Prof. Dr. Stefan Voigt, Director Institute of Law & Economics, University of Hamburg

There is an almost universal consensus that the rule of law is desirable. Given this enthusiasm, it is remarkable how little is known about the factors conducive to it. A precondition for improving our knowledge of the rule of law is the ability to measure it. In a paper recently posted on the internet, together with Jerg Gutmann I set out to do just that. Based on very extensive data from a survey carried out in 99 countries, we propose a new indicator for the rule of law. It is the first such indicator that explicitly takes the quality of legal norms into account. If the rule of law means that legislation is general and applies to all individuals in a like fashion, taking the characteristics of the law explicitly into account seems crucial.

The paper uses the new indicator to ask two questions. It first asks if there is a systematic relationship between the rule of law on the one hand and the political system on the other hand. On average, presidential democracies perform significantly worse in terms of the rule of law than parliamentary ones. It turns out that many presidential systems are even outperformed by dictatorships.

The contribution then moves on to ask whether it is possible to identify conditions that are favourable – or unfavourable – to the development of the rule of law. Our results show that both geographic factors and large-scale European settlements during colonization are crucial factors determining contemporaneous levels of the rule of law. So, in a sense, we found evidence that the rule of law really is a western concept.

The study “The Rule of Law: Measurement and Deep Roots” can be downloaded free of charge from

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