A Constitution for Eternity: An Economic Theory of Explicit Unamendability

  • Konstantinos PilpilidisEmail author
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 68)


Although no constitution is truly eternal, the justification for heightened constitutional entrenchment remains an important problem. The paper provides a novel typology of constitutional eternity. Further, it argues that eternity clauses decrease constitutional flexibility and therefore endanger the longevity of the constitution. The importance of explicitly considering dynamic efficiency is shown and a novel justification for eternity clauses is provided based on this aspect. Since eternity clauses increase the cost of constitutional change, they are suited as barriers against the redistribution of political rents deriving from constitutional protection. The paper concludes by proposing a test of justifiability based on dynamic efficiency.



I would like to thank Prof. Richard Albert, Prof. Stefan Voigt, Stephan Michel, Jerg Gutmann, Tobias Hlobil and all the participants of the Workshop on Unamendable Constitutional Provisions, Koc University, Istanbul, 9 June 2015 for their valuable comments and feedback.


  1. Abdelaal M (2016) Entrenchment illusion: the curious case of Egypt’s constitutional entrenchment clause. Chicago-Kent J Int Comp Law 16(1):1Google Scholar
  2. Acemoglu D, Robinson JA (2005) Economic origins of dictatorship and democracy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Acemoglu D, Johnson S, Robinson JA (2005) Institutions as a fundamental cause of long-run growth. In: Aghion P, Durlauf SN (eds) Handbook of economic growth. Elsevier, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Ackerman BA (1993) We the people. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Ahmed DI, Gouda M (2015) Measuring constitutional Islamization: The Islamic constitutions index. Hastings Int Comp Law Rev 38(1):1Google Scholar
  6. Akerlof GA (1970) The market for “Lemons”: quality uncertainty and the market mechanism. Q J Econ 84(3):488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Albert R (2010) Constitutional handcuffs. Ariz State Law J 42(1):663Google Scholar
  8. Albert R (2013) The expressive function of constitutional amendment rules. McGill Law J 59(2):225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Albert R (2014a) The structure of constitutional amendment rules. Wake For Law Rev 49:913Google Scholar
  10. Albert R (2014b) Constitutional disuse or desuetude: the case of Article V. Boston Univ Law Rev 94:1029Google Scholar
  11. Albert R (2015a) The difficulty of constitutional amendment in Canada. Alberta Law Rev 53(1):85Google Scholar
  12. Albert R (2015b) Amending constitutional amendment rules. Int J Const Law 13(1):655Google Scholar
  13. Albert R (2015c) How unwritten constitutional norms change written constitutions. Dublin Univ Law J 38(2):387Google Scholar
  14. Alesina A, Perotti R (1996) Income distribution, political instability, and investment. Eur Econ Rev 40(6):1203CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Beard CA (1913) An economic interpretation of the constitution of the United States. Macmillan, BasingstokeGoogle Scholar
  16. Boudreaux DJ, Pritchard AC (1993–1994) Rewriting the constitution: an economic analysis of the constitutional amendment process. Fordham Law Rev 62(1):111Google Scholar
  17. Brennan G, Buchanan JM (1985) Reason of rules—constitutional political economy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  18. Brewer DJ (1968) An independent judiciary as the salvation of the nation. In: Annals of America: Proceedings of the New York Bar Association, vol 11 (originally published 1893)Google Scholar
  19. Buchanan JM (1980) Efficient rent seeking. In: Buchanan JM, Tollison RD, Tullock G (eds) Toward a theory of the rent-seeking society. Texas A& M University Press, TexasGoogle Scholar
  20. Buchanan JM (1987) The constitution of economic policy. Am. Econ. Rev. 77(3):243Google Scholar
  21. Buchanan JM, Congleton RD (1998) Politics by principle, not interest: toward nondiscriminatory democracy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Buchanan JM, Tullock G (1962) The calculus of consent. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cho IK, Kreps DM (1987) Signaling games and stable equilibria. Q J Econ 102(2):179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cofones IN, Michel S (2017) Fixing popular participation in constitution-making www. Accessed on 30 June 2018
  25. Congleton RD, Swedenborg B (2006) Democratic constitutional design and public policy: analysis and evidence. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  26. Dahrendorf R (1990) Transitions: politics, economics, and liberty. Washington Q 13(3):133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dellinger W (1983) The legitimacy of constitutional change: rethinking the amendment process. Harvard Law Rev 97(2):386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Dixon R (2011) Constitutional amendment rules: a comparative perspective. In: Ginsburg T, Dixon R (eds) Comparative constitutional law. Edward Elgar Publishing, CheltenhamGoogle Scholar
  29. Downs GW, Jones MA (2002) Reputation, compliance, and international law. J Learn Sci 31:S95Google Scholar
