A market economy is a system in which individual citizens and privately held businesses—and the customers who patronize them—determine the prices of goods and services through the forces of supply and demand. Those prices, in turn, guide economic decisions in related areas such as investment, production, and distribution. Businesses are free to succeed or fail in market economies, and competition drives innovation and optimizes efficiency. Market economies are typically utilized in capitalist countries, whereas socialist and communist countries typically utilize a command economy, in which the government controls the price, supply/manufacture, and distribution of most goods. Market economies have six defining characteristics which enable them to exist and function properly:
Pure free-market economies are extremely rare, as the government nearly always has a hand in some aspect of the economy, such as offering subsidies to struggling/fledgling industries, capping utility prices, or providing "public goods" (roads, military defenses, universal healthcare) to its citizens. Therefore, most developed countries in the world today include elements of both free market and command economies, making them mixed economies. Most economists agree that market-oriented economies are healthier and more efficient than command economies, but considerable debate exists about which balance of free markets vs central planning results in the greatest economic stability, equity, and long-term benefits.
Although there are currently no purely free-market economies in the world, some mixed economies are freer than others. According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Rankings, the five countries with the most economic freedom in 2021 were Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, and Switzerland. This report ranks countries based on these cornerstones of economic freedom: personal choice rather than collective choice, voluntary exchange coordinated by markets, freedom to enter and compete in markets, and protection of persons and their property.
Certain areas of China, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Georgia are said to be the most economically free countries in the world.