The Index editors carefully study the data for each of these areas to assign a grade to each country. Small wonder that only seven make the cut as "free." Most of the world's economies fall in the "moderately free" (51) or "mostly unfree" (52) categories. The rest are divided up pretty evenly between "mostly free" (23) and "repressed" (24). Which means that most of the world's population isn't very free, economically speaking.
But don't despair. For one thing, although the level of overall economic freedom held fairly steady over the last year, the overall trend since the inaugural Index in 1995 has been up. Plus -- and here's the most hopeful part of the whole enterprise -- countries can, and many do, improve. The history of the Index is filled with success stories. Ireland is a prime example, as is Chile. Both nations have made clear-cut changes over the years -- changes that have given people more economic freedom and therefore helped their economies grow.
This connection between freedom and wealth is by no means new. In fact, the Index can be viewed as a new tool to prove an old truth. As the editors note in the introduction to the 2008 Index: "Economic theory dating back to the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations in 1776 emphasizes the lesson that basic institutions that protect the liberty of individuals to pursue their own economic interests result in greater prosperity for the larger society."
Economic freedom is about more than just the bottom line. When you give people the liberty they crave, you do more than boost an economy -- you make it possible for men and women to improve their lives. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, they're free to engage in "the pursuit of happiness." And as the Index proves, it's a virtuous cycle that leaves everyone better off than they were before.