Category Archives: Economic Freedom

27/1/18: Human Freedom Index 2017: U.S. Exceptionalism vs Irish Example


Cato released their 2017 Human Freedom Index. The link is here: https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/2017-human-freedom-index-2.pdf and all data is available here: https://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index.

Two things worth noting:

Ireland: the country ranks in top 5 in the overall Index, in the 4th place overall, which is unchanged on 2016 report. This compares against 3rd place ranking in 2013-2014 index. One key area of strength - Economic Freedom sub-index. This is a problem area for the Index, which relies on GDP-based metrics and, thus, significantly overstates Irish economic performance. Aside from this, in many other areas, the index presents a correct picture of the country.

The U.S.: the index consistently debunks the myth of American exceptionalism. The country is ranked lowly 17th in 2017 overall, with Personal Freedom ranking of disastrous 24th and with a respectable 11th rank in Economic Freedom.

Here is what is going wrong the U.S. side of the Index:

  • In the Rule of Law section, the U.S. scores below 7.0 (poor showing for an advanced economy) in both civil and criminal justice systems assessments;
  • In Religious Freedom, the U.S. scores low 7.3 in Harassment and Physical Hostilities category;
  • In Expression and Information, the country scores 7.5 in Political Pressure, Control Media;
  • In Identity and Relationships, the U.S. score is 7.0 for Legal Gender
  • The country scores below 9.0 in overall Rule of Law grouping, in Homicide category, in overall Religious Freedom grouping, and in Laws and Reg. That Influence Media category.
  • Sadly, there are no rankings relating to the extent of personal lives control by the 'Deep State' or security forces. Neither do Cato folks measure access to healthcare, quality of public services, education etc - the key aspects of the functional society that are clearly sub-standard in the U.S. case. Nor does the Index address the extent of bureaucratic over-reach into the lives of the residents. Were these aspects to be considered, I doubt the U.S. would be ranked anywhere near top 30.
When it comes to Economic Freedom, in absolute terms, the U.S. is not exceptional by any measure, either. In fact, the country scores above 9 only in the following categories/groupings:

  • Sound Money, a grouping that includes: Money Growth, Standard Deviation of Inflation, Inflation: Most Recent Year, Freedom to Own Foreign. Currency
  • Black-Market Exchange Rates category, and
  • Credit Market Regulations and Labor Market Regulations categories
This is hardly the stuff of legends. The U.S. ranking performance is mediocre for a nation that promotes itself as a bastion of personal and economic freedoms and the leading light for liberty. 

Just take this last number into consideration: when it comes to rating the U.S. on freedom of movement of capital and people, Cato gave the nation a miserly score of 3.7/10. And in Freedom to Trade Internationally, the nation that claims moral leadership across the WTO, TPP, TTIP, Nafta and beyond, the 'guardian of the seas' scores 7.5/10, with sub-8.5 scores in Tariffs and Regulatory Trade Barriers categories.

 Irony has it, the 2017 ranking for the U.S. (at #17) is vastly better than 2016 ranking (at #24).  Neither is, however, good enough. Data wrinkles aside, tiny Ireland offers more grounds for global leadership-by-example than the U.S. does.

18/2/15: A Tale of Two Capitalisms & Economics Education


A recent paper by Bennett, Daniel L., titled "A Tale of Two Capitalisms: Perilous Misperceptions About Capitalism, Entrepreneurship, Government, and Inequality" (December 11, 2014, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2537118) examined "two widely held perceptions about capitalism, challenging the popular view that capitalism is a villainous perpetuator and government a saintly corrector of cronyism and inequality".

Much of this erroneous view has been driven by the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis, the Great Recession and the Euro Debt Crisis, although those of us who lived through it face-to-face would note the obvious error in this paradigm when it comes to expectations about the Government role.

As authors note, "this characterization is largely driven by misperceptions. Capitalism is viewed as a system that favors the elite at the expense of everyone else (crony capitalism), rather than one that promotes economic liberty and opportunity for all (free market capitalism). The state is meanwhile viewed as a benevolent and omniscient corrector of market failures and provider of public goods (romantic view of politics), rather than a political system operated by agents whose actions may reflect their own self-interest and not the welfare of the general public (public choice view). These misperceptions result in not only a distorted understanding of the institutional structure that underlies capitalism and the mechanism in which income is distributed, but also lead to perilous reform prescriptions that undermine free market capitalism and generate unintended consequences that act to reduce individual and societal well-being."

The paper shows how "institutions that constrain the discretionary authority of government incentivize productive entrepreneurship and facilitate free market capitalism, giving rise to a natural or market determined income distribution and opportunity for economic mobility." In other words, markets do work, when markets are allowed to work. On the other hand, "institutions that do not sufficiently constrain the authority of government incentivize unproductive entrepreneurship and facilitate the development of crony capitalism, resulting in structural inequality and little opportunity for economic mobility." In other words, markets don't work when they are prevented from working.

As per empirical evidence, the author concludes that:

"This tale of two capitalisms provides insights about the connection between institutions, entrepreneurship, and the desirability of income inequality. Empirical evidence suggests that sound monetary institutions and legal institutions that protect private property rights and enforce the rule of law provide an environment favorable for free market capitalism and productive entrepreneurship, as well as promote greater economic development and less income inequality. This tends to support
Milton Friedman’s (1980) famous proclamation: ““A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.”"

"A growing body of evidence and the theory advanced here suggests that the development and preservation of institutions supportive of free market capitalism is the best way to facilitate productive entrepreneurship, economic development, economic mobility, and a distribution of income that, while unequal, is determined by merit rather than political ties, and is lower than that which exists in less capitalistic economies."

As per sources of the public misconceptions about capitalism in its various forms, "The scarcity of public choice and institutional analysis in mainstream economics education has contributes to widely held misperceptions about capitalism, entrepreneurship, government, and inequality. An analysis by FIke and Gwartney (2014) finds that only half of the 23 most common economic principles textbooks provide any coverage of public choice topics and that the coverage of market failure is sextuple that of government failure. The economics profession must do a better job of educating students and the public about the nuanced but vital distinction between the varieties of capitalism, and the important role of institutions in constraining the Hobbesian propensity of man to “rape, pillage, and plunder” and enabling the Smithian proclivity of man to “truck, barter, and exchange”
(Boettke, 2013)."