Working toward a freer world in 2023

Holiday traditions help us close the year with a bit of normalcy.  Yet it’s tough to shake the feeling that we are in uniquely challenging times.

Persistent inflation, geopolitical crises and severe political polarization cast large shadows on the year ahead.

Will we be experiencing more freedom and more prosperity a year from now — or less? The answer depends on returning to time-tested principles to unleash the productive forces of free enterprise and keep governments confined to their proper lane.

We now see evidence all around us that the U.S. states with the best economic outlooks are those with the highest levels of economic freedom (including Florida, Tennessee and Texas); those with expansive government (such as California and New York) suffer the consequences.

This simple insight knows no boundary. My organization finds inspiration in the stories of bold entrepreneurs like Papa Coriandre, who has been able to expand his business in the poor country of Burundi. That central African nation slashed the requirements for formally registering a business, which has allowed small enterprises like Papa Coriandre’s to gain access to credit and legally employ scores of new hires. The reform in Burundi was envisioned years ago by a local public policy think tank, Centre for Development and Enterprises Great Lakes, that executed a campaign titled Birashoboka (“It’s Possible” in Kirundi).

If it is possible to curb an oppressive government and unleash entrepreneurship in Burundi, it must be possible here too.

Making progress just requires the right ideas, determination and courage as well. As I reflect on 2022, I am thankful for the many examples of courage evidenced this past year that give me hope for the future — the courage of Virginia parents who took on corrupt school boards, the courage of women in Iran who have stood up to the Ayatollahs’ backward rules and brutality and the courage of ordinary Chinese civilians who turned into peaceful-but-vocal protestors to end the Chinese Communist Party’s unworkable COVID-zero policy.

Most of all, 2022 will be remembered for the courage and resilience of Ukrainians. Our best intelligence suggested the government in Kyiv would crumble as had the one in Kabul. It did not, and more importantly, the people of Ukraine stayed to defend their independence. Ukraine MP Maryan Zablotskyy explained Vladimir Putin’s mistake succinctly: “He has sent slaves to conquer free people.”

As ever, the history of our century will depend on free people standing up against governments prone to oppression, corruption, and tyranny. My organization, Atlas Network, partners with more than 500 independent think tanks around the world, so we have grown accustomed to the success stories associated with greater individual liberty. They are everywhere, if you care to look for them.

In Spain, Foro Regulación Inteligente contributed to the repeal of 170 regulatory restrictions and helped streamline the permitting process for new housing and commercial construction. This reform sped the launch of the “Madrid Nuevo Norte” urban redevelopment project, one of the largest in Europe, which promises to bring down housing costs and provide an example of economic revitalization to a continent that has stagnated for too long.

In Uruguay, the Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo has provided intellectual ammunition to a political class that has worked methodically in the direction of open trade and labor market flexibility. In a region of macroeconomic instability, Uruguay stands apart as a glistening counterexample.

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Sri Lanka is suffering in the wake of an economic collapse that our partner, Advocata Institute, warned was coming. Even there, I see hope as Advocata has helped address some of the worst aspects of the crisis — such as rolling blackouts and shortages of food, fuel, medicine and other necessities — by repealing shortage-inducing price controls. They are now working toward more fundamental reforms to lay the foundations for future prosperity.

Around the world, free-market think tanks are leveraging local knowledge and experience to transform lives for the better. They give me hope that 2023 can be a year of progress.

At Atlas Network, our new year’s resolution is to help think tanks help others. Yours should be to remember the real reason for economic prosperity: the free market.

Brad Lips serves as CEO of Atlas Network.

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