Decreases in Freedom and The Methodology Behind it

For the eighth consecutive year, Freedom House has found that democracy has continued to decline. While we certainly see an obvious lack of democracy in certain parts of the world, it is interesting to note that many places, especially where the United States has tried to help, have reversed in their efforts of freedom and democracy; specifically Egypt. Fifty-four countries see overall declines; fourteen more than those who improved and saw minimal gains. Unsurprisingly, countries given the worst “freedom scores” where found in the Middle East, North Africa, and North Korea. In general, the countries that continue to be stable democracies tend to be located within Western Europe and North America. While it’s obvious that Freedom House processes their information through political rights and civil liberties, it seems relatively difficult to be fully able to judge which countries are free and democratic.

This seems especially true after discussing the many different, and accepted, terms of democracy. While we may think that the United States is an extremely successful and free democracy, other nations might consider that to be completely untrue considering our lack of universal healthcare, sometimes questionable public education system, and the levels of unemployment and homelessness. It’s easy enough to say we are free and democratic from Dahl’s description, it may not necessarily be true from another point of view; although in reference to Freedom House’s methodology it does feel that their definition is well represented.

An interesting way of looking at this might be to consider China, a country that many would consider to be democratic and free. They have elections just as we do and the people are free to go about their every day lives, acting as they wish, in the jobs they want to be in, spending their money how they want, and generally acting of free will. However, China also “disparages” religious believers and actually bans them from the CCP, which has been leading since 1949 and have never actually faced a competitive election despite annual democratic elections. They also don’t have freedom of speech and a multiparty system. In this way, we can see how and why Freedom House rates countries as they do, but it still ends up being subjective as to what definition we accept and see as accurate and can be prone to errors regardless.

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One thought on “Decreases in Freedom and The Methodology Behind it

  1. I agree with your comment that China is widely considered to be free, yet limits freedom in many areas. Another example worth discussing is China’s One Child Policy. Freedom House proposes the following question, suggesting that this policy would decrease the country’s personal autonomy rating: “Does the government determine the number of children that a couple may have?” Even with the 2013 amendments to the policy, the answer for China is yes. While the One Child Policy is critiqued for triggering human rights violations, such as forced abortion and female infanticide, there are potential benefits to this policy that would appeal to a different definition of democracy than what Freedom House sets forth. For instance, the One Child Policy’s family planning goal (albeit a predetermined plan) has the potential to reduce poverty in some areas and raise the quality of life for communities struggling to provide resources for a surging population. By Benjamin Barber’s substantive definition of democracy in which social and economic equality are key factors, could this be considered a democratic policy decision on the part of the CCP? Or are the positive outcomes inadequate? Many public health examples also address this dilemma between protecting individual freedom (something that Freedom House prioritizes with it’s “Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights” section) and working towards a more equitable public good (a priority of Barber’s definition). I think that your statement about recognizing other perspectives is a strong point: “It’s easy enough to say we are free and democratic from Dahl’s description, it may not necessarily be true from another point of view.”

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