APPARENTLY WE’RE ONLY ‘MOSTLY FREE’…. Fox News’ John Stossel wants folks to know some discouraging news: we’re slipping on the “Index of Economic Freedom.”

Last year, I reported that the United States fell from sixth to eighth place — behind Canada — in the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal’s 2010 Index of Economic Freedom. Now, we’ve fallen further. In the just-released 2011 Index, the United States is in ninth place. […]

The biggest reason for the continued slide? Spending as a percentage of gross domestic product. (State and local spending is not counted.)

The debt picture is dismal, too. We are heading into Greece’s territory.

Now, anyone who seriously believes the United States is “heading to Greece’s territory” is obviously not to be taken seriously. But I do find the larger story interesting.

Every year, the Heritage Foundation, one of the right’s leading think tanks, publishes this index, ranking the planet’s 179 countries on their “economic freedoms” (as defined by the Heritage Foundation). In previous years, the United States was considered “free.” Now, however, we’re only “mostly free.”

So, who are the shining beacons of liberty? Rather, which countries do a better job at meeting the Heritage threshold for being actually economically free, or at least freer than we are? Hong Kong and Singapore are on top, followed by Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland and Denmark.

Walid Zafar notes some of the “morally, intellectually and ideologically inconsistent” flaws on display.

First, Hong Kong and Singapore are city-states, and, according to The Economist, hybrid regimes — somewhere between a weak democracy and an authoritarian regime.

Other than Hong Kong and Singapore, the other countries ahead of the United States are all strong social democracies. In other words, they are the very places that both the Heritage Foundation and the editors of the Wall Street Journal consider evil: nations supposedly teetering on the cusp of socialism, where taxes are at near-exorbitant rates. Worse, in all of these states, there is some form of socialized medicine and, in some instances, mandated health insurance.

What gives? It’s almost as if the Index of Economic Freedom is an arbitrary exercise and not really about economic freedom at all.

It is curious, isn’t it? The Heritage Foundation would apparently be more satisfied if our economic freedoms were more in line with countries that have socialized medicine, impose higher tax rates, and in Ireland’s case, is in need of a massive bailout to prevent a catastrophe.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.