A Constitution for Knaves Crowds Out Civic Virtues

11 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2012

Date Written: July 1997


When discussing constitutional design, economists concentrate on the propensity of individuals to free ride. Preventing opportunistic behaviour by knaves has costs by crowding out civic virtue. Another view emphasises active citizen participation in order to bolster civic virtue. A viable constitution must therefore be strict enough to deter exploitative behaviour. At the same time, the constitution should fundamentally convey trust towards its citizens and politicians. Distrusting public laws risk destroying the positive attitude of citizens and politicians towards the state. Civic virtue can be maintained and fostered by direct citizen participation via popular referenda and initiatives.

Suggested Citation

Frey, Bruno S., A Constitution for Knaves Crowds Out Civic Virtues (July 1997). The Economic Journal, Vol. 107, Issue 443, pp. 1043-1053, 1997, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1994201 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0297.1997.tb00006.x

Bruno S. Frey (Contact Author)

CREMA ( email )

Südstrasse 11
Zurich, CH 8008
+41 44 380 00 78 (Phone)

University of Basel ( email )

Peter Merian-Weg 6
Basel, 4002

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