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Study reveals where economic freedom rings

Hong Kong remains the world's most economically free entity, according to a 2003 report by the Cato Institute, a research foundation with libertarian leanings. Hong Kong has earned the highest ranking every year since the first report was published in 1996.

The report ranked 123 nations using 38 variables. According to the report's authors, key ingredients to economic freedom include a high degree of personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and the protection of persons and property.

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In addition to the Top 10 shown below, the rankings of other large economies include Germany, 20; Japan, 26; Italy, 35; France, 44; Mexico, 69; India, 73; Brazil, 82; China, 100; and Russia, 112.

The bottom five nations in the report were Guinea-Bissau, Algeria, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burma (Myanmar). With the exception of Botswana, the report showed that the least economically free states are in sub-Saharan Africa. The region, however, can look to Botswana for an example.

Botswana has a per capita GDP of $3,950. A comparable figure in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa is $564. For 2003, Botswana has the 26th highest level of economic freedom, tied with eight other nations, including Japan and Norway.

"The research is unambiguous that freeing people economically unleashes individual drive and initiative and puts a nation on the road to economic growth," Nobel laureate Milton Friedman said of the report, in a Cato press release.

"By freeing people from government dependence and creating prosperity" he added, "economic freedom also helps establish other freedoms and democracy."

The Top 10 countries and their rank:

1. Hong Kong

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2. Singapore

3. United States

4. New Zealand, Britain (tie)

6. Canada

7. Australia, Ireland, Switzerland (tie)

10. Netherlands