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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Just in time for Halloween: Witchcraft and Human Sacrifice

The economist Peter Leeson likes to write on untraditional economic topics: Pirates ("The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates""An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization"), Hooligans, Gypsy law, Human sacrifice, and Vermin trials (no, that isn't a misprint). However, as he (and many other economists) point out, economic theory is not only concerned with topics related to the economy, it is interested more generally in how human beings make choices under conditions of constraint and scarcity. That is, when faced with a set of trade-offs (e.g., attending church or going to the beach), what incentives lead them to choose one over another?

In a recent Research on Religion podcast ("Peter Leeson on Witch Trials and Human Sacrifice"), Leeson explores how economic theory can help us better understand the rise and fall of witchcraft trials and human sacrifice. Here is a brief summary of the podcast (from the Research on Religion website):
Our annual Halloween special takes us back in history to the 16th century when Europe faced a wave of witchcraft trials. To learn why these episodes took place when and where they did, we consult with economist Peter Leeson who enlightens us as to how economics can be used to understand these questions. He also explains the seemingly irrational behavior of human sacrifice in India through the lens of rationality and connects it to an episode that happened in his apartment complex. To find out what that is, you will have to listen.
As in the past, you can download the podcast from iTunes or from the Research on Religion website ("Peter Leeson on Witch Trials and Human Sacrifice"). You will find a more complete description of the podcast there as well, as well as links to Leeson's books and papers and other related podcasts.

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