Spreading the Economic Freedom Message

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Appeared in Fraser Insight, January 2017

Economic freedom is one of the main drivers of prosperity, as the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America index (EFNA) has illustrated—and hundreds of independent studies have confirmed. For a dozen years, EFNA has measured the level of economic freedom in U.S. states, Canadian provinces and Mexican states by using an index incorporating government spending, taxation and labor-market freedom. In high-economic-freedom states, the average per capita income is 4.7 percent above the national average, while the average per capita income in low-economic-freedom states is 3.3 percent below the national average. This is a message that needs to be heard. The challenge, until recently, was spreading this message at the state and local level.

That began to change in 2014, when Fred McMahon, who heads our economic-freedom research, suggested that we build a partnership of U.S. organizations modeled after our global economic freedom network, in order to spread the word about economic freedom at the state level. Starting with 10 partners in nine states, the EFNA Network now comprises 32 partners in 28 states. (For a list and brief descriptions of each EFNA Network member, see page 87 of this year’s EFNA report.)

These partners collaborate with us as “co-publishers” in sharing EFNA’s findings. We develop joint press releases tailored to each partner state and email our partners advance copies of EFNA in PDF. As co-publishers, our partners are free to issue press releases in their states, in their own name. This is a headache-free way for our partners to use and disseminate EFNA.

And they have disseminated EFNA with gusto: EFNA media mentions in the U.S. increased 243 percent after the Network was launched. Thanks to our Network, EFNA 2015 (published in December 2015) was featured in national outlets such as CNBC, The Hill, The American Thinker and Barron’s, as well as prominent statewide outlets in Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Hawaii—some 20 states in all in the past year. All told, our partners helped publish 79 reports, articles and blog posts in 20 states in 2015-16. We’ve just begun tracking media placements for EFNA 2016 (published in December 2016).

Equally important, our EFNA Network partners are using the report to raise their profiles.  

The Buckeye Institute adds a state-specific introduction to the report, highlighting Ohio’s strengths, weakness and comparisons to neighbors. Buckeye also publishes Ohio-specific data as a standalone product, distributes EFNA info sheets to state policymakers and posts EFNA findings on social media.

“The Economic Freedom of North America index gives us a valuable measuring stick so we can advise policymakers how their actions are making Ohio more or less free,” Buckeye COO Rea Hederman explains. “As Ohio’s rankings improve, this reinforces a positive message to our policy influencers on why good policy affects economic freedom. EFNA also singles out particular areas of need for Ohio to improve.” 

No partner uses EFNA as fuel for its publications more frequently than the Mackinac Center. “The EFNA is a great tool for debating the value of economic liberty,” says Michael LaFaive, director of Mackinac’s Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative. In articles, newsletters and blogs, LaFaive uses EFNA “to remind lawmakers and others that mountains of data exist that show positive correlations between economic liberty and human wellbeing,” he explains. “If Michigan lawmakers want their fellow citizens to have more opportunity and wealth, they should look to policies that improve Michigan’s rank in Fraser’s index.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has used the report as a springboard for scores of columns promoting economic freedom on their website and in publications such as RealClearPolicy, Investor’s Business Daily and Forbes. In addition, TPPF invites Fraser researchers to participate in legislative forums. “We at the Texas Public Policy Foundation rely on the EFNA to craft free-market reforms to improve the standards of living for all Texans,” says Vance Ginn, Ph.D., an economist at TPPF.

The Grassroot Institute leverages EFNA findings and authors for “Skype-cast” interviews discussing policies Hawaii needs to implement to lift itself out of the EFNA cellar.

The Rio Grande Foundation (New Mexico) hosts EFNA authors for radio programs and places EFNA op-eds in local outlets.

The Beacon Center, Alaska Policy Forum, Commonwealth Foundation and Pelican Institute use EFNA findings as fodder for blogs and Facebook posts.

The list goes on. Add it all up, and the result is more state policymakers and more concerned citizens hearing about the benefits of economic freedom than ever before.

Putting the report in the hands of state-based partners dramatically changed how EFNA was received and where it was seen. The reason: Our state-based partners have their own networks, and they know their neighborhoods better than we ever could. That’s the power of the EFNA Network.

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