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The Copenhagen Consensus

Reading Adam Smith in Denmark

Courtesy Reuters

Adam Smith observed in 1776 that economies work best when governments keep their clumsy thumbs off the free market's "invisible hand." Two generations later, in 1817, the British economist David Ricardo extended Smith's insights to global trade. Just as market forces lead to the right price and quantity of products domestically, Ricardo argued, free foreign trade optimizes economic outcomes internationally.

Reading Adam Smith in Copenhagen -- the center of the small, open, and highly successful Danish economy -- is a kind of out-of-body experience. On the one hand, the Danes are passionate free traders. They score well in the ratings constructed by pro-market organizations. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index ranks Denmark third, just behind the United States and Switzerland. Denmark's financial markets are clean and transparent, its barriers to imports minimal, its labor markets the most flexible in Europe, its multinational corporations dynamic and largely unmolested by industrial policies, and

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