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Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

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Mapped: The World's Oldest Democracies

Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

Which country today is the world’s oldest democracy?

It’s a loaded question ⁠— as you’ll see, there is plenty of nuance involved in the answer.

Depending on how you define things, there are many jurisdictions that can lay claim to this coveted title. Let’s dive into some of these technicalities, and then we can provide context for how we’ve defined democracy in today’s particular chart.

Laying the Claim

If you’re looking for the very first instance of democracy, credit is often attributed to Ancient Athens. It’s there the term originated, based on the Greek words demos (“common people”) and kratos (“strength”). In the 6th century BC, the city-state allowed all landowners to speak at the legislative assembly, blazing a path that would be followed by democracies in the future.

However, Ancient Athens wasn’t really a country in the modern sense. It’s also not around anymore, so that certainly disqualifies the oldest continuous democratic country today.

Iceland and the Isle of Man both have interesting claims to democracy. Each has a parliamentary body that is over 1,000 years old, making them the longest standing democratic institutions in the world. But Iceland only got its independence in 1944 from Denmark — and while it is self-governing, the Isle of Man is not a country.

Of course, when we’re talking about democracy today, we’re really talking about universal suffrage. New Zealand may have the best claim here — by 1893, the self-governing colony allowed all women and ethnicities to vote in elections.

A Common Set of Criteria

While many civilizations, institutions, and societies have a rightful claim to contributing to democracy (including many we did not mention above), measuring the world’s oldest democracies today requires following a common set of criteria.

In today’s chart, we used data from Boix, C., Miller, M., & Rosato, S. (2013, 2018), which looks at the age of democratic regimes for 219 countries since the year 1800. Countries are classified as democracies if they meet the following conditions:

  1. Executive:
    The executive is directly or indirectly elected in popular elections and is responsible either directly to voters or to a legislature.
  2. Legislature:
    The legislature (or the executive if elected directly) is chosen in free and fair elections.
  3. Voting:
    A majority of adult men has the right to vote.
  4. Democracies also have to be continuous in order to count. Although France has important democratic origins, the country is currently on its fifth republic since the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon, Vichy France, and other instances where things went sideways.

    While the above criteria isn’t perfect, it does create a stable playing field to assess when countries adopted democratic systems in principle. (However, the exclusion of certain populations, notably women and specific ethnicities, in being given the right to vote, or to be elected to legislative assemblies, is another story).

    The Oldest Democracies, by Number of Years

    Using the above criteria, here is a list of the world’s 25 oldest democracies:

    RankCountryAge of Democracy (Years)
    #1🇺🇸 United States219*
    #2🇨🇭 Switzerland171
    #3🇳🇿 New Zealand162
    #4🇨🇦 Canada152
    #5🇬🇧 United Kingdom134
    #6🇱🇺 Luxembourg129
    #7🇧🇪 Belgium125
    #8🇳🇱 Netherlands122
    #9🇳🇴 Norway119
    #10🇦🇺 Australia118
    #11🇩🇰 Denmark118
    #12🇸🇪 Sweden108
    #13🇫🇮 Finland102
    #14🇮🇸 Iceland101
    #15🇮🇪 Ireland97
    #16🇸🇲 San Marino74
    #17🇦🇹 Austria73
    #18🇫🇷 France73
    #19🇮🇹 Italy73
    #20🇮🇱 Israel71
    #21🇨🇷 Costa Rica70
    #22🇮🇳 India69
    #23🇯🇵 Japan67
    #24🇨🇴 Colombia61
    #25🇯🇲 Jamaica57

    * The data goes back to 1800, so U.S. democracy can be considered at least 219 years old.

    Using this specific criteria, there is only one country with continuous democracy for more than 200 years (The United States), and fourteen countries with democracies older than a century.

    As you’ll notice in the data, many countries became democracies after World War II. The Japanese Empire, for example, was occupied by Allied Forces and then dissolved. It then regained sovereignty afterwards, emerging as a newly democratic regime.

