January 13, 2009 | News Releases on Economy
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 heritage.org/index or by calling 1-800-975-8625 and are available in English or Spanish. Additionally the full text, charts and graphs are available at www.heritage.org/index.
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