The End of History in reverse

Every year since 2006 more democracies have experienced erosion in political rights and civil liberties than have registered gains, as we find in our annual Freedom in the World report. In all, 110 countries, more than half the world’s total, have suffered some loss in freedom during the past 10 years.

That is from Mark P. Lagon and Arch Puddington at the WSJ.  I would like to see a good theory of how liberty, democracy, and liberalism — or however we wish to characterize that bundle — comove across the globe, in both positive and negative times.


Freedom House is generally a bellwether, and the least corrupted of the 'human rights' NGOs.. However, they're not transparent about how their rating system has evolved over time and their worldview is such that they simply ignore certain abuses, e.g. Canada's star chambers and injuries to property rights. The frame of individual rights and entitlements is wholly inappropriate when discussing certain policy questions, but the people who run Freedom House and other NGOs are dead to this. They also do not make clear that they're not talking about grand regime changes, but modest adjustments to and fro. Their rating system also lacks a ready way of distinguishing between injuries to quality of life borne of a breakdown in public order and those borne of abuses by the state or para-statal authorities.

Doesn't that just punt the question? No matter what their criteria is, it has switched directions since 2006. Why might that be?

I was actually referring to their criteria in 1977 and their criteria today. I do not think the point system they use is really valid for charting temporal evolution, but the reader cannot readily figure how they changed the computation of their index. That's quite apart from the problem you get with other NGOs (and Freedom House, to a small extent), wherein 'human rights' come to be identified with pet liberal causes and not procedural rights or privileges and immunities with a long pedigree.

How long must this pedigree be?
There were slaves in the USA until the fall of the Confederation, and Blacks' civil rights have been, in some states, severely restricted until the 1960s. Women's suffrage came to the USA in the early 20 th Century. And religious freedoms are somewhat recent. Jewish Emancipation in Europe started in the 1800s, and, much later than that, both the Russian tzars and American universities used to enforce the numerus clausus. It is not like all rights conservatives now pretend they believe in had been spelled out in the Constitution or the Magna Carta or the Bible.

How long must this pedigree be?

Try about five generations. Anything no one ever heard of prior to 1987 is not a right.

Five generations ago? 30 times 5 equals 150. It means that is OK preventing Blacks from voting in the USA (state rights) and Jews from working and studying in Europe. No universal suffrage either. No interracial marriage either. I guess at least the Chinese-Americans can get all the opium they may want.
1987? I guess it makes abortion, shoulder pads and parachute pants kosher.

Why did the DOW change directions last week? There is such a thing as overmining data. A trend since 2006 seems an arbitrary and ephemeral thing.

How is the 90 year moving average doing?

> "A trend since 2006 seems an arbitrary and ephemeral thing."

...and a rather pompous analysis from that brief moment in human history.

Oligarchy has been the natural state of human society throughout recorded history.
Genuine political rights and liberties are the exception even now, including the U.S.

As Thomas Jefferson noted:
"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground"

No "theory" is required to determine why liberty is rare and fragile -- history and personal experience should make it obvious. What's important is why any substantial liberty arises at all on the planet.

Excellent comment. Government is organized. Freedom not so much. I realize I take it for granted. I'm moving from one state to another right now, and am surprised how difficult it is from an administrative standpoint, and how many people have to be notified and sign of on it.

FWIW, I think anything we can call a market democracy is close enough, from Singapore to Greece. Failures within that group pale in comparison to those in nonmarket nondemocracies.

I think the 90 moving average is probably good.

Are you suggesting that liberalism is a random walk?

Interesting point about property rights. I never really bundled them with the whole "human rights" grouping but they really are as, if not, more important than many of the "human rights".

Property rights are real. "Human rights" are an absurd fiction. Humans are social animals, their rights flow from the society of which they are part: therefore "civil rights" is a suitable term.

"Property rights are real."
No, they are not. They are recognized where they are recognized and disregarded where they are disregarded, exactly like any other human right. Property rights in Cuba and North Korea aren't any more real than religious freedoms under America's allies from the Kingdoms of the Persian Gulf. The difference is, one of those bothers American leaders, the other not so much.

