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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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Politics

Mapped: The Countries With the Most Military Spending

Global military spending surpassed $1.9 trillion in 2019, but nearly 75% of this total can be traced to just 10 countries.

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Mapped: The Countries With the Most Military Spending

Whether it’s fight or flight, there’s a natural tendency of humans to want to protect themselves.

In this day and age, this base instinct takes the form of a nation’s expenditures on armies and armaments, towards an end goal of global security and peacekeeping.

This graphic from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) delves into the top military spenders as of 2019.

Top 10 Biggest Military Spenders

Let’s first take a look at the overall growth trends. The world’s military spending grew by 3.6% year-over-year (YoY)—currently the highest rate this decade—to surpass $1.9 trillion in 2019.

While just 10 countries are responsible for nearly 75% of this amount, the U.S. alone made up the lion’s share with 38% of the global total. In fact, its YoY rise in spending alone of $49.2 billion rivals Germany’s entire spending for the same year.

Naturally, many questions rise about where this money goes, including the inevitable surplus of military equipment, from night vision goggles to armored vehicles, that trickles down to law enforcement around the nation.

Here’s how world’s top 10 military spenders compare against each other:

CountryMilitary Spending ('19)YoY % changeMilitary Spending as % of GDP ('19)
U.S. 🇺🇸$731.8B+5.3%3.4%
China 🇨🇳$261.1B+5.1%1.9%
India 🇮🇳$71.1B+6.8%2.4%
Russia 🇷🇺$65.1B+4.5%3.9%
Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦$61.2B-16.0%8.0%
France 🇫🇷$50.1B+1.6%1.9%
Germany 🇩🇪$49.3B+10.0%1.3%
UK 🇬🇧$48.7B0.0%1.7%
Japan 🇯🇵$47.6B-0.1%0.9%
South Korea 🇰🇷$43.9B+7.5%2.7%
Global Total$1.92T+3.6%2.2%

China and India, currently embroiled in a border dispute, have upped the ante for military spending in Asia. India is also involved in clashes with its neighbor Pakistan for territorial claim over Kashmir—one of the most contested borders in the world.

India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending.

—Siemon T. Wezeman, SIPRI Senior Researcher

Germany leads among the top spenders in terms of highest YoY military spending increases. According to SIPRI, this is a preemptive measure in the face of perceived growing Russian threats.

These concerns may not be unfounded, considering that Russia comes in fourth for defense expenditures on the global stage—and budgets more towards military spending than any country in Europe, at 3.9% of its total GDP.

Military Spending as a Share of GDP

Looking more closely at the numbers, it’s clear that some nations place a higher value on defense than others. A country’s military expenses as a share of GDP is the most straightforward expression of this.

How do the biggest spenders change when this measure is taken into consideration?

Military Spending by GDP Share

Eight of the 15 countries with the highest military spending as a percentage of GDP are concentrated in the Middle East, with an average allocation of 4.5% of a nation’s GDP.

It’s worth noting that data is missing for various countries in the Middle East, such as Yemen, which has been mired in a civil war since 2011. While SIPRI estimates that combined military spending in the region fell by 7.5% in 2019, these significant data gaps mean that such estimates may not in fact line up with the reality.

Explore the full data set of all available countries below.

