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U.S. economic freedom drops to an all-time low

posted onMarch 9, 2021

World economic freedom remained at a record high of 61.6 for the second year in a row in The Heritage Foundation’s 2021 “Index of Economic Freedom.” Singapore remained in the top spot as the world’s most-free economy, while the U.S. recorded its worst score and ranking ever.

The Index finds a world economy that, as a whole, continues to be “moderately free” but cautions that the overall global economic outlook remains challenging, particularly in many developing countries and emerging markets because of the lingering impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

“Regrettably, some of the policy measures undertaken or planned by governments around the world in response to the global health crisis run the risk of undermining economic freedom and, thus, long-term economic growth and prosperity,” note Index editors Amb. Terry Miller, Anthony Kim and James Roberts.

 “Policymakers cannot simply spend their way back to prosperity after the toll that public health responses have taken on local economies. For a meaningful economic recovery, economic freedom must not be curtailed by extended government emergency powers.”

The United States recorded a score of 74.8, lower than its 2020 score, and dropped to No. 20 globally from No. 17 the year prior. The U.S. remains “mostly free” and its regional ranking is unchanged at 3rd out of 32 countries that were graded in the Americas region, behind Canada and Chile. Singapore remained in the top spot and New Zealand took second. 

Three of the top 10 finishers — Singapore (1st), Ireland (5th), and Taiwan (6th) — recorded score increases this year, Taiwan moving up five spots from 11th in the 2020 Index. 

Per capita incomes were significantly higher in nations that are more economically free. Economies rated “free” or “mostly free” in the 2021 Index enjoyed incomes more than double the average levels in all other countries, and more than six times higher than the incomes of those living in “repressed” economies.

Among the 178 countries ranked, scores improved for 89 countries and declined in 80, with nine remaining unchanged. Five economies earned the Index’s designation as “free” (scores of 80 or above), while the next 92 are classified as “mostly free” (70-79.9) or “moderately free” (60-69.9).

“Thus, a total of 97 economies, or 54 percent of all nations and territories graded in the 2021 Index, have institutional environments in which individuals and private enterprises benefit from at least a moderate degree of economic freedom in the pursuit of greater economic development and prosperity,” the editors write.

The most improved countries in the 2021 Index of Economic Freedom include Republic of Congo, Mongolia, Benin, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, and Barbados.

The Most Free

1. Singapore
2. New Zealand
3. Australia
4. Switzerland
5. Ireland
6. Taiwan
7. United Kingdom
8. Estonia
9. Canada
10. Denmark

The Least Free

178. North Korea
177. Venezuela
176. Cuba
175. Sudan
174. Zimbabwe
173. Eritrea
172. Bolivia
171. Kiribati
170. Timor-Leste
169. Suriname

Launched in 1995, the Index evaluates countries in four broad policy areas that affect economic freedom: rule of law; government size; regulatory efficiency; and open markets.

There are 12 specific categories: property rights, judicial effectiveness, government integrity, tax burden, government spending, fiscal health, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom. Scores in these categories are averaged to create an overall economic freedom score.