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Rights without Resources: The Impact of Constitutional Social Rights on Social Spending

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Constitutions around the world have come to protect a growing number of social rights. This constitutionalization of social rights has generally been met with approval from academics, human-rights activists, and policy makers. But despite this widespread support, there is hardly any evidence on whether the inclusion of rights in constitutions changes how governments provide social services to their citizens. We take up this question by studying the effect of adopting the constitutional rights to education and health care on government spending. Using a data set of 196 countries’ constitutional rights and data from the World Development Indicators, we employ a variety of empirical tests to examine if the rights to education and health care are associated with increases in government spending. Our results suggest that the adoption of these social rights is not associated with statistically significant or substantively meaningful increases in government spending on education or health care.

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