A Lot More Than A Buck Oh Five

« April 2010 »

Memo to the Heritage Foundation: THERE ARE LIES, DUMB LIES, AND STATISTICS.

Since 1995, the right-wing think-tankoids at the Heritage Foundation have published something they call the Index of Economic Freedom. Now, I know why they do this, but it's not going to be why they say they're doing it, so let's visit that briefly.

"Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please, with that freedom both protected by the state and unconstrained by the state. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself."

I don't know why they didn't just say "We love jerking off with the Invisible Hand". It would have saved us all a lot of reading. What they've actually done is created a set of measurements based around compliance with their philosophy, given it a positive-sounding name (who, after all, would object to economic freedom?) and have therefore created a system by which they can call people who enact policies they dislike freedom-haters using graphs, charts, and numbers, which we all know are totally objective.

And surprise, surprise, one year into Barack Obama's presidency, and the United States is already less free. We've dropped to the seventh freest country in the world, from sixth under Dubya. Which is even more impressive considering that the data they're supposedly using covers the last six months of Bush's presidency and the first six months of Obama's. Oh noes! We are chock full of socialists constraints on economic liberty! Quick, repeal child labor laws so that we can bump our Heritage Foundation score another few points and pass Canada again!

Yes, that's right, Canada. How did Canada pass America, with its public health care system mocked by the Heritage Foundation and its ilk throughout our own health care debate? I wonder if the fact that their prime minister is a conservative might have something to do with the Heritage Foundation's totally objective rankings.

For a further clue as to just how incredibly objective these rankings are, let's take a look at this telling statement. ACTUAL TELLING STATEMENT TIME!

"The national government's role in the economy, already expanding under President George W. Bush, has grown sharply under the Administration of President Barack Obama, who took office in January 2009. Economic growth, which collapsed in 2008, had resumed by the second half of 2009, but legislative proposals for large and expensive new government programs on health care and energy use (climate change) have increased prospects for significant economic disruptions and raised concerns about the long-term health of the economy."

So not only are they blaming the loss of economic freedom on shit like health care, which happened well outside their data window, they're even blaming it on things that haven't happened yet, like cap-and-trade. I could whip up a pie chart that would declare this to be 100% bovine feces, and it'd have at least as much integrity as this report.

The breakdown is incredibly telling about who the Heritage Foundation's "economic freedom" really benefits. The US is least free when it comes to government spending, no shock there. And in second place is the sub-section called "Fiscal Freedom", with the following explanation:

"U.S. tax rates are burdensome. The top income and corporate tax rates are 35 percent. Other taxes include an estate tax and excise taxes. Additional income, sales, and property taxes are assessed at the state and local levels. In the most recent year, overall tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 28.3 percent."

That top tax rate of 35%? That's about as low as it's ever been in this country, Who pays it? Rich people. Whose economic freedom is damaged when rich people pay taxes? The whole country's. Now let's compare that to what makes us all very free indeed, our bestest score in the whole thing, just 5.2 percentage points away from making Adam Smith's corpse spontaneously orgasm: labor freedom! Good news, laborers! You're really free! Oh, wait a second...

"The United States’ labor regulations are highly flexible. The non-salary cost of employing a worker is low, and dismissing an employee is not burdensome."

Good news, laborers! You're free to be paid very little by people who can fire you whenever the fuck they feel like it and can work their way around any "flexible" rules placed in their way. Doesn't that make you feel great? At least the bastard who fired you is paying a top marginal tax rate of 35 whole percent, you know, less all the loopholes his accountants find for him. Wave your flag proudly!

At this point, it would almost be gilding the lily to point out that the economic freedom of Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be measured by the Heritage Foundation, on account of all the chaos there making reliable economic data unavailable. Chaos that the Heritage Foundation is deeply complicit in bringing about. But pointing out what epic, hypocritical douchebags the Heritage Foundation is can never truly be considered excessive.