Atlantic Council’s Freedom and Prosperity Center provides a comprehensive understanding of what leads to a free and prosperous society

Indexes cover 164 countries over 28 years to help reformers and change agents place their nations on the way to prosperity

Russia, China see marked declines in freedom combined with stagnating or declining prosperity

WASHINGTON, DC – June 15, 2023 – Today, nearly half of the world’s population lives in countries that are mostly unprosperous, with over a quarter in fully unprosperous nations. No countries ranked as unfree or mostly unfree are considered prosperous.

Those are the findings of the Atlantic Council’s Freedom and Prosperity Center released today as part of the 2023 Freedom and Prosperity Indexes and companion report. The new research provides facts and analysis to better understand how a strong rule of law, democracy, and market economy provide the surest path to durable prosperity.

The Freedom Index measures legal, economic, and political freedom, which are understood as necessary for a society to be fully free. The Prosperity Index goes beyond the measurement of pure material well-being to include six components: income, health, education, environment, minority rights, and inequality. The research incorporates data spanning twenty-eight years and 164 countries.

“We need a positive vision and practical solutions to confront unprecedented challenges in the developing world,” said Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. “Our indexes and report show plainly how freedom contributes to durable prosperity.”

The new research illustrates several important trends:

  • The year 2012 was pivotal. Political and legal freedom began to decline worldwide in 2012, slowing improvements in prosperity. After the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, both freedom and prosperity declined.
  • Russia has been underperforming in both freedom and prosperity. In 1995, Russia’s freedom score was 23 percent lower than Europe’s, but by 2022 the difference grew to 46 percent. Over the same period, the prosperity deficit grew from 12 percent to 16 percent.
  • Since 1995, China’s economic freedom and legal freedom indicators have stagnated at a relatively low level, and political freedom has declined by 26 percent since Xi Jinping took office in 2013. Prosperity has increased 17 percent from 1995 to 2013 but has since plateaued – also at a relatively low level.

“The Chinese development model is not persuasive,” said Dan Negrea, the Freedom and Prosperity Center’s senior director. “The PRC’s freedom rank is 144 of 164 countries and its scores have been trending lower since 2008. Its prosperity rank is 119 and its 2022 score was not much higher than that for 2012.”

The Freedom and Prosperity Indexes contribute to a global discussion that goes beyond the dichotomy of democracy versus autocracy. They evaluate economic models, specifically democratic capitalism versus autocratic capitalism. By separating out the components of freedom—economic, political, and legal—and examining prosperity comprehensively, the indexes provide a thorough, nuanced view of governance.  

The indexes also demonstrate how freedom is not a “western recipe” for prosperity, nor just one among many avenues for success. Freer countries in every region outperform their peers and reach higher levels of prosperity across the board.

Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, and Luxembourg achieve the highest scores on the Freedom Index, while the United States ranks 20th, Taiwan 27th, Russia 138th, and China 144th. In terms of prosperity, Norway ranks highest, followed by Iceland, Australia, Sweden, and New Zealand. The United States ranks 27th, Taiwan 26th, Russia 63rd, and China 119th on this measure.

Reformers in the least developed countries, as well as international organizations in the development community, should be more confident than ever in promoting a development model based on an all-inclusive spread of freedom, the Atlantic Council researchers find. Council experts encourage agents of change around the world to take advantage of the indexes’ data to identify areas ripe for reform and to assess thoroughly the effects of policies.

The Freedom and Prosperity Center aims to increase the well-being of people everywhere and especially that of the poor and marginalized in developing countries through unbiased, data-based research on the relationship between prosperity and economic, political, and legal freedoms, in support of sound policy choices.

To learn more about the Freedom and Prosperity Center, please visit here.

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