Interview with Katarzyna Metelska-Szaniawska (professor at the University of Warsaw)

The European Public Choice Society has its annual conference in Braga (Portugal) in the week of the 11th of April. To give you an idea of what is hot and happening in the field of political economy, Joes interviewed attendants of the conference. For this interview, he spoke with Katarzyna Metelska-Szaniawska, who is compiling the Comparative Constitutional Compliance Database.

Joes: “Can you please tell us about the Comparative Constitutional Compliance Database?”

Katarzyna: “We have a joint research project for 4 years between the University of Warsaw and the University of Hamburg. Together with Stefan Voigt, Jerg Gutmann and my colleagues from Warsaw, we are trying to answer questions in the field of the economics of constitutional compliance, which has barely been tackled with comparative empirical research so far. For this, we need a good dataset, and that is one of the important building blocks of our project: The Comparative Constitutional Compliance Database.

The data is freely available at Jerg Gutmann’s website:

This is a database for a global sample of 168 countries, and we assembled the data for each country-year from 1900 until 2020, so for 120 years. We measure constitutional compliance as a gap between what is written in the constitution and what is implemented in practice. We call it the de jure and de facto aspects of certain constitutional rules and noncompliance is the de jure – de facto gap.

We are able to measure this gap for 14 rights and freedoms, in four areas: property rights and the rule of law, political rights, civil liberties, and basic rights. We measure the non-congruence between what is written in the constitution and how governments actually respect rights for each of these rights separately, for each of the areas, and the aggregate of these measures. So it is quite a large dataset!

The way we measure the gap is innovative and has many advantages over the existing measures, because the previous measures are much more aggregated and less transparent. This makes it hard to know what is actually going on in the data, and to study specific aspects of constitutional compliance.

With the data, we can study the determinants and the effects of constitutional compliance. That is of course what we are substantively interested in, and this has partly been done already, but there is much more to be done, of course.”

Joes: “That sounds amazing. I presume you have already had time to play around with your data. Were there any surprises, for countries that outperformed or underperformed compared to the image we have of them?”

Katarzyna: “We have spent more time making sure that our measures coincide with what we expect, which is mostly the case. For example, for my home country Poland and other countries in the region, such as Hungary, which have recently turned from liberal democracies to electoral democracies, we can see this shift very well in the dataset. We could also clearly see the effect of the Trump administration on constitutional compliance. The US case is also interesting, because the effect of Trump mingling with the elections was not identifiable with V-Dem’s ‘Executive respects the constitution’ measure, while our methodology does capture this. We are very happy with this.”

Joes: “So the data you have developed are much more fine-grained?”

Katarzyna: “Yes, and also much more comparable between countries and across time periods, which was not possible with the previously existing data.”

Joes: “How do you deal with a case like the United Kingdom where the constitution was never codified?”

Katarzyna: “This is not a very common case. Our gap measures are intentionally based on whether a right is enshrined in a formal constitutional document, so that noncompliance with a constitutional rule is only possible if the constitution includes that rule in the first place.. If at least one right from a given category is enshrined in the constitution, we already report a gap score for that category. So altogether this does not pose a serious issue for our dataset.”

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