    Final notes: The data here goes back to 1800, and we have adjusted it to be current as of 2019. One change we made was to Tunisia, which is listed as the 24th oldest democracy in the data. Based on our due diligence on the subject, we felt it was appropriate to leave it off the list, given that most experts see the country as only achieving the status in 2014 in the post-Arab Spring era.

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Chart of the Week

War and Peace: How Violence is Disrupting the Global Economy

This graphic estimates the direct and indirect costs associated with violence, and explores how they are negatively impacting the global economy.

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War and Peace: How Violence is Disrupting the Global Economy

Although you may not see it, millions of lives are disrupted by violence everyday.

War, homicide, terrorism, suicide, and sexual assault can be found across the world in various degrees. While certain types of violence can incur costs that result in personal traumas, violence can also create significant economic disruptions.

In today’s Chart of the Week, we visualize data estimates from the Global Peace Index 2019 on the global cost of violence, and its geographical spread.

How is Violence Linked to the Economy?

The Global Peace Index calculates the total cost of violence using purchasing power parity (PPP) by considering three factors:

  • Direct costs: Immediate consequences to the victims, perpetrators and the government
  • Indirect costs: Delayed economic losses following the violent event, including the after-effects of trauma experienced by the victim
  • Multiplier effect: Calculates the additional economic activity that would have accrued if the direct costs of violence had been avoided.

Between 2012-2017, the cost of violence increased by 11% to $14.6 trillion—mainly due to rising violence in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2018, the total cost of violence decreased for the first time in six years to $14.1 trillion. That’s the equivalent of 11.2% of global GDP (PPP), or $1,853 for every person.

In this one year, the $475 billion saved from decreased violence costs was largely due to lower levels of armed conflict in Syria, Ukraine, and Colombia.

The Top 10 Worst Affected Countries

It comes as no surprise that countries affected by conflict incur the greatest costs due to a higher than average death toll, and sizable military expenditures.

Here are the countries with the highest cost of violence according to the report:

RankCountryCost of violence (% of GDP)    
#1🇸🇾 Syria67%
#2🇦🇫 Afghanistan47%
#3🇨🇫 Central African Republic42%
#4🇰🇵 North Korea34%
#5🇮🇶 Iraq32%
#6🇻🇪 Venezuela30%
#7🇨🇾 Cyprus30%
#8🇸🇴 Somalia26%
#9🇨🇴 Colombia25%
#10🇸🇻 El Salvador22%

Since 2017, Venezuela has climbed the ranking and now sits in the top 10, due to continuing political repression and a spiraling economy as a result of hyperinflation.

The Global Composition of Violence

Government spending on military comprises 40% of the global total, or $5.7 trillion in constant purchasing power parity (PPP).

Type of economic impactShare of total     
Military expenditure
40.2%
Internal security expenditure
31.7%
Homicide
8.6%
Private security expenditure5.8%
Suicide5.2%
Armed conflict4.8%
Violent crime2.6%
Other1%

Naturally, the types of violence costs vary by region, and the most noticeable difference is in military expenditure. It represents 59% of Middle East and North Africa’s violence costs—but only 8% for Central America and the Caribbean.

regional costs violence

Interestingly, the Middle East and North Africa boast the lowest levels of violent crime, homicide, and suicide, representing only 4% of the total, compared to South America’s 45%.

Keeping the Peace

Despite today’s chart painting a picture of the world as a dangerous place, it is worth noting that there are two sides to this story.

Of the 163 countries ranked in the index, 86 countries improved their peace score in the last year, with Iceland retaining its number one position for over a decade. In fact, the country has not had any gun murders since the Global Peace Index began in 2007.

Is the recent drop in costs of violence a sign that we are moving towards a more peaceful planet, or just a blip on the radar?

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Business

Ranked: The 20 Easiest Countries for Doing Business

Entrepreneurship is challenging at the best of times. Here are the countries where at least starting a new business is easy to do.

