This question asks about the correlation between political system and economic growth. A similar but distinctly different question: is there any correlation between political system and one of the various indices trying to quantify quality of life? I'm thinking about:

  • Human Development Index
  • Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index
  • Quality of Life Index
  • Happy Planet Index

Famously, the only country that has a high Human Development Index and a sustainable Ecological Footprint is Cuba:

plot of HDI versus Ecological Footprint

(source: Wikipedia)

That would argue in favour of the Cuban political and economic system as far as the tradeoff between planet and people is concerned, but famously, one data point is not enough. Are there any more in-depth statistics trying to correlate (and study the reasons for correlation) between political systems, human welfare, and ecological footprints?

  • 3
    I have one data point which demolishes this easily. If quality of life in Cuba is so high, how come none of those Mexicans wishing to leave their country immigrate to Cuba instead of going to USA? Or for that matter, why don't all those people in USA like Mike Moor extolling how great life in Cuba is move there? People aren't THAT stupid that every single one of them who tries to move chooses a worse off option over optimal one.
    – user4012
    Dec 6, 2012 at 19:21
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    @DVK What exactly does that "demolish"? HDI in Mexico and Cuba are more or less the same. Cuba has 0.776, Mexico has 0.770, US has 0.910. Cuba has no IHDI data, but Mexico and US data are skewed due to very high inequality. But for those attempting to get rich (such as Mexicans and those Cubans attempting to leave) the US provides more opportunities than Cuba.
    – gerrit
    Dec 6, 2012 at 20:27
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    HDI statistics are about life expectancy at birth, GDP/capita and literacy rate. Life expectancy at birth is higher in Cuba (78.3 yr) than in the USA (78.2 yr). US and Cuba both have full literacy, in Mexico it's lower (86.1%). As for ecological footprint, it's carrying capacity is 1.8 global hectares per person. Cuba has 1.85 gha/person, Mexico 3.00 gha/person, US a staggering 8.00 gha/person. Now I don't claim Cubans lead a better life than US-Americans, but they do lead a more ecological life. Clearly ecology is not those Mexicans 1st concern.
    – gerrit
    Dec 6, 2012 at 20:34
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    The model of the ecological footprint is not random, nor are attempts to measure how well the population lives. They're certainly more relevant than "GDP", which measures only money, whereas money is a poor measurement of what's actually relevant in life (such as health). I'm not saying the other indices are perfect, but at least they try to measure something relevant to quality of life. GDP per capita doesn't even do that (and is flawed by the very reason that it's the mean of a quantity that is distinctly not normally distributed).
    – gerrit
    Dec 8, 2012 at 11:51
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    @yms Of course. One can have a very miserable life in any country in the world, including the richest ones, and also lead a happy life despite being poor. Happiness is hard to measure, so I stick with measurable quantities.
    – gerrit
    Feb 16, 2013 at 23:39

1 Answer 1


Air Quality

There is a relationship between certain political systems and air quality (air quality being one metric of quality-of-life).

An article in the journal Ecological Economics examined 149 areas (42 countries and 107 cities) over a 25-year period and found that:

  • Democracy has a positive causal relationship with air quality (being more democratic causes higher air quality)
  • Presidential systems have better air quality than parliamentary systems (in other words, the presidential/parliamentary variable is a conditioning factor)
  • Strong labor unions depress air quality, whereas strong green movements increase air quality.

The underlying theory here is that democracies respond to the public's demand for public goods. Authoritarian governments are not sensitive to public opinion, so they don't need to provide public goods. This is why it is believed democracies are a causal factor: being a democracy provides incentives for policy-makers to respond to public demands (such as for public goods like clean air).

The original article is available for free here.

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