Evolving Governments/Good Government

Researcher Abraham Maslow recognized that people have many needs, and they are motivated to meet certain basic needs before turning attention to higher levels of fulfillment. His insights are often represented using a pyramid to illustrate this needs hierarchy. The physiological needs of air, water, food, shelter, sanitation, and sleep form the base of the pyramid because people seek to meet these needs before attending to safety, belonging, esteem and other higher levels of fulfillment.

Better governments allow more people to meet more of their needs.

By assessing needs that are met and unmet, a person can determine their current position in the hierarchy. Because people seek higher levels of fulfillment, the higher levels of the pyramid generally represent greater life satisfaction. We strive to move up the pyramid.

When governments are formed “for the people”, we can use this needs hierarchy to assess how well any particular government is meeting the needs of its people. Governments attain better results when they allow more people to meet more of their needs. To determine how well the government is doing, plot the position of each person against the needs hierarchy. Two examples are shown in the diagram and described below.

The results of a poorly performing government are represented on the left. Here many people are lacking clean safe drinking water, some people are hungry or homeless, and even their most basic physiological needs are not being met. These unfortunate people are shown in red in the diagram, where each icon represents one percent of the population. When people feel unsafe because of crime, terrorism, threats, oppression, humiliation, violence, war, or other human rights violations their safety needs are not being met. These threatened people are represented on the diagram in orange. When social systems lead to isolation rather than foster community, these alienated people don’t feel like they belong. They are represented by amber icons.

In contrast, the government represented on the right is attaining better results for the people. Here everyone has met their physiological needs, and most have met their safety needs. Many people will attain higher levels of satisfaction by fulfilling their belonging, esteem, cognitive, and aesthetic needs. These people are flourishing as they become engaged in the culture, gain self-esteem, continue to learn, develop moral reasoning, and enjoy frequent encounters with beauty. A few will “become all they can be” and reach their full potential as they attain self-actualization. Some especially wise people, shown in violet, achieve transcendence—experiencing deep connections beyond themselves. (Beware of delusions and charlatans.)

This approach to evaluating government results can transform abstract policy questions and speculative theories of government into empirical questions that can be reliably answered by carefully evaluating evidence. We can determine what governments are attaining better result, learn from their successes, and continue to develop and improve.

Although this may be simple, it won’t be easy. Let’s get started.