Water theft as social insurance: south-eastern Spain, 1851–1948

33 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2015 Last revised: 29 Mar 2021

See all articles by Javier D. Donna

Javier D. Donna

University of Florida; Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis

José-Antonio Espín-Sánchez

Yale University; Yale University - Cowles Foundation; Economic Growth Center

Date Written: March 28, 2021


For centuries, irrigation communities in south-eastern Spain were socially stable and economically efficient. In this article, we show how these self-governing institutions persisted by resolving conflicts over scarce resources with flexible punishment for water theft. We argue that variable penalties for violating irrigation rules provided social insurance to farmers during droughts. We develop a dynamic model in which judges trade off crime deterrence and social insurance, and test its predictions using a novel dataset on water theft in the self-governed irrigation community of Mula, Spain, from 1851 to 1948. For the same offence, we show that recidivists were punished more harshly than first-time offenders. When the defendant was wealthy, as indicated by the honorific title don, or the victim was poor, judgements were stricter.

Keywords: Crime, Punishment, Enforcement of Law, Self-governed communities.

JEL Classification: C13, L14, N43, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Donna, Javier D. and Espin-Sanchez, Jose-Antonio, Water theft as social insurance: south-eastern Spain, 1851–1948 (March 28, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2667588 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2667588

Javier D. Donna (Contact Author)

University of Florida ( email )

Gainesville, FL 32606
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.jdonna.org/

Rimini Centre for Economic Analysis ( email )

Jose-Antonio Espin-Sanchez

Yale University ( email )

28 Hillhouse Ave
New Haven, CT 06520-8268
United States
2034320890 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://campuspress.yale.edu/espin/

Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

Economic Growth Center ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, CT 06520-8269
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://egcenter.economics.yale.edu/

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics