The World Justice Project on Thursday published a “Rule of Law Index,” and there’s no easy way to say this. Let me put it this way: as when rankings on education, infant mortality, work hours, lifespan, retirement security, health, environmental impact, incarceration rates, violence, concentration of wealth, and other measures of quality of life come out, it is time once again for we Americans to shout “We’re Number One!” more loudly than ever. Because, of course, we’re not.
The Rule of Law Index looks at 35 nations around the world, including seven in Western Europe and North America. The researchers understand the rule of law as follows:
I. The government and its officials and agents are accountable under the law.
II. The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and fair, and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property.
III. The process by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced is accessible, fair, and efficient.
IV. Access to justice is provided by competent, independent, and ethical adjudicators, attorneys or representatives, and judicial officers who are of sufficient number, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.
To gauge the strength of the rule of law in each nation, the WJP examined nine areas using surveys of the public and of experts in each nation. The region of Western Europe and North America came out the run away leader in every category. But the United States finished last or close to it in almost every category among those nations in its region and among the larger group of nations considered to have a high income level. Among 11 high income countries, the United States ranks:
9th in Limited government powers
10th in Absence of corruption
9th in Clear, publicized and stable laws
9th in Order and security
10th in Fundamental rights
3rd in Open government
8th in Regulatory enforcement
11th in Access to civil justice
7th in Effective criminal justice
Possible weaknesses in this study do not necessarily improve things for the U.S. ranking. The most glaring weakness is that the launching of illegal wars is simply avoided. Second, countries with better propaganda score better; if Americans believe they have the rule of law then a report like this one concludes that they do. Third, the United States scored well on some poorly formed areas of inquiry, such as the question of whether our officials accept bribes. Because we have largely legalized what other countries call bribes, we have successfully brought criminality within the “rule of law.” The United States scored very well on the questions of whether drafts of laws are publicly available, whether proceedings are open to participation, and whether information requested is available. These scores reflect the fact that executive orders and OLC memos are not commonly referred to as “laws,” and the fact that what the CIA does is considered above the law if it’s considered at all. The report measured freedom of expression but not freedom of the press.
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