Country2019 Spending, US$B2019 Share of GDP
U.S.$731.753.4%
China$261.081.9%
India$71.132.4%
Russia$65.103.9%
Saudi Arabia$61.878.0%
France$50.121.9%
Germany$49.281.3%
UK$48.651.7%
Japan$47.610.9%
South Korea$43.892.7%
Italy$26.791.4%
Australia$25.911.9%
Canada$22.201.3%
Israel$20.475.3%
Turkey$20.452.7%
Spain$17.181.2%
Iran$12.622.3%
Netherlands$12.061.3%
Poland$11.902.0%
Singapore$11.213.2%
Taiwan$10.421.7%
Algeria$10.306.0%
Pakistan$10.264.0%
Colombia$10.083.2%
Kuwait$7.715.6%
Indonesia$7.670.7%
Iraq$7.603.5%
Thailand$7.321.3%
Norway$7.001.7%
Oman$6.738.8%
Mexico$6.540.5%
Sweden$5.921.1%
Greece$5.472.6%
Ukraine$5.233.4%
Switzerland$5.180.7%
Romania$4.952.0%
Belgium$4.820.9%
Denmark$4.561.3%
Portugal$4.511.9%
Bangladesh$4.361.3%
Finland$3.971.5%
Malaysia$3.771.0%
Egypt$3.741.2%
Morocco$3.723.1%
Philippines$3.471.0%
South Africa$3.471.0%
Austria$3.240.7%
Argentina$3.140.7%
New Zealand$2.931.5%
Czechia$2.911.2%
Brazil$2.731.5%
Peru$2.731.2%
Lebanon$2.524.2%
Bulgaria$2.133.2%
Jordan$2.034.7%
Hungary$1.901.2%
Slovakia$1.871.8%
Nigeria$1.860.5%
Azerbaijan$1.854.0%
Ecuador$1.772.3%
Kazakhstan$1.771.1%
Sri Lanka$1.671.9%
Angola$1.471.6%
Bahrain$1.413.7%
Uruguay$1.222.0%
Kenya$1.151.2%
Chile$1.151.8%
Serbia$1.142.2%
Ireland$1.110.3%
Lithuania$1.082.0%
Croatia$1.011.7%
Tunisia$1.002.6%
Tanzania$0.801.3%
Belarus$0.781.2%
Sudan$0.721.6%
Latvia$0.712.0%
Armenia$0.674.9%
Estonia$0.662.1%
Uganda$0.652.1%
Dominican Republic$0.620.7%
Cambodia$0.602.3%
Bolivia$0.601.4%
Slovenia$0.571.1%
Zimbabwe$0.550.7%
Ethiopia$0.550.6%
Côte d’Ivoire$0.541.1%
Botswana$0.522.8%
Mali$0.472.7%
Luxembourg$0.430.6%
Nepal$0.431.6%
Cameroon$0.421.1%
Paraguay$0.421.0%
Brunei$0.423.3%
Namibia$0.413.0%
Honduras$0.401.6%
Cyprus$0.401.6%
Burkina Faso$0.362.4%
DRC$0.350.7%
Senegal$0.351.5%
Guatemala$0.340.4%
El Salvador$0.321.2%
Georgia$0.322.0%
Republic of Congo$0.302.7%
Zambia$0.291.2%
Gabon$0.271.6%
Jamaica$0.271.6%
Chad$0.242.2%
Ghana$0.230.4%
Afghanistan$0.231.2%
Albania$0.201.3%
Guinea$0.202.0%
Bosnia-Herzegovina$0.180.9%
Niger$0.171.8%
Togo$0.173.1%
Trinidad & Tobago$0.170.7%
Mauritiana$0.162.8%
North Macedonia$0.151.2%
Mozambique$0.140.9%
Krygyzstan$0.121.5%
Guyana$0.121.7%
Rwanda$0.121.2%
Mongolia$0.100.7%
Montenegro$0.091.6%
eSwatini$0.091.8%
South Sudan$0.093.4%
Malta$0.800.6%
Fiji$0.081.6%
Nicaragua$0.080.7%
Papua New Guinea$0.080.4%
Madagascar$0.080.6%
Benin$0.070.7%
Malawi$0.070.9%
Kosovo$0.070.8%
Burundi$0.061.8%
Lesotho$0.041.5%
Moldova$0.040.4%
Timor-Leste$0.031.0%
Central African Republic$0.031.5%
Sierra Leone$0.030.7%
Seychelles$0.021.3%
Belize$0.021.2%
Mauritius$0.020.2%
Liberia$0.020.5%
Gambia$0.010.8%
Cape Verde$0.010.5%
Haiti$00.0%
Costa Rica$00.0%
Iceland$00.0%
Panama$00.0%

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Politics

Basic Income Experiments Around the World

Amid the pandemic, the idea of Universal Basic Income has been gaining steam with policymakers. Where has it been tried, and has it worked?

