Collective Punishment: A Coordination Account of Legal Order

37 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2011 Last revised: 12 Nov 2013

See all articles by Gillian K. Hadfield

Gillian K. Hadfield

University of Toronto; Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence; OpenAI; Center for Human-Compatible AI

Barry R. Weingast

Stanford University, Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 1, 2011


Although most economic and positive political theory presumes the existence of an effective legal regime (protecting property rights or implementing legislative or judicial choices, for example), behavioral social science has devoted little systematic attention to the question of what constitutes distinctively legal order. Most social scientists take for granted that law is defined by the presence of a centralized authority capable of exacting coercive penalties for violations of legal rules. This unexamined presumption, however, leaves us with few tools in social science to answer key questions about the emergence and maintenance of legal order. A focus on centralized coercion fails to distinguish between spontaneous social order based on social norms and deliberate order structured by organized efforts to create and enforce rules in the absence of centralized coercion. In this paper we discuss several settings in which centralized coercive force is absent and yet social order relies on distinctively legal attributes and institutions. Drawing on a model developed in Hadfield & Weingast (2011), we use these settings to show how distinctively legal attributes and institutions work to coordinate decentralized collective punishment. We focus in particular on how legal institutions reduce ambiguity and solve incentive problems to support a decentralized equilibrium characterized by compliance with deliberately chosen rules. We thus sketch out how a social scientific account of law can help distinguish social norms from legal rules and identify the institutions that support legal order in a wide range of settings that do not presume the existence of centralized coercion.

Keywords: legal order, rule of law, concept of law, collective punishment, coordination, focal points, coercion

JEL Classification: D63, D72, K40, K00

Suggested Citation

Hadfield, Gillian K. and Weingast, Barry R., Collective Punishment: A Coordination Account of Legal Order (March 1, 2011). USC CLEO Research Paper No. C11-4, USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 11-9, Available at SSRN: or

Gillian K. Hadfield (Contact Author)

University of Toronto ( email )

78 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
4169784214 (Phone)

Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence ( email )

OpenAI ( email )

Center for Human-Compatible AI ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Barry R. Weingast

Stanford University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
650-723-0497 (Phone)
650-723-1808 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics