La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Democracy and the quality of legislation

I've read lots of Mexican social security law. Lots. I couldn't tell you if it's really getting that much better, but I can certainly tell you that it's getting a lot longer.

In the days of the PRI, social security law was vague, like a set of suggestions for benefits and practices.

The 1995 Social Insurance Law (Ley del Seguro Social or Ley del IMSS) was a little bit more detailed and longer.

The 2007 Social Security for State Workers Law (Ley del ISSSTE) is downright tedious. It's long and filled with lots of legalese and technical language that just wasn't there before.

On the one hand, perhaps you might argue that privatized pensions require more detailed legislation. But, even PAYGO systems are still pensions and probably deserved or required just as much detail in the legislation.

On the other hand, I suspect that the changes in (this piece or type of ) legislation have more to do with two recent trends. First, the authors of the laws have changed; this law was drafted by a bunch of economists in the Ministry of Finance, rather than party or union leaders. Second, now politicians want to use laws to "lock in" certain types of transparent or narrow behaviors, whereas the PRI wanted laws to be vague and flexible.

I'm less familiar with other types of legislation in Mexico or even legislation in other Latin American countries that have experienced dual transitions (in this case, the rise of neoliberal economists/technocrats and democratization). But, I wonder if this trend is occurring in other legislative domains and in other places? And how would you measure the "quality" of legislation? You could certainly measure its length. You could maybe use some form of discourse analysis to compare the types of language used. You could probably come up with some dimension of narrow versus flexible (or open-to-interpretation) legislation.

I believe some researchers on American politics have analyzed patterns of legislation and may offer some methodological and theoretical insights. In countries like Mexico, I would expect the changes in the form legislation takes to vary over time due to increased democratization and efforts to tie the hands of future elected officials. I'd also expect the changes in legislation to vary across types of legislation, with laws related to structural reforms and political liberalization to be more detailed and constraining.

It's not something I have time to research now (being neck deep in the ISSSTE privatization...) but it's curious.

posted by Michelle @ 11:43 AM,


At 10/08/2007 9:34 PM, Blogger Chris Lawrence said...

Good question. I know the institutionalization literature in US politics (probably more in terms of state politics than national) talks about this stuff, but I haven't done anything with that since my grad seminars. I'd imagine that another factor beyond democratization is multipartism: the PRI didn't specify the details in legislation because PRI loyalists were expected to be the ones implementing the laws. I can't imagine PRD deputies leaving details to be interpreted by a current or future PAN president or PAN deputies leaving the details to future PRD-appointed bureaucrats (particularly since my vague recollection of Mexican politics-again, from 1998ish--is that the presidency tends to have more discretion when it comes to policy implementation than in the U.S. case).


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