11 December 2017

Witches and Institutional Capacity

'Taxes, Lawyers, and the Decline of Witch Trials in France' (GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 11-47, 2012) by Noel D. Johnson and Mark Koyama comments
 How is rule of law established? We address this question by exploring the causal effect of increases in fiscal capacity on the establishment of well enforced, formal, legal standards in a pre-industrial economy. Between 1550 and 1700 there were over 2,000 witch trials in France. Prosecuting a witch required a significant deviation from formal rules of evidence by local judges. Hence we exploit the significant variation across time and space in witch trials and fiscal capacity across French regions between 1550 and 1700 to show that increases in fiscal capacity caused increased adherence to the formal rule of law. As fiscal capacity increased, local judges increasingly upheld de jure rules and the frequency of witch trials declined.