ANALYSIS | A day before the Illinois primary, Mitt Romney delivered a blistering attack on President Barack Obama for "assaulting" economic freedom in a University of Chicago speech.
Was he right? Using the style of Steven D. Levitt, a University of Chicago economist and co-author of the book Freakonomics, I evaluate that claim by Romney.
What is economic freedom?
Levitt and his co-author, Stephen J. Dubner, go beyond the politics, bias, and hubris to ask the questions and test the results. For example, what is economic freedom? The Cato Institute has come up with the Economic Freedom of the World dataset, which looks at taxing and spending, property rights protections, currency stability, free trade and financial regulations.
The case against Barack Obama
"The Obama administration's assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid-why it couldn't meet their projections, let alone our expectations," Romney said at the University of Chicago, where Obama also taught. "If we don't change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come."
A glance at the data indicates that Romney may be on to something. The United States score for 2009 (from the 2011 publication, the most recent edition released) is 7.58 of ten, the lowest score for this country since the study began in 1970. Even Carter in 1980 had a better score for economic freedom.
It is also one of the biggest declines in economic freedom over the last several years. According to the Cato Institute, the U.S. is one of five countries (along with Argentina, Iceland, Ireland and Venezuela) which had the steepest drops in economic freedom.
Is the economic freedom decline all about Obama?
But a second look at that data is revealing. The biggest economic freedom decline study reflects changes that began in the year 2000. So the declines began back when Obama was in the Illinois state senate.
In fact, America's strong economic freedom scores occurred in the latter part of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president, and a guy named Newt Gingrich was House Speaker. The declines took place from 2001 through 2009. For almost all of those years, George W. Bush was president. Moreover, Republicans owned Congress for much of that time.
Despite those declines, also observed in the Heritage Foundation's report on economic freedom during the Obama Administration, the United States still ranks 10th in the survey for economic freedom in 2009, close to its ranking during the Bush years.
The economic freedom ratings for Obama's first year aren't good. But our decline in free markets long precedes the current president. Republicans like Romney will have to explain how they would govern differently from Bush and the Congressional Republicans in the last decade if they want to show how they'd do things differently than Obama.