The Economist ‘Democracy Index’ provides a quick overview of international progress toward democracy, as defined by a London editorial staff that appears to admire the values of Scandinavian Social Democracy (as do I). The index reflects a Western delight in quantifying abstractions such as ‘democracy’ and then ‘rating’ countries. Nevertheless, it has its uses as a ‘big picture’ indicator.
With respect to Africa, for example, in the aggregate it shows that democracy (as it defines it) is retreating. But the index’s utility is much diminished when applied to specific countries. For example, the index ranks Ireland – with less than five million people and in the midst of a financial meltdown – higher than the United States with more than 300 million and a relatively stable system of public finance. (Ireland significantly outscores the U.S. in ‘political culture’ and ‘civil liberties.’ Or, the index rates South Africa – with perhaps the world’s greatest mal-distribution of personal income and very high levels of violent crime – above France. (The scores are close with South African pulling slightly ahead on ‘political participation’ and – incredibly – ‘functioning of government.’)