Trial by Battle

Posted: 26 Apr 2010 Last revised: 25 Aug 2011

See all articles by Peter T. Leeson

Peter T. Leeson

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: April 25, 2010

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.

Suggested Citation

Leeson, Peter T., Trial by Battle (April 25, 2010). The Journal of Legal Analysis, 2011, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1595782

Peter T. Leeson (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.peterleeson.com

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://ppe.mercatus.org/scholars/peter-leeson

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