🌏 A hack to solve all of humanity's major problems

If all people lived in democracies most of humanity's major problems wouldn't exist or be dramatically smaller.

🌏 A hack to solve all of humanity's major problems

This is my contribution to the Cause Exploration Prizes.

The hack

Billions and billions of dollars are being poured into solving some of humanity's major problems. Like extreme poverty, lack of education, starvation, and access to health care. Instead of trying to solve these problems one by one, there is a hack to solve or dramatically reduce them all:

Democracy.

There is no extreme poverty or starvation in democratic countries, and access to education and health care is one hundred percent, at least in older democracies. Younger ones are getting there fast.

Citizens in democracies live longer, healthier, and richer lives. Life in a democracy is way better than in an authoritarian country.

Since democracies don't go to war against each other, a fully democratic world would be a world without wars.

If all people lived in democracies most of humanity's major problems wouldn't exist or be dramatically smaller.

The prosperity of democracies vs autocracies

The Freedom and Prosperity Indexes by the Atlantic Council show a strong connection between democracy and a good life.

Of all the countries in the world rated Prosperous, all except two also rank as Free.

High values of Freedom are associated with high values of Prosperity, and low values of Freedom are associated with low values of Prosperity.

  • All countries in the Free category fall in either the Prosperous category or in the upper half of the Mostly Prosperous category.
  • No Free countries in 2021 are Mostly Unprosperous or Unprosperous.
  • All Unfree countries, except one, in our Freedom Index rank in the Mostly Unprosperous or Unprosperous categories
  • Citizens in Free countries are five times richer in per capita income ($36,142) than citizens in Mostly Free countries ($7,246) and six times richer than citizens in Mostly Unfree societies ($5,791).
  • The average Health score jumps from 60.6 to 87.5 when moving from the Mostly Free to the Free category.
  • People in Free countries are almost three times happier than people in Unfree countries.

Worth noting is that democracies also treat the environment better. The average Environment score drops by more than 50 percent when moving from the Free group to the Mostly Free group.

What about China?

China ranks 140 on the Freedom Index and 114 on the Prosperity Index. China’s economic growth has been impressive, but it is still far from achieving broad-based prosperity.

China ranks only 57 on the Income score, with a GNI per capita of just over $10,000. This puts it in the middle-income range, below other Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore.

China's fast growth since the early 1980s has been achieved thanks much to increased freedom, especially economic freedom. There is a high likelihood that China would have grown even faster if it also had advanced other freedoms and had become a democracy. Β 

Correlation between Human Development Index and democracy

We can also see a strong connection between a high score on the United Nations Human Development Index and democracy.

HDI without democratic status added.
HDI with democratic status added.

A democratic peace

Over the years a number of researchers have studied wars between nations and have confirmed that democracies don't go to war against each other. This is called The Democratic Peace Theory.

  • In A Study of War, Quincy Wright shows that in 116 wars between the years 1789 and 1942, 438 nations participated. Not once did democracies fight against each other.
  • Sociologist Dean Babst examined the two world wars and found that 25 democracies participated. No fighting between them took place.
  • Professor Michael Doyle at Columbia University studied all conflicts with more than one thousand killed between 1816 and 1980 and found not one example where democracies have fought with each other.
  • Zeev Maoz and Nasrin Abdolali, two political scientists, examined 960 military conflicts. Not a single one took place between democracies.
  • But perhaps the definition of democracy is too narrow? Professor of Political Science, Bruce Russetts, eased the concept and departed from the usual definition, but still could not find any example of democracies that fought with each other.
  • Professor R.J. Rummel has found 353 warring couples between the years 1816 and 1991. 198 of these were non-democracy versus non-democracy, 155 between democracy and non-democracy, and zero between democracy and democracy.

The closest thing to an exemption is the American Civil War. Technically that was not between two countries, and one could question how democratic the South was. But it is probably the nearest exemption we've got. Some scholars argue there are more exceptions, depending on how you rate democracy and what actually constitutes a war.

But they all seem to agree that democratic countries very rarely start an armed conflict with each other.

In a world with only well-established democracies war would be as unthinkable as Sweden invading Norway, or the United States bombing Canada. After a couple of decades or so of world peace, the mindset of humanity would change. Wars would be something for the history books.

A world with only democracy would solve humanity's major problems

If all countries and all people lived in democracies the major problems of humanity would be solved or be dramatically smaller. No extreme poverty, no starvation, no wars, better environment, and people would live longer, healthier, and richer lives. Everyone would be able to read and write and, in general, be better educated. Far fewer people would have to spend their life trying to survive, and they could instead work towards fulfilling their dreams and aspirations.

Nothing would have a bigger effect on humanity

There are many democracy rankings, and they all come to somewhat different conclusions on how many people live in democracies. But between 2.5 and 4 billion people live in democracies. That means that between 4 and 5.5 billion people do not live in democracies.

Our World in Data.

A world with only democracies would mean a directly and dramatically improved life for between 4 and 5.5 billion people. And indirectly improved life for the remaining 2.5 to 4 billion people already living in democracies. Because a world with only democracies would likely mean stabler, better functioning democracies overall, i.e. more liberal democracies. So people now living in electoral democracies (1.25 billion people according to Our World in Data) would enjoy a transition to liberal democracy.

The people worst off in the world are the ones living on less than $1.90 per day. They live in extreme poverty and under some form of oppression. Over 1.2 billion people have left extreme poverty since the 1990s, but a fully democratic world would mean that the remaining 700 million people would also leave extreme poverty.

A new mindset for humanity

A world without war, starvation, and extreme poverty, and instead 8 billion well-educated, healthy and prosperous people would mean a new mindset for humanity.

