Freedom Continues Its Decade-Long Retreat Around the Globe

Populists and autocrats are the rising dual threats to liberty says new Freedom House report



Freedom House is a think tank devoted to promoting the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. Every year, the organization releases a report updating how political and civil rights are faring in 195 countries. In its latest report, Freedom in the World 2017, the group finds that freedom has been receding for a decade after it peaked in 2006 when 47 percent of countries were free, 30 percent partly free and 23 percent were not free. The Freedom House analysts are particularly worried about the increase in tribalism, uh, nationalist populism, in Europe and the United States and crack-downs by emboldened autocrats, especially Xi in China and Putin in Russia.

Freedom House measures freedom in each country on a scale of 0 to 100. The countries with the worst aggregate civil and political liberties scores included Syria (-1), Eritrea, Uzbekistan, North Korea (3 each), South Sudan and Turkmenistan (4 each). The countries that received the highest scores are Finland, Norway, Sweden (100 each), Netherlands (99), Australia, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Uruguay (98 each). The United States' aggregate score was 89 points. In comparison, China and Russia scored 15 and 20 points respectively.

In its 2006 report, Freedom House noted, "On the whole, the state of freedom showed substantial improvement worldwide, with 27 countries and one territory registering gains and only 9 countries showing setbacks. The global picture thus suggests that the past year was one of the most successful for freedom since Freedom House began measuring world freedom in 1972."

The more somber 2017 report observes, "A total of 67 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties in 2016, compared with 36 that registered gains. This marked the 11th consecutive year in which declines outnumbered improvements." Overall, the percent of free countries fell to 45 percent and percent of not free countries rose to 25 percent and partly free countries held steady at 30 percent.

Freedom House

Back in 2011, independent political scientist Jay Ulfelder told my Reason colleague Jesse Walker that after period of making major gains the global trend toward greater freedom had plateaued and experienced some "minor slippage." Now Ulfelder acknowledges, "It's now getting to the point that talking about the erosion of freedom around the world is valid." By rescaling and parsing the Freedom House data on a 10 point population weighted scale Ulfelder aims to quantify how the average individual on earth is faring with respect to civil and political liberties. He calculates that global freedom peaked at 5.321 points in 2005 and has now dropped to 5.098 points; that is about back to where it stood at the turn of the millennium.

In a more hopeful contrast, the latest Economic Freedom of the World report (using 2014 data) from the Fraser Institute found that "the economic freedom rating for advanced countries with ratings since 1985 has increased from 6.9 to 7.7 in 2014. The average chain-linked economic freedom rating for developing countries with ratings since 1985 has increased from 5.0 to 6.7 in 2014." However, if autocracy and nationalist populism continue to rise, I predict that this trend will be reversed and more people will soon be both poorer and less free.

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    1. I found it funny how when Rouseff was removed that journalists all called it a “coup”. (When South Korea’s non-far-left lady President was impeached, that wasn’t called a coup, for whatever reason.)

  1. Freedom House measures freedom in each country on a scale of 0 to 100. The countries with the worst aggregate civil and political liberties scores included Syria (-1)

    OTOH, Syria’s women rate an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10.

    Seriously, whence?

  2. You know who else participated in a worldwide rise of nationalist, populist, and authoritarian movements?

    1. The Phillips Lady?

    2. George Soros?

    3. The reptilian and their representative, Mr. Lizard?

  3. So only America is having Libertarian Moments?

  4. ‘Finland, Norway, Sweden (100 each), Netherlands (99), Australia, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Uruguay (98 each). ‘
    How many of those actually have freedom of speech? There are a couple of countries there where questioning the peaceful intentions of Muslims will result in prosecution.

    1. How the fuck does the Netherlands get a 99 when it is a crime to so much as criticize the Muslim community?

      1. Because you’re free to leave the country if you want to criticize the Muslim community?

        1. You not just free to leave the country if you criticize the Muslim community, your safety often requires it.

          1. See? It’s not only free. It’s SAFE!

      2. Maybe that’s why the Netherlands didn’t score higher?

      3. Yeah, ask Geert Wilders how free it is.

      4. choosing to be murdered is still a choice.

    2. How many of those actually have freedom of speech?

      In how many of them is it legal to purchase a firearm? I’m a little curious how exactly they calculated those scores.

