It is a matter of great concern to all Americans whenever our hard-won liberties are threatened -- whether the liberty in question is freedom of religion, property rights or any other right guaranteed by the Constitution.
So it should give us pause to learn that the United States has again slipped in an important ranking that gauges economic liberty worldwide.
Not only did the United States fall this year from ninth to 10th in The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom, but we do not enjoy the distinction of being labeled a truly "free" economy. We are categorized in the second-best category of "mostly free," economically speaking. And this is the fourth straight year our ranking has dropped.
Finishing ahead of the United States, in descending order from first through ninth, are Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Chile, Mauritius and Ireland.
It seems we have forgotten some of the key factors that made the United States of America the greatest, freest and most prosperous nation in history: things such as low taxes, clean and limited government, avoidance of unnecessary regulation, and the upholding of private property rights and the rule of law.
Indeed, the Index of Economic Freedom says the United States' economic ranking suffers precisely because our nation has turned away from too many of those principles.
Part of our drop reflects massive, unsustainable increases in government spending, and part is related to the explosion of heavy-handed regulations -- largely in finance and medical care. Regulations put in place just since 2009 cost the American people about $40 billion last year alone. That is money that cannot be productively invested in our economy.
What is even more troubling, though, is the rising -- and painfully justified -- view that government favoritism, if not outright corruption, is spreading.
The Heritage Foundation noted the public's appropriately dim view of huge, costly, taxpayer-funded bailouts of failing but politically well-connected companies, as well as the special regulatory breaks granted to certain companies. For example, well over 1,000 companies were exempted from some of the provisions of ObamaCare.
"Corruption is a growing concern as the cronyism and economic rent-seeking associated with the growth of government have undermined institutional integrity," the editors of the index pointed out.
Our $15.2 trillion national debt, meanwhile, has surpassed the total size of our gross domestic product -- all that our country produces in a year.
Given those alarming circumstances, it is perhaps not too surprising that last August our nation's credit rating was downgraded by Standard & Poor's for the first time in history.
We are going in the wrong direction!
These disturbing warning signs will herald real national decline if we as a people do not begin to elect lawmakers and a president who will chart a different course. It is long past time to return to the free-market, limited-government principles that made our country and our economy the envy of the world.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Robin Smith is a weekly columnist for the Free Press editorial page. Her column will appear each Monday.
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