Tuesday, September 11, 2007


While reading the September 17th edition of Time Magazine Molly came across an interesting item in their 'Dashboard' section. Entitled 'How Free Is Your Country ?' it has a world map that gives a visual about how various countries size up on the 'Voice and Accountability' indicator of the Worldwide Governance Indicators project. Think the USA is the "land of the free" ? Guess again. This indicator is a measure of how free citizens are to voice their opinions and select a government. The World Governance Indicators actually compare 212 listed countries on six different parameters ie

Voice and Accountability

Political Stability and Absence of Violence

Government Effectiveness

Regulatory Quality

Rule of Law

Control of Corruption

On most of these indicators(except for one-more on this later) the USA scored fairly high, but in no case was it the top country or even close. The 'Voice and Accountability' section measures basic parameters of democracy and freedom of speech. In this field the USA has dropped from a rank of 22nd in 2005 to the level of 35rd in 2006, a reflection of both increased distrust of public officials and further restrictions on freedom of the press. Most West European countries score as "freer" than the USA as do Australia, New Zealand and Canada (at the 12th ranking). Some of the countries that beat the USA, however, are interesting. Italy ! Hungary ! Chile ! Now, I can see that there may indeed be more freedom of speech in Italy. Probably a heck of a lot more. But is it possible that Italians distrust their government less than Americans do.
If you examine the indicators two things strike you. One is that this is not a set of biased estimates by some obscure left wing think tank. The estimates are produced by the WORLD BANK INSTITUTE, an outfit that nobody in their right mind could accuse of "left wing biases". The second is that each estimate of the six parameters is produced by integrating a number of different reports from up to 24 different organizations. The estimates vary from organization to organization. What the world Bank has tried to do is draw a composite picture. Some "in house' groups such as Freedom House or Global Insight Business Conditions and Risk Indicators give the USA much higher ratings than say the Economist Intelligence Unit which puts the USA down at position # 83 rather than 35. The Gallup World Poll puts it even further down the list at position # 106. The latter is, of course, biased, but no less so than such things as Freedom House. All told those outfits that have the least to lose or gain by their opinions, other than the fact that they are selling them as "the truth" to those who depend upon them for business decisions, tend to cluster around the aggregate estimates that the Governance Indicators bring out as the best opinion.
There is one of the indicators that is particularly damaging to American self perceptions, perhaps even more so that pricking the balloon of America's preeminence in "freedom", something that most of us foreigners doubted in the first place. Being the 35th freest country in the world is still a fairly high score. Where the USA really scores low is on the 'Political Stability and Absence of Violence' indicator. Here the USA comes in at the 89th place. This has fallen tremendously in the last 7 years. All other indicators have also fallen, but none so dramatically as this one. It should be noted that the Gallup World Poll played no part in compiling this particular index. This is not the perhaps biased general world public opinion that the USA is a violent country both domestically and internationally. This is the estimate of people who have to base business decisions on such estimates.
Anyways, the WGI isn't just about the USA and its trials and tribulations. Drop on over to see how your own country and others rate on this yardstick.

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