Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 1 > Issue 1–2

Human Sacrifice

Peter T. Leeson, George Mason University, Department of Economics, USA,
Suggested Citation
Peter T. Leeson (2014), "Human Sacrifice", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 1: No. 1–2, pp 137-165.

Publication Date: 15 Jan 2014
© 2014 P. T. Leeson
Law and Economics,  Law and Economics,  Public Economics,  Comparative political economy,  Law,  Political economy,  Religion and politics,  Rulemaking,  War


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. A Theory of Human Sacrifice 
3. Human Sacrifice among the Konds 
4. Testing the Theory of Human Sacrifice 
5. Summary and Conclusions 


This paper develops a theory of rational human sacrifice: the purchase and ritual slaughter of innocent persons to appease divinities. I argue 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 is an excellent public meter of wealth destruction. Human sacrifice is spectacular, publicly communicating a sacrificer's destruction far and wide. Further, 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 my theory I investigate 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 my theory's predictions.