The images flashing around the world of courageous freedom fighters in the streets of Kyiv, Caracas, and other cities and towns in Ukraine and Venezuela are compelling. Why are these people risking their lives? For freedom, that’s why.
And how do they know they don’t have it? Because they can see, over their “back fences” as it were, that their neighbors have more of it than they do because they have better governments. Governments with leaders that are not dedicated to stealing every asset they can grab and demanding every bribe they can take. Leaders committed to the rule of law.
Ukraine’s score in The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s 2014 Index of Economic Freedom is just 49.3. That means its economy remains in the bottom Index category—“repressed.” Ukraine is the 155th freest out of 178 countries ranked in 2014 worldwide; it is last among the 43 countries measured in the European region.
Since Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych took office in 2010, the country has registered steadily deteriorating scores on property rights, corruption, financial freedom, and investment freedom. Yet right next door, Ukraine’s neighbors—Poland, Slovakia, and Romania—have much more economic freedom and a positive path to future development.
That lack of economic freedom is the common denominator that also explains the deadly rioting going on right now in Venezuela against the corrupt Chavista regime of President Nicolás Maduro. (Another common element is the involvement of Russia in both countries.)
When the late President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, Venezuela scored 54 out of 100 possible points in the Index of Economic Freedom. Today, however, after 15 years of corruption and authoritarian populism under Chavez and Maduro, Venezuela merits a score of just 36 points. This nearly 20-point plunge is among the most severe ever recorded in the history of the Index. Its 2014 rank—175th out of 178 countries—places Venezuela among the most economically repressed nations in the world.
Venezuela is collapsing because its citizens see people right next door—in Colombia, Peru, and Brazil—living more prosperously. That means they can hope that their children will be able to lead better lives, too.
It is the lack of economic freedom—plainly visible in these graphics—that is driving the protestors. We should support them every step of the way. And so should our government.
James M. Roberts is the Research Fellow in Freedom and Growth at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for International Trade and Economics. Roberts’ primary responsibility is to produce the Index of Economic Freedom, an influential annual analysis of the economic climate of countries throughout the world.