The relationship between economic freedom and prosperity is empirically verifiable. Countries that are relatively economically free — meaning free markets and private ownership of capital — do better than countries that are not economically free.
South Korea, for example, is a rich country and North Korea is a disaster zone; Chileans are better off than Venezuelans; capitalist West Germany was richer than socialist East Germany. Continue reading
The correlation between economic freedom and economic prosperity is well-established and robust. Economics explains why this relationship exists and also the causal direction — economic freedom is the cause and prosperity the effect.
I am by nature in favor of freedom of all flavors, not just economic freedom. I value freedom as an ultimate good, although it fortunately happens to be an instrumental good too. Even if material prosperity did not follow from economic freedom — meaning that it was not instrumental in creating wealth — I would still value economic freedom for itself. Philosophically I am not a utilitarian.
These musings are provoked by a comment to the piece on Economic Freedom and Well-being last week. Here’s the comment:
Asking “Did Britain impoverish India?” is like asking “Is water wet?” Of course, Britain impoverished India during their rule as the colonial masters of India. To extract wealth from a colony and exploit its people is the primary motivation for colonization.
Expecting the colonial masters to be a benign, self-sacrificing force is delusional. Colonization is not a win-win exchange relationship. It’s a milder, gentler form of slavery; not quite as cancerously malignant but severely chronically debilitating.
British rule had two phases: first the Company Rule which began around 1757 when the British East India Company gained control over parts of the Indian subcontinent; the second when the Crown Rule began in 1858, and nominally ended in 1947. I say “nominally” because while the British Raj more or less came to a formal close in August 1947, India continued (and continues) to be governed by laws that were made by the British during the Crown Rule.
So you could say that the Britain raj lasted nearly two centuries, and that’s enough time to loot a country. But here’s the point of this piece — contemporary India’s poverty has little to do with the crimes the British committed. They committed crimes not just in India but around the world that it dominated. Pressed for time as we are, we can’t read the piles of history books written about that but we can get a sense of how terrible those crimes were by reading the twitter account titled “Crimes of Britain.” Continue reading
We take it as a given, almost a fact of nature like the seasons or the geography of continents, that different parts of the world enjoy different levels of prosperity. But there’s nothing “natural” about this since this is almost entirely within human control. The differences are stark, and at one end of the scale, heartbreaking. Consider the extremely rich first. Luxembourg has an annual per capita income of over $110,000, Norway over $100,000, Switzerland around $85,000. Those are small countries and outliers with perhaps little to tell us. But the US is large and has an annual per capita income of $53,000. Why is it so rich?
At the other end of the scale are Burundi and Malawi with only $200 or so annual per capita incomes. Why are they so poor? The richest countries are around 500 times richer in per capita terms than the poorest. What accounts for this inequality in incomes of countries? That question has engaged the attention of people for hundreds of years — starting with of course the great Scottish economist Adam Smith who inquired about “The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” in his famous 1776 book.
“. . . how absurd it is to judge relative performance by rate of growth, which is as often as not evidence of past neglect rather than of present achievement. In many respects it is easier and not more difficult for an undeveloped country to grow rapidly once an appropriate framework has been secured.”
Source: F. A Hayek. The Political Order of a Free People. 1979. Page 190. Volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty.