitalism that the elites hated then as now – we have been the living thing in the global economy. For two centuries, we have defied the cronyism and timidity of corporate and political insiders and entrusted our economy to our people – and it has made all the difference.
As the 2022 Heritage Index shows once again, economic freedom is not something Americans should be apologizing for, but something to exploit, stimulate and give free rein to – for our own good, and that of all. the others too.
• Mike Lee (R-Utah) is a US Senator. Kevin Roberts is president of the Heritage Foundation.