That the rule-of-law is a quite important, if an unsettled concept, is the focus of the BBC’s 2012 Reith Lectures. As of this posting, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has so far presented three of his four lectures on “The Rule of Law & its Enemies.” Given at different fora around the world, the last will be presented in Edinburgh next week and transcripts are already available as well as are downloadable podcasts on the BBC’s website (see e.g., http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01jmx0p/features/transcript).
Among his more striking points are:
“Evidence that the United States is suffering some kind of institutional loss of competitiveness can be found not only in Porter’s recent work [i.e., Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School] but also in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Index [see http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GCR_Report_2011-12.pdf ] and, in particular, the Executive Opinion Survey on which it is partly based. The survey includes 15 measures of the rule of law, ranging from the protection of private property rights to the policing of corruption and the control of organised crime.
“It is an astonishing yet scarcely acknowledged fact that on no fewer than 15 out of 15, the United States now fares markedly worse than Hong Kong. In the Heritage Foundation’s Freedom Index, too, the U.S. ranks 21st in the world in terms of freedom from corruption, a considerable distance behind Hong Kong and Singapore.
“Perhaps the most compelling evidence of all comes from the World Bank’s Indicators on World Governance, which suggest that, since 1996, the United States has suffered a decline in the quality of its governance in three different dimensions: government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and the control of corruption.
“Compared with Germany or Hong Kong, the U.S. is manifestly slipping behind. One consolation is that the United Kingdom doesn’t appear to have suffered a comparable decline in institutional quality.
“If the rule of law, broadly defined, is deteriorating in the United States, where is it getting better? I recently delved into the Bank’s treasure trove, the World Development Indicators database, to see which countries in Africa are ranked highly in terms of:
“1. The quality of public administration;
“2. The business regulatory environment;
“3. Property rights and rule-based governance;
“4. Public sector management and institutions; and
“5. Transparency, accountability and corruption in the public sector
“The countries that appear in the top twenty developing economies in four or more of these categories are Burkino Faso, Ghana, Malawi, and Rwanda.”