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Universal-Basic-Income-Share

Basic Income Experiments Around the World

What if everyone received monthly payments to make life easier and encourage greater economic activity? That’s the exact premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI).

The idea of UBI as a means to both combat poverty and improve economic prospects has been around for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies worldwide, momentum behind the idea has seen a resurgence among certain groups.

Of course, the money to fund basic income programs has to come from somewhere. UBI relies heavily on government budgets or direct funding to cover the regular payments.

As policymakers examine this trade-off between government spending and the potential benefits, there is a growing pool of data to draw inferences from. In fact, basic income has been piloted and experimented on all around the world—but with a mixed bag of results.

What Makes Basic Income Universal?

UBI operates by giving people the means to meet basic necessities with a regular stipend. In theory, this leaves them free to spend their money and resources on economic goods, or searching for better employment options.

Before examining the programs, it’s important to make a distinction between basic income and universal basic income.

attributes of ubi programs

With these parameters in mind, and thanks to data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab, we’ve mapped 48 basic income programs that demonstrate multiple features of UBI and are regularly cited in basic income policy.

Some mapped programs are past experiments used to evaluate basic income. Others are ongoing or new pilots, including recently launched programs in Germany and Spain.

Recently, Canada joined the list as countries considering UBI as a top policy priority in a post-COVID world. But as past experiments show, ideas around basic income can be implemented in many different ways.

Basic Income Programs Took Many Forms

Basic income pilots have seen many iterations across the globe. Many paid out in U.S. dollars, while others chose to stick with local currencies (marked by an asterisk for estimated USD value).

