Political freedom and civil liberties, journalism and public discourse are the pillars on which our freedom rests. But qualitative assessments of these aspects bear the risk of mistakingly perceiving a decline of liberties over time when in fact the bar by which we judge our liberty was raised. Quantitative assesments can therefore be useful when they help to measure freedom against the same yardstick across countries and over time.
This new interactive data visualization by Our World in Data shows the global development of political freedom in the last 200 years.
The chart shows the share of people living under different types of political regimes over the last 200 years. Throughout the 19th century more than a third of the global population lived in colonial regimes and almost everyone else lived in autocratically ruled countries. The first expansion of political freedom from the late 19th century onward was crushed by the rise of authoritarian regimes that in many countries took their place in the time leading up to the Second World War.
In the second half of the 20th century the world has changed significantly: Colonial empires ended, and more and more countries turned democratic: The share of the world population living in democracies increased continuously – particularly important was the breakdown of the Soviet Union which allowed more countries to democratise. Today more than every second person in the world lives in a democracy.
The huge majority of those living in an autocracy – 4 out of 5 of those that live in an authoritarian regime – live in one country autocracy: China.
There are various attempts to measure the types of political regimes that govern the world’s countries and to capture something as complex as a political system is necessarily controversial. In this analysis the used index measures political regimes on a spectrum from +10 for full democracies to -10 for full autocracies; regimes that fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum are called anocracies. To this Our World in Data added information about the world’s countries that were ruled by other countries as part of a colonial empire. For more information see the source below.
Source: Max Roser (2016) – ‘A history of global living conditions in 5 charts’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/a-history-of-global-living-conditions-in-5-charts/ [Online Resource]