Social Rights in the Constitution and in Practice
Journal of Comparative Economics. Volume 36, Issue 1, March 2008, pp103-119.
Posted: 27 Jun 2003 Last revised: 6 Oct 2013
Date Written: August 1, 2003
This paper presents a new data set on constitutional commitments to social rights for 68 countries. Quantitative indices are constructed for five social rights: the right to social security, education, health, housing and workers rights. The right to minimal income (social security) appears in the constitution of 47 countries with relatively moderate constitutional commitment, while only 21 countries make a commitment to housing. We use these measures to characterize a typical constitution with respect to social rights. We find two clear groups: countries which share the tradition of French civil law generally have a higher commitment to social rights than those that share the tradition of English common law. The constitutional commitment to social rights in socialist countries is closer to French civil law, whereas countries with a German or Scandinavian tradition resemble the English common law countries more closely. We then explore whether the constitutional commitment to social rights, in addition to other key control variables such as democracy and GDP per capita, has any effect on government policy. We find that the constitutional right to social security has a positive and significant effect on transfer payments. The constitutional right to health has a positive and significant effect on health outcome only when it is measured by infant mortality and life expectancy at birth. The right to education seems to have no (or negative) effect, however.
Keywords: Social Rights, Constitution, Legal Origins, Government Expenditure, Social Security, Democracy
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