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Ranking Good Governance

September 14, 2010

Wanting to find agreement with progressives, Scott Sumner is concerned the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom might reflect too strong a bias in favor of market liberalism. In its place, he offers an emended version of the World Economic Forum’s Global Economic Report, which, with some edits, he believes more accurately measures and ranks what’s good governance. Capturing the gold, silver and bronze are Singapore, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. His conclusions:

1.  Small countries are better governed.

2.  The list has something for both those on the left and those on the right.  Most of the top scorers are the sort of European welfare state beloved by liberals.  France overtakes the US in this list.  On the other hand the top three are usually regarded as pretty capitalistic places, and even if you throw out the two Asian city-states (which I’d oppose) Switzerland is often called the most capitalist country in Europe.

It seems to me this list is exposing a perspective that is orthogonal to the tired left/right debate over big government.  It suggests multiple paths to nirvana.  To explain why, let me return to the three models of neoliberalism discussed in my ‘Great Danes’ paper.  I see those three models as providing answers to the three basic questions of governance:

A.   What values should government policies embody?

B.   What policies effectively deliver those values?

C.  When there is a dispute about which policies work best, how should the dispute be resolved?

Sumner praises the efficiencies of small governments, but I would like to add that they also allow a greater diversity of values to flourish. The C-question becomes less important and less contentious, the greater variety we find in the answer to the A-question. Moreover, and just as important, a robust federalism or simply stronger competition between nations on policy would help answer the B-question.

Competitive governance is orthogonal to the Left-Right debate, as Sumner says. But let’s go all the way. Don’t force the binary. Go with the Long Tail of governance.


  1. Scott Sumner permalink
    September 14, 2010 7:57 pm

    Thanks for the link. That was a typo on HK, it is ahead of Sweden (I just correct the data.) I don’t oppose the Heritage Index, I just wanted to look at another issue here.

    I’d prefer more than 1000 nations, but that would be a good start.

    • Mike Gibson permalink*
      September 14, 2010 8:41 pm


      I’ll amend the post.

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