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Easiest Countries to do Business

Ranked: The 20 Easiest Countries for Doing Business

Contrary to popular belief, the hardest part about running a business may not be finding customers, it’s getting one started.

Depending on the public policies and application processes of your country, you might struggle or succeed in opening and operating a business.

If you live in New Zealand, for example, you can get a new enterprise up and running in half a day. If you live in Luxembourg or Argentina, however, it’s a different story─with the process sometimes taking over a year.

Today’s chart uses data from the World Bank’s annual Doing Business 2020 report, which delves into the ease of doing business in countries around the world.

Measuring the Ease of Doing Business

Now in its 17th year, the Doing Business (DB) report measures how easy it is for someone to start and run a company in an economy, using 12 key factors throughout a business lifecycle:

  1. Starting a business
  2. Employing workers
  3. Dealing with construction permits
  4. Getting electricity
  5. Registering property
  6. Getting credit
  7. Protecting minority investors
  8. Paying taxes
  9. Trading across borders
  10. Contracting with the government
  11. Enforcing contracts
  12. Resolving insolvency

Of the 190 countries reviewed last year, only 115 made it easier for entrepreneurs to do business.

Note to readers: this year’s DB score did not factor in Employing Workers or Contracting with the Government when ranking economies.

Top 20 Easiest Countries to Run a Business

RankCountryDB Score
#1🇳🇿 New Zealand86.8
#2🇸🇬 Singapore86.2
#3🇭🇰 Hong Kong85.3
#4🇩🇰 Denmark85.3
#5🇰🇷 South Korea84
#6🇺🇸 United States84
#7🇬🇪 Georgia83.7
#8🇬🇧 United Kingdom83.5
#9🇳🇴 Norway82.6
#10🇸🇪 Sweden82
#11🇱🇹 Lithuania81.6
#12🇲🇾 Malaysia81.5
#13🇲🇺 Mauritius81.5
#14🇦🇺 Australia81.2
#15🇹🇼 Taiwan80.9
#16🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates80.9
#17🇲🇰 North Macedonia80.7
#18🇪🇪 Estonia80.6
#19🇱🇻 Latvia80.3
#20🇫🇮 Finland80.2

In the top spot for the fourth year in a row, New Zealand only requires half a day to start a business. Singapore also stands out for having the shortest timeframe when it comes to paying business taxes and enforcing business contracts.

Only two African nations─Rwanda and Mauritius─are listed in the top 50 countries, with Mauritius being the only one to crack the top 20 list.

Latin American economies are noticeably missing from the rankings, as many countries in this region are fraught with bureaucracy and prolonged processes.

Most Improved Scores

Several developed and developing economies made significant strides in 2019 to implement reforms that opened doors for new business owners.

The Doing Business 2020 report shows that the cost of starting a business has fallen over time, particularly in developing economies.

Top 10 Most Improved Economies, 2018-2019

Top 10 most improved economies for doing business

Saudi Arabia made the greatest improvement overall, adding 7.7 points to its score.

Bahrain also made improvements over the most number of factors (9). While Jordan showed improvement in the fewest factors (3), it showed the second highest jump in DB Score.

Gains Among Low-Income Countries

The DB 2020 study also shows that developing economies are making progress: it’s now cheaper than ever before to run a business in developing economies.

However, a significant disparity still remains when we consider the difference in business costs between high-income and low-income economies.

An entrepreneur starting a company in a low-income economy will spend about 50% of per capita income (PCI) to launch a venture, whereas an entrepreneur in a high-income economy spends only 4% PCI to accomplish the same task.

Put another way, entrepreneurs located in the bottom 50 economies spend an average six times more to open a new company as those in a high-income economy.

Entrepreneurship and Economic Growth

Generally, more entrepreneurs will enter a market where they can easily conduct business─adding more value to local economies.

While the rankings clearly illustrate the link between ease of doing business and economic growth, there are still significant barriers in place that not only deter entrepreneurship but also inhibit a relatively simple strategy for growth.

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