Courtesy Reuters

Making the Grade

By Joseph W. Sullivan

Alexander Cooley and Jack Snyder (“Rank Has Its Privileges,” November/December 2015) condemn the ratings produced by organizations such as the World Bank and Freedom House for what they describe as methodological inconsistencies and oversimplifications. Yet the alternatives Cooley and Snyder propose underscore the many virtues of the current ratings system.

The authors’ recommendation that raters “ground their evaluations in nuanced theories of conditional and interactive effects,” for example, would transform ratings from imperfect but accessible tools into overly complex reports. There is already a glut of such reports and no need for new ones; current ratings are useful because they distill such reports’ contents. And the authors’ suggestion that ratings “be based on proven causal relationships” ignores the role of ratings in the kinds of analysis used to understand those causal relationships in the first place.

Cooley and Snyder argue that the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index should be eliminated and replaced with “data reflecting each country’s performance on specific indicators.” Here, too, they err: those seeking specific indicators can already turn to the hundreds of other data series the World Bank and other organizations produce each year. The authors’ suggestion that the Ease of Doing Business Index harms the public policy debate wrongly assumes that researchers and policymakers use it as the single source for their judgments, rather than as one of many.

JOSEPH W. SULLIVAN

Research Associate, American Enterprise Institute