The Democracy Crisis is Real

by admin

As the 2024 election approaches, there remains an unease in the American political environment.  A Pew Research poll found that 73% of Americans think the US “isn’t the role model” of democracy it used to be, suggesting that most Americans would agree with that assessment.  Of course, partisanship being what it is, the Left would blame the Right and vice versa.  A more objective assessment might be that there has been divisive and “undemocratic” behavior on both sides.


America is not the only one with democracy problems

It would be comforting if we could identify short-term phenomenon, like particular individuals, groups, or movements, to explain today’s political unease.  But a global perspective does not provide any such comfort.


President Biden himself said that, globally, democracy “is at an inflection point,” another way of saying it is in crisis.  He has good reason for making that comment.  Reviewing the current state of the world and recent trends,


Democracy is rare and in decline

Only 15% of the people in the world live in a country with an effective democracy.  That figure has changed hardly at all over the last fifty years.  Furthermore, according to the NGO Freedom House, which assesses democracy annually in more than 100 countries, democracy has been in decline for almost 20 years.


Signs of trouble for democracy are everywhere

Events and trends certain support Freedom House’s assessment.  Seven countries in Africa experienced coups over the last two years, a rate not seen since the 1960’s.  Polling in Latin America revealed that dissatisfaction with democracy hit 70% in the region in 2020. More than half of respondents said they don’t care if a nondemocratic government takes power as long as it resolves their problems.  This aligns with some governments in the region, including Nicaragua, El Salvador, Brazil and Mexico, electing politicians who are challenging democratic institutions.  After Tunisia’s president dissolved parliament in 2022, the Arab Spring had officially produced no democracy whatsoever.  Lastly, many observers say India, called the “world’s largest democracy,” has been getting less and less democratic over time, as evidenced by assassination attempts and increases in arrests of political opponents, censorship of the internet, and a poll which shows that, similar to Latin America, support for democracy is falling among Indian people.


Even the Advanced Democracies are struggling

It isn’t just the Less Developed Countries (LDC’s).  Advanced Democracies are struggling as well.  Great Britain has been has had a divisive and bitter struggle with Brexit and has gone through 3 Prime Ministers in 5 years.  France has seen destructive protests and riots over economic policy issues (gas tax, retirement benefits) and police actions.  Of course, as mentioned above, America has seen the use of investigations and allegations combined with riots and protests in way that has sowed discord not seen in at least 50 years.


The US failure in Afghanistan is not reassuring

Perhaps most disconcerting of all, we have the US experience in Afghanistan.  Twenty years and one trillion dollars devoted to remaking Afghanistan on a democratic foundation ended in complete collapse and chaos.  Nothing America tried to do proved to be sustainable.  Frankly, the effort in Iraq was no better.  When President Biden made the comment about democracy being at an “inflection point,” he also said “we have to prove democracy works.”  Six months later, the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle occurred.  Based on America’s performance in Afghanistan, is there any reason to be confident we “prove democracy works?”


Prosperity is rare and in decline as well

So from the top of the democratic scale (the US, longest running democracy in the world) to the bottom (Afghanistan), we see democracy struggling—rare and in decline.  Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem.  The economic picture is no less worrisome.


First, since WWII, only countries representing less than 2% of the world’s population have moved from the bottom to the top half of the global income scale.  So we are left with 85% of the people in the world living on less than 25% of the average advanced economy, and 40% living on less than 5% of that average.  Just like democracy is rare, so is prosperity.  (Note, that fact is not a coincidence.)


The Global Economy is Smothered in Debt

The recent trend is not positive.  The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and the resultant “Great Depression” were largely the result of accumulation of unsustainable debt loads by many countries in the world.  Since then, total global indebtedness has actually increased, with global debt to GDP not standing at a historically high 350%.  This global debt bubble has suppressed income and GDP growth, with growth in the Advanced Economies falling from an average of 3% in the last two decades of the 20th century to 2% in the first two decades of the 21st century.  This leverage has other side effects, such as punishing savings, inflating financial bubbles, and causing inflation, all of which hurt the average citizen and exacerbate income inequality.


It is clear that freedom and prosperity are in decline

To summarize, overall, the world is not terribly free or prosperous.  Those who are freer and more prosperous seem to be losing their grip on those accomplishments.  Furthermore, virtually all effort to spread freedom and prosperity (like Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other examples) have failed (see our essay on Leader of the Free World), which leaves the unfree and impoverished part of the world (85% of the global population) without much hope.


After winning the Cold War, freedom was supposed to flourish

In closing, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.  The Allies beat the Axis powers and defeated the most violent, direct threat to freedom we’ve seen in modern times.  The US and its allies then outperformed and outlasted the Soviet Union, won the Cold War, and put democracy’s main ideological rival, Communism, on the shelf.  From there, many thought freedom and democracy would flourish.  As the above attests, it hasn’t.


See Part 2 of this essay, Implications of the Democracy Crisis, for a discussion as to the risks and dangers that lie ahead given today’s condition and trends.  In light of those conditions and trends, it isn’t outrageous to suggest that, when it comes to building and maintaining democracy, we might be missing something.  This website is dedicated to exploring what that something might be.

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