Magazine article Foreign Policy

Constitutional Confidence

Magazine article Foreign Policy

Constitutional Confidence

Article excerpt

* The Indian Constitution-the longest social contract of any country in the world-docks in at a hefty 78,255 words. It's split into 22 parts and contains 395 articles, with 98 amendments tacked on for good measure.

Why so wordy? The constitution's drafters might have said it's because they sought to be thorough, borrowing concepts from France, Japan, and the Soviet Union. But the authors of a recent study, "Constitutional Verbosity and Social Trust," would counter that the Indian Constitution is so long because Indians simply don't trust one another.

Economists Christian Bjornskov and Stefan Voigt examined the constitutions of 110 countries and found that the length of the document is inversely correlated to how much faith that nation's people have in their fellow citizens, as measured by the World Values Survey. Countries with long constitutions and low trust levels include Kenya (74,789 words) and Brazil (42,472 words). Countries with short constitutions and high trust levels include Norway (7,404 words) and Denmark (G,208 words). The U.S. Constitution is pithy-just 4,542 words-and American trust levels are indeed above average. But the title for the world's shortest constitution belongs to Iceland, which clocks in at a snappy 4,115 words.

A more detailed constitution can be a good thing. Explicit legal codes covering a variety of scenarios establish clear boundaries for lawmaking and governing. They constrain both contemporary actors as well as future politicians, who may not share the same ideas as a country's founders. …

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