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?

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    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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 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 '12 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 '13 at 23:39

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.


I think the answer is a a tentative YES, but the correlation can be a little difficult to map and interpret.

First, what do you mean by "political system"? Are you asking if there's a major difference between the ways democracies and authoritarian governments impact human rights and the environment? Or are you focusing on specific regimes, like the U.S. versus Switzerland?

As a very broad generalization, it's interesting that socialism hasn't been much better for the environment than capitalism. The environmental damage in the USSR may have been as bad or worse than the that in the U.S. China is a virtual sewer. (Of course, it was a great civilization in the distant past, meaning people have had centuries to ruin the land.)

Fortunately, some socialist leaders have shown an interest in the environment, notably Bolivia's Evo Morales and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. The U.S. was a leader in the creation of protected national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.

So it kind of looks (to me, at least) that it's hard to find a clear link between environmental issues and political systems. It might be more productive to look for a link between environmental issues and economic systems. And there are obvious differences between the way specific regimes treat the environment.

Human rights agendas may be even more difficult to measure and correlate than environmental agendas.

It's hard to imagine a country with a better civil rights record than Switzerland. Its citizens appear to be treated pretty fairly, and Switzerland doesn't colonize or wage war against other countries.

Contrast that with the United States, which has a pretty shoddy record on both the domestic and international front. Some would argue that Stalin's bloody purges make the U.S. look like paradise, but the U.S. was built on slavery and a genocidal war against Native Americans, not to mention hostile actions against other countries.

Cuba arguably takes better care of both people and the environment than the U.S. does. The most obvious problem is probably its authoritarian government and relative poverty. But those problems can largely be blamed on the U.S.

In summary, I think a country's record on human rights and the environment reflects a combination of political system, economic system and regime, as well as the literacy and mindset of ordinary citizens. To get a really accurate answer, you'd probably have to list the "political systems" you're referring to, so people could make some comparisons.


I glossed over your request for specific "statistics." I'm going to search for some, but I suspect the answer to that question is NO. This is a topic of special interest to me, and I don't recall ever seeing any credible statistics on this topic.

  • This seems more like an extended comment to me, rather than an answer. – user11249 Apr 21 '17 at 1:41
  • I think it's actually a little shorter than the other answer, which seems like an extended comment to me. Read the OP's question again. It's a complex question that can't be succinctly answered in two or three sentences. – David Blomstrom Apr 21 '17 at 1:45
  • Yes, the other answer also isn't very good. I don't know what that has got to do with your answer though? – user11249 Apr 21 '17 at 1:50
  • It's just interesting that you choose to criticize my answer while ignoring another answer that's as long or longer than mine and "isn't very good" in your own words. Maybe you can show both of us up by posting a better answer. The question is very good, but it's complex and perhaps a little confusing. I challenge anyone to put together a short, clear answer. – David Blomstrom Apr 21 '17 at 1:57
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    I don't read the comment as saying that your answer is too long, but more that it doesn't answer the question. It's only too long to post as a comment. Not too long for an answer. When someone asks for statistical evidence, answers should include statistics. It would be like answering a "what's the right word?" question on ELU without including a dictionary definition in the answer. The other answer may or may not suck, but at least it includes some statistical information and multiple links. – Brythan Apr 21 '17 at 2:28

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