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Crunching Freedom’s Numbers

Yesterday I reported on how the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung managed to spin the release of Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2007 as an anti-Bush story. Here are some of the interesting points that the survey highlights when read without DeYoung’s intensely ideological spectacles.

Freedom House notes that 90 countries qualify as “free,” which is 47 percent of the world’s 193 independent states. As for the remainder, 30 percent are “partly free” and 23 percent are “not free.” The percentage of “free” countries has not increased appreciably over nine years, leading Freedom House to comment that the progress of freedom is “stagnating.”

Perhaps. But Freedom House also reports that 30 years ago the number of “free” countries was a mere 42, or 26 percent of the total, and that the number of “not free” countries stood at 68, or 43 percent of the total. Compare these two sets of numbers, and the degree of transformation is startling. The number of “free” countries has more than doubled, while the number of “not free” has decreased by more than one-third. To put it another way, a mere 30 years ago, “not free” countries outnumbered the “free” ones by more than 50 percent. Today, there are fully twice as many “free” countries as “not free” ones.

In addition to its freedom scale, Freedom House also counts “electoral democracies.” This number includes all of the “free” countries plus some of those ranked “partly free,” i.e., countries where the government has been elected in an honest multiparty contest but where some of the other attributes of freedom, like a reliable court system, are lacking. The number of countries governed by rulers chosen by the people has reached 123, or 64 percent. We have, in sum, witnessed a revolution in the norms of governance in the past thirty years. Most (but not all) of this is due to the West’s triumph in the cold war. That this steep curve has flattened out over the last few years might be called “stagnation.” But it might just as well be termed a period of consolidation amidst rapid, epochal change.

A noteworthy P.S.: Only eight countries scored a worst-possible 7 on Freedom House’s numerical scores. These are Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. (Iraq was not, as DeYoung erroneously claimed, among them.)



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