Does the World Bank’s Rule of Law Index Measure the Quality of Legal Institutions?

The authors of ‘Governance Matters’, Daniel Kauffman, Aart Kraay and Massimo Mastruzzi, tell us that the World Bank’s rule of law index captures “perceptions of the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, and in particular the quality of contract enforcement, property rights, the police and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence” (Working Paper 4978, p 6).



On the basis of that description the index seems highly relevant to assessment of whether societies have institutions that enable their members to live in peace with one another. (For background on reasons why I am interested in such indexes see: Is a ‘good society’ index a good idea?)


I think it would be more appropriate to describe this index as a legal institutions index than as a rule of law (RoL) index. The rule of law is the ancient principle that no-one, not even the king, is above the law. It possible for a jurisdiction to have a relatively high score on the World Bank’s RoL index even though its legal foundations for rule of law may be somewhat tenuous e.g. Hong Kong. (Someone might be interested in a previous post on the question: Is rule of law an esoteric concept?)


As with the five other indexes in the World Bank’s suite of governance indicators the RoL index is based on perceptions based data reflecting the views of a diverse range of people, including tens of thousands of household and firm survey respondents and thousands of experts working for the private sector, NGOs, and public sector agencies. The aggregation method gives greater weight to indicators that are correlated with each other.


The RoL index seems to cover similar ground to the Legal structure and property rights sub-index (LSPR) of the Fraser Institute’s economic freedom index. Indicators incorporated in the LSPR cover: judicial independence, impartial courts, protection of property rights, military interference in legal and political processes, integrity of the legal system, contract enforcement and regulatory restrictions on sale of property.


The chart below shows how closely the World Bank’s RoL index and the Fraser Institute’s LSPR index correspond to each other. The blue diamonds represent actual indexes and the pink diamonds represent the predicted value of the LSPR index using linear regression.


In later posts relating to good society indicators I will use the World Bank’s RoL index as an index reflecting the quality of legal institutions.

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