The Development Dilemna : Free Societies = Better Lives?


Usman Khaliq

In the development world, a lot of emphasis is often laid on the importance of strengthening the democratic institutions in countries to improve the standard of living of their citizens.The argument often goes around as follows: a more "democratic" society leads to a higher regard towards the rule of law, which in turn transcends into a greater protection of property rights, ultimately leading to a host of factors that improve the economic condition of a country.

Although there is some truth to the idea that most democratic societies enjoy greater economic prosperity, the third world is filled with examples of countries that have a democratic form of government, but are still plagued by delibitating problems such as corruption and low standard of living.

This dichotomy raises an interesting question; just how important is a "free" or "democratic society for ensuring that the lives of the most improverished people in the world can be drastically improved? Are there any other factors that are equally, if not more important for improving people's lives?

To explore this idea, I have build choropleth maps that map out the changes over years in the Polity Scores and the Human Development Index(HDI) of countries across the world. The Polity score is measured on a scale of -10 till 10, and it is a measure of how "free" a society is. On the other hand, the HDI is a measure of the standard of living of a country's citizens.

By contrasting the two choropleth maps, it can be determined whether an improvement in a country's polity scores leads to an improvement in its HDI. Preliminary analysis shows that the link between both of these metrics isn't as straightforward, and that some of the most autocratic countries in the world boast a strong HDI.

Choropleth Map of Polity Scores Across the World

Choropleth Map of Human Development Index Across the World