November 12, 2012

Human Sacrifice

  • Peter Leeson

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
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This paper develops a theory of rational human sacrifice: the purchase and ritual slaughter of innocent persons to appease divinities. The author argues that human sacrifice is a technology for protecting property rights. It improves property protection by destroying part of sacrificing communities' wealth, which depresses the expected payoff of plundering them. Human sacrifice is a highly effective vehicle for destroying wealth to protect property rights because it's an excellent public meter of wealth destruction. Human sacrifice is spectacular, publicly communicating a sacrificer's destruction far and wide. And immolating a live person is nearly impossible to fake, verifying the amount of wealth a sacrificer has destroyed. To incentivize community members to contribute wealth for destruction, human sacrifice is presented as a religious obligation. To test this theory Leeson investigates human sacrifice as practiced by the most significant and well-known society of ritual immolators in the modern era: the Konds of Orissa, India. Evidence from the Konds supports the theory's predictions.

Find the working paper at