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News Releases on Economy

January 13, 2009

January 13, 2009 | News Releases on Economy

Vast Oil Wealth Doesn't Translate into Economic Freedom, Index Finds

WASHINGTON, JAN. 13, 2009--Despite some progress this year, most economies in the Middle East and North Africa remain either "moderately free" or "mostly unfree," according to the 2009 "Index of Economic Freedom," published annually by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation.

The new edition pegs the region's overall level of economic freedom at 60 (on 100-point scale in which a higher score represents greater freedom). That's slightly higher than the world average of 59.5, showing that region has improved year-to-year.

Still, "structural problems clearly abound in the region," the Index editors wrote. Ironically, one problem is the region's abundant oil supplies. "People need freedom to be productive, but oil does not generate the incentives needed for societies to embrace openness," the editors noted. "To the contrary, an abundance of oil seems most often to inspire repression."

Bahrain (16th in the world) ranks as region's freest economy, with an Index rating of 74.8. It's the only economy in the Middle Eastern/North African region to rank among the world's top 20. The country's high ranking reflects its pro-business environment and low trade barriers.

Other countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, "share a common commitment to economic freedom that is significantly greater than that of other countries in the region," the editors wrote.

At the low end of the scale are Iran and Libya, "bonded together by economic freedom scores that are among the worst in the world." But Libya at least showed improvement. That nation and Syria improved their scores by four points over the previous year--the largest gains in the world.

The 2009 Index has expanded its country coverage significantly. It now covers 183 economies, although four of these could not be graded because of insufficient data. Levels of economic freedom in 10 areas were rated on a scale of zero to 100. The higher the score, the lower the level of government interference in the marketplace.

The 10 freedoms measured are: business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government size, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption and labor freedom. Ratings in each category were averaged, then totaled to produce the overall Index score.

Worldwide, the average rating for economic freedom held essentially steady this year. However, "there is a real possibility that the economic freedom scores in this edition might represent the historical high point for economic freedom in the world," the authors warned. As governments attempt to stave off a global recession, their meddling could threaten economic freedom and long-term economic prosperity.

Of the 179 countries ranked, only seven were classified as "free" (a score of 80 or higher). Another 23 were "mostly free" (70-79.9). The bulk of countries--120 economies--were either "moderately free" (60-60.9) or "mostly unfree" (50-50.9). Another 29 countries have "repressed" economies, with total freedom scores below 50.

The 2009 Index was edited by Ambassador Terry Miller, director of Heritage's Center for International Trade and Economics, and Dr. Kim Holmes, Heritage's vice president for foreign affairs. Copies of the 2009 Index (455 pp., US $24.95) can be ordered at or by calling 1-800-975-8625 and are available in English or Spanish. Additionally the full text, charts and graphs are available at

About The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal, the flagship publication of Dow Jones & Company is the world's leading business publication. Founded in 1889, The Wall Street Journal has a print and online circulation of more than 2 million, reaching the nation's top business and political leaders, as well as investors across the country. Holding 33 Pulitzer Prizes for outstanding journalism, The Wall Street Journal provides readers with trusted information and knowledge to make better decisions. The Wall Street franchise has more than 760 journalists world-wide, part of the Dow Jones network of nearly 1,900 business and financial news staff. Other publications that are part of The Wall Street Journal franchise, with a global audience of 3.8 million, include The Wall Street Journal Asia and The Wall Street Journal Europe. The Wall Street Journal Online at is the largest paid subscription news site on the Web with 10.9 million users each month. In 2008, the Journal was ranked No. 1 in BtoB's Media Power 50 for the ninth consecutive year. The Wall Street Journal Radio Network services news and information to more than 310 radio stations in the U.S.

About The Heritage Foundation

The Heritage Foundation is the nation's most broadly supported public policy research institute, with more than 390,000 individual, foundation and corporate donors. Founded in 1973, Heritage now has a staff of 244 and an expense budget of $61 million.

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