The Fraser Institute has published its Economic Freedom of the World Index for 2015, and, as the Charles Koch Institute reports, the numbers for America are ugly.

The United States—which in 2000 was ranked 2nd (Hong Kong was 1st)—is now “16th of the 157 countries surveyed for five major indicators of freedom, such as size of government, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation.”

The [Index’s] key ingredients for economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and protection of persons and property. Nations with the most economic freedom have more prosperity, higher incomes (for rich and poor), longer life expectancies, better health, and more robust political and civil rights.

The good news is that, although Americans’ acceptance of the creed of sacrifice has led to our economic decline, citizens of certain other nations are (at least to some extent) rejecting that creed and embracing the fact that prosperity requires the pursuit and production of values, not the surrender or sacrifice thereof. Consequently, as Koch reports,

many developing nations have rapidly improved their economic environments. Most notable are three former Soviet Republics, or Soviet-Allied States. Compared to last year’s report, Georgia has increased its ranking from 16th to 11th, Romania has moved from 25th to 17th, and Latvia has moved from 44th to 35th. . . . [All in all] the world is significantly more economically free than it was three decades ago. Since 1980, overall world economic freedom has greatly improved, and it has increased again this year.

Koch concludes that “America has the choice between restoring economic freedom and creating new opportunities for everyone or continuing down a path of declining economic freedom and quality of life.”

Although Koch’s conclusion is true, it is important to note that the choice between increasing and decreasing economic freedom is a derivative choice. The fundamental choice here is between the opposing moral codes underlying these alternatives, namely: altruism and egoism. One mandates selfless service for “others” or “the community” or “the common good”; the other advocates selfish production for individual success. One calls for coercive redistribution of wealth, the other for voluntary trade. One gives rise to statism, the other to capitalism.

To whatever extent these opposing moral codes are embraced within a given society, whether explicitly or implicitly, that is the extent to which the society will violate or protect individual rights—and that is the extent to which the society will shackle producers or leave them free.

The fundamental lesson to be learned from the continuing decline of America’s economic status is not economic but moral. We cannot support the economics of self-interest (capitalism) with the ethics of self-sacrifice (altruism). Freedom depends on egoism.


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