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http://ssrn.com/abstract=1414319
 
 

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Divide and Conquer


Eric A. Posner


University of Chicago - Law School

Kathryn E. Spier


Harvard University - Law School - Faculty; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Adrian Vermeule


Harvard Law School

May 26, 2009

U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 467
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-24
Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 639

Abstract:     
The maxim “divide and conquer” (divide et impera) is frequently invoked in legal theory and the social sciences. We suggest that the maxim is a placeholder for a complex of ideas related by a family resemblance, but differing in their details, mechanisms and implications. We provide an analytic taxonomy of divide and conquer mechanisms in the settings of a Stag Hunt Game and an indefinitely-repeated Prisoners’ Dilemma. These two games both illustrate a tension between the social desirability of cooperation and the private incentives for safety and short-run gains. Next, we describe the role of third parties who are not themselves players of these games but who will be harmed if the players cooperate. In particular, we explore a variety of divide-and-conquer strategies – including the sabotage of communication channels, the payment of bribes, and the imposition of penalties – that effectively prevent cooperation among the players of these games. A number of applications are considered, including labor law, constitutional design and the separation of powers, imperialism and race relations, international law, litigation and settlement, and antitrust law. Conditions under which divide and conquer strategies reduce or enhance social welfare, and techniques that policy makers can use to combat divide and conquer tactics, are also discussed.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 45

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Date posted: June 5, 2009 ; Last revised: June 17, 2010

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A. and Spier, Kathryn E. and Vermeule, Adrian, Divide and Conquer (May 26, 2009). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 467; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-24; Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 639. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1414319 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1414319

Contact Information

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)
University of Chicago - Law School ( email )
1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-0425 (Phone)
773-702-0730 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/posner-e/
Kathryn E. Spier
Harvard University - Law School - Faculty ( email )
1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 302
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
(617) 496-0019 (Phone)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Adrian Vermeule
Harvard Law School ( email )
1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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