  30. Eisgruber CL (2009) Constitutional self-government. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Elkins Z, Ginsburg T, Melton J (2009) The endurance of national constitutions. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Elster J (1984) Ulysses and the Sirens: studies in rationality and irrationality. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Elster J, Slagstad R (1988) Constitutionalism and democracy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Eskridge WN, Ferejohn J (2001) Super-statutes. Duke Law J 50(5):1215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Fallon RH Jr (2005) Legitimacy and the constitution. Harvard Law Rev 118(6):1787Google Scholar
  36. Friedman A (2011) Dead hand constitutionalism: Honduras and the danger of eternity clauses in new democracies. Mexican Law Rev 4(1):77Google Scholar
  37. Gavison R (2002) What belongs in a constitution? Const Polit Econ 13(1):89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gerken HK (2007) The hydraulics of constitutional reform: a skeptical response to our undemocratic constitution. Drake Law Rev 55(4):925Google Scholar
  39. Ginsburg T (2002) Economic analysis and the design of constitutional courts. Theor Inquiries Law 3(1):49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ginsburg T, Versteeg M (2014) Why do countries adopt constitutional review? J Law Econ Organ 30(3):587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ginsburg T, Elkins Z, Blount J (2009) Does the process of constitution-making matter? Annu Rev Law Soc Sci 5:201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Guzman AT (2008) How international law works: a rational choice theory. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Harberger AC (1959) Using the resources at hand more effectively. Am Econ Rev 49(2):134Google Scholar
  44. Hardin R (2013a) Why a constitution? In: Grofman B, Wittman D (eds) The Federalist papers and the new institutionalism. Algora Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  45. Hardin R (2013b) Why a constitution? In: Galligan DJ, Versteeg M (eds) Social and political foundations of constitutions. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  46. Harsanyi JC (1953) Cardinal utility in welfare economics and in the theory of risk-taking. J Polit Econ 61(5):434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Hayek FA (1960) The constitution of liberty. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  48. Hillman AL (1989) The political economy of protection. Harwood Academic Publishers, NewarkGoogle Scholar
  49. Holmes S (1988) Precommitment and the paradox of democracy. In: Elster J, Slagstad R (eds) Constitutionalism and democracy. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  50. Krueger AO (1974) The political economy of the rent-seeking society. Am Econ Rev 64(3):291Google Scholar
  51. Landemore H, Elster J (2012) Collective wisdom: principles and mechanisms. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Leininger W (1993) More efficient rent-seeking—a Muenchhausen solution. Public Choice 75(1):43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Leininger W, Yang CL (1994) Dynamic rent-seeking games. Games Econ Behav 7(3):406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Levinson S (1995) Responding to imperfection: the theory and practice of constitutional amendment. Princeton University Press, PrincetonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lewis DK (1969) Convention: a philosophical study. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  56. Lutz DS (2006) Principles of constitutional design. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Marsteintredet L (2015) The Honduran Supreme Court renders inapplicable unamendable constitutional provisions. ILJCL Accessed on 30 June 2017
  58. McConnell MW (1997) Textualism and the dead hand of the past. George Washington Law Rev 66(5–6):1127Google Scholar
  59. McGuire RA (1988) Constitution making: a rational choice model of the federal convention of 1787. Am J Polit Sci 32(2):483–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McGuire RA, Ohsfeldt RL (1989) Public choice analysis and the ratification of the constitution. In: Hoffman B, Wittman D (eds) The federalist papers and the new institutionalism. Agathon Press, Bronx, NYGoogle Scholar
  61. Mueller DC (2003) Public choice III. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Müller C (1998) The veil of uncertainty: unveiled. Const Politl Econ 9(1):5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Nitzan S (1994) Modeling rent-seeking contests. Eur J Polit Econ 10(1):41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. North DC, Weingast BR (1989) Constitutions and commitment: the evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth-century England. J Econ Hist 49(4):803CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Olson M (1965) The logic of collective action. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  66. Olson M (1982) The rise and decline of nations: economic growth, stagflation, and social rigidities. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  67. Olson M (1993) Dictatorship, democracy, and development. A Pol Sc Rev 87(3):567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Ordeshook PC (1992) Constitutional stability. Const Polit Econ 3(2):137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Ordeshook PC (2002) Are ‘Western’ constitutions relevant to anything other than the countries they serve. Const Polit Econ 13(1):3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Ostrom V, Allen B (2007) The political theory of a compound Republic: designing the American experiment. Lexington Books, LanhamGoogle Scholar
