British Journal of Political Science

How's Your Government? International Evidence Linking Good Government and Well-Being

a1 Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Department of Economics, University of British Columbia

Article author query
helliwell jf   [Google Scholar] 
huang h   [Google Scholar] 


This article employs World Values Survey measures of life satisfaction as though they were direct measures of utility, and uses them to evaluate alternative features and forms of government in large international samples. Life satisfaction is found to be more closely linked to several World Bank measures of the quality of government than to real per capita incomes, in simple correlations and more fully specified models explaining international differences in life satisfaction. Differences in the relative importance of different aspects of good government are tested for, and a hierarchy of preferences that depends on the level of development is found. The ability of governments to provide a trustworthy environment, and to deliver services honestly and efficiently, appears to be of paramount importance for countries with worse governance and lower incomes. The balance changes once acceptable levels of efficiency, trust and incomes are achieved, when more value is attached to building and maintaining the institutions of electoral democracy.


a Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Oxford conference in honour of John Flemming, September 2005, the Göteborg conference on the Quality of Government, November 2005, and the March 2006 Toronto meeting of the CIAR Research Program on Social Interactions, Identity and Well-Being. Comments from Daron Acemoglu, George Akerlof, Danny Kaufmann, Avner Offer, Robert Putnam, Torsten Persson, Bo Rothstein, Guido Tabellini, Jan Teorell, Eric Uslaner and anonymous referees are gratefully acknowledged, as is research support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.