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Social Insurance, Commitment, and the Origin of Law: Interest Bans in Early Christianity

By Jared Rubin


Despite the historical importance of ideology-based, economically inhibitive laws, we know little about the economic factors underlying their origin. This paper accounts for the historical emergence of one such law: the Christian ban on taking interest--a doctrine that shaped the evolution of numerous financial contracts and related organizational forms. A game-theoretic analysis and historical evidence suggest that the Church\u27s commitment to providing social insurance for its poorest constituents encouraged risky borrowing, which the Church attempted to limit by banning interest. The analysis highlights the applicability of the rational choice framework to seemingly irrational actions and laws, the role of nonmonetary sanctions in circumventing commitment problems, and the importance of economic forces vis-à-vis ideology

Topics: Interest Finance, Law & Legislation, Social Security, Game Theory, Rational Choice Theory, Christianity, Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics, Christianity, Economic History, Economics, Ethics in Religion, History of Christianity
Publisher: Chapman University Digital Commons
Year: 2009
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