Thailand, Democracy and the HDI

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” is a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill. Since there is active debate in Thailand about the best form of government for the country, I would like to add information to the debate.

To say it is better or worse would require something we can measure or compare. We can say that Democracy is bad because of politicians or good because of freedom but these are abstract things that cannot be compared, I would like to use a measurement that I feel is important to a country.

The Human Development Index which “is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living” is arguably a good indicator of the quality of life of it’s citizens. There may be other indicators that are important to the reader, but I would argue that if the citizens are living a long and healthy life, being educated and have a decent standard of living, as measured by the HDI, then it is a reasonable mark of how well citizens of a country are faring. The following is a snapshot of the top 25 countries in the HDI

From Wikipedia Democracy Index CC BY-SA 3.0

For your reference, Thailand ranks 93, China ranks 90, Malaysia 62

In order to establish how well HDI correlates to the quality of Democracy, I would like to present the Democracy Index a commonly accepted measure of the quality of a liberal democracy. In 2015 it gave the following list countries which are related as full democracies.

From Wikipedia Human Development Index CC BY-SA 3.0

We can then list the HDI rankings along their subsequent Democracy Index Ranking

HDI Ranking Democracy Index Ranking
1 1 Norway
2 9 Australia
3 6 Switzerland
4 5 Denmark
5 10 Netherlands
6 13 Germany
6 12 Ireland
8 20 United States
9 7 Canada
9 4 New Zealand
11 74 Singapore
12 67 Hong Kong
13 N/A Liechtenstein
14 3 Sweden
14 16 United Kingdom
16 2 Iceland
17 22 Korea, South
18 34 Israel
19 11 Luxembourg
20 17 Japan
21 26 Belgium
21 31 Taiwan
22 27 France
23 14 Austria
24 8 Finland
25 36 Slovenia

With the exception of Singapore and Hong Kong (which are really exceptional in many ways, as far as countries go), there is a strong correlation between a country’s HDI ranking and the quality of it’s Democracy including countries that were recently dictatorships such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

In summary, if Thailand’s governance system doesn’t meet the criteria of a high level democracy, there is no precedence for Thailand’s citizens to live a long and healthy life, be educated, have a decent standard of living and therefore achieving a high ranking in the HDI.


CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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