The people of Hong Kong deserve to have their descent into tyranny recorded. History also deserves a record of the Chinese Communist Party’s suppression of what was once the freest place on the planet. One international index has already expunged Hong Kong, but the Economic Freedom of the World Index, published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, and the Human Freedom Index, co-published by Fraser and the Cato Institute, won’t abandon Hong Kong.
International indexes create information on the human condition by comparing like to like. They are most valuable when tracking fast-moving, fundamental changes, like those in Hong Kong. But the Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Index of Economic Freedom created a new rule to eliminate Hong Kong. “The Index this year measures economic freedom only in independent countries,” Heritage wrote. “Hong Kong and Macau are thus no longer included.”
This contradicts past practice. International indexes, including Heritage’s, measured Hong Kong when a London-appointed, monarchical governor set policy. They also rated Lebanon under Syrian control and scores of indebted nations when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank set policy. The index is about economic freedom, not who rules whom.
In its annual report, Heritage admits that Hong Kong enjoys “policies that in many respects offer their citizens more economic freedom than is available to the average citizen of China.” So why not measure it?
Perhaps to avoid public-relations problems. Fraser got pushback for ranking Hong Kong first in 2020, based on 2018 data, the most recent comprehensive data available. Hong Kong will be at or near the top of global economic freedom in 2021 (with 2019 data), too. To maintain Hong Kong’s economic success, the Communist Party will likely avoid undermining economic freedom unless it threatens the regime.
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