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.

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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.

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  • 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

Generally speaking, countries that have more property rights and freer markets are generally better off on a number of factors that impact quality of life. While these are economic factors, they directly impact the common person.

First we will take a look at the Misery Index, which shares a number of the same dependent variables as HDI including inflation and GDP per capita, but excludes things like low fertility and longevity. (Note that in many western countries and certainly the US longevity stats are very hard to compare because in the US, for example, any prematurely born baby, even those that occur in botched abortions, are deemed live births, even if they die immediately. This measurement convention is not kept in many parts of the world that simply discount those births.) There is a world wide ranking. From Cato

For most people, their quality of life is important. Constituents prefer lower inflation rates, lower unemployment rates, lower lending rates, and higher GDP per capita. The misery index concept can be applied to any country where suitable data exist. A misery index — a simple sum of inflation, lending rates, and unemployment rates, minus year-on-year per capita GDP growth — is used to construct a ranking for 89 countries.

When measured by the misery index, Venezuela holds the ignominious top spot, with an index value of 79. 4. But, that index value, as of 31 December 2013, under states the level of misery because it uses the official annual inflation rate of 56. 2%. In fact, I estimate that Venezuela’s annual implied inflation rate at the end of last year was 278%. That rate is almost five times higher than the official inflation rate. If the annual implied inflation rate of 278% is used to calculate Venezuela’s misery index, the index jumps from 79. 4 to 301, indicating that Venezuela is in much worse shape than suggested by the official data.

There is also a Economic Freedom Index published by Heritage that closely correlates.

As you point out Cuba is a sole data point, but it's also a beggar nation that cannot survive without the largesse of other countries. For most of the last century that has been the USSR and recently Venezuela. I would not consider that "sustainable". Cuba also over the last 20 years or so had to reintroduce the ox and plow, not out of choice but because they are so impoverished.

Castro's Cuba also executed so many thousands of its own citizens that we don't have an accurate record, to this day encourages political death squads, extrajudicial killings and torture, created mass concentration camps of political prisoners that outdid Stalin, forced emigrated 20% of their own population, destroyed the press and the middle-class, unions, trade groups, and nearly the practice of religion, and persecuted gays with abandon. Any group that determines that Cuba somehow is improving the quality of life of anyone not named Castro should be immediately suspect.

Environment concerns under Communism and Socialism

While I haven't been able to find any indexes for environmental rankings worldwide, the literature gives a sense that the environmental record of Communist and Socialists states was a disaster.



Foundation for Economic Education

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  • I can't for the life of me reconcile declining fertility rates and happiness. Declining fertility rates eventuate societal collapse. – K Dog Nov 28 '16 at 21:16
  • not quite. It depends on the economic status of the country. As countries transition from less well developed to developed they will likely see a decline in fertility as couples adopt birth control measures, focus on career and have children willingly instead of out of economic necessity. Hans Rosling outlined this is in great detail that declining fertility is directly linked to (not just correlated) to rising income ans welfare standards. Less workers are needed, less children die. The impact of society has still yet to be felt since the first baby boomer generation have not yet died. – Venture2099 Feb 25 '17 at 23:45
  • I downvoted your question for a number of reasons. First, your statement that countries with more property rights are better off is questionable. Property rights are a two-edged sword. As a landowner, I would love to have 100% ownership of my property. But property rights can make it easier for people to wreck the environment. Your comments on Cuba are off the chart. Cuba is certainly a poor country (because of the U.S. embargo) that welcomes help from other countries, but it has survived just fine for more than half a century. And Cuba's persecution of political enemies "outdid Stalin"??? – David Blomstrom Apr 21 '17 at 1:26
  • Sorry, I meant to write "I downvoted your ANSWER." – David Blomstrom Apr 21 '17 at 1:54

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