Canadians enjoy more economic freedom than Americans -- and more than people in 138 other countries -- according to a new report released Tuesday by the Fraser Institute.
Canada, with a score of 7.97 out of 10, edged up a notch from last year to tie Australia for fifth in the economic freedom rankings, while the U.S. plummeted to its lowest-ever ranking, at 18th.
The conservative think-tank says the cornerstones of economic freedom are "personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete and security of private property."
Its annual index of economic freedom around the world measures 42 indicators, including size of government, credit, labour and business regulations, and access to sound money, in 144 nations.
Countries with greater economic freedom have more prosperity, greater civil liberties and longer life spans, the institute said.
The average score worldwide rose slightly to 6.83 from 6.64 in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available), but the U.S. continued its decline from its second-place ranking in 2000.
Canada's high level of economic freedom helped shield it from the global economic crisis of the past few years.
"Meanwhile, other nations embraced heavy-handed regulation and extensive overspending in response to the American and European debt crises. Consequently, their levels of economic freedom decreased," the report said.
This year's top five mirror last year's: Hong Kong was at the top, with a score of 8.9, followed by Singapore, New Zealand and Switzerland, and rounded out by Australia, with the addition of Canada tying for fifth. Venezuela came in at the bottom.