You miss the point. Your property rights are real because the law or customs of your society define and protect them, and because you as a member of that society are obliged in return to protect the property rights of other members of that society. "Human rights" is the sort of empty uplifting piffle one expects from a religious sermon; it's not for for use in intelligently critical discussion. Insofar as it means anything, which is doubtful, it means "the civil rights that I wish I, or you, had". In other words, it's just so much wishful thinking . Or "bollocks", to be blunt.

"Your property rights are real because the law or customs of your society define and protect them", exactly like any other human right. There is nothing special about property rights in this regard.
"the civil rights that I wish I, or you, had." Like property rights in, say, Cuba? Again, nothing magical about property rights that makes it different from all the other rights. When they are restricted, they are restricted-- property rights in Maoist communes, religious freedoms in Saudi Arabia, whatever.

'“Human rights” is the sort of empty uplifting piffle one expects from a religious sermon'

Or from this document, written by a group of unruly revolutionaries, many of them slave owners - 'When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Christ, are you really reduced to quoting from that sleazy advertising flyer?

The left wants desperately for property rights and negative rights in general to be seen as nothing more than equivalent to positive rights. This is an intellectual farce.The existence of negative rights first of all, predates the existence of positive rights by logic snd by reality. Secondly, positive rights inherently eliminate the negative rights that they are propped up on. The reason that leftists like John L. So crave to reduce the importance of negative rights is because they don't intend to respect them. One must first own slaves before one can order them to do one's bidding. The right to own property is inherently more important, more moral, and more justifiable to violently protect than any of the positive faux-rights in John's agenda.

John L. has managed to argue succesfully against dearme, but not against the part he was aiming at.

Fine dearie, call them "civil rights" -- I like that term better too. But surely you don't think that North Korea is somehow justified in what it does just because it is not a Western one like, er, South Korea.

It seems to me that the Koreans deserve their rights, because they they are human -- but they only get to enjoy them if they are south of the armistice line.

"It seems to me that the Koreans deserve their rights, because they they are human — but they only get to enjoy them if they are south of the armistice line."
Which is one of many ways the Korean Peninsula is luckier than the Persian Gulf-- half of it actually has a decent regime.

By moral relativistic and utilitarian calculation North Korean citizens maybe enjoying a better society than American citizen. They are told that they are the best off in the world and if they believe it their utility is extremely high, and because, as John L., would surely agree, morality isn't absolute and so who are we to judge a tyrannical dictator?

"Civil Rights" generally refers to the rights of citizens, or in some cases, adult citizens. "Human Rights" refers refers to the rights of all people.
Property rights are a form of human rights (the property itself has no rights that inhere to it)

@iluvtacos, @dearieme - does your love of property rights include inchoate, non-rival, intangible, intellectual property rights? If you're like the typical person, if you can't touch it, it doesn't exist (which explains why Einstein's theories are not really understood or accepted by the masses, nor why they don't understand the role of patents, except that it's a 'harmful monopoly')

Intangible property is a pragmatic invention, and it is important that it stay pragmatic.

An absolutist might want the color "blue" to be IP because its licensing would generate revenue. Sure, but probably not along the path of optimal growth.

@anon -but in fact the color pink of Owens-Corning fiberglass is trademarked (IP protection), due to the extensive advertising put into making this color associated with the "Pink Panther" fiberglass of Owens-Corning. This is a pragmatic response to the fact a corporation spent a lot of money associating this color with their product. Ball back in your court.

We bought pink donuts yesterday, no IP involved, so yes, obviously this is a restricted and narrow "property" for Owens-Corning.

And musicians are allowed to copyright a sequence of vibrations of the air because . . . . . musicians wouldn't sing, play music or compose if they couldn't assign the rights of that sequence of vibrations to some company that promotes them.

The 'theory' is how much power you can accumulate before there is pushback. How many enlightened Americans have blathered on about the advantages of one party states, and how many had their homes burnt down by raging mobs? There is an equation there somewhere.

Who in their right effing mind would put forward, fund and promote Clinton vs. another Bush? That is as dellusional as anything you would see in Argentina.

The first stages of pushback are evident. An otherwise non story of a politicized IRS and policing agencies who can lawfully seize assets on a whim will look quite different if a Trump or Sanders hack is behind it. And that is what we will see, and suddenly all these certifiable jackasses spouting off on the desirability of untrammeled power to save the world will be in fear.