When we don't have to worry about wars, and don't have to spend billions of dollars on weapons and the military, we can use our brains more to move humanity forward and take better care of this planet and each other.

Of course, there will still be problems left and we will worry about new things. But without the major problems that have been hounding us all the time we've spent on Earth, we are likely to look at the world in a new light. What that could bring we can only speculate and dream about.

How do we get there? Non-violent revolutions are the most effective

There are many parts to going from authoritarianism to democracy, but a key moment is changing from authoritarian one-party or one-man rule to elected officials. Many think that this must be done by violence. Killing the dictator or throwing him in jail, means overpowering the military and secret police. Right?

Not necessarily. Dr. Gene Sharp dedicated his life to studying revolutions. Using violence against a dictatorship's police and military is going against its strongest point. That was Gene Sharp's most brilliant insight. Violence is what a dictatorship does best, where it is strongest.

Instead, a resistance movement should challenge the dictatorship where it's weaker. After studying non-violent movements like the ones led by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, he concluded that non-violent revolutions are more effective.

This has been verified by Professor Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria Stephan. In their book Why Civil Resistance Work they compared 323 non-violent and violent resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2006. Non-violent campaigns were twice as likely to be successful than violent campaigns.

They write:

"Higher levels of participation contribute to a number of mechanisms necessary for success, including enhanced resilience, higher probabilities of tactical innovation, expanded civic disruption (thereby raising the costs to the regime of maintaining the status quo), and loyalty shifts involving the opponent's erstwhile supporters, including members of the security forces."

With millions of people joining the resistance, keeping the military and police's loyalty is increasingly difficult for a dictatorship because it is their neighbors, friends, and family that is the resistance. The biggest strength of a non-violent revolution is to gather broad participation.

Gene Sharp shared his knowledge with many democracy movements across the world, and they used the tools to in a non-violent way overthrow dictatorship after dictatorship. That is why we've seen so many 'color revolutions'. Like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine or Georgia's Rose Revolution.

Standing up alone against a dictatorship is scary and very dangerous. By using a common color, millions of people can show they are part of the resistance and energize and empower each other. Even the most brutal and efficient dictatorship can't arrest everyone who wears something orange. A shirt, a tie, a handkerchief, a brooch, socks, an armband, etc. They can arrest many, but not millions of people.

Gene Sharp gathered 198 methods (pdf) of non-violent movements that can be used and also wrote several books on the topic. The most influential is From Dictatorship to Democracy.

"Not, perhaps, since Machiavelli has a book had such impact in shifting the balance of power between the rulers and the ruled."
- The Times, 2012.

Democracy Tech

When Gene Sharp wrote about his 198 methods and From Dictatorship to Democracy there were no internet and no smartphones. Technology, in general, has gotten cheaper, smaller, and better. Some of that technology can and are being used by dictatorships to surveil and oppress the people. But it can and is also being used by the oppressed.

We saw it during the Arab Spring, the student protests in Iran in 2009, and also used in democracies to highlight wrongdoing by the authorities. Because of a smartphone with a camera and social media, we all saw what happened to George Floyd.

The next evolution of non-violent campaigns is to use technology like smartphones and the internet effectively. That means that millions of people all over the world, easier than before, can join the movement, even if they don't live in that country. We can share a video, we can protest in some way.

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the smartphone conquers them all. Β 

But is not just the activism that will benefit from democracy tech. The Alliance of Democracies Foundation every year supports a group of Tech Fellows. Companies or organizations using technology to build democracy. Like Qela, a tool to organize democratic organizations. They use interesting instruments like weighted voting based on your activity, and gamification to make it fun and competitive. Or Facting, a decentralized database in which citizens can send potential fake news, disinformation or misinformation to be verified, published or disproved by different fact-checking organizations.

Bringing the democratic world's resources to the oppressed

Democracy Tech makes it easier for the democratic world to help and collaborate with democracy movements in authoritarian countries. The skills, money, and other resources from the democratic world can help build the tools needed, and we can also join in the activism.

One example is Ukraine. Early on, the Russian forces concentrated on taking out communications for the Ukrainians. But with the use of SpaceX's satellite internet Starlink, they've kept big parts of the country online. That helps to show the world the atrocities against the Ukrainian people, captured and spread by smartphones. And we outside Ukraine can share them and influence our politicians to continue supporting Ukraine.

Underdeveloped and underfinanced

There are of course many organizations supporting democracy and human rights. But few, if any, have the clear goal of making the whole world democratic and bringing about that change in the most effective way.

There is a community of people and organizations with know-how about non-violent revolutions. Like Gene Sharp's AE Institution, led by Jamila Raqib, who is also a Research Affiliate at the Center for International Studies at MIT. And CANVAS, who grew out of the Serbian resistance movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic, and has trained over 16,000 democracy activists around the world.

In Denmark, the former Danish Prime Minister and former Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, founded the Alliance of Democracies. Together with Schmidt Future, every year they support a group of Democracy Tech Fellows.

With funding and other resources (engineering, software, growth hacking, actual hacking, etc) this field could grow fast and have an enormous impact on the future of humanity.

Don't treat the illness, fix what is causing it

Instead of supporting causes that are the effect of oppression and dictatorship, get rid of the dictator. For that we don't need the military, but an army of smartphones.

This is the most effective way to move the world towards democracy. When we get there, nothing before in history will have had a bigger positive impact on more people.

Mathias Sundin
Co-founder & CEO of Warp News
Co-founder & Executive Chairman, Warp Institute
Former Member of Parliament