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 17, 2012

A NASA handout photo shows Earth's airglow seen with an oblique view of the Mediterranean Sea area, including the Nile River with its delta, and the Sinai Peninsula, taken from the International Space Station, October 15, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters).


As he did last year, Charles Landow draws highlights from a range of democracy and development indexes for this year-end edition of Missing Pieces. The UN Human Development Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy are not included this time because they were not published in 2012. Enjoy the reading and the holiday season.

  • Freedom in the World: In Freedom House’s 2012 report, 26 countries showed “declines” in their level of political freedom while only 12 made “gains.” As the report says, “this marks the sixth consecutive year in which countries with declines outnumbered those with improvements.” The Middle East saw the biggest strides but also serious regression. Eurasia declined, and the report sees “danger signs for new democracies,” including South Africa and Turkey. Asia, though, experienced a moderate rise in freedom. Overall, there are 87 “free” countries and 60 “partly free” countries, both equal to last year. Forty-eight countries are “not free,” an increase of 1 because of South Sudan’s independence. Niger, Thailand, and Tunisia joined the ranks of electoral democracies. Nicaragua dropped off.
  • Transformation: The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Status Index gauges where developing countries stand “on the path toward democracy under the rule of law and a market economy anchored in principles of social justice.” The Czech Republic, Taiwan, Slovenia, Uruguay, and Estonia take this year’s top spots; Somalia, Myanmar, Eritrea, North Korea, and Afghanistan are at the bottom. Among the largest developing powers, Brazil finishes 18th, Turkey 20th, India 24th, South Africa 26th, Mexico 35th, Russia 60th, and China 84th.
  • Economic Freedom: After an optimistic report last year, the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom was more downcast in 2012. The global average score dropped slightly, with 90 countries declining and 75 improving. A major factor in the overall slide is government spending, “which has led to rising levels of public debt and economic stagnation,” the index says. Rule of law scores also slipped. However, of the 75 countries making gains, “73 are considered developing or emerging.” Chile finished 7th, regaining the top-ten spot it lost in 2009. Mauritius took 8th, the highest-ever score for sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Competitiveness: The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Competitiveness Index exhibits some marked regional divides. Asia has a yawning gap between dynamic “regional champions,” such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, and countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal that are “lagging further and further behind.” Chile held steady as Latin America’s competitiveness leader and Panama, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru made gains. But Uruguay and Argentina took steep falls and Venezuela a smaller one. In the Middle East, Qatar and the UAE improved their competitiveness; Saudi Arabia and Israel lost ground but remain fairly highly ranked. Jordan achieved strong gains but only to 64th overall, and Egypt plummeted 13 spots to 107th. Finally, Africa continues to trail the rest of the world; its highest-ranked country, South Africa, is only 52nd in the index. Rwanda, Ghana, and Nigeria gained ground while Namibia slid.
  • Doing Business: This year’s World Bank Doing Business rankings, which gauge countries’ business climates, look back at the decade since the rankings first appeared. “Eastern Europe and Central Asia improved the most,” the report says, now trailing only “OECD high-income economies” in their business friendliness. And of the 50 most improved countries since 2005, “the largest share—a third—are in Sub-Saharan Africa.” However, that region continues to dominate the bottom ranks; 16 of the last 20 countries this year are African. Poland, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Burundi showed the biggest improvements in 2012, while Georgia made its first entry into the top 10.
  • Corruption Perceptions: As I noted on the blog this month, the results of Transparency International’s well-known index are largely unsurprising. In the Americas (which are ranked together), Canada, Barbados, and the United States are seen as the cleanest countries, with Chile and Uruguay tied for 4th. Haiti and Venezuela are last. New Zealand, Singapore, and Australia are tops in Asia and the Pacific; Bhutan scores a strong 6th. Meanwhile, Afghanistan and North Korea tie for last in the region and, with Somalia, for last overall.  In the Middle East, Qatar and the UAE tie for the highest score, followed by Israel, Bahrain, and Jordan. Iraq, Libya, and Yemen are seen as most corrupt. Finally, Botswana, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Rwanda, and the Seychelles do best in sub-Saharan Africa. Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Burundi, and Zimbabwe finish last.
  • Prosperity: The Legatum Institute’s 2012 Prosperity Index, which measures a range of economic, political, and social indicators, offers some hopeful trends. Prosperity has increased in every region over the past 4 years, it says. Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa have made the biggest gains. Overall, Asia is home to 6 of the top 15 countries in this year’s index. Indonesia “has experienced the largest increase in prosperity, globally, since 2009, moving up 26 positions to 63rd.” This year, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand lead the index, while the Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Chad, and Haiti come in last. The United States ranks 12th, missing the top 10 for the first time.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Rashmee Roshan Lall

    Having lived in India, Afghanistan, the UK, the US and now headed to Haiti, the year in indexes is particularly dispiriting. Other than the Legatum Institute’s 2012 Prosperity Index, almost no one seems to be suggesting a slow morphing into a kinder, gentler global village, where unafraid children play on the green and sweet old ladies look out for them, unbidden and unasked.
    But at least there’s the Prosperity Index, even though two of ‘my’ countries – Afghanistan and Haiti – come in last and the United States has missed the top 10 for the first time.
    C’est la vie

  • Posted by Bill Orme

    The next Human Development Report – “The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World” – will be published in March 2013. The 2013 Human Development Report will examine the profound shift in global dynamics that is being driven by the fast-rising powers of the developing world – and the implications of this phenomenon for human development.

    China has already overtaken Japan as the world’s second biggest economy, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty in the process. India is actively reshaping its future with entrepreneurial creativity and social policy innovation. Brazil has become another major engine of growth for the South, while reducing inequality at home through antipoverty programs that are emulated worldwide.

    Turkey, Thailand, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia and other dynamic developing nations are also leading actors on the world stage today, offering important policy lessons and valuable new partnerships for the South as a whole, including today’s least developed countries. Looking ahead at the critical long-term challenges now facing the international community, from inequality to sustainability to global governance, the 2013 Report identifies policies and institutional reforms reflecting the new reality of the rising South that could promote greater human progress throughout the world for decades to come.

    The 2013 Human Development Report includes special contributions on the topic from Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Japan International Cooperation President Akihiko Tanaka, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Turkish Minister of Development Cevdet Yilmaz, among others.

    The 2013 Report will feature an updated Human Development Index (HDI) as well as the Report’s three complementary indices: the Inequality-adjusted HDI, the Gender Inequality Index (GII) and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).

  • Posted by Isobel Coleman

    Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. It’s great to have this preview of the 2013 HDR, which remains a critical resource on global development. We’ll be sure to take note of the report when it comes out in March. Thanks for reading.

  • Posted by Michelle Breslauer

    Thank you for this useful review. Two other indexes that might be of interest measure:

    – Peace: The 2012 Global Peace Index showed that the world has become more peaceful for the first time since 2009. All regions excluding the Middle East and North Africa saw improvements in levels of overall peacefulness. The Index ranks 158 nations using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators that gauge ongoing domestic and international conflict, safety and security in society, and militarization.
    – Terrorism: the Global Terrorism Index maps and analyzes trends in terrorism over the last 10 years and is the first index to compare 158 countries according to the impact of terrorism. The GTI found that the global impact of terrorism increased significantly from 2002 to 2007, reaching its peak in 2007 and has since plateaued. Only 31 nations did not experience a terrorist incident between 2002 and 2011, indicating that the impact of terror, while heavily concentrated in some places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, is nonetheless distributed around the world. Terrorism was found to correlate with low political stability, low intergroup cohesion, human rights violations and with high levels of group grievances.

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