The 2013 Index of Economic Freedom

There is more the President could do during his Middle East trip to improve the stability in the region: He should promote economic freedom.

The Middle East and North Africa are two regions where countries lack the institutions to protect private property rights. In his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Hernando de Soto, president of the Peruvian-based Institute for Liberty and Democracy, noted:

According to our estimates, more than 200 million people throughout the Middle East and North Africa depend on income from operating businesses or occupying property in the informal economy—without the protection of the rule of law.

The basic foundation for a functioning free market economy is the protection of the rule of law. Without it, citizens are at risk of having their property seized, and corruption—arguably the main driver of the Arab Spring revolution—becomes endemic.

As noted by Heritage’s Jim Roberts in a chapter contributed to the special section on the rule of law in the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, “Private property rights encourage investment, entrepreneurship, and innovation; protection against corruption discourages rent seeking and helps to guide resources to productive use.”

De Soto has another key insight:

The U.S. and its allies risk missing a chance to overhaul a system that creates the poverty and anger on which the likes of al Qaeda thrive. If the West focuses its aid and advice on efforts to establish legal protections for property rights and private business, it will find an avid audience—and new admirers—in the millions.

Now is an opportunity to make that happen.

Drew Ringley is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.