The Worrying Decline of Freedom Around the World
The 20th century was a bull market for literacy, freedom, prosperity, health, and technology.
As a result of these gains, wealth has increased exponentially, and world poverty is now at all-time lows. Life expectancy continues to improve in most countries, global literacy is near 90%, and there are well over 100 democracies throughout the planet.
But not every positive trend can keep going forever. Sometimes things regress temporarily, only to be corrected later on. Other times things change more fundamentally – and that regression can be the beginning of a newer, long-term reality.
The Decline of Freedom: An 11-Year Trend
According to the Freedom in the World 2017 Report, which scores countries annually on various levels of freedom, there have been recent setbacks in political rights and civil liberties in a number of “Free” countries. These newest declines are partially the result of populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states.
But Freedom House, the international watchdog organization that produces the annual report, says that this is not an isolated occurrence. In fact, based on their data and methodology, freedom has actually declined on a global basis for the last 11 years.
Here are the aggregate gains and declines in freedom for each year – you can see that declines have been outweighing gains since 2006.
11 Years of Decline
While the trend is clear, the most worrying part is that the biggest aggregate declines happened in the two most recent years. Is that a coincidence, or is the decline of freedom accelerating?
Here are the specific countries that have had the biggest declines in freedom over the last decade:
Largest Aggregate Declines Over the Last Decade
Countries like Yemen and Ethiopia, which are classified as “Not Free”, have lost further freedom. However, “Free” countries like Hungary or Nauru also lost 10 or more points in the index.
2016: Another Year of Setbacks
The biggest mover in 2016 was Turkey, a country that the Washington Post says is in a “permanent state of crisis”.
A failed coup attempt, the assassination of a Russian ambassador, trouble in bordering Syria, and economic crises have accelerated the march to authoritarianism in the country – and it’s had a 15-point decline of freedom as a result, according to Freedom House.
Biggest Movers in 2016
Hungary and Poland are among the Western democracies that lost significant points in 2016, but the report also has its crosshairs on the United States for 2017. It notes the U.S. as a “country to watch” this year because of the Trump administration’s approach to civil liberties, as well as a potential redefinition of the United States’ role in the world.
Here are where things stand as of now:
Map: World Freedom in 2017
For the whole report, which is a highly-recommended read, go here.