Constitutional dataset

Check out this comprehensive constitutional dataset at the Comparative Constitutions Project or CCP. In the meantime, props go (once again) to economist extraordinaire Alex Tabarrok for bringing the CCP to our attention in his recent post “Constitutions Quantified.”  Alex’s excellent post sums up the constitutional data this way:

The Comparative Constitutions Project has collected data from 720 of the 800 or so constitutions written since 1789. The shortest constitution, for example, is that of Jordan at 2,270 words while the longest is that of India which at 146,385 words is more than twice as long as the next longest constitution and considerable longer than the US constitution at 7,762 words. The New Zealand constitution grants the fewest rights, namely zero, while the Bolivian constitution grants the most rights at 88 … Venezuela offers almost as many rights in its constitution as Bolivia, 81 according to the data. Nevertheless, I think I would feel more secure in my rights living in New Zealand than Bolivia or Venezuela. A constitution with a long list of rights is a bit like a prenup with a long list of rights, looks good on parchment but parchment does not a marriage or a constitution make.

While we are on the subject of constitutional rights, are poetic declarations of individual and collective rights purely symbolic or aspirational (“nonsense on stilts” or “cheap talk” in economics jargon), or do such declarations, however lofty and vague, serve as popular “focal points” and potential bulwarks against tyranny?  If the latter, which public or private institutions get to define and enforce such rights?  If you say “the courts,” what guarantee do you have that the courts will actually do this job any better than elected legislatures or executives?  Also, do you see a potential paradox here: we need a strong executive to enforce rights (and punish violations of rights), but a strong executive increases the risk of tyranny …

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