2009 brought us the fourth consecutive year of a ‘freedom recession.’ So says Freedom House, an independent non-profit organization that “advocates for democracy and human rights.”

Freedom House has been producing reports on human freedom since the 1950s. It registered its first Freedom in the World report in 1972. The methodology behind the report notes that it is necessarily somewhat subjective, but employs a fairly rigorous framework. The checklist used helps provide an understanding of what lies behind the organization’s rankings.

Freedom House measures freedom “according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties.” The organization’s website states:
“The survey does not rate governments or government performance per se, but rather the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals. Thus, while Freedom House considers the presence of legal rights, it places a greater emphasis on whether these rights are implemented in practice. Furthermore, freedoms can be affected by government officials, as well as by nonstate actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.”
As noted in this press release, 2009 was the fourth year in a row where “global declines in freedom outweighed gains.” Some nations rolled back recent gains. Also, “the most powerful authoritarian regimes have become more repressive, more influential in the international arena, and more uncompromising.”

The continent that saw the most freedom declines was Africa. “…virtually all of the countries in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union continued to pursue a repressive course….” Latin America saw its share of problems too. The continent with the most freedom gains was Asia.

A perusal of the rankings of independent countries and the table of political rights and civil liberties by country are intriguing. (The lower the score, the more freedom enjoyed.) I note that some of the nations listed as most free suffered under intense communist repression a mere two decades ago. So there is hope yet.

46 percent of the world’s population is judged to be free. 20 percent is “partly free.” The rest; more than “2.3 billion people live in societies where fundamental political rights and civil liberties are not respected.” Moreover, it seems to me that we have entered into a phase where the freer nations of the world are content to let those billions languish in the name of maintaining a chimera of peace. No doubt this results at least somewhat from a backlash against the adventurism of the past decade.

Anyone can set up a standard to measure anything. No one is obliged to accept anyone’s judgment on a given matter unless agreement exists on the standard employed and its implementation. Some that earnestly promote human liberty would likely have a different system that would produce different results. Measured against a more exacting standard of freedom from undue coercive influence, many of the nations ranked by FH as best would rank as needing improvement. Some of these nations pursue serious anti-liberty agendas.

I suppose that most people in FH’s most free countries would agree, however, that the report at least provides appreciable levels of differentiation. For example, the average person in Micronesia enjoys more freedom than her counterpart in Ecuador, who enjoys more freedom than the average person in Oman, who enjoys more freedom than most in North Korea. Perhaps most citizens of FH’s least free nations would also agree, but that would be impossible to find out.

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