It is the worst system imaginable except for all the others. Hopefully we won't have to relearn that by the industrial shedding of blood that characterized the last century.

You underestimate the value of Clinton vs. Bush. The fact that neither is anyone's first choice, does not mean that this is not the best final pairing.

So many neglect that fact that the basic goal of the US Constitution was to create a stymied central government. It is built to shatter the dreams of control freaks. Amazingly, it kinda worked, and it's a very good thing it did.

I do like the theory that countries that successfully transition to democracies must generally possess a minimum gdp per/capita levels. Various numbers have been offered, but around $6,000. The numbers have to be tweaked for petro states, suggesting that its not the wealth as much as the institutions. Transitioning states tend to experience a reduction in gdp, making the initial stages challenging.

In any event, the theory would be that the 2007 global recession adversely impacted "freedom," so we should see a relationship between declining FH rankings and declining GDP, particularly in transitioning or relatively modest economic states.

I can't read the WSJ article because it's gated, but I did review the actual report (Freedom in the World Country Ratings), which gives a far less pessimistic picture than what's presented in the quote from the WSJ article. The ratings go back to 1973, and the number of countries "free countries" and "partly free countries" has risen significantly. In 1973 there were only 44 "free countries" and 38 "partly free countries", whereas today there are 86 "free countries" and 59 "partly free countries". Moreover, even since 2006 the number has fluctuated up and down (but not by much). Of course, since 2006 the world's economy has been under tremendous stress, and economic stress is a good predictor of an erosion of freedom, so I am not being sanguine about it. Indeed, I believe more should be done to relieve the economic stress, which in turn will increase political rights and civil liberties.

"and economic stress is a good predictor of an erosion of freedom "

Predictor, yes, but not cause. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Seems like increased population equals less liberty. It's harder to mind your own business when you have to share with others.

The world's population went from 4.3 billion in 1980 to north of 7 billion today, but electoral politics and open debate are more prevalent. Your hypothesis sucks.

More people in the same polity.

It means the dominant coalition is more likely to overwhelm you by a greater ration on any given issue.

" electoral politics and open debate"

That's the meaning of freedom as we know it in the US of A.


"Every year since 2006 more democracies have experienced erosion in political rights and civil liberties than have registered gains, as we find in our annual Freedom in the World report. In all, 110 countries, more than half the world’s total, have suffered some loss in freedom during the past 10 years. - See more at:"

Living in the Philippines, and before that in Thailand, and before that in Greece, for many years, and not having voted in a while, I can tell you that American-style democracy is overrated. Not that I don't enjoy it, but you don't really need it, if government is not oppressive (ah, there's the rub). For example, in my case as a tourist in the Philippines, I cannot go to court, since the local boy will always win (well known), nor can I express a political opinion about PH nor support any party nor appear in any rally (as of a law passed recently, surprisingly, last year). But who cares? There are other benefits, and money talks. The only thing about this last point is that I would be concerned if, like in Russia, China, the state could take away my money arbitrarily. But if not, then who cares if I cannot vote? I've said to people I would trade US democracy and the 40% tax rate for the rich (> $100k/yr salary, which is what I was paying) if I had a tyrant who demanded a tithe of only 10% of my income and did nothing, with the proviso that the tyrant not harm me nor take my property arbitrarily. Heck, I think the English common law evolved exactly like that (Magna Carta).

"if I had a tyrant who demanded a tithe of only 10% of my income and did nothing, with the proviso that the tyrant not harm me nor take my property arbitrarily."

Then how does this tyrant stay in power? Or are you the only one so favored?

How is your tax rate 40%? Unless your >$100k/year you mean your income is >$400k/yr? At $396k, your rate starting being 39.6%, while your effective rate would still be lower.

Let's say you make $200k/year as a single filer and you live in DC, so you include their state income taxes. In that scenario, you're only paying a 28% effective tax rate - and that's not counting any deductions or credits you'd likely have.

If the country's leadership is unelected, they have less reason to be accountable to the people. They have less reason to respect property rights or any other type of rights. Is this really not obvious?

Obvious or not, it's wrong.

