Human Freedom Is Up, But Government Quality Is Deteriorating

Progress in spite of government not because of it.


These are interesting times to be an American. The people's trust in the U.S. institutions is plummeting and the outcome of the presidential election, however it ends, is unlikely to reverse that trend. Over at Human Progress, we have a whole section of the website devoted to "good governance" indicators. As you'll see in the charts below, it is a mixed bag. People around the world appear to be growing freer, but their governments are getting less transparent and more corrupt. Could these diverging trends be the key to understanding of the people's growing dissatisfaction with their ruling elites?

Our political rights index reflects the ability of people to participate freely in the political process, including the right to vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced substantial improvement.

Our freedom of the press index evaluates the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to news and information. Freedom of the press, which is measured on a scale from 1 (worst) to 100 (best), is at an all time high.

Our civil liberties index measures freedom of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state. On a scale from 1 (best) to 7 (worst), the world has experienced considerable improvement since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, civil liberties have deteriorated somewhat since 2005.

Our data on democracy versus autocracy over time codes democratic and autocratic "patterns of authority." It measures key qualities of executive recruitment, constraints on executive authority and political competition. It also records changes in the institutionalized qualities of governing authority. Country scores can be converted into three regime categories: autocracies (-10 to -6), anocracies or partial democracies (-5 to +5) and democracies (+6 to +10). Today, the average country scores a "4" and is considered a partial-democracy.

The government transparency index measures the availability of credible aggregate economic data that a country discloses to the public. Here we have seen substantial deterioration since the apex of government transparency ten years ago.

The corruption perceptions index scores countries on how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be, and captures the informed views of analysts, businesspeople and experts in countries around the world. Once again, corruption, which is measured on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) around the world, seems to be worsening.

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Government Free Press Civil Liberties Transparency Corruption

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45 responses to “Human Freedom Is Up, But Government Quality Is Deteriorating

  1. I notice that you don’t actually print the whole scale used for measurement. Was that intended to mask the fact that within the metrics being used it actually looks fairly flat?

    1. ie the last chart “on a scale of 0 to 100” only prints 42 through 60.

      Perhaps things have not changed as much as is being implied (or outright claimed)

      1. I would’ve gone back to the Hittites at least.

        1. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. “He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

          1. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. Now make me a sammich.

  2. During the cold war many countries were under communist rule. Can’t get much more corrupt then that. BTW,where the hell was the BrickBat?

    1. The brickcat caught and ate it?

      1. Maybe hiding in the same place as Huma.

        1. Inside Hillary’s server?

          1. You think her ‘server’ is that wide and deep?

            1. It houses many, many “hard drives”.

              1. There’s a fishing expedition you can count me out of.

              2. Legions of “hard drives”.

  3. The only “index” that matters is how many people work for government(s), are drawing DECADES of benefits after retirement from government, how many people are FULLY INSTITUTIONALIZED by government, and how many people have jobs (non-profts, NGO’s, or one of the myriad “complex’s”) directly tied to largess from government. Anyone who doesn’t comprehend that all are WAY UP isn’t paying much attention. There’s no real liberty without economic liberty. And with somewhere between a $80,000,000,000,000-$100,000,000,000,000 accrual basis debt, or $500,000 per household, we ain’t ANYWHERE NEAR at economic liberty. The rest is eyewash. If we’re economically tied into one pocketbook, every last behavior is/will be subject to scrutiny and Forceful sanction. This isn’t some theoretical “purity test”, this is the essence of individual liberty at its core.

    1. *pilfers another paycheck from Toolkein’s wallet*

    2. I disagree. There’s much more to it. Your index captures much less than you think.

      1. All other rights are suborned by economic rights if the latter are denied. Do you think the gov’t will respect any of your civil rights if ghere are bills to be paid? They won’t. Toolkein is 100% correct.

        1. Toolkein’s analysis doesn’t even quantify all of economic rights.

      2. It is the exact opposite. People simply don’t grasp just how much their lives are impeded due to economic centralization, and the superstition – yes superstition – that motivates it. Taxation, regulation, product banishment, mandated subscription, subsidy and punishment, warfare, welfare, the whole kit & caboodle is economic in origin. We live in a breathtakingly centralized economy at this very moment. About half (and growing) of the population are living parasitically off the other half. And our “fiscal conservative” Republicans appear to have conceded that “that’s a good start”. Highest ranking Republicans in my State are giving an ear to “guaranteed income” nonsense.

        Former Comptroller General Walker, TEN YEARS AGO, was portraying precisely where we are/were at. Walker walked the establishment line – he was appointed by Clinton I, he’s run as a Republican, he’s embraced the Democrats at times. He criss crossed the country imploring people to LISTEN. Mostly crickets. Including this very website, so concerned about trees and carbon that it is. He resigned in March of 2008, and within a few months this country came to within and inch of collapse. He basically gave the whole thing up as a “bad job” and quit.

