The World Bank has recently released the latest Doing Business 2010 report, measuring the level of business and economic regulation around the world. In spite of the financial crisis and the global recession, Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the United States retained the leadership as the most friendly locations for doing business. Notably, some countries have achieved high ranks. For example, Saudi Arabia moved to 13th placed and Georgia, once the bastion of Soviet-style state capitalism, now ranks as 11th most friendly place for doing business with open investment environment and low regulatory barriers to trade, entrepreneurship and investment. Countries such as Georgia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia have surpassed countries such as Sweden, Finland and Iceland although there is a notable difference in international comparison of those countries when it comes to the issues of the rule of law, property rights and institutionaly quality.
Douglass North, the 1993 Nobel-winning economist once famously wrote the essence of institutionaly quality for economic development. He said that the inability of societies to develop effective low-cost institutions is the major reason of today's contemporary underdevelopment of the third world. In terms of the ease of contract enforcement, 3 out of top 10 countries are Iceland, Finland and Norway where institutional quality and the rule of law are on the high level by all international indices and comparison.
In recent decade, embracing free-market ideas has had a significantly positive impact on the institutional quality, regulatory barriers and the overall quality of business environment - all of which affect the size of transaction cost and, by empirical evidence, the standard of living and the wealth of nations. Global economic integration further induced institutional competition in terms of tax structure, regulatory environment, administrative barriers and labor market structures. Thus, when countries such as Georgia, FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Liberia and United Arab Emirates, enacted the liberalization of the business environment, the results were significant ever after. The World Bank also published the list of top 10 reforms in 2010 among which are Rwanda, Kyrgyz Republic, FYR Macedonia, Egypt, Moldova, Belarus, Columbia, United Arab Emirates, Tajikistan and Liberia (link).
The efforts to deregulate and liberalize business environment worldwide, will have a strong impact on high-income countries to remove the existing barriers to trade and investment such as high tax burden, rigid labor market structure and government size relative to private sector. 2008/2009 financial crisis and the growing role of government in the economy will probably deteriorate the country ranking in the next year. However, the leadership in the quality of business and regulatory environment will depend on further liberalization of the business environment, particulary the labor market, which is a major backbone of high-income countries where union density and regulated labor markets are widespread.
If countries such as Italy, France, Germany and the rest of the developed world will hesitate in reforming the remaining barriers to trade, more direct investment flows will move to high-growing emerging markets where macroeconomic stabilization is proceeding and where policymakers impose reforms faster then their peers in the developed world.
If such trend continues, emerging markets will soon reap the benefits and could become the leaders in reforming the business environment, attracting direct investment and, by and large, in economic growth and catch-up with the rest of the world.