The Economics of Europe’s Insane History of Putting Animals on Trial and Executing Them

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The fantastically creative and insightful Peter Leeson published an article in the Journal of Law and Economics in 2013 on the practice of putting animals on trial in the Medieval ages.

Abstract
For 250 years insects and rodents accused of committing property crimes were tried as legal persons in French, Italian, and Swiss ecclesiastic courts under the same laws and according to the same procedures used to try actual persons.

I argue that the Catholic Church used vermin trials to increase tithe revenues where tithe evasion threatened to erode them.

Vermin trials achieved this by bolstering citizens’ belief in the validity of Church punishments for tithe evasion: estrangement from God through sin, excommunication, and anathema.

Vermin trials permitted ecclesiastics to evidence their supernatural sanctions’ legitimacy by producing outcomes that supported those sanctions’ validity. These outcomes strengthened citizens’ belief that the Church’s imprecations were real, which allowed ecclesiastics to reclaim jeopardized tithe revenue

Leeson’s paper is also closely connected to Ekelund, Herbert, and Tollison’s (1989, 2002, 2006) and Ekelund et al.’s (1996) work. They study the medieval Catholic Church as a firm. They discuss how ecclesiastics used supernatural sanctions to protect the Church’s monopoly on spiritual services against heretical competition.

HT: Wired – fantastically-wrong-europes-insane-history-putting-animals-trial-executing/

The economics of Christianity

These are all worth reading:

  1. Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm by Robert D. Tollison, R. Ekelund, R. Hebert, G. Anderson, and A. Davis 1996.
  2. The Marketplace of Christianity by Robert B. Ekelund Jr. & Robert F. Hebert & Robert D. Tollison, 2008 -discusses the reformation, counter-reformation and thereafter.
  3. Economic Origins of Roman Christianity by Robert B. Ekelund Jr. and Robert D. Tollison 2011 (the 1st 1000 years).

See as well The Pope and the Price of Meat: A Public Choice Perspective by Richard Ault, Robert Ekelund and Robert D. Tollison in Kyklos which shows how self-interest, economic geography, and an expanded number of third-world voters in the College of Cardinals explain why Pope Paul IV changed the relative price of meat and altered penance rules in 1966.

This paper applies public choice and modern regulatory theory to the twentieth century Roman Catholic Church and attempts to discover why the decision was made in 1966 to absolve Catholics from the requirement that meat not be eaten on most Fridays of the year.

We provide a cartel analysis of the institutional backdrop and power structure of the College of Cardinals within the Church. In this framework, self-interest, the geographic production of beef and fish, and the expanded number of voters in the College of Cardinals are the keys to understanding why Pope PAUL VI decided to change the relative price of meat and to alter penance rules in 1966.

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