MORE REFUGEES, FEWER MIGRANTS
The past four years have produced two storylines when it comes to migration patterns. First, the Arab Spring has produced major outflows of migrants and refugees from countries such as Libya and Syria. According to the United Nations, 335,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the international body and 700,000 Syrians could flee the violence in their country by the end of 2012, while more than 1 million people have displaced inside Syria. As was the case with Libya, most Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries rather than in Europe -- in Syria's case, mainly Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. We know that the number of refugees worldwide increased from 15.2 million people in 2008 to 16 million in 2010, but there's no data yet on just what kind of impact the uprisings in the Middle East have had on overall refugee trends.
More broadly, the global economic recession has slowed migration to the world's wealthiest countries. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development notes that the number of labor migrants to OECD countries dropped from 880,000 in 2007 to 780,000 in 2010, though preliminary 2011 figures suggest that migration to most European OECD members has since increased. This spring, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that after four decades of heavy Mexican migration to the United States, the "net migration flow" of Mexicans to the United States had stopped and possibly even reversed. A more recent report suggests Mexican migration to the United States may be increasing again, but the recession-induced dropoff is still remarkable.
The Arab uprisings may have rid the world of some of its least savory leaders, but over the last four years the world has actually become less democratic. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which analyzes global democracy trends, the number of "full democracies" in the world declined by 16.7 percent between 2008 and 2011, the last year for which data is available. At the same time, the number of "flawed democracies" and "authoritarian regimes" increased by 5.7 and 3.8 percent respectively, while "hybrid regimes" remained constant. Freedom House, which also conducts research on governance trends, reports that 2011 "marks the sixth consecutive year in which countries with [democratic] declines outnumbered those with improvements."
Most of the damage is due to democratic backsliding in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, though even the United States took a hit. Between 2008 and 2011, the United States slipped from 18th to 19th on EIU's Democracy Index, with a noticeable drop in its "functioning of government" score, one of the five metrics on which countries are rated.
PROGRESS ON PEACE
Measuring world peace is, as the Economist has pointed out, akin to describing "how happiness smells." Nonetheless, the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace publishes an annual Global Peace Index that rates the peacefulness of countries on a variety of indicators, including internal and external conflict, military spending, and respect for human rights. Their findings suggest that the world is ever so slightly more peaceful today than it was in 2008. The average score (based on a 1-5 scale, 1 being the most peaceful) for nations surveyed in 2012 was 2.011, whereas the average score in 2008 was 2.043. Steve Killelea, the survey's founder, told Reuters that the decline was due reduced military spending -- in part, because of the global financial crisis -- as well as declining violence in Africa. "The improvement in relation with the states and a greater reluctance to resort to war is very profound, particularly in Africa," he said.
The Global Peace Index findings, however limited, fit into a larger pattern identified by scholars like Steven Pinker that suggests violence has declined appreciably throughout history and especially during the 20th century. For most of human history, Pinker argues, life was indeed "nasty, brutish, and short" and if "the death rate in tribal warfare had prevailed during the 20th century ... there would have been 2 billion deaths from wars and homicide, rather than 100 million." It's a compelling argument as we contemplate the world full of global threats that will greet the next U.S. president.