Economic liberty

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April 1, 2016

Our theme this month is economic liberty. As an immigrant to this country, I have always viewed the identity of my adopted country as one rooted in human freedom. But I understand, too, that freedom can never be taken for granted. Indeed, each generation must rise to the challenge of protecting the precious and fragile concept of liberty over time. For, as Milton Friedman wrote, “the typical state of mankind is tyranny, servitude, and misery.” At the NewBostonPost, we regard “economic liberty” as essential to political freedom, and thus total freedom.

The idea of liberty and, contained within it, an individual’s right to the “pursuit of happiness,” was the guiding principle at the heart of America’s founding. No country in history has epitomized this lofty ideal as much as the United States, for centuries a destination of people longing for freedom and hoping for opportunities. Nothing, if not freedom, permits the realization of human dignity through the unleashing of individual potential, the discovery of new opportunities, the ability of conscience driven choices, and the pursuit of higher aspirations. No surprise, then, that America became the model of innovation and entrepreneurship in the 19th century, building on a mentality of courage and optimism.

Indeed, historically, America has not only been the most free, but also the most prosperous country in the world. The ability of free men to create and innovate has been the driving force of human progress globally, and Americans have led the way.

This month, we will examine the hallmarks of economic liberty: the free market, limited government and limited regulation, the rule of law, and protections on property rights. In this country, these institutional structures, or “rules of the game,” if you will, have unleashed unprecedented entrepreneurial energy which, in turn, has driven progress in technology and science, generated economic growth, and elevated the standard of living for all Americans.

Yet, despite America’s historical achievements, recent numbers raise concerns. The Doing Business Index that measures 189 economies, ranks the U.S. at 7th place overall in 2014. However, in terms of “ease of starting a business,” the U.S. ranks only 46th. In terms of “ease of paying business taxes,” it ranks as low as 47th. The Fraser Institute’s 2015 Economic Freedom of the World Index ranks the U.S. at 16th place.

According to the 2012 Economic Freedom of North America report, “the expanded use of regulation in the U.S. has resulted in sharp rating reductions for components such as independence of the judiciary, impartiality of the courts, and regulatory favoritism. To a large degree, the U.S. has experienced a significant move away from rule of law.” In fact, new business creation in the U.S. has been “flat or falling” in the last two decades the State of Entrepreneurship Report stated in 2014. It is only in entrepreneurial optimism, a “can-do-attitude,” that the U.S. continues to outrank everyone else.

This month, the NewBostonPost intends to look at the state of economic liberty in New England and, especially, the Boston area. A city of Boston’s stature lends itself to deeper analysis of the merits of freedom. The “essential chaos of urban life” is fertile ground for human ingenuity. Indeed, personal freedom is inconceivable without a significant measure of economic freedom.

Boston is a national center of education, scientific research, technological invention and innovation. But is Boston reaching its economic potential? We will point to local impediments to growth as well as to success stories of entrepreneurship. Likewise, we will showcase to what extent government hampers growth and in which areas government regulation has been beneficial. We will also examine the ways in which principles of economic liberty can help those who are marginalized, or otherwise left behind, to better their circumstances – indeed, to succeed. In 2013, 16 percent of children in Massachusetts lived below the poverty line. Such circumstances cannot be ignored.

As Ed Glaeser wrote in a recent NewBostonPost column: “The challenge ahead for Boston is to ensure that urban entrepreneurship can flourish even in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.”

We will emphasize the social benefits of the free market and the courageous initiatives and diverse creativity of free citizens.

But we will also debate the ways in which economic liberty is appropriately limited. And we will point to where the government should be doing more, not less, to facilitate and incentivize private enterprise, recognizing that there is a fine balance between necessary bureaucratic intervention and governmental overreach.