  5. However, if autocracy and nationalist populism continue to rise

    So people demanding a say in their own governments and that their governments act in their own best interests, is a bad thing for freedom. Yeah because rule by a technocratic internationalist elite is libertopia.

    The boot is only on your face for your own good.

    1. Nationalist populism and globalist technocracy both can be, and are, bad things.

      1. Nationalist populism can be a bad thing. Globalist technocracy is a bad thing. That is difference.

        1. No. Both are bad in the long run.

        2. Nationalism (absent war) can’t fuck up more than one country at a time. Globalism is about fucking up everything.

          Nations provide firewalls limiting the spread of failed ideologies (and good ideas, but guess which governments tend to have?).

          I’ll take nationalism over globalism any day.

      2. nationalist populism is just people demanding a say in their government. I will never understand how Libertarians can claim to believe in freedom but then hold the public is utter contempt and be happy to see them deprived of any say in theri government so long as the right top men are making decisions Libertarians agree with.

        1. People deserve a say, but majority rules cannot be classified as ‘liberal’ (in the true sense). Overall, individual rights are the truest expression of liberalism. And the Scandinavian countries that are supposedly super ‘free’ have a hell of a lot of restrictions on individual rights.

          This is a nonsense study conducted to reinforce the preexisting fears of idiots.

          1. No majority should not always rule. I should rule most of the time though. But when people act like any popular uprising and per say a restriction freedom, which this report does, they are saying people shouldn’t have a say in their own government. Judge the governments by what they do not based on whether the filthy public elected them to represent their interests.

            1. It should rule most of the time though

              And it does, but not through government. There are very few problems that it takes government to address. The majority gets its way in most aspects of life by virtue of its status as a majority. The problem with Bork’s formulation is people confuse an observation with a normative declaration. The government should not actively seek to subvert majority will. But it should curtail the will of a transient majority when individual rights are on the line.

        2. Would you like to take a national popular vote on your precious first amendment, John?

          1. Yeah that is totally what I am saying here. You got me.

          2. ‘Precious first amendment’

            Yeah, supporting ‘free speech’ is such a silly concept. Clearly the State should decide correct speech. In the name of Liberty!

            Individual rights are not up to a vote. They preexist the state

            1. Why do you hate the people? Is it because you think they’re stupid?

          3. How would you like a committee of globalist technocrats writing rules on what you are allowed to say?

        3. I want people to have a say in their government. But I want the government to do less. If that qualifies as telling people they don’t get to make decisions in their government, so be it. Voting more money out of my pocket into the government treasury might be the will of the people but that doesn’t make it right.

          1. that is nice.

            1. … okay?

            2. Is that what you said when Trump pulled out his tiny dick for you to suck? Sad!

              1. Typical lefty. Goes for the homophobic slur.

        4. Populism usually comes in two flavors: nationalism and socialism. And while not mutually exclusive, they both taste pretty bad.

          Well, they taste bad to libertarians. To a conservative like you, nationalism tastes pretty good. If you like that shit.

      3. It’s almost like neither of those things have anything to do with freedom and we’re all a bunch of libertarians or something.

  6. ‘Referendums represent a radical reduction of
    democracy to its most skeletal form: majority rule.
    Too often, they are called in order to circumvent
    some obstacle thrown up by political or legal
    institutions?a failure by elected officials to reach
    consensus, for example, or a constitutional barrier
    that powerful actors find inconvenient. Whatever the intent, such referendums are an end run
    around the structures and safeguards of democracy.’
    Elitism in it’s purest form. Did Ron actually read this report?

    1. Top men need to make decisions. To suggest that the voter should get a say is totally not ‘libertarian’, or at least Reason’s strange and bizarre brand of whatever that word even means anymore.

    2. LP: Yes. Liberty is NOT to be confused with democracy. May I suggest that you re-read Federalist 51: “It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.”

      1. No one is disputing that pure democracy is not a good thing, but to suggest that referendums make a country less free is utter nonsense. The study you cite believes that countries who restrict speech and have confiscatory tax policies are totally free.

        Use sources that actually care about individual rights and not ones who just want to view ‘freedom’ from their own perverse political ideology.

      2. es. Liberty is NOT to be confused with democracy.

