According to the authors of the report, North Korea would take up the lowest rating in the Index. But as there are hardly any reliable economic data from Pyongyang, the North Koreans are left out of the ranking.
Recently, economists and free-market advocates from over a dozen Asian countries assembled in Jaipur, India, for the Fifth Workshop of the Economic Freedom Network Asia. At the conference, delegates discussed the methodology, the application and also the political relevance of the Economic Freedom Index in the Asian context. One discussion centered on the fundamental issue of the definition of economic freedom.
Not all economists agreed with the notion that the smaller the role of the state in the economy the freer the economy is.
"We are talking about the freedom to have the means to lead a decent life," said Ernest Leung, president of the Philippine Stock Exchange and representative of the Foundation for Economic Freedom in Manila.
Leung added that "we are not interested in the freedom to starve."
A delegate from India supported the idea of an active role for government in promoting economic development in underdeveloped nations, arguing that "it might be good to have the freedom to purchase a refrigerator. But if I don't have electricity, that freedom means nothing."
Confronted with the argument that their program is unreceptive to the problems of the poor and marginalized sectors of society, the authors of the Index argue that their data provides ample empirical evidence that economic liberalization is the best social policy. As economic freedom generates growth, it creates the basis for welfare.
"When the income of a country grows, so do the incomes of the poor," argues Walker, referring to statistics that show that an increase in economic freedom sooner or later also leads to an increase in life expectancy, a reduction in poverty, infant mortality, child malnutrition and child labor.
According to Walker, economic liberalization is also a very potent weapon in the battle against graft and corruption.
"If you get rid of state regulations, you also get rid of those in power asking for kick-backs," he pointed out.
While free-market supporters maintain that liberalization and the reduction of the state's role in the economy is ultimately the best strategy against poverty, they do not advocate a total withdrawal of government from all sectors of the economy.
"We are not trying to promote a world where there is no government," Walker says, "Our dream is a world in which the government guarantees a system of laws that protect the economic freedoms of all members of society."
Ronald Meinardus is the resident representative of the Naumann Foundation in the Philippines and a commentator on Asian affairs.