Social security is a 13% tax on somewhat more than the first $100K in income. There are state and property taxes. There are sales taxes and special taxes on gasoline and liquor. There are taxes on capital gains from already taxed income. I don't think it is hard to hit 50 percent if living in a high tax state. If the ACA mandatory insurance applies, that is a tax, according to the supreme court.

Social security is a progressive tax, as someone who contributes half of the maximum gets a payout that is larger than half the maximum possible payout.

Viking -

I accounted for state taxes in my example, but not for property taxes. That would bump up my example 1-2%?

As for Social Security payroll taxes - that's different because you're supposed to get that money back later. It's an earned benefit system most people have to participate in.

The gas tax pays for road infrastructure - would he need to buy any gasoline if he wanted to never contact public goods?

Social Security taxes are taxes and the benefits are welfare - The Supremes

Alan - Yes, I agree SSA taxes are taxes. I don't think my comment indicated they were not taxes.

My point is SSA taxes act differently than income taxes, since you now have a benefit owed to you (or your surviving spouse) personally. To illuminate this, imagine if only you were eligible to have all your income taxes treated as social security payroll taxes. Would you say no, and give up higher SSA retirement pay out later, because all taxes are the same?


Gas taxes, sales, state income, property and SS taxes are all "real" taxes. You can pick and choose what you want to count as real taxes if you want...but it invalidates you as a thinker.



You are incorrect to assume that I don't think any of those taxes aren't "real" - they most certainly are! We've just found some common ground - taxes are real.

My point, again, is that taxes are used differently and have different costs/benefits to taxpayers.

You ignored my hypothetical about income taxes vs SSA taxes so let me try another one. If Gov. Rick Scott in FL made every resident of FL pay a tax of $100, then he created a FL sovereign wealth fund to invest that money and pay the returns back to the same FL residents - that would be quite different than him charging a $10 tax and just spending it on cleaning up the Everglades.

Gas taxes, like all the other taxes, are also real. They primarily fund road maintenance. If you want to eliminate the gas tax, you either will 1) have lots of highways become unusable 2) find another way for state or fed gov't to pay for it (sell Alaska and Hawaii?) 3) privitize those roads - and then you'd probably have to pay something in place of taxes to use those corporate-owned roads.

"with the proviso that the tyrant not harm me nor take my property arbitrarily."

Who is going to stop them? You may be living out your playboy fantasies in the Philippines now and it is admittedly a highly dysfunctional democracy in many ways but it's still the case that a free press and democratic participation do occasionally work to kick would-be tyrants out of office. More recently, some of them have even wound up in jail. That result didn't come out of the sky. It came because people who are invested in their society fought and in some cases died for a more accountable government.

Obama's foreign policy happened.

Yes, all of the world's problems are because of Obama. LOL.

I predict that since 2006, countries that lost political freedom had lower levels of economic freedom than those which did not lose political freedom.

All states, including supposedly democratic ones, develop bureaucracies which become larger and larger and then become more and more restrictive. Eventually they become so unwieldy and expensive that they are either overthrown or deserted.

Actually, the ratio of public employees to working adults hit a plateau around about 1974. The central government employs proportionately fewer people than it did 40 years ago.

We have no idea how many federal contractors there are

no we know they just don't count for public employee numbers.

Didn't Mancur Olson have something to say about this?

"The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups" and "The Rise and Decline of Nations"

SPD wants state security to spy on the AfD.

Examples of freedom vary geographically and temporally. For instance, cock fighting has been a pastime across the world for millenia but will now result in arrests if done in the land of the free and home of the brave. In spite of the near universal approbation of the Muslim reaction to the Charlie Hebdo/Mohammed cartoons, Americans happily send to prison perverts guilty of possessing graven images of a sexual nature involving adolescents. Carrying a relatively small amount of cash through the state of Tennessee could result in its confiscation because it "might" have been the product of illegal activity. Speaking to a policewoman posing as a prostitute will mean the confiscation of an automobile in St. Paul, Minnesota. Wanting to build a house that will set one foot closer to the street than city zoning allows requires hearings and variances that may or may not be allowed for the putative "owner" of the property.

But yes, US citizens get to vote and debate.

Sorry, man, but there ain't no more American frontier to roam as a Native American these days. So, y'know, grow up.

"I would like to see a good theory of how liberty, democracy, and liberalism — or however we wish to characterize that bundle — comove across the globe, in both positive and negative times."