        Sure Ron. But it is not necessarily prohibitive of it either. And that seems to be your position. You seem to think any kind of popular uprising against the ruling political class is by virtue of it being a popular and democratic uprising a reduction in liberty.

        1. Not true. Referendums are fine as long as they come out ‘the right way’.

          I got your back Ron.

        2. Have you been drinking?

          1. He’s just high on EOs.

    3. Let’s have a national referendum on the bill of rights.

      1. You tell them boss.

  7. “The countries that received the highest scores are Finland, Norway, Sweden (100 each)”

    Oh, you mean the countries where certain speech is illegal.…..thout-him/

    Yeah, maybe the metric from Freedom House isn’t all that authoritative. But, I don’t know, maybe ‘hate speech’ laws are totally all about freedom now. It’s hard to keep up with all the selling out that your publication does.

    1. And don’t forget their insanely high tax rates and welfare…unless you like being treated like a 6 year old and consider that freedom

    2. Well, according to their “key developments”, the US score dropped because of the Electoral College, the DNC’s emails being disseminated, and Merrick Garland not being on the Supreme Court.

      ‘Elp, ‘elp, I’m being repressed!

      1. Yeah, this is a bullshit study. But, it does reinforce Reason’s pants shitting.

        1. The punchline is that there are plenty of reasons you could give for the US being less free than it used to be, just not the vapid ones they’re blathering about.

  8. From the 89/100:

    In one potential threat to freedom of expression on campus, university officials have been criticized for giving in to pressure from student activist groups that object to speakers who have been invited to campus events.

    Really not sure how to parse that sentence, but I think the ‘giving into pressure’ is considered the bad part. Right on.

    Federal law guarantees trade unions the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. The right to strike is also guaranteed. Over the years, however, the strength of organized labor has declined

    Errrr…. Don’t really know what to say about this. Organizing unions should obviously be legal, but if you think the US’s freedom index should be tied to its union membership rates, we’re going to disagree on that one.

    The rights of transgender people became a subject of court battles and national debate in 2016 after North Carolina passed a law requiring individuals in public buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.

    If that cost us a point, I’m not happy.

    Overall, the writeup was pretty fair, I think. Just a couple of places where their definition of ‘freedom’ doesn’t quite mesh with the libertarian one…

    1. Just drop the masthead that says “Free Minds and Free Markets” and just change it to “Woke as hell”, already

    2. Unions are as free as they ever have been in this country. The fact that people refuse to join them in numbers like they once did, doesn’t make the country less free.

      And the transgendered thing is a fucking joke. I guess the freedom for businesses to tell customers they can’t use the women’s bathroom unless they are an actual woman, is really slavery.

      Freedom House seems to not really be very interested in freedom.

      1. In all honesty, their writeup wasn’t bad. They expounded extensively on things that *really are* important for freedom/liberty: rule of law, autonomy… Hell, they even threw religious rights in there.

        One major thing that seems to be missing from all of this is taxation. I’m sure someone on their staff realizes that massive government extortion in Europe (and the US, but not quite as bad) is absolutely detrimental to freedom.

        I also might argue for throwing per capita GDP in there, although I think one could validly argue that’s more of a corollary of freedom than a determining factor. Could go either way.

        1. Taxation is a massive imposition on freedom. IT is a necessary one but it is still an imposition on freedom. And there is no way in hell that any country that taxes half or more of their citizens’ wealth, which most European nations do, can be called free by any reasonable definition.

    3. The rights of transgender people became a subject of court battles and national debate in 2016 after North Carolina passed a law requiring individuals in public buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate.
      If that cost us a point, I’m not happy.

      I’m skimming that section now.

      I’m guessing the Transgender issue got a whole paragraph because it’s a hip subject at the moment.

      I have two tickets in front of me. One is:

      1. Replace Toner in Cust. service printer.
      2. During high traffic times, global network in mainland china sites suffering high latency. Please address.

      Both carry equal weight. Guess which one I’m going to work on first?

      1. Replacing the toner, because it’s easier.

        1. Boom.

          *throws Ted S. a Mars bar*

          So, when looking at “Freedom Around the World”, in a country where we spend oodles of time talking about, debating and discussing the 32+ categories of gender and whether they should be able to waltz into any washroom they want without getting steely glares from the female patrons, is that really worth a full point on the Freedom index? If that’s the case, then any country that doesn’t allow that and won’t even entertain the debate, it should be docked 40 points on the spot.

