How Chile's typically Latin American new Constitution can bring poverty and corruption

Next Sunday (4), Chileans will go to the polls to decide whether or not to approve a proposal for a new Constitution for the country, which has been criticized as “excessively progressive”, as it contains measures such as increased spending of the State (in the creation of national systems of social security and health, for example) without detailing where the resources to cover this will come from, differentiated legal treatment for Chilean native peoples, among others.

For accommodate dozens of ideas on the left of the political spectrum, Chilean constituents wrote an extensive text, with 388 articles.

If approved, the new Magna Carta would have more than double the number of articles in the country’s current Constitution, which came into force during the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), has undergone changes since the redemocratization and has 388 articles – they were 1950 to 2019, but there were additions to allow for a better forecast. gal for the current constituent process.

However, in a study published in 2014, two political science experts at the University of Michigan, George Tsebelis and Dominic J. Nardi Jr., warned that, contrary to what was defended by the Chilean constituents, longer constitutions do not necessarily represent more development and prosperity.

On the contrary: when analyzing the constitutions of 32 member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and their economic and political situations, they concluded that those with longer Magna Cartas were poorer and more corrupt.

Tsebelis and Nardi pointed out that it is more common for constitutional amendments to be made in longer Magna Cartas, since their excess of rules often restricts the performance of the current ruler.

“The results suggest that more detailed constitutions are changed more frequently, despite being more difficult These are likely to change because they are more likely to contain restrictive provisions that impede the government’s ability to pass necessary or desired laws,” the political scientists wrote. also causes longer constitutions to be associated with lower levels of GDP per capita, the study found.

“We believe that this correlation suggests that detailed constitutions are more likely to prevent governments from taking action. necessary to combat economic shocks”, Tsebelis and Nardi pointed out.

The two researchers highlighted that countries with more extensive Magna Cartas showed worse results in the World Bank’s Indicators of World Governance, and of the NGO Transparency International. However, Tsebelis and Nardi said it is unclear whether corruption generates longer constitutions or vice versa.

“We could imagine two different causal paths. First, knowing that political elites cannot be trusted to adopt sound economic policies, authors can adopt longer constitutions with the aim of fighting corruption. Alternatively, corrupt special interest groups could convince constitutional drafters to protect their interests from future troubles. In that case, longer constitutions would result from capture by these elites and manipulation for financial purposes,” they stated.

India has one of the largest constitutions in the world

A comparison between the two largest democracies in the world (in terms of population) supports the thesis of Tsebelis and Nardi.

The United States Constitution is a concise model, as it contains only seven articles. In the most recent list of United Nations human development indicators, which compiled data from 2019, the United States appeared at 129 th place. In the Transparency International Corruption Perception Survey carried out in 2021, Americans were in 27º.

India already has one of the largest constitutions in the world: the original text, which came into force in 1950, contained 395 articles. Since then, the number of articles in the Magna Carta has increased to 448. In the UN human development list of 2019, India ranked 131 th, and in the Transparency survey International last year, on 27º.

In an interview with the legal news website Courthouse News Service, the political scientist Patricio Navia, a professor at New York University, said the “extremely long text” of the proposed new Chilean Constitution “is more of a policy platform than a book about what the rules of the game will be.”

“Constitutions should be short. Long constitutions are like long contracts. Nobody reads them and it becomes necessary to modify them many times”, he joked, warning that “the long list of social rights” of the new letter (whose rejection has led research in Chile) can generate a “priceless” bill.

“As Latin American countries have historically had major debt problems, the new Constitution is tantamount to forcing a recovering alcoholic (in terms of fiscal discipline) to live in a bar. This is not going to end well. As the Constitution is very long, it would turn into a typical Latin American constitution. Long and ambitious, but unfeasible”, warned Navia.

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