EFNA Network Conference Highlights Research, Best Practices, Reforms

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Fraser Insight, Fall 2021

Dozens of members and partners of the EFNA Network representing 24 organizations, 17 states and territories, and three countries participated in the Institute’s annual EFNA Network Conference in Dallas. It was the first in-person gathering of the Network since 2019, and attendees were treated to a program loaded with ideas and best practices for disseminating EFNA, new research findings, and insights on the state of economic freedom globally, nationally and locally.

Robert Lawson of the Bridwell Institute for Economic Freedom at SMU and Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute offered insights on economic freedom in a global context. McMahon and fellow EFNA co-authors Dean Stansel of the Bridwell Institute and José Torra of Caminos de la Libertad gave participants a preview of the 2021 EFNA index (set for release in November) and a recap of the 2020 index. Among their findings from 2020: New Hampshire retained its status as the most economically-free state in the union, followed by Florida (2nd), Virginia (3rd), Texas (4th) and Tennessee (5th). At the other end of the spectrum, New York was yet again dead last, with West Virginia (49th), Alaska (48th), California (47th) and Vermont (46th) joining the Empire State in the EFNA cellar.

Vance Ginn, chief economist with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Lawrence McQuillan, director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute in California, co-led the keynote discussion covering economic freedom after Covid-19. Ginn noted that freedom of all kinds is under attack in ways not seen in many decades, that top-down government interventions have failed spectacularly in the wake of Covid-19, and that America needs to decrease government spending and increase economic freedom. To dig out of the Covid-19 hole, he concluded, “Federal and state governments need to be more economically free than before Covid.”

Underscoring that point, McQuillan discussed how the emergency adoption of enhanced economic-freedom principles in California’s healthcare sector enabled it to weather the Covid-19 storm. He recently authored a report titled Covid in California detailing how the state’s decision to temporarily relax regulations ranging from telemedicine and licensing to staffing and supply chains made the healthcare sector more responsive to the needs of patients, taxpayers and health providers. “Now, we must make the case for making these reforms permanent,” he said.

Mike LaFaive of the Mackinac Center in Michigan discussed the ups and downs he experienced in trying to publish an essay on economic freedom in Spanish-language newspapers. Partnering with Torra, LaFaive made pitches to outlets in Detroit and Grand Rapids. Responses were polite but less than enthusiastic. So, he blazed his own trail, took out an ad to promote the article on Mackinac’s Facebook page and received largely positive reactions. Mackinac plans to use targeted Facebook ads again with EFNA 2021, in hopes of getting the report directly into the hands of Michigan’s Latino community and growing Arab community.

Joshua Crawford of the Pegasus Institute in Kentucky discussed the challenges his state faces on the economic-freedom front, and he noted that EFNA is serving as a helpful goad to action for policymakers concerned about the state’s poor placement relative to neighboring states Indiana and Tennessee. Crawford shared how Pegasus uses its digital media strategy to disseminate infographics to lawmakers and other interested stakeholders conveying all the relevant EFNA data about Kentucky and its neighbors. “The more you can condense information,” he advised, “the more effective you will be with lawmakers.”

Edward Lopez of Western Carolina University’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise talked about his study on Covid-19, economic freedom and economic recovery, which relies heavily on EFNA data. Lopez has used the study and EFNA rankings to challenge state lawmakers to live up to their own pro-growth rhetoric, put economic freedom into terms lawmakers better understand, draw clear contrasts and comparisons with neighboring states, and make these ideas relevant to lawmakers. “Lawmakers are now asking us, ‘What should we be doing to improve North Carolina’s position?’ They are especially interested in issues related to occupational licensing,” Lopez said.

Roberto Salinas, director of the Atlas Network Center for Latin America, shared insights into efforts in Mexico to promote and strengthen property rights by opening up the energy sector to private investment, especially through vehicles such as a sovereign wealth fund.

Ginn and Stansel teamed up for a session focused on how Americans are “voting with their feet” and choosing economically-free states over states with low levels of economic freedom. They report that a recent study found a 10-percent increase in a metro area’s economic freedom level is associated with a 27-percent increase in inbound migration.

Erik Randolph, director of research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, shared insights from his comparative analysis of state government Covid-19 restrictions and economic performance. Not surprisingly, his research indicates that states with more severe closures and restrictions have seen slower economic recoveries.

Justin Callais of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University discussed his research on the correlation between economic freedom and upward income mobility.

Finally, Alan Dowd, who serves as managing director of the EFNA Network, offered a “State of the Network” report. Now in its eighth year, the EFNA Network enfolds 61 members in 46 states, Canada and Mexico, and it continues to grow. In the past 12 months, the Network has added the Josiah Bartlett Center of New Hampshire, Center for Economic Education at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Maine Policy Institute, Georgia Center for Opportunity, Instituto de Libertad Económica of Puerto Rico and Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise at Oklahoma State University.

“Network members are doing a fantastic job getting the report into the hands of policymakers and stakeholders in their states,” Dowd reported, noting that the EFNA Network has generated 82 media placements across 18 states and national outlets in the 2020-21 cycle.

Since launching the EFNA Network, EFNA has been cited in the Economic Report of the President of the United States, and by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Comptroller’s Office. EFNA has also been mentioned in testimony before the Texas legislature and featured by scores of major media outlets, including: CNBC, Barron’s, The Hill, Forbes, Real Clear Policy, Washington Examiner, American Spectator, National Review, Reason, Contemporary Economic Policy, American Economic Review, Cato Journal, the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Atlas Foundation, Mercatus Center, Foundation for Economic Education, NPR (Dallas), CBS MarketWatch, Journal of Private Enterprise, Economic Affairs, and 103 local newspapers across 42 states.

“That’s all thanks to the partners that comprise the EFNA Network,” Dowd said. “None of this is possible without our partners at the state level.”

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