Bridge Burning and Escape Routes

24 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2018

See all articles by Paul Pecorino

Paul Pecorino

University of Alabama - Department of Economics, Finance and Legal Studies

Date Written: June 28, 2018


Thomas Schelling (1966) cites bridge burning as a method of commitment. While such a commitment can increase the chances of success in a conflict, it will generally lower one’s payoff if the conflict is lost. I use a standard rent seeking framework and establish conditions under which this type of commitment can raise a player’s expected payoff. A necessary condition is that the scale parameter in the rent-seeking function exceed 1. The comparative static effects of bridge burning are never favorable at an interior equilibrium, but the strategy can induce the opponent to concede the outcome of the contest. I also analyze the strategy, associated with Sun Tzu, of leaving an escape path open for your enemy. This strategy always succeeds at an interior equilibrium and raises the expected payoff of both players. Under certain parameter restrictions, leaving an open escape path also has the potential of inducing the opponent to concede the contest. A special case of the model is used to explain why a group subject to a potential transfer might prefer a less efficient tax system to a more efficient system.

Keywords: Conflict, Bridge Burning, Escape Routes, Contest Theory, Thomas Schelling

JEL Classification: C72

Suggested Citation

Pecorino, Paul, Bridge Burning and Escape Routes (June 28, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Paul Pecorino (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - Department of Economics, Finance and Legal Studies ( email )

P.O. Box 870244
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States
205-348-0379 (Phone)
205-348-0590 (Fax)

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