The previous four posts have illustrated the improvement in prosperity spreading across the globe as measured by long life and the soaring improvements in economic status. But there is at least one other measure of prosperity we need to visit. What about political freedom and civil liberties?
At the close of the eighteenth century, the number of democracies in the world could be counted on one hand and they represented only a tiny fraction of the world population. By the late nineteenth century, democracy was beginning to spread to more nations. Today, most nations feel obliged to characterize themselves as democracies, regardless of their actual circumstances.
For decades, an organization called Freedom House has been using a variety of criteria to evaluate nations on their political and civil rights. They rank nations into seven categories but more generally rank them as “free,” “partly free,” and “not free.” In the two tables below I have compared the state of freedom in the world between 1975 and 2005. The population of each nation at the time was assigned one of the three statuses. Each percentage below is the percentage of people of a designated region with a given status. Pay particular attention to the size of the green bars as they indicate the percentage of people living in “free” countries.
The percentage of the world population living in free countries has soared from 16% to 43% over the last thirty years. Only the Middle East and North Africa region has actually moved away from freedom. Significant improvements are seen in most other regions of the world.
Next we turn to a few other general indicators.