  71. Posner RA (1975) The social costs of monopoly and regulation. J Polit Econ 83(4):807CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Posner EA, Vermeule A (2008) Constitutional showdowns. Univ Pennsylvania Law Rev 156(4):991Google Scholar
  73. Preuss UK (2011) Implications of eternity clauses: The German experience. Israel Law Rev 44(3):429Google Scholar
  74. Ramseyer JM (1994) The puzzling (In)dependence of courts: a comparative approach. J Legal Stud 23(2):721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Rasch BE, Congleton RD (2006) Amendment procedures and constitutional stability. In: Congleton RD, Swedenborg B (eds) Democratic constitutional design and public policy: analysis and evidence. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  76. Rawls J (1971) A theory of justice. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  77. Rogoff K (1990) Equilibrium political budget cycles. Am Econ Rev 80(1):21Google Scholar
  78. Roznai Y (2014) Legisprudence limitations on constitutional amendments: reflections on the czech constitutional court’s declaration of unconstitutional constitutional act. Vienna J Int Const Law 8(1):29Google Scholar
  79. Roznai Y (2015) Unamendability and the genetic code of the constitution. Eur Rev Public Law 27(2):775Google Scholar
  80. Roznai Y (2017) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments: the limits of amendment powers. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  81. Roznai Y, Suteu S (2015) Eternal territory? The crimean crisis and Ukraine’s territorial integrity as an unamendable principle. German Law J 16(3):542Google Scholar
  82. Rubenfeld J (1997) Moment and the millennium. George Washington Law Rev 66:1127Google Scholar
  83. Ruhl M (2010) Honduras unravels. J Democracy 21(2):93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Russell RH (1993) Constitutional Odyssey: can Canadians become a Sovereign people? University of Toronto Press, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  85. Schmitt C (2007) Constitutional theory (trans: Seitzer J, first published 1928). Duke University Press, DurhamGoogle Scholar
  86. Schwartz B (2013) American constitutional law. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  87. Schwartzberg M (2009) Democracy and legal change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  88. Stigler GJ (1971) The theory of economic regulation. Bell J Econ Manag Sci 2(1):3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Suber P (1990) The paradox of self-amendment: a study of logic, law, omnipotence, and change. Peter Lang Publishing, BernGoogle Scholar
  90. Tullock G (1967) The welfare costs of tariffs, monopolies, and theft. West Econ J 5(3):224Google Scholar
  91. Vanberg V, Buchanan JM (1989) Interests and theories in constitutional choice. J Theor Polit 1(1):49, 54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Voigt S (1999a) Implicit constitutional change—changing the meaning of the constitution without changing the text of the document. Eur J Law Econ 7(3):197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Voigt S (1999b) Breaking with the notion of social contract: constitutions as based on spontaneously Arisen Institutions. Const Polit Econ 10(3):283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Voigt S (2011) Positive constitutional economics II—A survey of recent developments. Public Choice 146(1–2):205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Voigt S (2013) How (Not) to measure institutions. J Inst Econ 9(01):1Google Scholar
  96. Voigt S (2015) Veilonomics: On the use and utility veils in constitutional political economy. In: Imbeau LM, Jacob S (eds) Behind a veil of ignorance? Power and uncertainty in constitutional design. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  97. Weintal S (2011) Challenge of reconciling constitutional eternity clauses with popular sovereignty: toward three-track democracy in Israel as a Universal Holistic Constitutional System and Theory. Israel Law Rev 44:449, 456Google Scholar
  98. Wicksell K (1896) Finanztheoretische Untersuchungen: Nebst Darstellung und Kritik des Steuerwesens Schwedens. Verlag Wirtschaft und Finanzen, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  99. Widner J (2007) Constitution writing in post-conflict settings: an overview. William Mary Law Rev 49(5):1513Google Scholar
  100. Wiggins D (1968) On being in the same place at the same time. Philos Rev 77(1):90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  101. Williamson OE (1981) The economics of organization: the transaction cost approach. Am J Sociol 87(3):548CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Law and Economics, University of HamburgHamburgGermany

Personalised recommendations