Economic freedom in India has improved notably since the beginning of the country’s market reforms in the early 1990s, stimulating high growth from a very low income base. Though India’s level of economic freedom is still low—it ranked 111 out of 144 countries in the latest Economic Freedom of the World index—assigning one overall rating to this vast country can be a bit misleading. The map below shows that, rated on a state by state basis, the levels of economic freedom in India in fact vary greatly. The state of Gujarat, for example, has the freest economy in the country and ranks far above West Bengal, one of the least free states.
The data comes from the Economic Freedom of the States of India: 2012 report, co-published today by Cato, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, and Indicus Analytics in New Delhi.
This annual report shows a positive relationship between economic freedom and growth. It is a reminder to policymakers at the state level that they need not wait for national leaders to restart the reform agenda; much can be done at the sub-national level to improve freedom. My colleague Swami Aiyar, one of the co-authors of the report, suggests some reforms in his chapter(.pdf) describing Punjab’s decline.
The study discusses reforms in two other areas that would have a significant impact on Indian growth. In his chapter (.pdf), Ashok Gulati, the head of the Indian government’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, describes the extent to which Indian agriculture is so incredibly screwed up in every step of production and sales, and he suggests sweeping liberalization. Economist Bibek Debroy describes India’s extremely rigid labor laws (.pdf), which help explain India’s large informal economy and why the country has failed to create labor intensive export industries as have developed in other Asian countries.