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Decline in political freedom worldwide is worrying, says Martin Wolf

Wolf was speaking through a video link at the Business Standard Manthan event in New Delhi on "The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism", which is also the title of his recent book

Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator, the Financial Times, London

Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator at Financial Times, London.

BS Reporter New Delhi

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There has been a decline in political freedom in several countries over the past decade, including the world’s largest democracies such as the United States (US) and India, said Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator at Financial Times, London.

He was referring to the data from the Freedom House Report.

Wolf was speaking through a video link at the Business Standard Manthan event in New Delhi on “The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism”, which is also the title of his recent book.
“It shows in their (Freedom House) estimates, the decline in what they think of as political freedom in a whole range of countries in the last 10 years up to 2023. And you can see that the US and I'm afraid India, I won't comment further, are in this list. Their declines are smaller of course,” he said, adding that a very large list of countries, even countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Thailand have suffered a very large decline in ‘democracy and quality of democracy’ and there are almost no countries where it’s increasing.


Citing the example of former US President Donald Trump, Wolf said attempts by the head of government and state to subvert election or overturn the vote are obviously treason to this political order. “In a liberal democracy, that is a democracy characterised by individual civil rights, rule of law and respect for the rights of the losers and the legitimacy of the winners, fair elections determine who holds the power,” he added.

Talking about the emergence of democratic capitalism, he said there were no democracies at all two centuries ago. By the second half of the 20th century, it covered half of the world's countries after 1990, before declining once again in democratic recession. In fact, roughly half the world’s countries are now to some degree democratic.

In his book, Wolf has argued that market capitalism and democracy are complementary opposites. “Market capitalism rests on ideals of real labour, individual effort, reward for marriage and of course, law. Democracy rests on ideas of free discussion and debate among citizens when making those rules,” he said. On the other hand, a fully socialist society is inevitably a dictatorship since the ownership of productive assets is vested almost entirely in the states.

He further said that in high income countries, there has been a large rise in inequality and have also weakened the foundations of democracies. “In particular, fear of downward mobility, as crazy status, anxiety and cynicism, particularly among the working class, have been diverted by right-wing propaganda into cultural and racial resentment, especially in our more ethnically diverse societies. The emergence of the new media has facilitated these trends, but in my view, they have not created that,” he said.

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First Published: Mar 27 2024 | 10:06 PM IST

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