        1. Cont-

          People don’t know just how close it came to collapse. The blatant fascism that was necessary to keep it in check, and the TRILLIONS borrowed since then. And there’s not an OUNCE of liberty in the whole thing. We’re chugging along like 1790’s France, and this election itself is the chancre manifesting what’s teeming underneath. We have never been so steeped in “that which isn’t forbidden is compulsory”. And it’s scheduled to get MUCH worse in very short order.

          1. But nothing a carbon tax won’t fix….

  4. I also believe it’s a good thing people have less trust in government. What would any one trust a ‘institution’ made up of untold numbers of people? Keeping a critical eye on government is important if you want to have and keep a free society.

    1. Nothing killed what little trust I had in government faster than by working for one.

      1. Having a small business did it for me.

        1. It was public schooling from the age of 5 to 18 that did it for me.

          1. Same here. For me, however, ages 6-12 in government schools weren’t so bad since that was back in the 50s and 60s. Academically, high school wouldn’t have been so bad, but it took four years that could easily have been compressed to two years. It was high school where I got a good education in American fascism. That is, essentially, the only educational result of those wasted two years.

            The fact that most Americans, after having gone through government schools themselves, continue to support government schooling for their own children says something about the peculiar idea of liberty that Americans hold and their peculiar reasoning about the function of government. Or, maybe such Americans really just want free babysitting for their children ages 5 to 18.

    2. That’s not a good thing when you consider the reasons people trust or distrust someone or something. People distrust those who, individually or collectively, have been screwing them. Distrust is a pretty good measure of cumulative screwage.

      Who’s worse off: someone who distrusts a con artist who’s already conned hir, or someone who trusts a con artist who might in the future con hir? I’d much rather have the potential future screwage than to already have been screwed.

  5. What happened from the late 1920s to 1940 to explain the drop in Democracy to Autocracy? It might be instructive when viewing the upcoming dip.

    1. I went to go look it up and the “New History Textbook” has that period of time empty.

      1. Lucky for us, History sometimes repeats.

        At a delicatessen counter in eastern Caracas, Humberto Gonzalez removes slices of salty white cheese from his scale and replaces them with a stack of bolivar notes handed over by his customer. The currency is so devalued and each purchase requires so many bills that instead of counting, he weighs them.

      2. Brian : Yeah, about your pamphlet… uh, I’m not seeing anything about German history between 1939 and 1945. There’s just a big gap.
        Tour guide: Everyone vas on vacation. On your left is Munich’s first city hall, erected in 15…
        Brian : Wait, what are you talking about? Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and…
        Tour Guide: We were invited. Punch vas served. Check vit Poland.
        Brian : You can’t just ignore those years. Thomas Mann fled to America because of Nazism’s stranglehold on Germany.
        Tour guide: Nope, nope. He left to manage a Dairy Queen.
        Brian : A Dairy Queen? That’s preposterous.
        Tour guide: I vill hear no more insinuations about the German people. Nothing bad happened. Sie werden sich hinsetzen. Sie werden ruhig sein. Sie werden nicht beleidigen Deutschland. You will sit down. You will shut up. You will not insult Germany. (Throws his hand up in a Hitler salute.)
        Brian : Uh, is that a beer hall?
        Tour guide: (Snapping out of it) Oh yes, Munich is renowned for its historic beer halls.

        1. Why were most of your building built after 1945? And ,what’s up with the city on Danzig? Can’t seem to find it or Prussia on the map.

    2. Maybe the break up of four large empires,a world wide depression and the rising of two horrible ideologies ? Large parts of the world had lived under anything but repressive governments for centuries.

  6. Autocracies are generally bad for liberty. Democracies are also generally bad for liberty. It’s funny that both the Civil Liberties and Political Rights scales seem to be inversely correlated with the Democracy vs. Autocracy scale.

    Correlation/causation and all that. Still something to be considered. I also wonder (although I don’t have the time to deconstruct it right now) how much of the democracy increase is due to post-cold war “democratizing” of a lot of countries that have failed to actually become democratic societies in any meaningful cultural sense.

    1. Governments Bad For Liberty, Film At 11

  7. Most of these charts seem to indicate that the biggest move for freedom happened because of the end of the Cold War. Can the world ever thank Ronald Reagan enough?

    Freedom of the press seems to correlate with the rise of the internet. I suppose once people could get news about their local dictator from news sources beyond their own borders and, hence, beyond the control of their local dictator, their local dictator had less incentive to go after local journalists.

    Any index available for how effectively journalists band together to suppress public opinion? Seems to me that outside the free world of the Cold War era, journalists have newfound freedom to inform the public, but within the old free world, journalism has become more about regulating speech and public opinion.

  8. Needs dumbed-down, oversimplified Vox-splaining title: “These pictures show everything you need to know that freedom is awesome and government is stupid.”

  9. I recognize the importance of what these graphs show, but can you guys please use non-misleading scales?

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  12. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….


  13. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….


  14. The bourgeoise lifestyle now has very little interaction with machines or machine tools so guns are not at all simple to your average literatus

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