Economic freedom, or economic liberty, is the ability of people of a society to take economic actions. This is a term used in economic and policy debates as well as in the philosophy of economics. One approach to economic freedom comes from the liberal tradition emphasizing free markets, free trade, and private property under free enterprise. Another approach to economic freedom extends the welfare economics study of individual choice, with greater economic freedom coming from a larger set of possible choices. Other conceptions of economic freedom include freedom from want and the freedom to engage in collective bargaining.
The liberal free-market viewpoint defines economic liberty as the freedom to produce, trade and consume any goods and services acquired without the use of force, fraud, theft or government regulation. This is embodied in the rule of law, property rights and freedom of contract, and characterized by external and internal openness of the markets, the protection of property rights and freedom of economic initiative. There are several indices of economic freedom that attempt to measure free market economic freedom. Based on these rankings, correlative studies have found higher economic growth to be correlated with higher scores on the country rankings. With regards to other measures such as equality, corruption, political and social violence and their correlation to economic freedom, it has been argued that the economic freedom indices conflate unrelated policies and policy outcomes to conceal negative correlations between economic growth and economic freedom in some subcomponents.
According to the liberal free-market view, a secure system of private property rights is a necessary part of economic freedom. Such systems include two main rights, namely the right to control and benefit from property and the right to transfer property by voluntary means. David A. Harper argues that a system of private property is required for entrepreneurship, because “entrepreneurs would not be able to formulate or carry out their plans unless they were reasonably sure that the people with whom they trade have exclusive control over the relevant resources.” Bernard H. Siegan holds that a secure system of property rights also reduces uncertainty and encourages investments, creating favorable conditions for an economy to be successful. According to Hernando de Soto, much of the poverty in Third World countries is caused by a lack of Western systems of laws and well-defined and universally recognized property rights. De Soto argues that because of legal barriers and because it is often unclear who owns what property, poor people in those countries cannot utilize their assets to produce more wealth. David L. Weimer, surveying a series of empirical studies about economic growth, reports that “a number of economic historians have noted the importance of credible property rights, especially in terms of freedom from arbitrary seizures of property by governments, for understanding relative rates of growth in different time periods and regions,” and concludes that countries with strong property rights systems have economic growth rates almost twice as high as those of countries with weak property rights systems. At the same time, he notes that the risk of unexpected seizure, and not state ownership in and of itself, is responsible for this outcome, saying: “the degree of state ownership of property does not have a statistically significant effect on growth rates after controlling for the risk of seizure.”