Friday, April 22, 2011

Predicting Political Revolutions with Data: "The Shoe-Thrower's Index"

From the Atlantic:
First Tunisia, then Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, and Morocco seemingly spontaneously combusted from the bottom up. Last weekend there were online calls for mass protests in Beijing, Shanghai, and other major Chinese cities; Libya is in a full-blown state of revolution as of this writing, with much of the country in the hands of rebels and government security forces firing on demonstrators in Tripoli. 
Clearly, 2011 already ranks as one of history's great revolutionary epochs alongside 1848, 1918, 1949, and 1968. Something powerful and seemingly irresistible is being unleashed. But what is it exactly?
The Economist, with its "Shoe-Thrower's Index," attempts to quantify all of the various factors that feed into political unrest and discontent - a government's years in power, youth population, GDP per capita, and rankings of democracy, corruption, and press freedom - and produce a relative ranking instability in the Middle East:

Richard Florida from the Atlantic took this idea and expanded it to most countries in the world, calling naming their new scheme the "Index of Political Unrest":

Click the image to be taken to a HUGE version.
As he explains:
The IPU does reasonably well in predicting the unrest and revolutionary activism that are spreading across the Middle East today. Among the highest-scorers are the West Bank/Gaza Strip (.75), Yemen (.75), Egypt (.74), and Iraq (.72).  Seven more Middle Eastern and North African nations have relatively high IPU scores:  Morocco (.68), Lebanon (.64), Syria (.61), Jordan (.61), Algeria (.6), Tunisia (.57), and Libya (.51), while Saudi Arabia (.4) and Bahrain (.4) show more moderate levels.  On the other hand, Kuwait (.23), Qatar (.22), and the United Arab Emirates (.21) score in the same range as Luxemburg, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada. Obviously this metric is not infallible--things are much less stable in Bahrain than its moderate score (.4) would suggest; Libya's score fails to reflect the outsized role of its insane dictator. 
That said, it's interesting to note that the real powder kegs are not even in the Middle East. The nation with the highest ranking on the IPU is Togo (.93), followed by Mongolia (0.83), Armenia (.81), Haiti (.8), and the Ukraine (.79). China's IPU score of .51 is on par with Libya's. 
On the other side of the ledger, the world's most stable nations are the Netherlands (.15), Norway (.15), Australia (.17), Finland (.18) and Canada (.19). The United States is in 20th place (.3).
I was interested to see how high China's relative ranking is - though it's not a "powder keg" by any stretch of the imagination, it still manages to rank rather highly, and a revolution in China would really change the world.

I was not surprised but still sad to see that the U.S. came it as only the 20th most stable country in the world, behind Canada, Australia, and much of Western and Northern Europe.

Disclaimer: I recognize that neither of these indices are scholarly or exhaustive, nor do they demonstrate causality - but they're still interesting.


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