My friend Pete Leeson is one of the most original and creative economists I know.? First, he wrote about pirate economics (he was even kind enough to write three guest posts on the Freakonomics blog).
Then he tackled “ordeals” — the medieval method of trial in which one’s guilt was assessed by whether?an arm that was plunged into boiling water got burned.? His conclusion: it was not a miracle when the accused emerged unscathed from the boiling water treatment.? As long as everyone believed that the boiling water would reveal guilt, it made more sense to confess than to have one’s arm get boiled and then be punished for the crime on top of that.? So the only people who were willing to go through the ordeal were those who were falsely accused.? Consequently, it appears that the people who carried out the ordeals didn’t really boil the water (it’s not clear whether they did this on purpose or accidentally — I suspect on purpose).
Now, he has moved on to gypsies.?? Apparently, gypsies believe in all sorts of strange things, like that the lower half of the human body is polluted and non-gypsies are spiritually toxic.? These bizarre beliefs, he argues, substitute for traditional institutions of law and order.? Like all of Leeson’s best work, when I start reading it I don’t really believe it, but by the end I’m not only convinced, I feel like running out and telling everyone I know about it.