Our guest authors today are Arch Puddington, (director of research) and David J. Kramer (executive director) of Freedom House, a bipartisan organization founded in 1941 by Wendell Willkie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others. It has worked tirelessly over the intervening decades to promote democratic values both at home and abroad. It is best known for its annual Freedom in the World survey, which analyzes the state of political freedom and civil liberties. In 2010, it published The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, a survey of union and workers rights, and a global map of labor rights, with support from the Albert Shanker Institute. Along with the Shanker Institute, Freedom House is also a cosponsor of DemocracyWeb, a resource for history, civics and comparative government education. Antonia Cortese, secretary treasurer of the Shanker Institute, also serves on the Freedom House Board of Trustees.
As we enter a new decade, the evidence is fast mounting that global freedom is under the most intense pressure it has faced in many years. According to the most recent report issued by Freedom House, 2010 marked the fifth consecutive year of a worldwide democracy recession. During that period, democracy has suffered setbacks in every region of the world. All of the political institutions that are crucial to democratic governance—including elections, press freedom, rule of law, minority rights—have suffered setbacks.
The palpable lack of confidence among democracies in their own system of government, driven in part by the global economic crisis that has affected market economies more severely than authoritarian ones, partly explains these trends. Recently, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, western pundits are raising questions about the efficacy of democratic systems.