          I would say that if your biggest gripe is that as a transfem actor, the people in the Womens’ room in flyover country might narrow their gaze when you enter, your country’s freedom score should be somewhere between Pretty Fucking Good an Goddamned motherfucking Awsome.

      2. 2.

        Because fuck those guys in customer service, am I right? Man I hate those guys.

        And if HR ever asks for anything, just give them the finger and a computer virus. Eat your heartbleed out, HR.

    4. The way federal law guarantees trade unions and particularly the “right to strike” are not, in any way, a net benefit for freedom. Of course you should have a “right to strike” as it’s a subset of free association, but then free association is a two way street and your employer should have the right to fire you for striking. If that’s not the case, it’s not an example of freedom.

      1. If that’s not the case, it’s not an example of freedom.

        Look, true freedom is being free from consequences. Unless you want to do something useful with your life, in which case you will have to jump through innumerate hoops and may be penalized at whim because who the fuck are you to better yourself?

    5. Yeah, I’ve found them pretty fair over the years but I don’t like their goalpost-moving either.

  9. Another one:
    ‘He repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin, spoke dismissively of
    broadly accepted evidence that Russia had interfered
    in the campaign, …’
    broadly accepted?

    1. Hell, “evidence”?

      Protip: exercising freedom of speech is not “interfering” in a campaign.

    2. The media said so, so it must be true!

  10. Freedom House is a think tank devoted to promoting the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world

    One of those things is not necessarily conducive to the other.

    1. In cases like this, I usually give the writer a pass. Representative democracy *is* a form of democracy. It would be really tricky to get in the weeds of each type of democracy and really rank them.

      Unless you want to go straight-up Nick Land/Mencius Moldbug and declare constitutional monarchies to be the “most free”…

      1. I’m worse than that. I’d prefer a system of polycentric law in a system of defense agencies and insurance companies. But as far as statism goes, I take the Hoppean view that geographically small privately owned monarchies are actually the best.

  11. The article has numbers and a bar graph, so it is scientific and that science is settled: 2016 was the third unfreedomest on record.

    1. I thought every year was the unfreedomest year on record?

      1. the last 8 years saw a “pause” in unfreedomlyness here in the states.

        1. Nice!
          I guess they can reanalyze the data and the ‘pause’ will disappear.

          1. Go back and re-jigger the data from 50 years ago or GTFO.

  12. Whoa! Somebody tell Nick this isn’t looking like the Libertarian Moment after all!

  13. It’s not all bad. Using the Nicholas Kristof definition, Venezuela should be full-on “libertarian” in a couple years at most.

  14. What I’m seeing recently described as “populism” in Europe and the United States looks like the triumph of democracy over elitism.

  15. Being that government is a one-way ratchet, it isn’t surprising that freedom is diminishing. Government is force. The more force there is, the less freedom there is.

    Granted some government can be a good thing. After all, force can be justified in reaction to the initiation of force or fraud. But the moment government becomes proactive is the moment freedom begins to wither.

  16. I like how EU member states dominate a list of most democratic nations. Because the EU is sooooooo democratic.

    1. Choosing the EU president in secret is the secret stuff we do together.

  17. Why is the Right To Shoot Back… and keep and carry the tools to do so not mentioned?

    1. effective self-defense is not a globally-recognized human right.

      the nordiques were the top 3??

      okay, the methodology is flawed. don’t know how yet. but it’s fatally flawed.

    2. The Better Sort of People don’t care much for the right to bear arms. Guns rights are anathema to the international elite and, although specifically mentioned in the US Constitution, rank in our virtue hierarchy well below cornholery and open borders. Interest in the Second Amendment is a marker for lower class cooties and it is better not to mention it.

      1. ‘The Better Sort of People don’t care much for the right to bear arms.’
        Oh they do, just that it’s the right of their bodyguards to bear arms.

  18. chain-linked economic freedom rating

    I used to use split-rail for my freedom ratings, but they kept breaking out and mending them was a bitch. If you’re really going to keep your freedom ratings well defined and under tight control, you really need to use barbed wire at the least. Electrified if possible.

    1. Minefields and shark-filled moats should be considered.

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