Owen Barder, at Owen’s Musings, fairly demands more facts (and fewer speculative presumptions) about what’s going on in Niger.
In search of more facts, I went to the latest Gwartney-Lawson-Holcombe Economic Freedom of the World study (2004).
Niger ranks low. While the freest country in the world, Hong Kong, has an overall score of 8.7 out of 10, Niger’s overall score is 5.4. Niger’s score is comparable to that of Chad (5.6), Ecuador (5.6), Gabon (5.2), Nigeria (5.7), Pakistan (5.8), Rwanda (5.4), Syria (5.2), and similar countries where people’s most abundant possession is poverty.
The U.S. overall score is 8.2.
Below are Niger’s ranks in more fine-grained categories of economic freedom. (For purposes of comparison, I include in parentheses the U.S. rank for each category.)
Size of Government: 78th (16th)
Legal Structure & Security of Property Rights: 92nd (16th)
Access to Sound Money: 92nd (3rd)
Freedom to Trade Internationally: 106th (29th)
Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business: 109th (3rd)
Credit Market Regulations: 83rd (8th)
Insufficient data are available for Niger to rank its performance on the labor-market-regulation, and business-regulation, fronts.
Statistics being unavoidably influenced by human choices of definitions, methods of data gathering and categorization, and on and on, no collection of statistics is immune from criticism. (My favorite book on this topic, by the way, is Joel Best, Damned Lies and Statistics (2001).) But the Gwartney, Lawson, & Holcombe study is quite sturdy and as objective as any such empirical study can possibly be. It offers serious empirical, objective data that show Nigeriens to be the unfortunate victims of a heavy-handed, market-hostile government.
And any people so plagued live lives that are especially precarious. For example, in a year in which nature is friendly, no one starves. But let nature get a bit nasty – let nature withhold rain or dump too much rain or send swarms of locusts – and people literally starve to death. One of the great benefits of economic freedom – and especially of greater integration into the global market – is that people are not held hostage to the whimsy that mother nature inevitably plays with their own locales or countries.