Five people seated on stage

‘Democracy Is on the Defensive’ Global affairs experts gather to analyze the sobering findings of the 2024 Berggruen Governance Index

Experts on global affairs came together this month at UCLA to analyze the findings of the newly released 2024 Berggruen Governance Index (BGI), which examines the relationship between the quality of democracy, the quality of governance and the quality of life in 145 countries.

This year’s index concluded that an overwhelming majority of the world’s people live in countries that lost ground on measurable benchmarks of democratic accountability from 2010-2021. Yet many of these countries have maintained or even improved delivery of public goods, including employment, health care and education.

This illuminates the fallacy that democracy alone will improve governance performance, according to the index’s authors, an international team of researchers from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, the Los Angeles-based Berggruen Institute think tank and the Hertie School in Berlin.

The principal investigator is Helmut Anheier, adjunct professor of public policy and social welfare at UCLA Luskin and a former president of the Hertie School.

In an interview prior to the report’s release, Anheier commented on the index’s score for democratic accountability, averaged across 145 countries. The dip from 67 to 65 on a 100-point scale from 2010 to 2021 nearly erased an average gain of 3 points from 2000 to 2010.

“We will probably have a longish period ahead of us where democracy is on the defensive,” Anheier said, noting that countries including Russia, the United Arab Emirates and China are positioning themselves to be an alternative to democratic norms.

“What is the problem here? If they are successful in providing a quality of life that over time may approach what we have in the West, we are going to be even more on the defensive than we are now. That is what emerges in the data very clearly,” Anheier said.

While flagging performance by democratic governments could lead to calls for a more authoritarian approach, “very few people in established democracies will say, well, I just want to get rid of democracy,” said Nils Gilman, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Berggruen Institute. “What they want is for democracy to function better.”

The 2024 BGI was unveiled at a May 15 event at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. Anheier and BGI project manager and data scientist Joseph Saraceno presented the findings, then enlisted a panel of experts to offer insights and field audience questions.

The panel included Jody Heymann, director of the UCLA WORLD Policy Analysis Center; Georgia Kernell of UCLA’s political science and communications faculty; Brian Levy of Johns Hopkins University and UCLA Luskin; Alexandra Lieben, deputy director of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations; and Michael Storper, director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin.

The Democracy News Alliance contributed to this report.

Read more about the 2024 Berggruen Governance Index.

Watch interviews about the BGI and view additional photos from the conference.


Berggruen Governance Index 2024

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