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The Worrying Decline of Freedom Around the World

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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

The Decline of Freedom Over the Last 10 Years

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

The Decline of Freedom Over the Last 10 Years

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

The Decline of Freedom Over the Last 10 Years

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

Freedom in the World in 2017 by Aggregate Score

For the whole report, which is a highly-recommended read, go here.

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Economy

The Bloc Effect: International Trade with Geopolitical Allies on the Rise

Rising geopolitical tensions are shaping the future of international trade, but what is the effect on trading among G7 and BRICS countries?

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Map showing the change in the share of a country’s exports going to their own trading blocs from 2018 to 2023.

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The following content is sponsored by The Hinrich Foundation

The Bloc Effect: International Trade with Allies on the Rise

International trade has become increasingly fragmented over the last five years as countries have shifted to trading more with their geopolitical allies.

This graphic from The Hinrich Foundation, the first in a three-part series covering the future of trade, provides visual context to the growing divide in trade in G7 and pre-expansion BRICS countries, which are used as proxies for geopolitical blocs.  

Trade Shifts in G7 and BRICS Countries

This analysis uses IMF data to examine differences in shares of exports within and between trading blocs from 2018 to 2023. For example, we looked at the percentage of China’s exports with other BRICS members as well as with G7 members to see how these proportions shifted in percentage points (pp) over time.

Countries traded nearly $270 billion more with allies in 2023 compared to 2018. This shift came at the expense of trade with rival blocs, which saw a decline of $314 billion.

CountryChange in Exports Within Bloc (pp)Change in Exports With Other Bloc (pp)
🇮🇳 India0.03.9
🇷🇺 Russia0.7-3.8
🇮🇹 Italy0.8-0.7
🇨🇦 Canada0.9-0.7
🇫🇷 France1.0-1.1
🇪🇺 EU1.1-1.5
🇩🇪 Germany1.4-2.1
🇿🇦 South Africa1.51.5
🇺🇸 U.S.1.6-0.4
🇯🇵 Japan2.0-1.7
🇨🇳 China2.1-5.2
🇧🇷 Brazil3.7-3.3
🇬🇧 UK10.20.5

All shifts reported are in percentage points. For example, the EU saw its share of exports to G7 countries rise from 74.3% in 2018 to 75.4% in 2023, which equates to a 1.1 percentage point increase. 

The UK saw the largest uptick in trading with other countries within the G7 (+10.2 percentage points), namely the EU, as the post-Brexit trade slump to the region recovered. 

Meanwhile, the U.S.-China trade dispute caused China’s share of exports to the G7 to fall by 5.2 percentage points from 2018 to 2023, the largest decline in our sample set. In fact, partly as a result of the conflict, the U.S. has by far the highest number of harmful tariffs in place. 

The Russia-Ukraine War and ensuing sanctions by the West contributed to Russia’s share of exports to the G7 falling by 3.8 percentage points over the same timeframe.  

India, South Africa, and the UK bucked the trend and continued to witness advances in exports with the opposing bloc. 

Average Trade Shifts of G7 and BRICS Blocs

Though results varied significantly on a country-by-country basis, the broader trend towards favoring geopolitical allies in international trade is clear.

BlocChange in Exports Within Bloc (pp)Change in Exports With Other Bloc (pp)
Average2.1-1.1
BRICS1.6-1.4
G7 incl. EU2.4-1.0

Overall, BRICS countries saw a larger shift away from exports with the other bloc, while for G7 countries the shift within their own bloc was more pronounced. This implies that though BRICS countries are trading less with the G7, they are relying more on trade partners outside their bloc to make up for the lost G7 share. 

A Global Shift in International Trade and Geopolitical Proximity

The movement towards strengthening trade relations based on geopolitical proximity is a global trend. 

The United Nations categorizes countries along a scale of geopolitical proximity based on UN voting records.

According to the organization’s analysis, international trade between geopolitically close countries rose from the first quarter of 2022 (when Russia first invaded Ukraine) to the third quarter of 2023 by over 6%. Conversely, trade with geopolitically distant countries declined.  

The second piece in this series will explore China’s gradual move away from using the U.S. dollar in trade settlements.

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Visit the Hinrich Foundation to learn more about the future of geopolitical trade

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