For 400 years the most sophisticated persons in Europe decided difficult criminal cases by asking the defendant to thrust his arm into a cauldron of boiling water and fi…sh out a ring. If his arm was unharmed, he was exonerated. If not, he was convicted. Alternatively, a priest dunked the defendant in a pool. Sinking proved his innocence; fl‡oating proved his guilt. People called these trials ordeals.
No one alive today believes ordeals were a good way to decide defendants’ guilt. But maybe they should.
Yes, Leeson argues that ordeals accurately determined guilt and innocence. I should probably leave you in suspense (Leeson’s intro does) but I will spoil the fun: the priests fix it. No believer would ever fish out the ring if guilty; the confession would come first. So those who insist must be innocent. ‘Miraculously’, most are unharmed by the ordeal and exonerated.
If you need another reason to read the paper: Leeson is a model of economic prose. This is how papers should be written.
Hat tip to MR.