Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: The Year in Indexes

by Isobel Coleman
December 23, 2011

Flags fly in front of the United Nations Headquarters in New York, July 31, 2008 (Brendan McDermid/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow pulls highlights from the 2011 editions of democracy and development indexes in this year-end installment of Missing Pieces. Happy holidays!

  • Human Development: For all of Africa’s recent development gains, the bottom fifteen spots in the UN’s flagship Human Development Index, and twenty-eight of the bottom thirty, are filled by African states. Also notable is how far many emerging powers remain from the top ranks. For example, Russia is 66th, Brazil 84th, Turkey 92nd, China 101st, South Africa 123rd, Indonesia 124th, and India 134th.
  • Freedom in the World: Freedom House reports that global conditions for political rights and civil liberties have deteriorated for five straight years, the longest such stretch since the reports began in 1972. There are eighty-seven “Free” countries, down two from last year, covering forty-three percent of the world’s population. Forty-seven countries are deemed “Not Free,” covering thirty-five percent of the population (more than half of that share lives in China). Nine countries—Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—receive the lowest possible scores on both political rights and civil liberties.
  • Democracy: The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy is similarly grim. Entitled “Democracy under Stress,” this year’s report cites several negative trends: declining public confidence in political institutions, “polarization” and “brinkmanship and paralysis” in the United States, rising “populism and anti-immigrant sentiment” amid Europe’s economic crisis, and “rampant crime” in Latin America. Only twenty-five countries are considered “Full Democracies,” with another fifty-three deemed “Flawed Democracies.”
  • Economic Freedom: The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, which measures “openness, the rule of law, and competitiveness,” is more optimistic. The global average score rebounded this year after a decline during the recent economic turmoil. Belize, Bulgaria, Jordan, Rwanda, and the Solomon Islands are among those making the strongest gains. Hong Kong is considered the world’s freest economy for the 17th straight year.
  • Global Competitiveness: The World Economic Forum’s monstrous Global Competitiveness Report documents an interesting convergence between the developing and developed worlds. Since the report began in 2005, a weighted average of eighty developing countries has improved by more than seven percent, while a weighted average of thirty-three advanced economies has declined by almost four percent. Asia has improved the most of all regions, while Sub-Saharan Africa has missed out on the developing world’s gains. The U.S. score, meanwhile, has sunk the most of any country.
  • Doing Business: In the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings, which measure the ease of operating a private firm, Morocco is cited as most improved, leaping twenty-one places since last year. Various countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America also made strong gains, with South Korea entering the index’s top ten for the first time. China ranks 91st, down four spots from last year, while India ranks 132nd, up from 139th.
  • Corruption Perceptions: Transparency International’s flagship index suggests that corruption remains a widespread woe. Only forty-eight of 183 countries score above five on the ten-point scale. New Zealand is seen as the cleanest country in the Asia Pacific region (first overall); Denmark and Finland are tied as the best in Western Europe (second overall); Qatar is tops in the Middle East and North Africa (22nd overall); Botswana leads in Sub-Saharan Africa (32nd overall); and Turkey comes first in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (61st overall). In the Americas, which are not disaggregated, the United States ranks fifth (24th overall), trailing Canada (10th overall), Barbados (16th), the Bahamas (21st), and Chile (22nd). North Korea and Somalia are tied at the bottom of the list.
  • Prosperity: The Legatum Institute’s Prosperity Index assesses countries on political, economic, and social measures deemed essential to overall prosperity. It shows few surprises at both the top (Norway, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden) and the bottom (Yemen, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Central African Republic). Trends over the past three years reveal some significant shifts among developing states. Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, and Paraguay have improved ten or more places, while India, Latvia, Nicaragua, Romania, Ukraine, and Vietnam have suffered analogous declines.

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