Social Insurance, Commitment, and the Origin of Law: Interest Bans in Early Christianity
Posted: 30 Jul 2007 Last revised: 4 Jun 2010
Date Written: November 2009
Despite the historical importance of ideology-based, economically inhibitive laws, we know little about the economic factors underlying their origin. This paper accounts for the historical emergence of one such law: the Christian ban on taking interest - a doctrine that shaped the evolution of numerous financial contracts and related organizational forms. A game theoretic analysis and historical evidence suggest that the Church's commitment to providing social insurance for its poorest constituents encouraged risky borrowing, which the Church attempted to limit by banning interest. The analysis highlights the applicability of the rational choice framework to seemingly irrational actions and laws, the role of non-monetary sanctions in circumventing commitment problems, and the importance of economic forces vis-a-vis ideology.
Keywords: usury, economics of religion, Samaritan's dilemma, commitment problems, interest, social insurance, legal origins, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, economics and ideology, moral hazard
JEL Classification: D64, E49, G22, I31, I38, K12, N23, N44, Z12, Z13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation