Trial by Battle
Journal of Legal Analysis, Spring 2011, Pages 341-375
Abstract: For over a century England's judicial system decided land disputes by ordering disputants' legal representatives to bludgeon one another before an arena of spectating citizens. The victor won the property right for his principal. The vanquished lost his cause and, if he were unlucky, his life. People called these combats trials by battle. This paper investigates the law and economics of trial by battle. In a feudal world where high transaction costs confounded the Coase theorem, I argue that trial by battle allocated disputed property rights efficiently. It did this by allocating contested property to the higher bidder in an all-pay auction. Trial by battle's "auctions" permitted rent seeking. But they encouraged less rent
seeking than the obvious alternative: a first-price ascending-bid auction.
The Ecological and Civil Mainsprings of Property: An Experimental Economic
History of Whalers' Rules of Capture
Bart Wilson et al.
Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, forthcoming
Abstract: This article uses a laboratory experiment to probe the proposition that property emerges anarchically out of social custom. We test the hypothesis that whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries developed rules of conduct that minimized the sum of the transaction and production costs of capturing their prey, the primary implication being that different ecological conditions led to different rules of capture. Ceteris paribus, we find that simply imposing two different types of prey is insufficient to observe two different rules of capture. Another factor is essential, namely, as Samuel Pufendorf theorized over 300 years ago, that the members of the community are civil minded.
(Nod to Kevin Lewis)