Axios Finish Line

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1 big thing: Democracy is good for your health

Data: V-Dem Institute; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Here's a big reason to study the people of Ukraine: The war is showing in real-time the power of democracy, amid growing global clout for dictators.

Why it matters: Free people live better lives, a mountain of data shows. And sometimes it takes an aspiring democracy to remind us why governments of the people are worth fighting for.

Let the graphic above sink in — then share it with people who trivialize democratic erosion. Democracies are literally disappearing.

  • Of 195 nations on earth, just 34 are liberal democracies — where citizens have rights to free speech, free press, free and fair elections, and other liberties — according to a study by Varieties of Democracy.

Living in a stable democracy leads to a longer and more fulfilling life, the data shows:

  1. Health: If you live in a democracy that’s at least 25 years old, you’re likely to live 14 years longer than people in autocracies, a University of British Columbia study found. Babies in mature democracies are 78% less likely to die in childbirth.
  2. Wealth: Democratization boosts a nation's wealth 20% over 25 years.
  3. Education: Democratization bumps citizens' enrollment in secondary education by 70%.

Reality check: After nuclear war, and possibly climate changes, the rise of authoritarians, like Vladimir Putin, and the decline of democracies has the most potential to shape America’s future — more profoundly than the small-ball fights we often get sucked into.

  • The dictators are winning. A Russian dictator, backed by an authoritarian Chinese leader and enabled by the silence of the Saudis, is killing thousands, seizing land, destroying a nation.
  • A Freedom House report released in February found that 60 countries had suffered declines in democracy in the previous year.

The bottom line: American critics sometimes dog — and in some cases damage — their democracy. But watching Ukrainians amplifies the preciousness and precariousness of freedom. 

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✨ Newly minted hero

Jan Caire, a Finish Line reader in Gex, France, shared an inspiring story about her brother, Bill Daniels.

  • Bill — a Columbus, Ohio, native who moved to Europe — watched the invasion of Ukraine from France and wanted to act. So he coordinated with a Swiss company to deliver quiet, speedy drones to the Ukrainian military in Lviv.
  • He has made two trips to Ukraine with drones and food, and plans to make a third.

In Bill's words:

"I think it is important for people to know that this really is our fight too. By 'our' fight, I mean all democracies, Western or otherwise. If Ukraine does not come out of this on the upside, then the world and our children will simply face more and more of the same drum beat of creeping tyranny."

Editor’s note: The 1 big thing of this newsletter has been corrected to note that people living in democracies older than 25 years are likely to live longer.