Quickly Noted: Constitutional verbosity and social trust

13 08 2014


AS: According to a new article, countries with longer written constitutions tend to have lower levels of social trust. Countries with short written constitutions tend to be high-trust societies (e.g., places where people leave their doors unlocked). Other research has suggested that the most trusting societies are Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada.


I’m noting this article for the benefit of my Canadian readers. I’ll note that Canada’s written constitution is silent on some of the most important features of the political system (e.g., the job of Prime Minister isn’t even mentioned, let alone defined). Before 1982, there wasn’t even a Bill of Rights. The constitution is isn’t exactly the equivalent of a blank cheque, but it does suggest a high level of trust. The US constitution is much more complex and leaves less to custom. Canadian provinces don’t have written constitutions, unlike US states, some of which are very lengthy. 

Interpersonal Trust Index

Constitutional verbosity and social trust by Christian Bjørnskov and Stefan Voigt Public Choice October 2014Volume 161Issue 1-2pp 91-112

Abstract: A common argument in the trust literature is that high-trust cultures allow efficient commercial contracts to be shorter, covering fewer contingencies. We take this idea to the topic of social contracts. Specifically, we ask whether social trust affects the length and detail of constitutions. Cross-country estimates suggest that national trust levels are indeed robustly and negatively associated with the length of countries’ constitutions.



2 responses

18 08 2014
Daniel Simeone
19 08 2014

I stand corrected.

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