I know I just finished challenging another report by the Heritage Foundation, but I couldn’t help myself in addressing this interesting contradiction in other one of their argument (which I stumbled upon while searching for material for my first rebuttal). Consider the info-graphic below, taken directly from their site (and available here, in other formats).
Though the data is a bit old, it presents a salient point that is still relevant: many of the countries that are at or near our level of economic freedom are often considered – by American standards – as being either “socialist” or otherwise less friendly to individual liberty (particularly business). All of them have universal healthcare in some form or another, and most of them have far higher taxes, again, relative to American norms. Indeed, most developed countries generally have more generous social programs and higher rates of public spending.
(Note that Hong Kong and Singapore are the exceptions with respect to taxation and government expenditure, although they’re each city-states, which may account for this; they also have more government presence in public life and/or the economy).
I’d be very curious to see all the countries that composed this index and where they lie. The report mentions that 30 countries were among the most free, and given that the majority of wealthy democracies have “bigger” government and collectivist social policies, it stands to reason that they retain around the same level of freedom – if not more – than the US.
So though the Heritage Foundation, as a right-wing think tank, is opposed to progressivist policies, high taxation, and other elements of social democracies, it’s own data bears out the fact that these factors don’t necessarily limit overall freedom. Indeed, a ranking of economic global competitiveness reveals that most of the top ten countries are big government social democracies (the US, at number 5 as of 2011, is beat out by Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland, with Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark not far behind).
This isn’t necessarily meant to be a repudiation of progressive policy. I’m simply noting that there is more to the economic and civil freedoms of a society – and whether or not it is prospering overall – than whether or not taxes are low or government is small. Strong social services and a collectivist culture are not, in and of themselves, incompatible with liberty – it just depends on how one goes about it. The big states of Greece, Spain, Italy, and others might be failing, but the “middle-ground” between them and the US – governments in nations like Australia, Canada, and Germany – are doing far better in terms of economic growth, poverty, and other metrics of good standard of living.