I thought the theory was already well known. On the positive side, when the US and other developed democracies model (classical) liberal democratic sysems, and use soft and hard power to allow peoples around the world to choose their own economic and political model, they choose democracy and free-market policies, thriving as a result. That's what occurred from the 1980s to the late 1990s and early 2000s, the intersection of so-called Pax Americana and the neoliberal consensus.

On the negative side, when US leadership decides to retreat from the world, it leaves a vacuum that gets filled by large authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Iran in some cases and upstart authoritarian regimes like ISIS in others. Domestically, as countries enjoy the fruits of free-market capitalism, they begin to take those fruits for granted, public choice forces take over, and reductions in the economic freedom that produced those fruits result. Admittedly, on this last point, it's less clear why there is so much "comovement" in economic freedom among developed countries.

So, we have the theory and understanding. However, negativity bias, combined with the fact that the theory can prove inconvenient at times for those on the more collectivist and statist side of the political spectrum, prevents the theory from being fully embraced, at least in some circles.

I'm not sure that I read the book, The End of History. I read reviews. I didn't agree with the premise. I believed something would rise up and kick us in the arse.

I read a book, Bankruptcy 1995. That hasn't happened, either. However, I'm fairly certain the World isn't going in the opposite direction.

Is it a reaction to too much "progress"?

Democracy, progress, human rights etc. probably have declining marginal utility.
They also have costs and trade offs.

Many believe the the more the better, and that there are never negatives.

Possibly, going too far with those things is not productive. Not least, because public opinion sees the negatives as well.

My idea is that too much progress might be counter productive. Democracy and rights are great things. But stretching those ideas into too much might be too risky.

I suspect the most common long-run equilibrium for peaceful and free, but risk-averse and stagnant, democracies is the South Africa model. Capitalism for the Brits, socialism for the Boers, fascism for the blacks. Just replace those respective groups with upper/middle/lower-classes and its a pretty generic formula that a lot of Western countries are moving towards.

Nine black elders were murdered because their mere existence in a declining share of the population and the hour of prayer they shared with the murderer represented a black people takeover of white immigrant America.

Brown people are apparently too white to represent his anger for the murderer's view that white were being wiped out in America, browns being the admixture of whites, indigenous Americans, southern Europeans, and Africans and thus not sufficiently non-white to justify a race war.

Besides, whites have long had a free pass to kill blacks for minor slights, lynching4s, dragging behind pickup trucks, bombings, houses set on fire.

Clearly, he wanted to take America's back to when whites killing blacks was a way to express frustration for economic hardtimes.

Germany is somehow considered a free country, even though they jail people for their opinions and the Chancellor collaborates with Facebook to take down "offensive" postings. But I guess they don't restrict freedom, since it's all done in the name of continued mass migration.

Actually, Germany's laws are restrictive of Nazi material and they've been on the books for decades. History did not begin the day before yesterday.

Lack of perspective.

When you are young, you start to learn about the political world around you. Some of these are "good" things and some are "bad" things. They become the base state upon which the average person builds their worldview

The "good" things are simply taken for granted. Of course there's no segregation. Of course women can vote. Of course there's a right to abortion. There's no need to worry about these good things going away, any more than the average person had to worry about their mother suddenly disappearing.

And of course, there are "bad" things. Sure, we may have gotten rid of slavery, enfranchised all adults, ended segregation and any number of other things, but those are in the past. What matters is what is "bad" now, such as microaggressions, and because of the lack of perspective, whatever is bad now is THE WORST POSSIBLE THING IN ALL OF HISTORY, and must be eradicated at all costs.

Given the lack of appreciation of the "good" things from the past, and the lack of recognition of the relative blandness of the "bad" things in the modern world, there is an ongoing abattoir of freedoms, as younger people willingly surrender the good things they don't appreciate, hoping to rid the world of bad things that are not really all that bad. They're stuck on a political version of the hedonic treadmill - "If we just fix *this* problem, the world will be a good and just place, and we won't have to redefine any more freedoms". Not recognizing that the people born 5, 10, 15 years later are thinking the same thing, but with a different set of problems.

When Fukuyama wrote "The End of History", he was simply not aware he was on the political-hedonic treadmill.

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