It's official – the UK is no longer a free country. Well, semi-official, because the judgement comes from the independent Heritage Foundation, based in Washington DC, which has been compiling its influential Index of Economic Freedom for a decade and a half. It surveys 183 countries, assessing them on ten scores including business freedom, property rights, trade, government spending and corruption.
This year, though, after the financial crisis and the regulatory clampdown on banks, investment, and finance, both the United States and the United Kingdom have headed down the scale. By contrast, Switzerland – which is attracting financial firms and their high-flying employees away from the City of London – has been storming up the league table.
The most shocking news, though, is that the UK has dropped out of the top ten for the first time. In the view of the Heritage Foundation, in other words, it is no longer a free country. Well, we could have told them that. The Heritage experts say that it is not just a fall in the UK's financial freedom that explains its slippage. They blame high public spending and workplace regulations, which take decisions out of the hands of individuals and empower officials instead. That growing official power is one reason why the UK is slipping in terms of corruption and the respect for property when compared to other countries.
Sure, we are better than North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Eritrea and Burma, which make up the tail end of the Index. But in any index of free countries, it is a bit galling to fall behind Chile. Galling, but certainly fair.
Dr Butler's new Alternative Manifesto is available here.