It's no accident that we're a rich country, but why? Some might be tempted to say that we're rich because of our abundant natural resources. That's nonsense! Africa and South America are probably richer than we are in natural resources but are home to some of the world's poorest people. On the other hand, countries like England, Japan and Hong Kong are natural resources paupers, but their people are nonetheless rich. By the way, Hong Kong even has to import all of its food and water.

Some people might argue that a history of colonialism explains why some countries are poor. Also, nonsense. United States was a colony. So were Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

The reason some countries are rich while others are poor is best explained by the amount of personal liberty people have and the extent of government control over economic matters.

Here's a little experiment for you. Rank countries along a spectrum going from those closer to free markets to those where there is extensive government control over economic activity. You'll discover a remarkable result. Those closer to the free market end of the spectrum are not only richer but their people are freer.

The bottom line: any American suggesting greater government control over economic activity is really asking us to be poorer.

I'm Walter Williams
Nightly Business Report
May 2002
Return to Commentaries Page