The protests that swept through the Middle East and North Africa over the past six months have shown us what people will do to have their voices heard. Starting with the desperate act of a simple fruit vendor in Tunisia, the unrest in the region has demonstrated that people are willing to fight—and die—for their economic, political, and civil freedom.
However, the sentiment that fueled the Arab Spring and led to mass demonstrations in over a dozen countries in the region is nothing new. It was the same desire for freedom that inspired Eastern Europeans to overthrow their Cold War leaders, South Africans to end the repressive apartheid regime, and countless colonies to emerge from imperial rule after the Second World War.
In the aftermath of these events, once the protests disperse and the fighting stops, what can we expect to see? Will the emergence of more political and economic rights lead to more stability and better governance? Will more transparent and legitimate institutions be able to provide the vital services necessary to meet the needs of the people? Will more open markets allow for greater economic growth and deeper development?
These are precisely the types of questions addressed by World Bank lead economist, Jean-Pierre Chauffour, in his recent contribution to the Economic Premise series, “Freedom, Entitlement, and the Path to Development”. In his analysis, Chauffour concludes, “Reviewing the economic performance of more than 100 countries over the past 30 years, new empirical evidence tends to support the idea that economic freedom and civil and political liberties are the root causes of why certain countries achieve and sustain better economic outcomes.”
Indeed, essential economic freedoms—such as freedom to hold and legally acquire property, freedom to engage in voluntary transactions, and freedom from government expropriation of property—have very evident growth-enhancing results. Chauffour argues that institutions and policies that guarantee such economic freedoms “promote the flow of goods, capital, labor, and services to where preference satisfaction and returns are the highest.” Likewise, he argues that augmented political and civil freedoms can have a positive impact on economic growth by increasing savings and investment rates and reducing corruption, government controls, and lack of respect for the rule of law.
In sum, more freedom—economic, political, and civil—has the potential to underpin greater growth and achieve better development outcomes. And that’s something worth fighting for.