The political, economic, and social situations in countries can be assessed using a variety of methods. The most basic way to determine how a country is functioning would be to directly ask the peoples of the country how they feel about their current situation. A problem with this method is that one would encounter opinion and bias from the indigenous peoples, which would not reveal a definitive picture as to how the country is doing. Another method would be to simply observe the country at hand and gather data to determine how they are faring. Using specific criteria and mathematical formulas, this is what companies such as Freedom House have to done to create indices such as the “Economist Index of Democracy”, and the “Failed States Index”. While this method of assessing a country’s current political, economic, and social situations is more precise and accurate than simply asking the inhabitants of a country for their thoughts, there is no perfect way to determine a country’s condition, and obviously there are problems with these indices.
Freedom House has three indices, dealing with political freedom, civil liberties, and electoral democracy (Kekic 2007, 6). The indices are based on a 1-7 scale, which divide countries into three groups; free, partly free, and not free (McCormick 2007, 7). Countries which score a 1 to 3 are considered free, countries which score 4-5 are considered partly free, and countries which score a 6-7 are considered not free. There are 10 indicators of political freedom, which deal with the ability of the people to participate in the political process, and 15 indicators of civil liberties, which deal with freedom of expression, personal autonomy, and economic rights (Kekic 2007, 6). These two factors are the primary components which determine how democratic a country is according to Freedom House. The electoral democracy index is also used to an extent for this purpose. However, it is highly specified and deals mainly with the process of actually electing officials.
Problems with these indices lie mainly within the scoring system. First of all, ranking how free a country is on a scale of 1 to 7 seems fairly arbitrary. I would think that there would have to be an “ideal” democracy from which all other countries are compared to, but according to this system I do not think that is the case. Whatever country best represents democracy receives the highest score of a 1, even if they may not be perfect. Another problem is that the indicators don’t carry any weight to my knowledge, meaning that all indicators are treated equal. In my opinion, there should be certain indicators which carry more value than others. Finally, the electoral democracy index is too specific, and doesn’t take into account any other factors besides the actual voting process.
The Economist Index of Democracy describes how democratic a country is. The index is based on five categories including electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture (Kekic 2007, 10). Electoral process and pluralism first define whether or not fair elections are being held. Civil liberty deals with the protection of basic human rights. Functioning of the government entails how democracy is implemented into the government. Political participation measures how free people are to vote. Finally, political culture analyzes if competitive, yet gracious elections are held. The index is calculated based on an average score from 60 indicators in the 5 categories (Kekic 2007, 11). Adjustments are made to the scores if they do not score at least a 1 in certain categories. Point values of most of the questions are based on a 0-1 scale (including 0.5).
This index is not as flawed as the Freedom House indices, but it does have its share of problems. It is difficult to tell how democratic a country is using a limited set of requirements for democracy. I would think that more than 60 indicators would be needed for accuracy. The scoring system again seems flawed. A 0-1 scale seems like it makes requirements too black and white. Since there are only 3 choices to pick from in this scale, it seems like that would increase error. I would think 5 choices for each requirement would increase the validity of the test. I do think that adjusting scores if one category is low is a good idea. The Freedom House indices did not give any weight to their questions, and it seems like there is value added to questions here.
Lastly, the Failed States Index determines how unstable and volatile countries are. It is based on 12 indicators which deal with social, economic, political, and military factors (Foreign Policy 2007, 18-19). Among the 12 indicators are demographic pressures, human flight, factionalized elites, and external intervention. The index is compiled by first basing each indicator on a 10 point scale, and then combining the scores from each indicator for a total score. The higher the score, the less stable the country is. Differences in score from year to year for each country are noted, which can tell if a country is improving or becoming worse (Foreign Policy 2007, 20).
The problem with this index is that it doesn’t list the positives about the countries at hand; it only deals with the negatives. This exploits the problems of the countries.. This index also suffers from the problem of a point system, which assigns arbitrary values to the indicators. There is no exact definition of a failed country which the scale is based off of, so only whichever countries are performing the worst are considered failing. Lastly, when assigning point values, it can be difficult to compare one country to another. In a sense, it is like comparing apples and oranges; there are different factors which account for what is going on in each country. Overall, I feel the described indices have flaws, but they are still probably the best indicators of the world political stances available at the moment.