Good government is vital to human society. But what proximal and distal factors influence this collective goodness perception? Here, we investigate how and why multi-component evaluations by many institutional observers of public governance vary along the north-south rather than east-west axis of the Earth. Across 190 countries, we show that governance quality improves from the equator toward the North and South Poles in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. By contrast, governance quality hardly varies from east to west. National wealth, surfacing as the main driver of good government, is spatially distributed along latitude and longitude in the same striking way. In broader detail, governance quality is psychologically accounted for by cultural, economic, and pathogenic explanations, all nested within a climate-based explanation. Taken in total, the results suggest a chain of increasingly distal explanations of the equator-to-pole improvements in perceived governance quality.