ProgramLocationRecipientsPayment FrequencyAmount ($US/yr)Dates
Abundant Birth ProjectSan Francisco, U.S.100Monthly$12,000-$18,000TBD
Alaska Permanent Fund DividendAlaska, U.S.667,047Annually$1,000-$2,0001982-Present
B-MINCOMEBarcelona, Spain1,000Monthly$1,392-$23,324*2017-2019
Baby's First YearsNew York, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Baby's First YearsNew Orleans, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Baby's First YearsOmaha, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Baby's First YearsTwin Cities, U.S.1,000Monthly$240-$3,9962017-2022
Basic Income for FarmersGyeonggi Province, South Korea430,000Annually$509*TBD
Basic Income Grant (BIG) PilotOmitara, Namibia930Monthly$163*2008-2009
Basic Income ProjectNot Disclosed3,000Monthly$600-$12,0002019-Present
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Revenue FundJackson County and area, NC, U.S.15,414Biannually$7,000-$12,0001996-Present
Eight Pilot ProjectBusibi, Uganda150Monthly$110-$219*2017-2019
Evaluation of the Citizens' Basic Income ProgramMaricá, Brazil42,000Monthly$360*2019-Present
Finland Basic Income ExperimentFinland2,000Monthly$7,793*2017-2018
Gary Income Maintenance ExperimentsGary, U.S.1,782Monthly$3,300-$4,3001971-1974
Give DirectlyWestern Kenya20,847Monthly or Lump Sum$2742017-2030
Give DirectlySaiya County, Kenya10,500Lump Sum$3332014-2017
Give DirectlyRarieda District, Kenya503Monthly or Lump Sum$405-$1,5252011-2013
Human Development FundMongolia2,700,000Monthly$1872010-2012
Ingreso Mí­nimo VitalSpain850,000Monthly$6,535-$14,358*2020-Present
Iran Cash Transfer ProgrammeIran75,000,000Monthly$482010-Present
Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfers ProjectMadhya Pradesh, India5,547Monthly$26-$77*2011-2012
Magnolia Mother's TrustJackson, MS, U.S.80Monthly$12,0002019-Present
Manitoba Basic Annual Income ExperimentWinnipeg, Canada1,677Monthly$3,842-$5,864*1975-1978
Manitoba Basic Annual Income ExperimentDauphin, Canada586Monthly$3,842-$5,864*1975-1978
My Basic IncomeGermany120Monthly$17,160*2020-2023
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentJersey City, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentPaterson, NJ, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentPassaic, NJ, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentTrenton, NJ, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
New Jersey Income Maintenance ExperimentScranton, PA, U.S.1,357BiweeklyVaried1968-1972
Ontario Basic Income PilotHamilton and area, Canada2,748Monthly$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)2017-2018
Ontario Basic Income PilotThunder Bay and area, Canada1,908Monthly$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)2017-2018
Ontario Basic Income PilotLindsay, Canada1,844Monthly$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)2017-2018
Preserving Our DiversitySanta Monica, U.S.250Monthly$7,836-$8,9642017-Present
Quatinga VelhoQuatinga, Mogi das Cruces, Brazil67Monthly$197*2008-2014
Rural Income Maintenance ExperimentDuplin County, NC, U.S.810MonthlyVaried (NIT)1970-1972
Rural Income Maintenance ExperimentIowa, U.S.810MonthlyVaried (NIT)1970-1972
Scheme $6,000Hong Kong, China4,000,000Annually$771*2011-2012
Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance ExperimentSeattle, U.S.2,042Monthly$3,800-$5,6001971-1982
Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance ExperimentDenver, U.S.2,758Monthly$3,800-$5,6001971-1982
Stockton Economic Empowerment DemonstrationStockton, U.S.125Monthly$6,0002019-Present
TBDNewark, U.S.TBDMonthlyTBDTBD
Transition-Age Youth Basic Income Pilot ProgramSanta Clara, CA, U.S.72Monthly$12,0002020-2021
Wealth Partaking SchemeMacau, China700,600Annually$750-$1,1502008-Present
Youth Basic Income ProgramGyeonggi Province, South Korea125,000Quarterly$848*2018-Present
Citizen's Basic Income PilotScotlandTBDMonthlyTBDTBD
People's Prosperity Guaranteed Income Demonstration PilotSt. Paul, U.S.150Monthly$6,0002020-2022

Many of the programs meet the classical requirements of UBI. Of the 48 basic income programs tallied above, 75% paid out monthly, and 60% were paid out to individuals.

However, for various reasons, not all of these programs follow UBI requirements. For example, 38% of the basic income programs were paid out to households instead of individuals, and many programs have paid out in lump sums or over varying time frames.

Interestingly, the need for better understanding of basic income has resulted in many divergences between programs. Some programs were only targeted at specific groups like South Korea’s Basic Income for Farmers program, while others like the Baby’s First Years program in the U.S. have been experimenting with different dollar amounts in order to evaluate efficiency.

Other experiments based payments made off of the total income of recipients. For example, in the U.S., the Rural Income and New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiments paid out using a negative income tax (return) on earnings, while recipients of Canada’s Ontario Basic Income Pilot received fixed amounts minus 50% of their earned income.

Varying Programs with Varied Results

So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear.

Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda’s Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland’s highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn’t positively impact work activity.

The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario’s three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland’s program are in limbo.

Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can’t proceed until funding is secured.

A Post-COVID Future for UBI?

In light of COVID-19, basic income has once again taken center stage.

Many countries have already implemented payment schemes or boosted unemployment benefits in reaction to the pandemic. Others like Spain have used that momentum to launch fully-fledged basic income pilots.

It’s still too early to tell if UBI will live up to expectations or if the idea will fizzle out, but as new experiments and policy programs take shape, a growing amount of data will become available for policymakers to evaluate.

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