Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tim Doescher of The Heritage Center to the newsmaker line to discuss the recently released 2022 Index of Economic Freedom, explain the United States decline, and discuss Tennessee as a state model of freedom.
Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line Tim Doescher, Associate Director of Coalition Relations at The Heritage Foundation. And he’s going to talk to us today about the recently released 2022 Index of Economic Freedom, which ranks countries in the world based upon their level of economic freedom. Welcome, Tim, to The Tennessee Star Report.
Doescher: Hi, Michael. Thank you so much for having me on. Good morning.
Leahy: We are delighted to have you on here. I’m looking at the list here, and you divide countries into “free,” “mostly free,” “moderately free,” and then “mostly not free.” And I’m looking at this list and I’m looking in the first category, “free.”
I don’t see the United States of America there. I see it in the “mostly free” list and it’s sinking. It’s down to number 25. What happened? How do you do the rankings?
Doescher: It’s a great question. Again, thanks for having me on. I think the really sad part about this report this year and, by the way, this is something we’ve done for the last 28 years, and it’s something that we’ve always kind of prided ourselves on.
It’s like, look, we are a beacon. We are a light to the world. Look at America. Look to the States. Look to us. And unfortunately, this report determined that from last year, we have now reached our lowest point in the history of this ranking that we have done.
And not only that, but we are seeing categories fall that we haven’t seen that’s largely driven by increased government spending as we saw through COVID. We had to factor all that in.
And by the way, a lot of countries around the world saw decreases because of the increase in spending. But the U.S. is so far behind now, because of that out-of-control spending. And you hear us talk about it all the time. You have Heritage people on. You have people from all across the conservative movement talking about spending. And now we’re seeing the result in the impact of it.
Leahy: Yes, this is more than a little bit scary. I don’t know if this is a fair question, but if we went back 28 years ago and saw the very first economic index, I’m guessing the United States was much higher than number 25 out of like 100-and-some-odd countries in the world.
Doescher: Absolutely. 100 percent. We were obviously ranked in the top 10. This criteria that we use – and I think it’s important to explain them – I don’t want to get too in the weeds here, but we use several different factors in how we build this out.
We look at the rule of law, which means, how are the country’s property rights? How are those protected? Do people have access to the court system?
That’s a huge thing, especially in developing nations. Can a business say, “hey, you stole my ideas and I want them back,” and can they get them back?
The U.S. is very strong with the rule of law, as well as other nations that are free. We look at government size, and that’s the one where we really, really, really are falling at: government spending, taxes, fiscal health.
Under the Biden administration, we look at regulatory efficiency compared to a previous administration. That’s a big reason as to why we’ve fallen to the lowest ever. We’re seeing that increase in the burden of government through regulations coming and affecting families and affecting businesses.
And then, of course, we look at trade, freedom, investment freedom, financial – all of those things lead to this score continuing to fall a little bit.
And it gives us a roadmap as to how we can get back. And that’s really what we want to say. And use this: Here’s a road map. Let’s not let it go. Let’s not waste it.
Leahy: The top seven countries in this economic index of freedom that are defined as “free,” using your measurements of the rule of law, government size, regulation, efficiency, and open markets, the top seven countries all defined as “free”: Singapore, Switzerland, Ireland, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Taiwan and Estonia. Two of those countries, Taiwan and Estonia, are in danger militarily right now. What are your thoughts on that?
Doescher: I think it’s a really chilling statistic to see. Countries that people wouldn’t typically think of as leaders of the U.S. are leading the U.S. And I think that the greatest thing that Ronald Reagan ever told us was that freedom is not free at all. It’s not passing the bloodline.
It is something that we have to fight for. It is something that we must be a beacon of light and show people how to go. And I think that these countries that are free, while they’re not perfect at all, while there are things to work on, they are showing the world how to be free.
And I think that the U.S. needs to take note of that. And also, I think that we need to gather together with them to encourage them, to prop them up, because again, when we are working together, like we said, that last category, we need free trade agreements with these countries because they’re going to be the ones that are going to align mostly with our values, with our quest for becoming more free, for making Tennessee is able to have more options on the market, to grow their businesses, and to have cheaper groceries.
And I think that just those countries in the free category, have understood that they need to look at themselves first, but then also need to partner together with areas and nations that are going to be able to support them in their endeavors.
And now more than ever is an incredible opportunity to do that, especially as we see the really tough stuff that’s happening around Taiwan and Estonia as well.
Leahy: You are right.
Doescher: I want to say one other thing: These are all countries who know tough times. They know tough times, and they don’t want to go back to those times.
And it’s really important again that we help them. And we see that going back to that place is not somewhere, and the U.S. needs to be an example to that.
Leahy: You rank a total of 177 countries on these criteria from zero to 100. The worst, the 177th, North Korea, which just gets three points, but not much better, Venezuela and Cuba. They’re repressed. China also repressed, ranked 158th. Russia is in the category of mostly unfree, ranked 113th out of 177. That’s quite interesting to me.
Doescher: Look at China. Do we really even know if the data they release is viable? We’re kind of taking shots in the dark with countries that are repressed and not free because they don’t necessarily tell the truth when it comes to the statistics that they release.
So we basically do the best we can. The Heritage had just released a really vast report out, and I’m going to get another plugin for this because it’s a great thing. We released with all the information that we can find throughout the world, all different organizations, we compiled it together to give the greatest solid picture of what China looks like right now.
And it is chilling. It is chilling how they are manipulating developing countries, how they are manipulating ‘free trade’ and how they’re taking advantage of all the different aspects of countries that are open and need them.
And then they release numbers that say their GDP grows: “We’re doing great. We’re awesome, look at us.” But we really don’t know. And so these are all things that we have to take into account when we measure rule of law and things like that. Can we trust the people that we are doing business with?
And I think China has really abused that. and of course, North Korea, it’s a very closed society, and Russia, as we see how they’re behaving right now on the world stage. This is a problem. And these may not be the people we want to do as much business with.
Leahy: Exactly. Just as an aside, another think tank in Washington, D.C., ranks states of the United States by an index of personal economic freedom. Not surprisingly, this is the Cato Institute that does this. They rank Tennessee fourth out of 50 in terms of freedom.
And we’re being deluged with people from 50th-ranked New York, 48th-ranked California, and 47th-ranked New Jersey. They all want to come to Tennessee. I think people like freedom, wouldn’t you say, Tim?
Doescher: Look, it was so funny when I was preparing for this morning, thinking about Tennessee – which, by the way, I want to say it’s like a second home state to me. I have a houseboat on Norris Lake up in the Knoxville area. It’s a fantastic place that we’re going to end up in when we retire.
Leahy: Here’s the thing: When you move to Tennessee, like one week after you move here, I suppose you might run for Congress like a lot of people have decided to do after arriving here in one week. We don’t like that. But promise me if you run for Congress in Tennessee, you’ll live here at least three years. How about that?
Doescher: I want to say look to Tennessee compared to the liberal states, because that’s the model for freedom.
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