The Fraser Institute of Canada published “Economic Freedom of the World, 1975-1995” in 1996 and ranked nations by economic liberty. The study — endorsed by legendary economist Milton Friedman — collected data on 103 nations and included factors such as taxation, regulation, money supply and trade. Each nation received one of six letter grades (A through F-), and the report compared those nations’ economic performances with each other.
The findings were stark. Those nations with the best grades on economic liberty had an average per-capita gross domestic product nearly 10 times that of the nations with the worst grades ($15,834 and $1,650, respectively).[*] Gross domestic product is a measure for the value of finished goods and services produced within the borders of a country. This yawning economic gap between the least free and most free nations appeared in every subsequent update to the report.
Because the Fraser Institute has made its datasets public, other scholars have used them in their own research. These scholars have frequently found economic liberty to be associated positively with overall prosperity, longer life expectancy and greater political freedoms. The Economic Freedom of the World and its derivatives have been cited more than 900 times.[†]
[*] The United States ranked fourth freest in the 1996 edition. Its ranking changed in subsequent editions, and it now stands at sixth, behind Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland and Australia. James Gwartney et al., “Economic Freedom of the World” (Fraser Institute, 2020), 9, https://perma.cc/KL4H-R5MP.
[†] As of Sept. 27, 2021, based on a review of a variety of bibliographical sources.